Friday, July 29, 2011


This is like, really not finished, and potentially like really not good. It's a little bit late too, but oh well, here it is! Oh, and it's not over 1k yet. But I figure if others get away with that, I can too. :P

And YES, I'm cheating and backdating.


Everyone at school knew Wendell Wassey was a weirdo.

It wasn't just that his name was Wendell Wassey. Made for great nicknames, such as Wendell Wussy, Wastey and…the biggest stroke of genius yet…Wendy. But his name alone wasn't enough. There had to be more.

So people latched onto the fact that he wore glasses straight outta the '50s, held together at the nose with masking tape. They also seized on the way he always wore the same outfit to school. Trackpants in a distinct shade of grey, along with a t-shirt and tie. I know—weird, right?

Then there was his weird living arrangements.

Fact was, he didn't seem to even have any living arrangements. Rumour had it that in the school records, the field for his residential address had been left an empty dotted line. Some people said that there were two letters and a symbol in that space, where usually you'd find a street number, street name, suburb and more than likely a postcode. Not so on Wendell's file, apparently. Instead he just had two letters: an N and an A. Oh, and the symbol /, which together with the letters equalled N/A.

'Course, that was all just rumour.

Truth was, I didn't give much of a shit about bored people's idle speculation. I didn't give the smallest nugget of shit ever about what he did after school, how he even got there in the mornings—it wasn't an easily accessible campus, no roads nearby—or whatever the hell else. I had more important things to care about, you see, 'cause Mr. Peterson had just paired everybody off for the World War II assignment, and guess who I wound up with?

That's right. I got stuck with Wendell Wassey.

I gave a pretty damn huge shit about that.


My hopes of getting the assignment done in class so I didn't have to get together with Wendell in an extra-curricular fashion were dashed pretty early on.

Like when Wendell didn't even show up for class, for example. If anyone had a hope in hell of understanding the assignment question, it wasn't me. And I couldn't even ask other people in class—they were all too busy with their own assignments, which were different from Wendell's and mine.

Yeah. Peterson gave every pair a different question.

I mean, what a dick.

Even if I could've got away with doing the whole assignment myself—and I would have, if it were possible—I had no idea what the question even meant. "Experiment with something the pedagogy wouldn't necessarily sign off on. Report your findings. Think outside the box." What the fuck did that even mean? It was something a weirdo like Wendell would say, but of course that couldn't be the case—Wendell wasn't the teacher, to set assignments like that. Mr. Peterson must've come up with this shit. Still, the question just had shades of Wendell all over it.

It positively stank of the guy.

No wonder I couldn't understand it.

As class ended and all the students filed out, Peterson stopped me to hand over a small scrap of yellow paper. "Wendell's address—and some instructions I can't decipher. Maybe you'll have better luck…"

For a moment I frowned stupidly at the teacher, putting two and two together. Or trying, at least. Wendell had given him a note to give to me? Why the fuck would he do that? Why not just come to class like normal people did? That I'd seen, Wendell didn't skip classes. Ever. He just wasn't that type. The moment passed, however, 'cause there was something weird in the way Mr. Peterson was looking at me. Maybe it was in the way he was standing. His head slightly cocked to one side, his mouth looking unusually slack. Or maybe it was just the weird fuzziness in his eyes, like they'd begun to film over with cataracts.


For some reason, he reminded me of Wendell too.

Everything reminded me of Wendell today. 'Cause I was bloody well cursed by the guy. Ugh. But there was nothing for it but to get on with things. The sooner I got this shitty assignment done, the sooner I could step out of Wendell's weirdo clutches.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Week 30 . . . must start remembering that I am multiples of 3.

Sorry this is so late . . . again.

Here's the prompt: (1k-10k prose/333-3,333 verse)

I knew something was very, very wrong when I found the wall of cookbooks in his kitchen.  Not a single spine had been cracked.

Monday, July 18, 2011



Anybody there? Or have we all dropped off the face of the planet? In which case, where the heck are we?

Guess that's an interesting prompt all on its own...and hey, feel free to write to that. :P But the actual prompt I have for you this week is as follows.

Write 1,000-10,000 words of prose (or 333-3,333 words of verse) based on the following:

"I never invited you in

But you are not a vampire"

So, I hope all is going well for my fellow Chrysalis participants! I know that I feel like I'm hanging on by the skin of my teeth sometimes, but I still always manage to get a story done in the end. Whether or not it's good is another matter entirely... I still feel like I'm experimenting, and yet I also feel like sometimes I'm reacting to a very NEAR deadline. Like "OMG WRITE A STORY IN THE NEXT FIVE SECONDS OR DIE!" "OKAY OKAY I'M WRITING SHEEESH GIMME A BREAK!"

Know what I mean? I'm sure you do...

If nothing else, this year's Chrysalis Experiment has been a really invigorating and challenging experience! I'm so glad to be a part of it!

Anyway...I've rambled on, and now it's time to WRITE!

Have fun. :)

Monday, July 11, 2011


Write a short story of 1,000-10,000 words based on the following:

I hope you brought your hang glider. We're going to need a quick escape.

Have fun!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Special Skills

Kind of a stupid story...but oh well, there you have it ;) Cheating & backdating it by about 49 minutes. hehe

Special Skills

Special Agent Alice Darren rolled her eyes for the eighteenth time today, wondering once more how she'd wound up assigned to such a pain-in-the-arse case and partnered up with such a moronic fellow agent. It was pointless to ask those questions, of course, but she couldn't help herself. Because her mind still hadn't processed everything: she still didn't quite believe she was really here, and that this was really happening to her.

The ambush had been unexpected, of course. But not nearly as unexpected as the hand-cuffs; or the gag—thankfully, she'd managed to spit that out; her captors hadn't meant to make it stick, evidently. They'd probably just wanted to slow her down, distract her so they could make their escape. Still, the cuffs and the gag weren't what really surprised her. Rather, the fact that the targets were actually going ahead with their plans today was what had puzzled her. They were supposed to be planning, not executing. Someone had got their wires crossed along the way, and Alice had been given the wrong information. That, at least, she couldn't blame on her partner. But thinking about who she could blame it on only upset her. She didn't want to think ill of her boss. Not like that.

He wouldn't betray us, she told herself. He's not dirty. He can't be dirty…

Fact remained, though, that this might be her last day on earth. She might be spending her last day on earth with Hardwick.

Somebody had to pay for that.

She'd already decided that if she died, she'd haunt the arse of whoever had put her here. Even if it was her boss.

Her cheeks burned at the thought of Special Agent Alexander Wallace—the guy she'd had a serious crush on for the last two years. Sure, he was married, and she'd never ever go there. But he was just so damn sexy. It'd just been an innocent crush. It hurt her, though, to think of him being a possible traitor.

The thought hurt her deeply.

To get her mind off it, Alice reflected on how this day was supposed to have gone. The plan had been to conduct pure reconnoissance, and report back to the boss. The plan had been for Alice to be in charge, and for the idiotic likes of Agent Jonathan Hardwick to stay at the back where he couldn't cause any trouble. Alice hadn't counted on Hardwick's immense capacity for fucking everything up, though. She hadn't counted on his special ability to do all those things he'd been told specifically not to do.

She had known already that it was never a good idea to underestimate his kind; had known, but had ignored the fact. And now she was paying the price.

"Thoughts?" Hardwick asked, peering at her from out of the darkness. She could sense his irritating gaze—it tended to make her break out in hives, and her skin was already beginning to itch. Thoughts? What the fuck does he want me to say? But instead of asking him that very useless question, Alice drew a deep breath and leaned her head back, staring at the ceiling.

"You want some thoughts? Okay. Here are some thoughts. We're more than likely going to get blown up. Any second now. Smell that gasoline? Yeah…that wasn't meant to happen. Remember the plan, Hardwick? The plan you didn't stick to? Remember how you weren't supposed to yell out and alert the bad guys to your presence? Oh, and how you weren't supposed to use any of the smoke bombs? Remember that, Hardwick?"

"I've seen the way you look at me, Darren. I mean, when you think I'm not paying attention—I've seen those little looks you cast my way." Before she could choke out an indignant response, he went on. "And let me assure you—you wouldn't have any regrets if you decided to…say, act on those looks. Just ask any of my exes—they'll all tell you the same thing. In fact—"

"I can just imagine what they'd tell me," Alice interrupted. "You wouldn't want to hear it. I can imagine though, trust me—I've known your kind before." Gods help me, I surely have. "But right now, Hardwick, I've got other things on my mind than that. Like, tonight is my nephew's third birthday, and I'm really pissed you're getting me killed before I can wish him a good one. Know what I mean? Matter of fact, I was kind of looking forward to seeing his sixteenth birthday. Eighteenth, too—and hell, twenty-first! He's not going to be the same without his aunt, know what I'm saying? And Hardwick, it's your fault I'm going to die here. And I swear to the Gods above I'm going to haunt your arse when this is over and done."

He was frowning at her. "How can you haunt me if we're both dead? I mean, can ghosts haunt other ghosts? And I notice you mentioned my arse again—"

"Again?" she exclaimed. "When did I ever— Oh, forget it! Look, I'm going to do my best to get the hell out of here—and I'd really rather you didn't try to 'help' again, 'cause every time you try that you fuck things up royally. So please, just…just shut the hell up, sit still, and don't move a muscle."

"You know my buddies at the Institute used to call me MacGuyver?" he asked. "I mean, before I got into the Service. I was pretty well known for getting out of tight squeezes—in fact, if you talk to my ex-girlfriend Lindsay you'll get all the goods. I met her at the Institute, did you know? We were in the same Physics class…"

The Institute, Alice thought derisively, letting Hardwick's words wash over her. She'd heard him talk about his time in training many times before, but he'd never specified which Institute he'd studied at in particular. She'd always assumed he had lied his way into the Service, had never had any training at all. Most of the time he sure acted like he hadn't. But when she'd asked subtle questions of her boss he'd just shrugged and told her she'd be better off asking Hardwick about it sometime.

"…But yeah, that's how they got to calling me MacGuyver," he murmured. "Of course, that guy's got way more hair than me—"

"MacGuyver, huh?" Alice cut in at last, desperate to shut him the hell up. "How about you prove it?"

As soon as she'd said the words, she knew it had been a mistake. His eyes lit up and he leaned forward, a grin breaking out over his face. He really did have a smile like sunshine, but she'd always been inclined to believe it was the smile of a man with far too much air in his skull where others had brains. He reminded her of a kite flying on the breeze—surrounded by air and not much else. And yet she'd pretty well just challenged him to pull some MacGuyver stunt in the hopes of getting her out of here. No wonder a voice was yelling in her head, Are you a total idiot? Because, really, asking this guy to make himself of use was like asking an earthworm to dig a hole in your backyard for the swimming pool.

Still, what other choice did she really have? She was handcuffed and her feet were shackled. There was no escape for her, unless MacGuyver here did something serious. Or unless some other much more preferable miracle occurred, and other people came to rescue them.

But she couldn't count on that. The boss wouldn't be expecting a report till later in the day. He'd even said they could take a long lunch before returning to the office. Lunch hour hadn't even begun yet.

"Okay," Hardwick said, eyes wide and shining with the fervour of a reckless egomaniac, "here's my plan. See that little window up there?" She craned her neck to follow his pointing finger, and saw the tiniest slit of glass about two storeys up. She looked at him with an arched brow and said, "Yeah?" He grinned and nodded.

And that was it.

Didn't feel the need to say anything more. Evidently didn't care that, even if that window hadn't been two storeys up, no human being could possibly fit through such a small gap. Evidently none of that mattered to this guy. Alice fought off the urge to weep; weeping was not befitting of a Special Agent like herself. Even if she'd only been on the job in earnest for the last two weeks—before that she'd been a trainee—she was still a Special Agent in her own right. And crying in the face of death wasn't something a Special Agent did.

Or not this Special Agent, anyway.

Come to think of it, she was surprised Hardwick hadn't started snivelling yet. Then again, he'd have to actually recognise his predicament to feel like crying over it. He didn't seem to grasp anything about the seriousness of the situation. Hardly surprising, that. But with him for company, Alice felt terribly alone.

It just wasn't right, having to die in that sort of company.

"Okay, you don't get it," Hardwick murmured. "That's cool. And I guess it's only natural—I'd have to show you for you to get it. Here, take my hand." She didn't even have the energy to glower. She just stared down at her shackled hands, then up at him, hoping he'd get the message. "Oh, right," he said with a nod. "Yeah. Well, no harm done. I'll just take your hand. Okay?" She imagined rolling her eyes—just imagined it. Actually doing it was beyond her now. He reached out and gripped her wrist, still cuffed, the skin chafed where she'd at first tried to wrench herself free. Force of habit, there, she supposed. Everyone knew you couldn't just rip handcuffs apart with sheer strength. She sat there with Hardwick's hand on her wrist, wishing for a better ending than this. And then she became aware of a change in the air around her.

In Hardwick, too, actually.

The air was heating up, and she sensed an electric charge in it, making the fine hairs on her arms stand on end. The hair on her head wanted to stand, too, actually. Her scalp prickled and she shivered. The dank air grew lighter and brighter and she felt as if she were lifting into the air, floating upward like that kite she'd been thinking about earlier. Everything lightened, and she saw that distant sliver of glass flying at her, growing ever wider. She braced herself or impact, imagining her head battering against solid glass, thudding and thudding until it broke like an egg on pavement. Then something completely strange happened: she passed through the glass, almost melted through it, fused with it even. She wasn't warm now, she was hot, every cell in her body was burning and bubbling and she thought she smelled sunlight—what does sunlight smell like? she wondered, but it was more the smell of sunlight on skin, on hair, on clean clothes, that she was thinking of—and then she was standing in a glass-and-metal dome, in some round room she'd never seen before.

In her nostrils was the inexplicable scent of gasoline. She wrinkled her nose against it, trying to figure out where it had come from.

Then she realised Hardwick was still holding her by the wrist.

"See?" he said as she turned to look at him. "MacGuyver. Except he never used magic. And I don't use ropes or hooks or…you know, any of that stuff."

Her mouth fell open, and she continued to stare for a moment. Then she snapped out of it, snatching her arm back and rubbing at her wrist experimentally. There was still chafing, but the cuffs were gone. She didn't even bother wondering what had become of them.

She had other things to think about.

"How the hell did you do that?" she asked Hardwick, narrowing her eyes. Could it really be true that this was why the boss kept Hardwick around? Because he had some magical powers? It would explain why he was around, since he seemed to have no other skills in any area to speak of. Still, how unfair was it that he should have some bad-ass superpowers? He was a dunce!

"It's a trick I learned at the Institute," Hardwick said, shrugging. "Guess that goes without saying. But anyway, you gonna report to the boss for us? I've got a lunch date—can't be late. This chick is seriously a babe, I'm telling you—"

Before she could protest, Hardwick had slipped out of the glass dome and was heading for the door. She stared after him in disbelief, then shook herself and quickly followed, trying to figure out just how she was going to word her report to the boss.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Week 27?! . . . Whoops.

Totally forgot that it was my week to prompt.

Hope everyone is enjoying their summer.  (Or in Trisha's case, winter.)

Here's the prompt.

Write a 1K-10K word prose (or 333-3,333k word verse) story about the following:

"When the smell of gasoline hit my nostrils, I knew."

Good luck.

Friday, July 1, 2011

In Retrospect

(Cheating. Backdating this post. Yup.)

“You are imagining this,” said the cockroach.

“You are most definitely not imagining this,” said the housefly.

“One of these things is a lie,” whispered the worm, conspiratorially.

Joshua smiled. “Or both could be a lie. I could be dead. Maybe insects talk in hell.”

“My good fellow, what is that supposed to mean?” said the housefly, somewhat indignantly.

“Just that being surrounded by talking bugs isn’t my ideal situation.”

“Whatever, it’s fine,” the cockroach said. “You’re imagining this whole interaction, anyway. You’re as high as smoke out a chimney. Assuming the smoke’s from a burning heap of marijuana.”

“I disagree,” sniffed the housefly. “I think this fellow is completely sane, and that you, sir, are a twaddling gnarsher.”

“A twaddling gnarsher?” The cockroach’s scratchy voice grew angrier. “If I’m a twaddling gnarsher, you’re a tintinektifying broogle!”

“Now, now,” sighed the worm. “Calm down, everyone. Let’s take five deep breaths.”

They took a deep breath.

They took four more.

“What’s a broogle?” asked Joshua.

The worm shook his pale, flabby head. “I regret to say that I cannot tell you this information. Perhaps other people can.”

“People?” Joshua blinked. People. Of course, there had to be other people in the world besides him. Assuming he was in the world. Where was he? Where was here?

He thought to look around.

The ceiling was very high.

The room was very cramped, in terms of floor space.

A black door waited in the black wall behind him. A white door waited in the white wall before him. The walls on either side of him did not have doors.

The cockroach said, “See, we’re in a room. And it’s a weird room. That means this is a figment of your painfully cramped imagination.”

“Delusional,” sniffed the housefly. “Dreams aren’t the only places with strange rooms.”

The worm did not have eyes. If he had had eyes, he would have rolled them. “If I have to warn you one more time to shut up, I shall rupture.”

The cockroach did not have a nose. But if he had had one, he would have wrinkled it. “Oh, don’t do that.”

The housefly did not have shoulders. If he had had shoulders, he would have shrugged them. “If you’d like to combust, I shall not stop you.”

“No, don’t combust,” said Joshua, and he stood. He hadn’t realized he was sitting until he stood up, and then it registered that the ceiling was not very tall at all; in fact, he could not stand up all the way.

The worm inched its way along his shoulder. “Don’t mind my colleagues. They are silly at the best of times.”

The housefly settled on Joshua’s other shoulder, next to where the cockroach sat. “I resent the word ‘silly.’ I find that it debases my value.”

Joshua turned from the white door to the black door. “What’s behind these doors?”

“Ah, and therein lies the question,” whispered the housefly. “Are you frightened? If you’re frightened, it means it’s real.”

The cockroach said, “That’s bullshit.”

Joshua said, “Yes, I am, a little.”

He adjusted his tie – for, he realized, he was wearing a black jacket, a white tie, a stiff white shirt, long black pants, and shoes made out of glass.

“Are you more afraid of black or white?” asked the worm.

“Fullness or emptiness,” added the housefly, “respectively.”

“Presence or absence,” added the cockroach, “respectively.”

“Is black more real than white?” asked Joshua, glancing over his shoulder at the white.

“Again,” said the cockroach, “they are just as false as each other.”

“Again,” said the housefly, “they are just as real as each other.”

“Those mean the same thing.”

The worm said, “Yet one of them is a lie.”

Joshua took half a step toward the black wall. He curled his fingers around the plastic doorknob. His fingers remembered curling around something else, but he couldn’t place it.

He pushed through the black door, stepped through, and fell upwards.

The door slammed behind him as gravity switched. He was falling upward, flipping and toppling and yanked by the wind, but when he closed his eyes, he knew somehow that he was falling downwards, actually, and then his eyes cracked open a tiny bit and he landed on his feet. The glass shoes did not shatter. In fact, they seemed to absorb the impact of the landing.

Joshua looked around.

The air in the dense forest was warm, moist and runny. “Good choice,” remarked the worm.

“Speak for yourself,” grumbled the cockroach. “I bet you’re not too comfortable, are you, J.?”

“People call me Ash,” said Joshua, instinctively. Then he wondered why they would call him Ash, when his name was Joshua. Then he wondered how he knew his name was Joshua. And how he knew his last name was Bellinger.

He took a few paces forward.

“Freeze,” said the housefly, halting him. “You’ll have to be more careful than that.”

“Why? What?”

“Look down,” said the worm, its almost absentminded voice quite soporific when coupled with the warmth.

Joshua looked down. Two feet from him sat a swirl of quicksand. He circumvented it and went on his way.

But he soon had to stop, because he walked into a wall.

The wall was not painted to look like a continuation of the forest. It was not printed to look like a continuation of the forest. Nonetheless, it looked exactly like a forest stretching into a dim greenness. It had the texture of wood. And it was very annoying.

Joshua trailed his hand down it. “There’s a wall here,” he decided.

“Well done,” said the cockroach.

He walked around and discovered that there were really only one hundred square feet of forest, after all. Ten feet of walls on every side. A square room.

Joshua climbed one of the trees. The gentle breeze at the top mystified him. How was there a breeze? Was it coming from a vent?

What was a vent? How did he know of them?

A vent was inside a wall. Yes. Like veins inside skin, only for a building. A twisting map of them.

But there were no vents on these walls.

Joshua looked high up on the wall. Up in the blue sky was the black door whence he had come. He wondered if the white door would have been any different.

“Maybe you’ll die here,” said the cockroach, helpfully.

“Thank you,” muttered Joshua. He climbed back down from the tree. “Well, what do I do now?”

The three insects remained silent.

“Didn’t you say I was going to meet people here?” Joshua demanded of the worm.

It curled its pink body up and sighed, “Put me in your pocket, please.”


“Put me in your pocket. I don’t want to fall off your shoulder when you figure it out,” said the worm, its voice unusually acidic.

Joshua slipped the worm into his pocket. The cockroach scuttled in and the fly buzzed after.

“But what—”

“Assume you have nothing to lose,” said the worm, its voice muffled.

Joshua looked around and came to an understanding. He walked carefully back to where he’d started.

Then he took three steps forward, took a deep breath, and jumped into the quicksand.

It sucked him downward, steadily.

The sand closed over his head.

For two miserable eyes-closed no-oxygen skin-suffocated seconds, Joshua thought he was just going to asphyxiate and die there. Then the sand sucked him down into its stomach, and around, and around again and backward and inside out, that last one being rather painful, and then he was stretching and morphing and suddenly he was still again.

He opened his eyes. He lay on an uneven wooden floor, sand falling from his black hair and dripping in tears from his blue eyes.

The worm wriggled across his face. “Well done,” it said.

“Thank you,” said Joshua, as he got to his feet. The floor was warped. The walls were nowhere in sight. It was a plain of wooden flooring, with a plaster ceiling above, both stretching on and on until eternity without support.

“I think I’d rather this place not exist,” mumbled the housefly. “What a troublesome locale.”

“You see it my way, finally,” said the cockroach.

Joshua began to walk. He walked for many minutes before he decided there was no end to the darkness around him.

So he pulled at the floorboards. He took the sword from the belt around his waist and sliced at the floorboards.

Beneath the floorboards there were more floorboards.

Beneath those there were more.

And so on.

Joshua sat in his shallow hole and scowled. “Look, this is really frustrating,” he said.

“I like your sword,” commented the housefly.

“It’s pretty cool,” said the cockroach. “Too bad it isn’t, you know, real.”

Joshua put his sword back and suddenly discovered that, next to its spot on the belt, a black device had been clipped to the leather. When had that gotten there? In fact, when had the sword arrived? Had it been in place the entire time?

Had he put these things here? Before the cockroach had started talking?

Where had he been before the cockroach had made its claim – this isn’t real?

Joshua took the black device from his belt, aimed it at the ceiling, and pressed a button. A small metal claw on a cord zipped out from the device and plowed into the plaster.

As the claw hit the ceiling, the plaster peeled off it. All of it. It fell in a great torrential snow, all the way down into the distance, and underneath, embedded in the ceiling, lay a thousand, a million doors. All different colors. Horizontal, vertical, large, small. Doors inside other doors. Doors wedged beside other doors.

“I think I’ll try white this time,” said Joshua. He retracted the claw. It ripped out half of a purple door. Then he shot it at a white door and pressed the button once more. The cord retracted, dragging him up toward the claw’s grip.

He opened the circular white door and fell inside.

The door slammed shut on his fingers.

He screamed. He screamed for a long time.

Then he clutched the four mangled fingers to his chest and bled all over his white shirt.

“Oh, stop being such a baby,” the cockroach said.

The worm slapped the cockroach with its fleshy back half. “Don’t be so insensitive. Ash has just undergone his first remembrance of pain.”

“Why can’t I remember anything?” gasped Joshua, in-between his screams. “What am I doing? What’s happened to me?”

The cockroach and the housefly exchanged a glance. “We don’t know, because you don’t know,” said the housefly.

“More evidence that this doesn’t exist,” mumbled the cockroach.

“Why does this hurt so much? Why do I hurt so much, oh God, why don’t I remember anything, who am I and what am I doing in this room—who are you—who am I—”

The worm snuggled against Joshua’s neck as he lay on the sawdust. “Hush, now,” it said. “Maybe you don’t know because deep down you really don’t want to know. Not at all.”

Joshua yanked the sword from his belt and found that it was a gun. An M395.

He scrambled to his feet and held the gun in his quaking hands and shot at the insects again and again. “YOU’RE BUGS!” he screamed. “BUGS DON’T TALK!”

They buried themselves in the sawdust, which flew up in powder and fluff as the gunshots exploded. When he ran out of ammo, when the gun clicked with an empty chamber, they resurfaced.

“That wasn’t very civil,” sniffed the housefly, buzzing up to sit on his shoulder again. “Look, your hand’s better, why did you need to take it out on us?”

Joshua held his hand to his face. His fingers were smooth and aligned and perfectly intact. His shirt was clean and white and crisp and not bloodied in the slightest. “What’s wrong with me?” he moaned. “Where am I?”

How did he even know these things were not supposed to happen? Why were bugs not supposed to talk? Why were broken, bloody hands not supposed to fix themselves? Why were rooms not supposed to be built out of sawdust, from the walls to the floor and ceiling?

He grabbed the door handle and it flaked and molted away in his hand.

He kicked at the walls, and they showered down around him. He slavered and seethed and screamed and tried to kill the bugs again. He turned his head upwards and cried, and his clothes shredded themselves until he was naked.

Then he collapsed and covered himself in sawdust. It was warm and comfortable. “I like this room,” he whispered quietly, as if trying to convince himself.

“There’s no way out,” said the housefly. “There is no way out and you are happy with that?”

“It doesn’t matter,” murmured the cockroach. “None of this exists. He can be happy if he wants. He can be happy here for the rest of his life.”

The worm whispered, “You are uncomfortably close to the way you came in, Ash.”

“I am?” he breathed. “How?”

“It’s time to stop being afraid,” said the housefly.

“Being afraid is just your body’s way of keeping you safe,” said the cockroach. “Be as terrified as you want.”

Joshua rubbed his eyes and sank lower in the sawdust.

“You’re an American,” said the worm.

“I am,” said Joshua, as his eyes drifted shut. “I am an American before everything else.”

“Are you American before you’re scared for your life?” demanded the cockroach. “Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep! There’s no guarantee what your mind will come up with next. This isn’t real; you don’t need to sleep –”

The housefly said, “Ash, keep your eye on the objective.” And its voice wavered and warped into another voice entirely, one that was all too familiar to Joshua. “Keep your eye on the objective.”

The worm’s voice melted into a soothing female tone. “You’re an American. A brave American.”

The cockroach’s voice cracked, turning grizzly and low. “You better break before you say a goddamn word. There’re things more important than you and you better remember it, you little piece of shit greenie.”

“There’s always a way out,” said the worm.

Joshua fell asleep.

He woke up instantly, buried in sawdust. He thrashed. It showered all around him. A fly buzzed near his ear, but it wasn’t talking. A cockroach scuttled over the grimy wooden wall; a worm wriggled through the dirt near the door. A window sat high up on the wall, letting in grainy sunlight, illuminating a room with dark wooden walls.

Joshua looked down at himself. Burns covered his arms. His fingernails were cracked and torn. He wore a ripped white tank top that was no longer white, browning and yellowing with dirt and sweat. He wore camouflage pants.

Hunger gnawed at his stomach, and every inch of him ached.

He turned around and stared up at the back wall. A row of tally marks stretched across the dark wood, gouged in, splintered and rough. Beside every mark were the same words, scraped in by his own nails: this is real this is real this is real this is real this is real this is real this is real this is real

Then, halfway down the line, this is not real I am not real this is not real I am not real

Joshua counted the second half.

Thirty-four tally marks since he had locked his sanity away, somewhere deep.

Thirty-four days since he had lost his mind.

At the side of the wall were small, fresh letters: i havent said a word i havent said a word i havent said a word

Joshua traced them slowly with his mangled fingers.

The door slammed open, and Joshua scrambled back. Pressed himself against the back wall as someone walked inside.

The man was not Viet.

“Joshua Bellinger?” he said. The voice of the housefly, bizarrely transplanted on this man’s tongue.


“Here to bring you home.”