Short Stories: Why Can't I Remember?

  Drip. Drip. Drip. My eyes slowly creak open. Where am I? I frantically try to remember who I am. Emma. Emma Wei. That’s my name. I live in Pasadena, California. I’m 20. I go to UCLA. I quickly glance around the room. The walls look organic, fleshy, and living. Gross. There isn’t a single opening in the room. Not even a feeding slot. Am I even hungry? How long have I been here? Shouldn’t I be hungry? I sit down. The ground feels warm and fleshy, just like the walls, and lights up occasionally. Seriously, where the hell am I? As if to answer my question, a blinding white light filled the room. 

    A few seconds later, I sat up with a jolt, and scanned around in a panic. I found myself in a seat with a laptop in front of me. I’m in a bookstore… I’ve been studying for a few hours. Yeah, it must’ve just been a bad dream. I turn to my laptop again. Huh… everything looks blurry for some reason. I lean in and squint. The screen is filled with gibberish. “Hey Emma, mind if I sit here?” I broke from my trance and looked up, to be greeted by a smiling, carefree looking, attractive young man of East Asian origin. Whoa, he’s cute. A name popped into my head. David from Accounting. You saw him on the first day and made sure to remember his name. “Not at all,” I said with a smile and a blush. He pointed to the book next to my laptop. Odd, I can’t read what’s on the cover of that book either. “I love The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy! Douglas Adams is my favorite author,” he exclaimed. I glanced back down at the book. I can read it clearly now. That’s weird. We talked about The Hitchhikers Guide for a little while. “I have to go now, but I like talking to you, and I think you’re pretty. Do you want to grab coffee on Tuesday?” He seemed rather nervous, in a cute way. “Sure!” I said. I’m free, right? I can’t remember anything about what I’m doing then… or later today for that matter. What’s wrong with me? Dave instantly eased up and his face broke into a wide grin. “Great! I’ll see you then!” All of a sudden, he froze. To my horror, his body started disintegrating into black ash, with the rest of the store around me. Soon, I was screaming into an endless void.

    I sat up with a jolt, and scanned around in a panic. I found myself in a seat with a laptop in front of me. I’m in a bookstore… I’ve been studying for a few hours. Yeah, it must’ve just been a bad dream. I turn to my laptop again. Huh… everything looks blurry for some reason. I lean in and squint. The screen is filled with gibberish. “Hey Emma, mind if I sit here?” I broke from my trance and looked up, to be greeted by a anxious, nervous, rather plain looking young man of East Asian origin. Who is this and why do they know my name? “Um, sure. Excuse me, have we met?” I inquired with a concerned look on my face. “Oh, um, I’m Dave. From Accounting. You raised your hand on the first day, and I happened to remember your name.” Okay, a little weird. “You have lovely eyes,” he said. Whoa dude, we aren’t in a k-drama. Weirder. “Thanks…” I manage to stammer out. “Hey um… I think you’re really pretty, do you want to get coffee with me on Tuesday?” I’m startled by his sudden proposition. First he knows my name even though we never met, then he goes full k-drama and compliments my eyes, and now he’s asking me out? No thanks. “Sorry, I have a boyfriend.” I tell a little white lie to make it a little easier on him. Is it a white lie though? Do I have a boyfriend? Why can’t I remember? A look of sadness and rejection shot across Dave’s face. I feel a little bad, but it can’t be helped. All of a sudden, he froze. To my horror, his body started disintegrating into black ash, with the rest of the store around me. Soon, I was screaming into an endless void.

    Drip. Drip. Drip. My eyes slowly creak open. Where am I? I frantically try to remember who I am. Emma. Emma Wei. That’s my name. I live in Pasadena, California. I’m 20. I go to UCLA. I quickly glance around the room, and I suddenly get the feeling that I’ve experienced all of this before. The memories flood back. I was at the bookstore. Dave asked me if he could sit down next to me. Was he cute or not? Why can’t I remember? I sit in the center of the fleshy cage on the floor. I hear voices. Faint voices. I can make out sentences. “Dave! Do your laundry!” That sounds like an older Korean woman. Why is she telling him to do his laundry? “I’m sorry Dave, but I don't think we can be together anymore.” She sounds sad and young. “Good job Dave, you’ve earned a promotion!” He sounds like an old man. Who are these people? Why do they all know Dave? As if to answer my question, a blinding white light filled the room.

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Humans have an incredible ability in empathy for other human beings. That gave me an idea- what if we created an "AI" of sorts to represent another person in our heads? That we have copies of other people-imperfect ones- living inside of our brains? This idea is the inspiration behind this piece.

Short Stories: Demon Children

Inspired by this writing prompt

  “Honey, did you make the cheese platter?” I shouted from the living room, as I furiously cleaned up the shattered remains of a lovely vase that we had received as a wedding gift. “Just finished!” chirped Wendy from the kitchen. We were about to throw a party celebrating our one year anniversary. God I love that woman. All of a sudden, a shock ran down my spine as a voice with notes of fire and brimstone whispered in my ear, “WENDY WILL DIE IN CHILDBIRTH,” followed by giggling, not unlike that of a small child. I rolled my eyes and sighed. A column of fire erupted from the stove, and my wife let out a high pitched shriek, followed by a string of curses and colorful insults. When we bought the house six months ago, we didn’t expect to have housemates. Especially not demon children. 

    We found out about them the first night we slept in the house, when Wendy and I were rudely awakened by visions of our parents dying. A voice that seemed to crackle and burn with the sins of a thousand souls exclaimed, “HELLO MORTALS, WELCOME TO OUR PLAYHOUSE. ME AND MY BROTHER LIVE HERE. OUR NAMES ARE,” followed by something that I can only describe as the very embodiment of suffering. “BUT YOU MAY CALL US ABBY AND TOBY, AS MERE MORTALS CANNOT SAY OUR NAMES,” the voice continued. Wendy and I looked at each other, with pure shock on our faces. I managed to collect myself, and stammered, “W-what are you?” The voices giggled excitedly, and I swear I heard a bit of a snicker as well. “WE ARE DEMONS OF HELL. I AM ABBY, THE DAUGHTER OF ABBADON, AND TOBY IS THE SON OF CAIM. WE LIVE HERE, UNTIL WE ARE OLD ENOUGH TO BECOME COMMANDERS OF HELL.” Demons, huh, I thought to myself. Isn’t it odd that they mentioned that they needed to be “old enough”? How old are demons anyway, I pondered. “How old are you two?” I asked, still terrified, but now curious. “WE ARE BOTH FIVE HUMAN YEARS OLD.” I was caught off guard- I never thought that demons… had children. “How old do you need to be to be commanders of Hell?” “TWO HUNDRED HUMAN YEARS OLD.” I looked at Wendy. Her expression was as bewildered as mine.

    As the months went on, we got used to their antics- we kept a collection of vases in the car, and bought several fire extinguishers for the numerous fires that broke out due to demon children not knowing how to control their powers. They were actually kind of cute- every time they scared us, they would always laugh, just like regular kids. Abby liked to tell stories through the flames she created in our living room. Toby enjoyed to practice his musical talents by rhythmically breaking our vases. Wendy made a spinoff version of Candyland, simply called “Hell”, and Abby and Toby would occasionally even join in. On July 4th, we had the best bonfire and fireworks show in the neighborhood. In all honesty, it was pretty fun most of the time.

    Today though, I was not having it. “Abby! Toby! Stop it right NOW!” I shouted, my voice booming through the whole house. Suddenly, the house stood still. I let out a deep breath, and continued in a much quieter voice, “We are having guests tonight, and it’s very important. Just a few hours, please. Then y’all can go back to your antics.” Two voices replied in perfect, depressing harmony, “FINE. WE WILL BE QUIET.” “Thank you,” I exclaimed with a smile. I finished sweeping up the vase, and threw away broken shards. I went into my garage, grabbed another vase from the car, and placed it where the now broken one had stood. 

    The door bell rang. “Now remember, be quiet!” I said, as I went to open the door.

Invisible Houses: Houses and Emptiness 2

Chapter 4: A House of Strangers.

Houses and Emptiness 2

The man and the woman sat on the two couches in the living room. Gunfire and tire screeches erupted from the speakers. His face remained unchanged, and his eyes drooped, only to jerk back up. Her lips formed a slight scowl subconsciously. Eventually, his eyes gave in, and her scowl persisted, even as she fell into slumber. The sun greeted them with a cheery light, and they both groaned in response. He brewed some coffee, adding a generous splash Jack. Jack had been his best friend since their marriage had started crumbling. Jack never complained. Jack always needed him.

She continued laying on the couch, resisting the sun’s annoying greetings. She stared at the ceiling and remembered the first night they spent there. She remembered how they sat in the empty living room with only a beanbag between them for a pillow and looked at their lives ahead with an electric energy she could only dream of now. He looked at the stranger on the couch, and remembered the woman who he loved. She looked at the stranger in the kitchen, and remembered the man she loved. She continued to stare at the ceiling, and he fell into the loving arms of Jack.

 

 

Invisible Houses: Houses and Love 2

Chapter 3: A House of Kindness.

Houses and Love 2

A little girl cried out in laughter. She happily threw the ball to her friend. He picks it up, and throws it back, laughing just as hard. On the doorstep sits the mother. She looks out and smiles. Inside the house, children run and play. These children have no fathers, but they all have a mother. The cuckoo clock sounds- indicating nap time. The children run upstairs, to dream. The mother walks over to the kitchen, and makes herself a sandwich. She has about forty five minutes to herself before the kids wake up again. It was an exhausting, but rewarding job. She enjoyed every moment of it.

She had found Tommy knocking on her door, freezing in the rain, crying. The heartless people he was born to had left him on the side of the road. He was her first. Jess was begging for food with nothing but a blanket and the clothes on her back. Hank, she had caught stealing a bag of chips. By the time Bella was rescued from the flaming wreckage that had consumed both of her parents, the local law enforcement knew of the kind hearted mother, and gave Bella to her. The mother looked at the portrait of all of them on the wall. Her little family. Her perfect little family in their beautiful home. Her face radiated warmth as she chomped into her sandwich and wondered what to make for dinner.

Invisible Houses: Houses and Emptiness 1

Chapter 2: A House of Traps.

Houses and Emptiness 1

The frigid air settled on the cracked, stone floor of the foyer. The lone resident scuttled up his web, strewn with the carcasses of the unfortunate visitors. Echoes of a time long ago ring through the house- laughter, cries. Ashes abandoned in the fireplace speak of another time. A time where the house was filled with noise, people, and emotion. A time long past.

The kitchen had a wooden table in it, dusty from misuse. The wood was cracked and clearly had not been cared for. The dust took over the stove and the counter- the armies had advanced rapidly and efficiently, only a week after the house was empty. There was simply a hole where the fridge had been. A bar sat empty, waiting to be filled with exotic liquors and fine wines.

A mouse scuttled across the tangled carpet of the living room, into the hole next to the sofa. The sofa had been abandoned, the deserters simply had not cared. It sat there, lonely. More residents occupied the corners with their intricately woven homes- death traps to the visitors.

From the outside, the house’s brick exterior cracked and slithered. The cracks resembled the residents’ webs- and the house waited for a visitor.

 

 

Invisible Houses: Houses and Love 1

I wrote a collection of short stories for an English class based on Italo Calvino's work, Invisible CitiesInvisible Cities is a fantastical book in which Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan his travels, and all the cities he visits. What's unique about this book is that Calvino utilizes a construct called an Oulipo matrix to match a theme with every chapter in a rigorous, programmatic way. 

Expect a chapter every week or so, constructive criticism welcome. Without further ado, the first story, Houses and Love 1: A House of Family.

Houses and Love 1

The sun shines through the glass windows. The house is filled with love, and almost seems to breathe with life. The wood of the house is old, yet youthful; knotted, yet charming. It is furnished lightly but lovingly. The table with the tablecloth in the living room- mother stitched it with her own two hands next to the window on the slow Sunday afternoons. The beautiful oak chairs in the dining room- father spent many a spring afternoon working in the back with his tools on them. The framed portrait of the family hanging in the foyer- the little girl drew, in her little treehouse, by the fall sunlight.

The family fills the house with love. When the little girl came back from her first day of school, mother and father were there to ask her how her day went. She excitedly told them about Mr. Kipling and how he read The Jungle Book in class. On Saturday afternoons, mother bakes brownies. She yells, “Brownies are ready!” Father and the little girl rush downstairs- the brownies simply disappear into the vacuum of father and little girl’s stomachs, and mother scolds them- but is laughing inside. A plate of cookies is left out for Santa on Christmas Eve. They are eaten by father when he wakes up early to place presents under the tree. When grandma died, they all grieved and hugged one another in the house.

A house so full of love and memories ceases to be a house. The house becomes a home.