Houseplant Plea

Excuse me, ma’am
Or sir
Or dog
But could you spare a drop?

I need no dam
For sure
No bog
Just please, won’t you please stop?

I mean no insult
To state
Remind
‘Twas you who placed me here.

For what result?
I say.
Mankind
Wishes me dead, I fear.

I’d love to grow.
I think
You think
That’s what I sit here for.

But dried leaves show
I drink
I shrink
Where roots will soak no more.

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Skinwalkers, XXXIII

Despite the complete exhaustion that pulled at his every movement, Nathan did not feel ready to sleep. Perhaps his body knew he would rise in only a halfcycle for work. Perhaps it knew of the second interview he would attend after his full workcycle. Or perhaps it retained some remorse for whatever was happening on the other side of the wall between him and Franks.

He tried to get in the right mindset. He programmed security to sleepdown, cleansed with toothwash as he calmed his thoughts, set the correct comm atop the night stand and the work one within, and settled his grandfather’s wristwatch around his wrist. After stripping in the darkness and groping his liner onto a hanger, he climbed under the blanket wad and lay upon his back.

Still, his eyes saw swirling shifts of haunting thoughts on the black ceiling. His ears heard strange cries within the usual settling walls or late-arrival apartment dwellers. Breathing seemed more difficult than usual as well, though he was certain the air system was functioning properly.

Closing his eyes proved worse.

Shin was sitting on a bench at Check-In, looking sad. Shin’s wry smile looked over at him on their citycross. A meal bundle and tartlet flew at him, followed by Shin’s fully grinning face. Then a smaller, more uncertain Shin, favoring an injured arm, watched him as a sliding door closed forever.

“Ah, tear it all!” Nathan threw the blankets to one side. “Lights!”

In the blast of apartment and comm illumination, he stomped to the bathroom. “I’ll show you!” he grumbled under his breath. “Keep me up, will ya!” Opening the cupboard beneath the sink, he fumbled at an awkward angle till his right hand closed on his goal: a small wrapped package. He unrolled the bundle on the counter, taking care to watch for falling contents or tearing papers. His care paid off, as three minuscule vials of blue liquid rolled out against their brown wrapping. He removed one, set it away from its fellows, then re-wrapped the remaining vials and returned them to their hiding place.

As always, he held the selected drug to the light and enjoyed its sapphire refractions on the many reflective room surfaces. Carrying it back to bed, he resumed his original position.

“Off!” He commanded, and nearly felt the shroud of black that descended. He rolled the vial in an enticing way between his fingers. He checked that his comm was set to wake him. He checked his watch. He checked for any sound from Franks’ apartment.

“Nothing,” he said aloud. Raising to a sitting position and tilting his head back, he sucked half the blue liquid from its container.

Swallowed.

And fell back, asleep.

Then dreamed nothing, as most users were guaranteed to do.

Which was good, else he might have remembered that he would never hear a sound next door. Franks met all his clients in a distortion cloud he’d set up in his living space. A conscious Nathan knew that, from personal experience. An unconscious Nathan, on the other hand, knew nothing.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXXII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXXIV.

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs. If there was no suffering, man would not know his limits, would not know himself. ”

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-One

“So,” Jakob began. They all turned to look at him; he fumbled a bit as he read their expressions: Rob’s warning, Cynthia’s trust, and Wil’s emptiness. He cleared his throat, in a way that sounded surprisingly like Rob’s. Cynthia smiled slightly. Jakob looked at his hands.

“So,” he said again, “We’re all adopted.” He tried a laugh; glanced at the picture on the wall. He sighed, looked back down, then remembered how to grin his characteristic smirk. “Who knew?” He joked.

“We’re so very sorry this all came out this way,” Cynthia said. “You know that we wouldn’t have sprung it on you. We’ve always told you about Jakob, for example. Wil’s mother was adamant that she never be told -even threatening lawsuits against Rob..!” She faltered a bit and glanced at Rob to be sure she wasn’t saying too much.

Rob’s head jerked up when she brought up the legal issues, but then he shrugged. “It doesn’t seem to matter now,” he admitted. He ran his right hand along his jaw, and glanced nervously at Wil. Wil felt lost.

“I, uh,” he began, and paused at her blank look. He swallowed. “I won’t keep any more secrets from you.” He looked at his work boots, and scuffed the floor with their toes. “There really aren’t any more, anyway.”

“Rob,” his wife said, and held her right hand out to him. He took it, and caressed it carefully around the tube taped to the top. “You did the best you could. You’ve taken care of everything.” He sought her face and she smiled at him.

Wil watched her parents distractedly, from a distant plane devoid of sensations. She read their expressions, and felt a slight stirring inside. Their love touched her distantly, like a comforting fire through thick glass. It began to permeate the fog and speak to her reasoning.

“Wil,” her mother beckoned -the one who had been her mother for as long as she knew. Wil stood and walked to the bed. Kneeling beside it, she lay her head at Cynthia’s side. Slowly and fondly, her mother stroked the dark brown hairs and pale face.

They all seemed to be listening outside the room; to the nearby physiotherapy, perhaps. Their actual thoughts, however, were simultaneously within and beyond the thin, neutral-colored walls.

Wil felt broken apart when she first understood the truth. She was still unsure where life would go from here. Would she meet this woman who not only gave her up, but demanded Wil never learn of her? Who does that to her child?

Wil looked up at Cynthia: sweet, understanding, patient Cynthia who had never had an easy life but almost always looked for the positive in it. They had all worked to keep Cynthia as long as they could, knowing Goodbye stood lurking around the corner.

This was the woman who deserved to be her mother, Wil decided: the one who stuck around and loved her. Wil had never even guessed she was not Cynthia’s, assuming lack of resemblance in looks and behavior to be a random genetic mix. In fact, Wil had always felt Cynthia treated Jakob well also, though his parentage had never been kept from them. Wil turned to Jakob, and caught a similar sentiment in his face.

Jakob, realizing Wil was scrutinizing him, scrunched up his features. She laughed.

“When we get home,” Cynthia declared, “We’re telling you all we know.” She smiled her full, exultant smile. Her family reciprocated. They could never resist.

“It’s a good thing it’s the weekend,” Wil said.

Just then, they heard a knock on the door. “Come in,” Rob gruffed.

A click, a small creak, then the usual clink of the curtain sliding to the side; and a woman in a white overcoat and an air of confidence walked fully into the room. She smiled professionally. “Hello. I am Dr. Sullivan, the respiratory physician on call today. You must be the Winters family.”

 

Continued from Sixty.
Keep reading to Sixty-Two.

Do You Believe in Magic?

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Here, he sits. The screen reflects his fat fingers, his glasses, his balding head.
Between lines of numbered reports, his memory sees small hands, perfect sight, full hair. Laughter.

There, she pauses. Against the mopped floor rest her orthopedic shoes, her sore cankles, her ample midsection.
Mundane mind-wanderings recall barefoot summers, skinny legs, an inverted belly button. Happiness.

Where, do we stand? Honest bathroom mirrors capture our eye lines, our neck bulges, our long wrinkly faces.
Fleeting cognizance remembers smooth skin, thin necks, unblemished features. Smiles.

Fairy dust? Hardly. Evaporating imagination pulls us ever farther from Never-Neverland.

 

Carrot Ranch Literary Society Prompt

Warranty Expired

“Hello, young man. I’d like to return this.” Faded department store sunlight touches on her faded gray hair.

“Ah.” Fluorescents beam off his dark, thick coif. “What seems to be the trouble, ma’am?”

She hesitates. “Well, it’s been acting up a bit you see.” Timidly, she leans closer against the high, blocky counter. “I’ve noticed for a while, of course, but the problems seem to be growing worse.”

“I see; yes. Well, we often have issues like that with our older models-”

Older?

*Ahem* “Have you the purchase receipt?”

She pauses, mid-argument…. “Let me look.” Her veined hands rise to counter height and set a white faux leather purse atop it. Making a great show of a thorough search, she rifles in its shallow depths. After a few seconds, she glances up.

He provides no comment, merely dons an ingratiatingly patient customer sales person expression.

“I can’t seem to find the bugger…” She mumbles as she digs. “Hung onto it for so long.” Rifles more. Sighs. “The husband must’ve thrown it out last time he cleaned…”

“I see.”

“…Don’t suppose you’d accept an exchange? I know I purchased at full price.” Her hands now grip the top of the purse, almost pleading.

“I’m sorry ma’am,” he says, nearly looking sorry, “But store policy is that we only accept returns with the original receipt. We do, however, offer in-store credit.”

Her face lights up. “Oh! Let’s do that, then.”

*Ahem* “First, I need to inform you of our policies and procedures, etc -”

“Oh, nevermind about that. Let me see what you sell.” She leans forward against the counter. “How much do I have?”

“Well… about $X.”

Her wrinkled face draws back in surprise. “$X?! And, what exactly does that cover? Your ad, here, says $XXX for-”

“Yes.” His ageless features move to form another patient smile. “As I said, it’s in exchange for the original purchase price, which, due to inflation…”

“But… But, I can’t get a decent body for that price!” Now, her eyes are swimming with concern. Breathing in and out, she withdraws the purse and looks at the ground with a roving dejection.

“Well, ma’am, that hardly matters.” He steeples his hands before him. “Our policies also only allow for store exchanges in certain departments.”

She stops, stares back up at him, and furrows her gray brows in deep thought. “Oh! Of course there’s always a catch.” She fidgets; self-consciously sucks in a bit. “Which departments?”

“Ha.” Good natured salesman look returns. “None of those, ma’am. Here, see, is the list.” He pushes a typed, illustrated pamphlet beneath her bone-thin hands.

She studies it, squinting a bit without her reading glasses. “But-”

“Ah, I see the confusion. No, these are not for you, ma’am.” He smiles through her shock. “However, as strict as many find our store policies to be, we do allow the credits to be transferable to family.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, and our records indicate that you have a daughter who has recently married.”

“Yes, but this paper doesn’t list something she can use. It only says Neonatal– oh.” She stops as his meaning becomes clear. “But, if I made the exchange now then I’d never get to meet my ..er, ‘exchange..'”

“Not to worry. Anticipating this, we also allow for layaway.”

“Layaway? On this?”

“But of course. That, and your account already has a positive balance from a return made just last year.” Taps screen. “Your husband, I believe.” *Cough* “Er, many condolences to you and your family.”

His polite gesture does little to soften the lingering memories of her husband’s recent passing. Still, he did make an effort. “Thank you.”

He pulls his hands back to straighten his uniform, to touch his impeccable hair, to tug at an ear. “So, do I take it you wish to make the exchange?”

She looks up. She takes a few moments to return to the present, to focus on the businesslike sales clerk before her.

“Ma’am?”

Glancing down to her hands, she studies the picture of a happy woman holding a new baby as her happy husband laughs. “Yes,” she whispers.

“Excellent!” All business as always, he produces a typed form and sets it on top of the pamphlet.

She squints at the new paper before her. From the corner of her eye, she sees him set a pen to its left. Agreement to revoke all privileges to corporeal existence in advance… she reads in one paragraph. …Future exchange guarantee is in another.

She raises her head to catch one last helpful smile, then picks up the pen and signs on the X.

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Skinwalkers, XXXII

*Beep* chirped the wristwatch, intentionally raising Nathan’s anxiety levels. “I know,” he muttered as he and Shin waited outside Franks’ apartment entry. Shin raised a curious eyebrow to Nathan but did not comment.

It was late. Nathan was tired. He’d almost taken the wrong comm as they left, almost forgotten to lockdown, almost forgotten his future plan as Shin subconsciously shifted the satchel to his uninjured shoulder while they stood in silence.

Nathan resisted the urge to scan again. If Franks was alert, he’d come soon enough.

“Nathaniel,” hissed Shin. “D’ya think-”

The door pulled to the side to reveal a strange sight. After two or three double-takes and his eyes adjusting to the dim entry lighting, Nathan recognized Franks. His neighbor stood with the aid of the door frame. Stood in a rather unsteady way. Stood there wearing a second-rate skin.

Pulling his attention from the distracting bulges and blobs, Nathan looked instead to Franks’ bloodshot eyes. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Erm…” Nathan decided to ignore the obvious elephant’s skin in the room and cut straight to their purpose. “This is Shin, from work.”

The wrinkle-surrounded eyes flicked over to his friend, his satchel, then back to Nathan.

“He’s… I told… Well… We’ve got something we need to sell.”

Even with the aid of a skin, Franks was a terrible actor. He pulled away from his leaning stance and even shuffled forward a few steps. “Oh?” His hands drew together, felt the increased artificial distance, and wiped at his fattened thighs instead. “What is it?”

Nathan turned to Shin. Shin shrugged. “Couple-a sensory mods.”

Franks came closer. “Mods?” he asked, his tone betraying his interest. “A couple?” He peered at Shin. “How many?”

Nathan held his breath and tried to catch Shin’s eye. “Oh,” Shin said in a casual tone, “I think I got three.”

“Got?” Franks nearly shrieked. “Just now? Where did you find them?”

“Now, Franks…” Nathan warned.

Licking his lips and stepping back a pace, Franks changed tactics. “I don’t know if I can help you nudes. No one’s buying the old mods for much.”

Nathan laughed. “Not from what I’ve heard.” He felt the look his neighbor shot him, even through all the folds and bunches of skin. Still, Franks looked barely able to stand up straight, let alone follow through on threats. “Shin here picked them up brand-new.” Nathan paused. “I guess you haven’t been streetside yet.”

Confused, Franks answered, “No. Why? They handin’ out free mods?”

Shin chuckled nervously; Nathan did not. He instead rubbed at the back of his head and glanced at his feet. “I wouldn’t say that, Franks.”

“Oh.” A pause, then, “Ohh ho ho!

In a complete change of demeanor, Franks stepped toward Shin and extended a friendly arm. “Come on in,” said the spider to the fly. “We have things to talk about.” He pulled Shin toward his apartment.

Shin looked back at Nathan as he was awkwardly guided into the entry. “You comin’?” he called back.

Nathan shook his head slowly in the negative, and Franks’ door slid closed between them.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXXI.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXXIII.