Monday, March 16, 2015

Empty - Part 1

It was a wet Tuesday morning when a calm-faced twenty-something with two left feet limped toward a hulking New Jersey Emergency room. In the shadow of the monolith, a group of orderlies huddled around an overfilled smoker’s oasis, fists buried in their pockets except for the occasional threat of exposure to complete the pull of a dangling cigarette.  The circle of men, still full from the previous night’s drunken plundering, were too engorged by a heated fantasy football debate to notice her shuffle pass.  Instead, this morsel dimly broke the blocks, escaped the tackles, and touch-downed at the nurse’s station.

“Emergency?” questioned the grey-set wire haired nurse hunched behind the counter.  The woman was clamping a phone between a makeup stained shoulder and scrunched face. Her eyes never looked away from the glow of the computer screen. 

After a moment, the frail twenty-something realized the nurse was not repeating their mutual location into the phone and thus offered a response,“No…yes…maybe.”

And a verbal ménage-a-trios proceeded between the girl, the nurse, and the phone:
"No, no. The group number is R009678832...What hurts?"
"Well my head feels-"
"Hold on...yea he has been here for a few hours and we need an answer-“
“-fill this out," swiveling and insisting a Stephen King sized pile of documents upon the tentative patient.
Continuing into the phone, "-he's complaining of fogginess."

The nurse plunked a pen on top of the pile and pointed toward the seats adjacent from the counter. Continuing the awkward tango, the soon-to-be patient pivoted and made a wobbled march toward the sign that read, “ADMISSION SEATING”.

Seated between an elderly man with a towel-wrapped arm and a scraggled itchy blonde who didn't know how to cover his mouth, the girl navigated the pages of wasted paper under the rhythm of fluorescent light. A few minutes later she had an invitation to meet the wizard of nod, and a promise to cure her headache.

By the time evening was stroking toward night, a CAT-scan was rolling out a light-bright stencil of a brain cavity. A distracted doctor, just finishing off a pair of double-doubles, was on the heels of the final few minutes before stepping out from behind the curtain for the day and finally satiating his appetite.

For a late-night snack he would be sandwiching his last patient somewhere between his third liter of jet fuel and his second moment of disassociation.

His time-sick eyes and embattled bed hair told the story of a 48 hour marathon.  For completing this race he would not receive a decimaled bumper sticker, nor would there be the typical selfie wallpapering his recently slow social media account. Instead, he could expect a quip from the blunt nurse at the front desk and the satisfaction of having earned some informal exception from his boss - if he ever had a lapse in judgment in the future. For him, that was enough.

All that stood in the way to the finish line and a mid-week stay-cation, was a dull looking female with headache and a peculiar looking CT-Scan.  Dull because the girl was neither scared nor nervous, nor was she presenting the typical signs of someone having the type of headache which would force her to an emergency room. Peculiar, because a fleshy fist sized mound of the patient’s brain was missing.

The cerebellum normally hitchhiking to a brain’s undercarriage had unceremoniously left. Gone. Even more confusing was the lack of any evidence of extraction. Where the patient’s "little brain" should be was instead a large smudgy darkness.

It was impossible.
                                                      She was impossible.

But there she sat. Seated and lightly swaying like a buoy in a calm bay. She was a blur…like the glitch in the same image he inspected. 

(Top image: Feng Yu et al.;
Bottom image: Zephyr/Science Photo Library )
He thought, “How unfair that she had to casually drift into my horizon.” She was a ghost ship bouncing gently into his waters, hoisting a tattered skull and cross bone flag. He could feel the dread of uncertainty beginning to bubble up; rising from deep cool dormant currents, waiting directly below the surface where all unknown horrors wait.

His first thought was that it simply was gone. A thought he immediately suppressed. Not just because the realities of the thought terrified him or because he was already checked out for the night, but because he was a student of science. There was no room for fantasy. Occam ’s razor replaced the dull blade of intuition years ago and the pursuit of the simplest conclusion always took priority.

The reappearing Five O’clock horseshoe, he had bic’d away the last time he was home, had begun to push beads of sweat across the top of his scalp.  The creases in his forehead distributed the droplets toward the stress between his brows and down into his eyes.  Squeezing the thin skin of his lids and pinching the tussle scared bridge of his nose sent a sharp pain up his sinus – a jolt stronger than any cup of coffee.

He reconsidered his original assessment, “…She is looking to score, and her rubber legs brought her here.” He knew the drill. It was a simple wash and rinse patient. All he needed to do was walk-in, toss her a script, and he could leave the rest to the next shift.

Wash and rinse.

He woke seated directly across from the patient. Lowering her chart he wondered how long he had actually been sitting in the room in silence. He was reaching his end and need to go home. Unnaturally he jumped into conversation, "While very's not unheard of that something like this could go unnoticed.”

He quickly stood up in an impetuous effort to push back against the sleep and turned toward a countertop in corner of the room. Continuing his furious pace, he swished his white cape, scribbled some notes on a clipboard, and shuffled some papers.

Wash and rinse.

Then he threw in an anecdote, "The human body can do remarkable things. In fact there was a case just last week. A 30 year old coma patient in England woke up completely rested and speaking perfect Mandarin!"

She had no reaction. Just starred. And he saw her for what she was: A blemish. A peccadillo. A blurry imperfection in a photograph. She was a stain on his lab coat. A fever dream that had snuck in on the back of a cold.

He wouldn't let her.

Handing her a prescription for ibuprofen he doubled-down, "...isn't that remarkable!?...Mandarin!?”
Finishing, he flew out the door with his coat whisping behind him as the door closed his voice faded away, “...Hang here and someone will be in to help out with a few more tests..."

Once again she was alone. And alone she would remain.  She was forgotten. By the time she recognized no one was coming, the wizard had already escaped on his bicycle racing toward an NJ transit train, the nurse, having supplied her desired banter, had since returned to the insurance provider rodeo, and by Wednesday morning the un-toxicated patient was swaying through the double glass doors and back into the streets of New Jersey. 

 Down the block an orderly kept pace and tried to start a beat:
“…Hey Lady…”
“…Ya wanna come to a party?”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chapter 1: It Is like I Am Living a Minimalist Lifestyle with the Rest of the World. - Joe

    Joe had just grown accustomed to the moistness of the wood when his eyes caught the first speckle of dawn drip through a pinhole size opening in the exposed redbrick wall, dimly lighting his crawl space bedroom.

     Inspired, he thrust his hand into his pocket and retrieved a black digital recorder. Clenching it tight he casually spoke, “Chapter Five: Mourning Morning…learning how to bid adieu to morning dew.” With that, he triumphantly buried his recorder back into his pocket, closed his eyes, and tumbled toward slumber.

     No longer encumbered by pedestrian problems, like sunrise, he easily curled into his first nap of the day while the wet cerulean of the morning crawled across the Stark’s lawn, tip-toed over Joe’s legs, and spilled onto his side of the drywall he shared with the Stark's.

     When Joe first began to consider minimalistic lifestyles he struggled to find one that appealed to him. While the popular choices each had qualities that invigorated him in his quest for clarity, rarely did they meet the strict standards that would make true enlightenment possible. Going Vegan satisfied his need for a structured belief system, but didn’t agree with his demand for a more elevated palette. The Eastern cultures seemed encouraging with focus on inner peace, but prayer and mediation seemed like an awful lot of work. Eventually he settled on a need for a pursuit that combined his laser focus understanding of the world around him, while quelling any desire or urge to do anything to fix the world around him. 

Eventually, he settled on something of his own design: Nesting.

…maybe Nest-yle.
…he hadn’t settled on a name yet. 

Squirrel living agreed with Joe. There was something about a lifestyle of sleep, scurry, and scavenge that simply suited him. He had successfully stripped his day of responsibility, and in-turn found that he had finally been able to take ownership of his time, effort, and very existence.

     To prove he was here he would keep a detail account of his journey. Like earlier in the week, when he completed his dedication page:

This is dedicated to great explorers like Buzz Aldrin, Christopher Columbus, and Magellan.

If it were not for them…I would not have been able to take this leap for humanity, 
dig my feet into the sands of time, 
and lay my flag onto the surface of this brand new world.

     With each new discovery came a new recording. They were a series of verbal markings and notations that provided a roadmap, in case he ever needed to find his way back. And somewhere in the recesses of his digital autobiography was part one of his curriculum vitae, “Chapter 1: It is like I am living a minimalist lifestyle with the rest of the world. - Joe”

     When Joe was finally waking, it was late afternoon. The natural light of the day had faded from the pinhole in the red brick and was readily being replaced by the artificial light of the Stark’s living room, peering in from slight tears in the dividing drywall Joe was currently pushed against for warmth.

“The luxury of lethargy…when there are no deadlines…other than the ones you create for yourself, of course,” a half-asleep Joe mumbled into his closed fist.

     Using the wall for warmth was an idea he crafted, in his former life, from an episode of his favorite faux-survival reality show. Joe had discovered that by scratching away at the inner side of the drywall he was able to remove the layer of pressed paper, then remove several inches of white-clay rock, and able to reveal the remaining brown paper exposed to the elements of the Stark’s living room. Pressed tightly against it, Joe could soak in the rapidly escaping heat, much like fire-warmed granite.

This method of occupational destruction also serves as a perfect distraction during the restless twilight hours. A greater detailing of this and other productive time occupiers can be found in his personal account in “Chapter 3: Occupy Crawl-Sleep”


     Daniel Stark pressed his hands against the bowed wall and met resistance. It was not a leak – this he was certain. He had spent most of the morning inspecting his roof for missing shingles, a discoloration, or even a hole. Now standing in the living room, with his fingertips pawing the taut drywall, he knew something must have found its way into the wall and was prepared to bunk for the winter.

Whatever it was that pushed against the wall…was large.

Most days he could hear it rustling, scratching, and gnawing at his drywall in what must be an effort to trim its nails and teeth. Eventually, he feared, it would want to push out from the place that it had colonized and into the place he himself called home in a terrifying example of vermin manifest destiny.

Daniel stood in his living room staring hopelessly at the pot-bellied wall. An outside element. An intruder.  It had taken refuge in his home, and he truly did not know what to do.  Lost, Daniel turned and sat at his computer to present the query to Facebook.

As he began typing he swore he heard someone talking.


     From the largest tear in the drywall Joe could make out what Daniel was writing. Needing to document what he felt was an important moment, Joe pulled out his recorder and spoke, “Day 32: Dan is having trouble with an uninvited guest…strange that he wouldn’t just ask me for advice. Keep an eye on this developing situation.”

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blue Bayou and the Strange Thing About Temporal Injunction

All at once, life sounded like carpentry; grinding wood letting out a high-pitched whelp, then just as quickly, it all began mellowing into a low gargle, like a garbage disposal choking down the remnants of a neatly prepared meal of sound, sight, and time.

     As his very existence pinched around him, Mike tightened up. His nails dug into palms, his lids squeezed over his eyes, and his teeth plunged into his tongue sending a stream of red into the back of his throat. The taste of iron poured into his mouth, stifled his panting breath, and slowly eased him into a tailspin.

      Mike wondered if he was dying, or having some sort of anxiety attack. He could feel a tingle of panic rushing toward his toes as he hastily gulped the oversized sip mixing with his saliva. 

     The metallic taste acted like a conductor as it barreled toward his gut, charging the electrical connections that were buzzing back and forth from heart to head. As the electrons reached his skull, he could feel them energize and burst like memory firecrackers. Each one released a shower of little sparks, like fireflies popping right behind his tightly closed eyelids, illuminating seemingly insignificant moments and feelings from throughout the past day…

…How cold his feet were when he woke in the morning…

…how uncomfortable he was when his hair got staticky after the temperature dipped below 35 degrees…

…and how resolute he was with getting it all cut before going to his hockey game.

He remembered the anger he felt when the top heavy scissor-handed girl cut his hair too short…

                                              …and the anguish that washed over him when his closest friends reminded him.

…And then settled into the deep satisfaction he had when he bought the odd New York Rangers hat from the vendor outside Madison square garden.

     The hat was rather indiscriminate: A muted green snap-back with a dark under-rim. For only a moment he considered how difficult it would be to match this hat with...really anything at all...but in the end decided it would be the perfect punctuation when he wore black and an exclamation for everything else.

     In the end, it was a period. Not just for his clothing, but for the very space around him. For Mike, time did not so much stop, as it bled to a halt. As if somewhere in the distance, a hand descended and wrapped existence in the grip of an over-stretched rubber band that was just out of sight. 


Now, in the course of human existence there have only been several people who have experienced time travel. This list includes famed director David Lynch, the professor and poet B.J. Ward, and now Michael Whittmore, a hockey fan from New Jersey. For those of you who have never taken part in a temporal injunction, become familiar with the Roy Orbison ballad, “Blue Bayou”. Put it on repeat until you know not just the words, but the very breaths “Big O” takes before each chorus. And when you hear it…and I mean really hear it…all the way in the back of your throat, that moment where loneliness, happiness, everything and nothing collide on that final "-u", you will have hint of what Mike was about to experience.


      With the beat of Blue Bayou rattling around in his head, Mike opened his eyes and started to take in his new world. Never has the world buzzed with so much life. Everything vibrated and hummed in place, almost wishing to explode into motion.  Gliding his hand through the space directly in front of him he could feel as his fingers push through the surface tension of the air itself, like moving his hand through water.

Retracting his hand and inspecting the nail indentations in his palm, Mike finally smiled and considered, “I wonder what would happen if I put this hat on forward?”