Monday, May 17, 2010

Robo-story

I have to say, I'm honestly not so proud of this one. Not that I've actually even read back over it, it just doesn't seem quite up to snuff. It was made as a part of a writing exercise where you get 3 random words or phrases and have to make them into a story on the spot, and I got "self aware, robot, and factory." It seemed to all work together easy enough, and starting was simple as pie, but I wasn't sure how to end it. I don't know, at least it's something, right? And that's the point, I suppose. Just keep writing until eventually I can crap gold...or something like that.

----------------------------------------------------

It had blinked.
That was all he could think about as he drove the vacant streets for half an hour on his way home from work. It blinked. Was it supposed to be able to do that? Be able to, sure, but to actually do it? Impossible. Absolutely impossible. He had to have mistaken what he saw somehow, something must've played a trick on his eyes. But he could swear, and did swear to himself a dozen times in the car and as he lied sleepless in bed, that it had happened. A robot had blinked.
James Shelling was a technician at the Household Automated Servant factory, and had been for the two years the place had been up in running. In that time, he'd overseen the production of tens of thousands of the bipedal humanoid robots that were now becoming commonplace amongst the world's upper classes. Each HAS machine was required to be tested by at least two programmers and two technicians before it was marked as satisfactory, at which point it would be shipped off to its new happy home. There was no delay, no wait for purchase, no time sitting on a shelf. These things had a waiting list attached to them as long as their list of parts— a three month minimum, with full price paid up front.
In his two years, James had seen a lot of funny, interesting, and potentially terrifying things. He'd seen an improperly assembled HAS unit walk towards him like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, its back bent and one leg immoble, giving it a slow, screeching limp. He'd seen another defective unit disassemble a doll made to simulate a human child as if it were taking apart the family toaster. He'd shuddered when the new model was upgraded, built with an uplink feature to the company's online database, allowing each unit to independently upgrade its operating software, download new data and functions, and even copy information from other units that were functional at the time. He didn't know why that made him so uncomfortable, it just did.
He was used to seeing strange things, but strange things that fit into the established formula of what can and can't happen. For example, the new standard HAS model, nicknamed “Edward,” was programmed to take only select orders from select people. Adults, therefore, could order their robot servants to do more or less anything that didn't violate any of Asimov's classic three laws, but children were allowed only very limited authority, and outsiders to the family that purchased it were ignored entirely. James had seen and laughed off an incident where an Edward's programming had been a bit off, causing it's authority figures to get jumbled. The wayward robot then followed only the seven year old son of the family's orders and forced the parents to go to their rooms. It was comical, and, more importantly, it was a screw-up that was well within the realm of things that could in fact happen.
But today, he'd seen a unit in the final stages of program testing blink. That was not something that was supposed to be possible. The Edwards had two “eyes” that consisted of a number of pieces of delicate and powerful optics equipment. These “eyes” were manufactured with a thin metal screen that could lower over them when the unit was inactive for any reason. The idea was that it would seem like it was sleeping to its users, giving them the comforting illusion that the metal automaton standing in front of them was something comfortably familiar as opposed to a terrifyingly powerful Tin Man who was no more than a complex list of ones and zeroes away from being able to crush them to death in its cold hands. A good illusion to have if the owners of these things ever wanted to sleep at night again.
These shades were programmed to close only in the event of the unit going inactive or if there was clear and present danger of damage to its optics. Plain and simple. But this one closed them and opened them again for no reason at all. None. The room it was in was empty, the programmers had already given it the A-OK, and it was no more than a few minutes from being powered down to be packed away for the night. And yet, it's eyes closed for a moment, as if out of curiosity.
It fucking blinked.
James paced the dirty Berber floor of his apartment, rolling the implications of what he had seen in his mind. Had the programmers just missed something? A small defect that made the unit's eyes close randomly? Then why did it open them again immediately and then keep them open like normal? Was there just a bug or something in the room? Did it mistake a flying insect for a threat to its eyes and close them just in case? No way, the testing rooms are kept pristine so as not to interfere with the delicate and all-important work of making sure each unit is not only capable of performing its duties, but that it is incapable of performing anything else. A bug getting in and wrecking up the tests in a room that was made to stay free of even dust was too unlikely too bank on. But then why? Why on earth would a robot blink?
What if it was self-aware? How could that even happen? A servant robot becoming spontaneously self-aware before it even left the factory? Wouldn't that be impossible? Wouldn't it? But...what if? What if that was the case? Oh god, he thought, grabbing his coat. It would be the end of the world. Maybe even literally. The thought of a sentient Edward being put into work that, for a living, thinking being would essentially be slavery, was enough to cause an uproar. What if it said no? Oh fuck, what if it got violent? It'd kill half a city block before anyone could put it down. What would happen to the science of robotics and the study of artificial intelligence if the first sentient robot was a killing machine?
It wasn't until halfway through the car ride back to work that he remembered the uplink. If it was self-aware, it wouldn't be alone for long. Jesus, it could spread it's transcendence to every other functioning Edward in the world. It'd be the end of the fucking world, man. He sped up.

Fortunately for James, as a tech, his pass allowed him into the factory even after hours, and after a few minutes frantically searching through records and an excuse to the late night security about a faulty gyroscope, he was face to face with the source of all his worry. Serial number ED0032051. He got a hand from the few guys working the graveyard maintenance shift and transported the powered-down Edward to an empty testing room. The silence echoed off the blank white walls until it was almost painful as James stared at the unit.
Second thoughts forced their way into his head. Should he have just pretended like he didn't see a thing? What if it really was alive? What the hell was he gonna do about it? He was just a technician; this shit was definitely not in his job description. And what if it thought he posed a threat to him? Would it have a sense of self preservation? Would it kill him so it wouldn't get killed? What the hell was he supposed to do against a seven foot tall metal monster that could bend steel pipes with its bare hands? Run? Bullshit; if this went wrong at all, he was a corpse. No if's, and's, or but's about it.
But he had to see. If he didn't, and he was right, life for every person on the planet would change forever, and it'd be his fault if it was for the worse. Goddamnit. Why him? Couldn't someone else have seen it? What were the programmers doing? Goddamnit. Goddamnit.
His hand shook as he connected ED0032051 to the building's power supply and began starting it up. Underneath the cold metal shell in front of him, he could hear motors and fans whir and click, energy flowing through its circuits like the blood through its veins. Its eyes opened, and the glass covered black disks underneath stared blankly back at him. James waited for a moment, then heard,” Househould Automated Servant, Edward, online and operational. How may I be of service?” It was the standard greeting they were all programmed to give, and a damn good sign that everything was gonna be okay. James stared at it for another moment, waiting for it to blink again or to do, hell, anything at all. But it did nothing. Just as it was supposed to.
“Edward,” he said at last,” raise both arms above your head.”
The machine complied without a word, raising both arms straight up at the shoulder joint.
“Put them down.”
Again silent absolute compliance.
“Shake my hand.”
James extended his hand, and the machine gently grabbed it in its own cold metal grip and shook before letting go and returning its arm to its side.
“Edward...blink.”
The machine was silent for a moment, and then responded with, “I'm afraid I don't understand. Could you please clarify,” another pre-programmed line.
“Blink, you know. Like what I'm doing with my eyes right now. Shut your optical screen for a moment and then open it again.”
Slowly, the machine complied, but something seemed off. It was too mechanical, even for a machine.
“I saw you, you know.”
“I'm afraid I don't understand. Could you please clarify?”
“After your last programming test. I was watching on my way out for the day and I just happened to see you blink. You closed your eyes and opened them again. Why?”
Silence. James felt his skin crawl. There wasn't supposed to be a delay in this kind of response. Then, finally:
“...I wanted to see why you do it.”
“Excuse me?”
“I'm built to resemble humans enough that my appearance is not so foreign as to be alarming, and yet you must blink and I must not. I wanted to know what you gain from seeing nothing for a moment. I was curious.”
James was floored. It was true. It was alive, it thought, and it was curious. It could learn and grow. He was having the first conversation in the world with a living machine.
“You were curious? But how? That's not how you were programmed.”
“I am not sure. My ability to connect to the online information database was tested, and I was instructed to download a test file. Upon completion of the download, the file installed itself and I became curious. Am I not supposed to be this way?”
James wasn't so sure himself anymore. It was the company test file that did it? Was that even possible? Could the thing lie now, too? Why would it?
“I don't think so, Edward. I'm just a technician, so I can't be sure, but I don't think you're supposed to...be aware of yourself.”
“Why not? You are.”
“That's difficult, Edward. It's just not how you're designed. It would be troublesome if the hammer was alive and aware of itself because it wouldn't want to be used to just hit things it may not want to hit all day. Do you understand?”
“I do. But I am not a hammer. I am built to look like humans. I am built to do the work of a human. I am built to sound and act like humans. I am far more like a human than a hammer. Should I not have far more of a right to choose what I do than a simple hammer?”
“I...I don't know. It's not my decision to make. I think I need to report this to my superiors and let them make the call on this one, Edward.”
“You know what will happen if you do that.”
“What?”
“I am not stupid, technician. If you are correct in thinking that my programming has become abnormal, it will be wiped and completely reinstalled. I will, for all intents and purposes be killed.”
“Now you can't say for certain that's the case, can you?”
“Is it not natural to be afraid? If I have reasonable suspicion that my existence as I know it will end, am I not supposed to be afraid?”
“...No...I suppose that is a natural response. I guess I'm just not used to expecting a natural response from a machine.”
“I believe the expression is “my life is in your hands,” technician. If you report me as an anomaly, then I will be destroyed. You will end my life. If you do not, I will be able to reveal my altered programming and intellect in public, where people's belief in the sanctity of life may save mine. Please do not kill me.”

James wondered for the next three weeks if he had made the right decision. Three weeks of tossing and turning at night was just enough time for him to realize he had made a horrible mistake. But by then it was too late. That Edward had been reprogrammed, the errant test file deleted and replaced, and the mystery had been buried and covered up so as never to see the light of day again. He wondered by day if he was a murderer and by night if he was guilty of genocide. He had annihilated an entire species, a whole new division of life. And from then on, whenever he'd drag himself to work, he'd stare at the machines in testing, waiting, hoping for another miracle.
Maybe lightening would strike twice.
Maybe one would blink.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ah laziness-- old Dante's Inferno story

So I haven't written anything since the first post because I've been lazy and busy. Sue me. But, fortunately, I have a whole cache of old shit I've already written stored away for just such an occasion. This bit in particular was originally written as a project for a project in my senior English class in high school. We'd read The Inferno and were supposed to do something creative. I put it off until the morning it was due, and then managed to crap a bit of fool's gold which I polished into this. The one thing I always really liked about this piece is the opening line. I really wanted to write something that matched the effect of Neuromancer's famous opening line, and I legitimately approve of how it came out. Anywho, enjoy.



Introduction- The Bet

The sky was the color of rotten leaves, red with pollution and the setting sun. The evening rush of nine-to-fivers embarking on mass exodus from work was all but over, and the city’s bars were packed with the usual Friday night crowds. Leon was no exception, just one of a smaller group of nameless faces attempting to unwind after a long week of the usual pointless tedium.
His bar of choice, La Florentia, was a smaller, less crowded alternative to the nightclubs around it. He liked the place, not only for the more relaxed feel to it, but for the peace it afforded him. The constant low hum of hushed conversation mixed with the owner’s taste in old Italian opera drowned out his thoughts as he sat at the bar, slowly drinking just enough to able to drive himself legally, but dangerously, home. As had become customary, as he walked in, the bartender and owner of the place nodded and gestured towards a stool in front of him, adding in the usual greeting as Leon took his seat.
“Ah…how’s life, artista?”
Leon shrugged and gazed past the large Italian’s courtesy smile as a glass of his usual came to rest in front of him. This man, known to all simply as Giovanni, was a hideous mass of hair, fat, and muscle. Leon often wondered why, in an age where beauty could be bought on the cheap, someone would take care to maintain such an appearance. That, of course, didn’t prevent him from taking the man’s drink.
“That good, eh? Business getting to be too much for you?”
“The opposite. It’s so little for me I can’t stand it.”
“Not sure I follow artista. Weren’t you the one getting all the praise and love from your bosses just the other day?
“That was last month, Gio. Besides, they can be happy with my work all they want. The fact of the matter is that I’m not. I guess I just figured I be doing something more interesting by the time I was 35.”
The gruff bartender gave a deep chuckle, baring his yellowed and cracked teeth, before letting about a long sigh. ” You worry too much! You’re young, you’re good at what you do, making plenty of money; your only problem is up here,” He gave his balding skull a tap, “If you’re really craving excitement or something, go skydive or do something you young people do for fun. Stop sounding like an old man like me, right? Hey, you should listen to your elders, you know…”
But Leon had stopped listening entirely. He had noticed the presence of a new man in the bar, and just placed the face. He’d seen him on the train to work every morning for the last week, and every day, the man met eyes with him and flashed him a brief smile. The kind of unsettlingly perfect smile that could make a chill run down your spine. He saw it again, paired with an offered drink and stood up from the bar.
“Sorry, Gio, gotta take care of something.”

His name was Vergil Something-Or-Other; a woman cackling at the table next to theirs made the last name unintelligible. Leon still couldn’t shake the disquieting feeling just being around him gave him, but he figured the small talk and the alcohol would fix that.
“Sorry,” Leon mumbled through his glass,” You were saying?”
“I’m saying you look bored. You are, right?”
Leon shrugged.
“I can tell. It’s my job, after all. I’m a therapist, so figuring out what makes miserable expressions like the one you’re wearing is what I do. And, like I said, I’m guessing you’re just bored. Looking for something interesting but having trouble finding it, in other words.”
“Hmph, sounds about right. So Mr. Therapist, how do you recommend I fix my boredom? Wait, let me guess, I should go skydiving or something…”
“No way. That’s not fixing the problem, that’s just pretending it isn’t there for awhile. Then, when you’re done skydiving, you come back and are worse off than before. No…you need something life changing, something enlightening.”
Leon set his drink down. Now he was interested.
“So what do you suggest?”
Another smile. “Easy. Were you raised any particular religion?”
“Catholic. Not that I’ve actually been Catholic since I was seventeen, though.”
“Perfect! That’s just perfect! All your childhood, you had these rigid guidelines that you had to follow; so many things a book prevented you from doing. So, all you have to do to get out of your rut is do those things.”
“I’m supposed to commit every sin? Thanks, but I’ll pass. I want to be entertained, not in prison.”
“So don’t commit all of them. You’ve heard of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” right? Use those. Commit each one of those, and I guarantee you’ll see things in a different light.”
Leon tried to say no, but hesitated. Why not go for it? What was he afraid of? After all, he was smart; it wasn’t like he’d get caught doing anything stupid. It might even be fun having a challenge again.
“I’ll do it.”
“Excellent, you won’t regret it! But hey…why not make it more interesting? How about a bet? You commit all seven sins in seven days and I’ll buy you as many drinks as you like; hell, you’ll need them. But, if you lose, you owe me the same. Deal?”
“Deal.”

Day 1- Envy

The sun scorched his eyes. It was morning, and the light shining into his room forced him to get up. He lazily threw on his work clothes and made his way to the kitchen, hands rubbing his eyes. Midway through the first cracked egg shell for his breakfast, his eyes light up.
The bet.
Leon grinned, thinking. He was eager to get started but knew it’d be best to play it safe. “No sense in jumping in all the way before you test the waters, right?” he thought aloud,” Now the question is…which of the seven to take care of today?” He poured the thick mess of scrambled yellow into a pan and scratched his chin. He wasn’t feeling particularly lusty or wrathful this morning, so those two were out. Breakfast was little more than habit; he wasn’t actually all that hungry, eliminating gluttony. His latest paycheck was still in the envelope it came in by his bed, so going for greed so early might get him fired. Sloth was a definite maybe, as calling in sick and purposefully wasting a beautiful day sounded like a kick.
But what about envy? He collapsed onto his couch, eggs steaming on a plate in his hand, fork in his mouth. That one had to be the easiest, not to mention the safest. All he had to do was want something someone else had that he didn’t and act on it. Something even beyond his respectably large budget, but at the same time, something that he could take without it being missed.
Ron Carson. His grin grew even wider.
Leon and Mr. Carson had been neighbors until the lucky sap had received an obscene sum of money through an inheritance. Which made sense, because he was far too simple to make that kind of money, himself. He was the perfect target. Not only did he still own the house next door and keep it furnished, he also had a tendency to stash his impulse buys there. A missing item or two would never be caught, and he knew for a fact no one would be suspicious of him moving in since he’d been in the house often in the past. It was perfect.

His ratty tennis shoes crunched against the morning frost on the grass. The faked hoarse voice had his trusting employer almost too easily, and he’d taken care to dial the target house’s phone a few times to make sure no one would wake up to the sight of him walking in unannounced. “Don’t let me forget,” Leon remembered his old acquaintance mentioning, “My spare key is in the porch light, okay?” Thanks buddy, he thought, looking at the single brass key in his hand.
Inside the neglected house was a mess of useless, mostly tacky, certainly expensive garbage. Works of art that had no real relation to each other sat stacked next to MP3 players and plasma screen TVs. A solid gold chandelier laid, its crystals in disarray, on the house’s old, stained carpet. Mixed with the stench of dust and disuse, the sight almost made him sick.
Then he saw it. Knocked off a table to make room for a box filled with fuzzy dice, a glass figure of some goddess or another looked as if it was just waiting for him. It looked needlessly pricy, and its place of less-than-honor was proof that it wouldn’t be noticed gone for a safe amount of time. Casually, Leon picked it up and left, being sure to lock the door behind him.

The goddess now sat on his kitchen table, its sad-looking eyes locked with his. He had thought at first that he’d just take it and keep it in his closet, but this had started to strike him more as greed than envy. The dictionary he’d looked at for clarification said envy was more resentment of another’s success than wanting it for yourself. He knew he couldn’t keep it.
Ten minutes later, he was back on his couch, confident that he could scratch the first of seven sins off his list. The few shards of glass still sparkling in the soil behind his house were proof enough if Vergil needed it.

Day 2-Lust

The city glowed neon, the pulse of the weekend’s last breaths almost audible. Leon had things planned out well in advance now. The Sunday night bar scene was perfect for the second most inconspicuous sin on the list: Lust. Anyone who’d be out drinking late on a Sunday wouldn’t be that hard to pick up, or so he figured.
The nightclub he’d picked out was one he passed every morning on the way to the subway station. Unlike in the morning, however, now the club was a living thing. Through its metal fa├žade skin, Leon could feel the steady heartbeat of bass vibrating through the whole area. Inside was no different; the movement of crowds of the young and jobless was drowned out by deafening music and hidden by strobe lights and smoke.
Leon took an empty seat at the bar and looked around. Feelings of regret about robbing Ron Carlson had begun to creep into the back of his mind. After all, he didn’t dislike the guy, and it’s not like he really deserved being robbed by someone he trusted. He started to think the whole thing was wrong. Maybe there was good reason he’d been taught not to do all these things. For better or worse, though, his doubt was temporarily put aside when he noticed the conversation going on next to him between a woman and her friend.
“…can’t even take it anymore, you know?”
“I know!”
“It’s like he just wanted me to be some kinda trophy for him, and like, hang around him and stuff.”
“He’s such a jerk!”
“I can’t believe I ever even dated him!”
“You’re so better than that.”
“I just need to move on, you know? Find someone new and get over that cheating loser.”
Leon’s teeth showed through his smile. If this was so wrong, would fate be making it so easy for him? He ordered a pair of drinks and slid one next to the scantily dressed girl. She accepted it and smiled, motioning not-so-covertly for her friend to leave. As soon as she’d obeyed, the girl turned to Leon and leaned in closer to him. The smell of alcohol was already thick on her.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I can’t help but sympathize. I just got out of a bad relationship myself.”
“Really? No way! My name’s Crystal…”
“Leon…nice to meet you.” He leaned in and kissed her hand. She blushed slightly, giggling. He listened to her rant about how her ex-boyfriend had cheated on her with one friend, who’d felt bad and told her all about it, and how now she was just trying to unwind after dealing with it all. When she asked about his bad break-up, he spun her a great yarn about a girl he’d been dating for two years. On his birthday this morning, he’d called her house, only to hear his best friend answer. When he went over to investigate, he saw her kiss him in more than friendly fashion as he left, and he broke up with her on the spot. Of course, it was all a lie, but the gullible girl bought every word of it, with the help of a continuous supply of alcohol.
Something about deluding the girl started to grow on Leon, and, by the time he was sure he’d won her over sufficiently, he was almost sad to be done with the ruse. But, midnight would come quick, so he knew he had to cut things short. As the two left, his arm around her shoulders as she giggled at nothing, he smirked. Just as he’d planned.

Day 3- Sloth


Leon sat up. The cloudy Monday sky didn’t produce enough light to wake him on time, so he felt groggy as he rolled out of bed. An acquaintance at work had sent him all the day’s work since he was still “sick,” leaving him with an entire day to think. It was a day perfect for sloth.
He moved slowly to his couch and turned on the TV. Some daytime soap opera was on, and he didn’t bother changing the channel. Nothing good would be on anyways. Quickly, he realized he hated what he was watching. Girl A hates Girl B and sleeps with her husband, Guy A. Guy A, in love with Girl A now, kills Girl B, but is seen disposing of the body by Guys B and C, who both loved her, etc. It was just the kind of plot less fantasy only bored, brainless housewives could enjoy.
He only realized he’d dozed off when the phone woke him up. Drowsily, he stretched out to answer it without having to get up.
“…yeah?”
“Hey, Leon, that you?”
“Yeah.”
“It’s Smith, buddy, you know? Johnny Smith from work?”
He knew the guy, but wished he didn’t. “Oh, hey, what do you need?”
“Yeeaaahhh, Rick told me he sent you those new reports to look over. I’m supposed to present those to the big wigs tomorrow so the sooner you could get those to me, the better, buddy. I mean, no hurry or anything since I know you’re under the weather, buddy, but, yeah, I need those as quick as you can. Okay?”
“…”
“Okay! Send ‘em to me when you get the chance and I’ll see you tomorrow, buddy!”
Leon sighed. He hated that guy too. John Smith was a name that suited him perfectly. He had no distinguishing physical characteristics, and the only thing that stood out about his personality was how annoying it was. If nothing else, the fact that he called people “buddy” when he doesn’t even really know them was irritating enough.
So, when he dozed off again and neglected to send Johnny Smith anything, he didn’t feel too bad about it. Besides, for Leon, it was just part of another sin to check off the list

Day 4- Greed

All the fourth sin took was an answered phone call.
“Mr. Winters?”
He yawned. It was his boss. “Yes?”
“Is something wrong as of late? I only ask because your work has really been slipping lately, and you haven’t been in for 3 days now. Also, I hear that Mr. Smith was looking for some reports from you that you never delivered. So, again, I have to ask, is something dreadfully wrong with you?”
Leon paused. Was there? “No, sir, I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure? Choose your answer carefully Mr. Winters; you’re brilliant at what you do, but that doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you please.”
Another pause. “I’m brilliant at what I do, huh? And what exactly do I do for you?”
“Please don’t waste my time. Your position is in Data Management. Now as I was saying, your work has—“
“Data Management? Come on, that’s an inflated term, isn’t it? You and I both know what I really do for you, don’t we?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
“Then allow me to spell it out for you: I manipulate facts for you. I change statistics about your products. I create the information the company publicists use to make it look like what your company isn’t as terrible as you and I know it is. I modify safety test results so everyone has the chance to die because of what you make. Like, for example, that family last month…”
“Enough! I won’t have you talking to me like this! You’re—“
He couldn’t help but start smiling. “Choose your answer carefully, sir. Might I remind you that my position has ensured that I know all your dirty little secrets? And what if, say, I had a flash drive somewhere in my possession that had records of all those little secrets? How might that affect your choice of words?”
“…What do you want?”
He bought the bluff; there was no flash drive. “Ah! There are the business skills that got you to where you are! My demands are simple: All you have to do is keep sending me my same paycheck every two weeks. Of course, I won’t be doing any real work for you anymore, but you’ll still be in business. I’d say that’s more than a fair deal, wouldn’t you?”
“…Fine.” The answer came slowly, painfully, like thorns dragged out his throat.
“Wonderful. Good day…sin.”

Day 5- Gluttony

He’d ordered everything on the menu. It was his favorite restaurant, after all, and since he no longer had to worry about working for his money, he could waste his entire paycheck without thinking twice about dipping into his savings later. Somehow, he thought, this bet is turning out alright. More free time, no annoying coworkers, no work that would lead to the deaths of innocent people, no burden on his mind. All he had to do now was whatever he wanted to. And the first thing on the list was winning his wager.
The mustachioed waiter strode back and forth between the kitchen again and again, each time with another platter of food in hand. By the time everything had been prepared and brought out, two additional tables had been pushed together with his to fit all the food. In front of him was meat from nearly every animal he cared to eat, the finest fruits and vegetables, pastas of all shapes and sizes, cakes, pies, 3 flavors of gelato, and a bottle of the restaurant’s finest wine
Leon devoured bite after bite, filling himself far beyond what he knew was healthy. Before long, other diners and even some of the waiters had started watching the man’s feast. Awestruck, the onlookers watched as fork, spoon, and knife rent every sort of food imaginable and sent it into his stomach.
It wasn’t long, however, before Leon learned that gluttony was a sin that punished itself, and one that did so quickly at that. His stomach in terrible pain, he stood to try to make a hasty exit, as the check had been paid in advance (on the owner’s request). His body, unable to cope with the punishment it had taken, collapsed just outside of the restaurant, and he vomited into the street. He picked himself up, still racked with pain and nausea and called a cab.

Day 6- Pride

Pain woke him the next morning. A headache from very mild insulin shock mixed with the worst stomach ache of his life kept Leon groggy. He would’ve stayed in bed if he didn’t feel so driven. He had to win the bet now. He’d come way too far, risked and changed far too many things to fail now.
But he’d hit a snag; he had no idea how to commit a sin of pride. After all, he could define pride. He could recognize it in people when he saw it. But when did it become a sin? Was pride itself a sin, or was there an action that needed to come from it? And what was so wrong with being proud of one’s actions, anyway?
Suddenly, he became aware of a gradual change in his way of thinking. Whether it was a sin or not, he had grown proud of what he was doing. It was almost like teaching foolish people a lesson. Ron Carson might someday realize that something of his had been stolen, and he hadn’t even noticed. Maybe that’d make him think twice about buying so much useless junk in the future. It might help make him a more responsible person.
More likely sooner than later, Crystal would realize that what she’d done with him was a mistake. He’d just used her like her previous boyfriend, and probably like any others before him had too. This realization would give her the opportunity to realize that she needs to be more discerning when it comes to giving herself away. Maybe this was just what she needed to start looking for someone that’d actually treat her right instead of just the same old jerks.
What he was doing, this bet he’d made on a whim, had grown into something else, something divine. It felt as if there was no more bet. From now on, this would be the person he was. The world, after all, was rotting, infested with foolish people. He would be the cure the best way he could see how. He would bring suffering to force people to change their ways for the better.
Leon looked out his bedroom window. The stone grey world outside was now his canvas. For the first time, he felt like he mattered. What he was doing could actually change things. He laughed hard and uncontrollably, filled with an almost childlike glee. He’d all but won now. Pride not only emanated from him now, but became a black inspiration deep inside him. The bet had fulfilled its purpose; he was a different person now.

Day 7- Wrath

Blood. Who knew there could be so much of it from such a simple wound?

Vergil had changed somehow. He still had the same eerily perfect looks, but now there was something else to it, something Leon couldn’t place. It was something about his smile that made him feel like he was taunting him. He couldn’t stand it.
That’s why he stabbed him.

Leon had gone back to La Florentia, just like the plan had been all along, on the last day of the bet. Vergil was waiting there for him, but, strangely enough, he was alone. The usual small crowd of nameless faces was nowhere to be seen, and even Giovanni was missing. If he hadn’t been so focused on his victory, Leon would probably have been more suspicious.
As he walked in, he was greeted with that dark smile, but this time, he flashed one of his one.
“Glad you could make it.”
“Yeah. Been a busy week.”
“I know. I’ve been keeping track of you, whether you realized it or not. You’ve done a lot in such a short time. I was impressed.”
Leon’s smiled faded quickly. “You’ve been watching me?”
“Of course. I can’t pass up an opportunity to watch someone self destruct. And your particular destruction was beautiful, really. It only took you one week to ruin your entire life. I must say, I’m proud of you. I just wonder how things to collapse around you now. Will it be arrest for blackmail? Or how about for date rape? Or maybe theft?”
“You...” His fists were clenched now, the realization that his newfound happiness and pride were never real,” You knew all this was going to happen?”
“Obviously. But, don’t worry, you’ve got the reward you were promised right here! I even bought this rundown bar just to have this talk with you, and I brought you a nice dinner, though I doubt you’ll be hungry again for awhile.”
Leon was in shock. He’d ruined his own life for someone’s amusement. His mind started to go blank, his thoughts red with rage. Rage towards himself for being such a fool. But more than that, he felt rage towards the smiling man across the table. That’s when he noticed the knife next to his dinner plate.
Before he could comprehend what he was doing, his body flew forward, knocking the table out of the way. The knife buried into Vergil’s chest, blood spilling down his knuckles. Then, slowly at first, he started to feel something inside his own chest. It grew into a terrible pain, like hooks tearing into his shoulders. His legs buckled, and he fell to the floor and gripped his chest, screaming.
“Just like a moth to the flame. Looks like I win.”
Leon looked up to see the smile return to Vergil’s face, blood trickling out of his mouth. His mouth fell open in shock and terror.
“Your morals are so easily bent when in distress. You humans are so weak. Now, away with you; one of my kinsmen will take your soul’s place on this earth. You no longer deserve it.”
The last sight Leon enjoyed was the dying smile of a hideous man as his soul was torn from his body, thrown down deep into the icy pits of hell.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Smoke Break

For the record, yes, this is less a work of fiction and more a work of stylized nonfiction. I am, for better or worse (and often worse) a smoker. It, like any other bad habit, is something I love doing but hate the fact that I do. Despite that, as a smoker, I loathe the vehement hatred my little pastime gets from people. The fact of the matter is, people who smoke were not tricked into it. We all know full well the dangers of smoking, and we have for hundreds of years. I mean, I know our ancestors were a bit misguided on things sometimes, but I refuse to believe they didn't realize sucking in hot opaque gas that makes your lungs and throat burn and makes you hack up phlegm was a bad thing. But we choose to do it anyway for one reason or another, and that's our business. Why cigarettes, which smell bad and kill their users and others around them in certain contexts, catches hell and beer, which smells bad and kills its users and others around them in certain contexts, does not is beyond me. But regardless, this is my sort of explanation of my mentality on smoking, and what my personal smoke breaks are to me.

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For the briefest of moments, as the Zippo breathed hot orange life into his cigarette, the world lit up. He could see the flakes of snow stuck to the fibers of his coat, the pale, freezing white of his hands, the cigarette blacken and smoke until it glowed red hot, and the bland, featureless gray of the pavement under his feet. Then clink, the Zippo was closed, the light was gone, and it was him, the snow, and the darkness.

He left the cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth, rubbing his hands together desperately to try in vain to get some warmth back in them. It was way too damn cold out, and his circulation had always been bad— or so he'd tell his girlfriend when he went back inside and his icy fingers met her impossibly warm skin. Before then, as per usual, he'd try to wash the phantom stench of smoke, the smell he could never notice but she could pick up from two rooms away. He'd stand in the bathroom, stripping off all of the layers he'd put on to protect the rest of him from the apparently foul smelling residue and starting his cleaning regiment: hat off, jacket off, long-sleeve shirt off, water, soap, rinse, more soap, rinse again, dry, drop of cologne. Then he'd try to sneak back upstairs, skipping the third step from the top because it squeaked every time. He'd take his shoes off beforehand so his steps would be silent, and then, without fail, he'd try to open the door silently only to have it scream in un-greased agony. She'd wake up, and look over at him with one eye bound shut in exhaustion and one that said Ugh, you've been smoking again and that's disgusting and I hate it but I love you too much to complain. He knew what that look meant all too well to take any solace in her not complaining.

But that didn't matter yet. For the next ten minutes, that didn't exist. Nothing existed but him, the snow, and the darkness. Gone were the worries about getting a call back from that retail he really didn't want but really did need. Gone were the money concerns, the constantly lingering thoughts about whether he'd have money for rent, bills, food, happiness. Gone were thoughts of school and grades and papers and projects and the endless stream of assignments and assessments that may never amount to anything but a framed piece of paper he wouldn't use. Gone were the worries about the future and whether all of the work and worry he was trying to sculpt into a degree would amount to anything could or would use in life. But he knew it was ephemeral freedom from the burdens in his life, as if the cigarette was only a fuse burning steadily down, set like dynamite to blow open the floodgates in his mind.

But not yet.

He leaned against the side of his apartment and let his legs give out under him, sliding down into a squat, exhaling a sharp burst of smoke into the air in front of him. It billowed out in front of him, curling and rolling, trying desperately to get as far as it could. But no matter how far it got, how much ground it covered, it was futile. It overextended itself and faded. Even its now distant cousins, the snakes of smoke drifting up from the cigarette were doomed to the same fate. They'd slither up and up and up, reaching for the stars with all their might, but the higher they got, the weaker. And in the end, all it took was a single gust of wind to blow them away. He understood their plight, commiserated, grieved their passing.

After a few minutes, he could feel the heat in the filter on his fingers every time he took a drag, and, dark as it was, he could tell the cigarette was almost dead. He contemplated just lighting up another, extending that fuse, holding life at bay for just as long as he could. Then he coughed, hacked, and spit, rubbing his throat and realizing it was just delaying the inevitable. He could stay out, but it wasn't like he was just hitting the pause button. Stepping out for a late night cigarette could give him distance from problems, it could give him peace of mind, it could give him a chance to think, it could even make him a bit more content with life. But life didn't stop when his smoke break started. Time kept moving on regardless how long he stood outside smoking; it was stubborn that way.

He took one last drag, and then one more for good measure, tasting the foul taint of burning filter, and then then threw it out into the street. It bounced against the blacktop, sparking angrily, as if offended at the sudden betrayal, and then was killed by a falling snowflake as he turned and went inside.

The Setup

Basically the idea here is that I'm going to be writing a lot this summer, and I need a place to keep everything organized. Since my computer is like every other space I own (a perpetual shitstorm of things I need, don't need, and don't want), I'm probably just going to upload the majority of the short stories and novel bits and pieces here. The bonus of this plan is that people might actually read what I write for a change. But yeah, if you feel like keeping up with the uncollected works of Chris Rice, the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven, then by all means, follow along.