Where the Roads End

Little Molly Moop ran fast and she ran reckless. ‘I am a missile,’ she said in her mind as she cut through the woods. Her backpack rattled with each step. The twigs and leaves crunched beneath her. She brought noise to a silent and desolate woods. The crows watched her with their curious, black eyes. ‘I am a missile,’ she reminded herself as the trees flew by.

Little Molly Moop was a tiny thing, but her backpack was big. Not only was it big, it was heavy. But Little Molly ran on, never looking back. That was the mistake the others made. If you look back, you’ll find a bullet in your head. Her lungs and legs begged for relief, but Little Molly knew missiles didn’t need lungs or legs.

A gunshot thundered through the woods. She heard the bullet tear through a tree not too far behind her. Crows covered the sky in black, their wings fluttering and their calls rippling. Little Molly closed her eyes for a few seconds. ‘I am not me. I am a missile. And missiles don’t get scared.’ The second shot fired, and dirt erupted at her heels.

It was not the bullet, but her voice that brought Little Molly Moop down. ‘Good Molly. You listened to Mama.’ Molly found cover behind a boulder. ‘Little Ben was bad. He didn’t get too far.’ She was Molly again. Her breaths were labored and her legs numbed.

‘I am missile,’ she chanted her mantra. ‘I am a missile.’ She took off. The bag weighed on her shoulders. She was slower. She could feel it. If she followed the path, Mama wouldn’t shoot her dead. But then… A wall of fog fell before her.

‘You’re not listening. That’s not where you’re supposed to go.’ Another shot rippled through the air. Sounds of a river grew more distinct. Little Molly Moop ran to the gushing water. A ford appeared before her with a bridge of rocks. She stepped carefully, but her feet would still slip.

Two bullets splashed the water. Little Molly Moop was soaked and chilled. She scrambled across, running faster once she touched ground. She weaved through the trees when she saw something that made her jump.

The rags barely clung to the flesh-eaten bones. Hundreds of flies took off when she approached it. In its eye sockets, she saw herself. And she saw Ben, and Lucy. Little Molly couldn’t turn back now.

She was a shadow in the fog, big and monstrous. She cocked her gun and aimed. Little Molly Moop broke the most important rule. The gun’s fire illuminated the fog. The bullet pierced her arm and blood oozed through her hand. Little Molly Moop did her best to stifle her scream, but it broke through her fingers.

Little Molly Moop limped back to the curving river a wounded deer. She was no missile. She was flesh, terrible flesh. The weight of her hunter’s stare could kill her there. She imagined Mama smiling over her. Little Molly plunged into the river. Coldness enveloped her.

In a ravine of white, they stalked the red blossoms along the stream. Moose the Boy followed Hobo and Fatboy, who was actually a girl with plump cheeks. ‘I’m hungry,’ Moose groaned as he did every day for the last year.

‘Shut up and eat some snow. If you help us kill this animal, we can all eat.’ Fatboy slumped down with her make-shift spear. ‘I’ll stab it, and you just make sure it’s dead.’ Hobo dashed ahead, leaving his prints in the snow. ‘Don’t mess this up.’

They found the girl shivering by the bedrock. Hobo jumped excitedly around her, and it seemed the girl welcomed the animal’s company.

‘You’re not food,’ Moose said sadly.

‘No.’ Fatboy thought about it. ‘No. She’s not. Come back, Hobo. We don’t need another mouth to feed.’

‘I-I have food.’

‘Oh yeah? Then give me your bag and we won’t kill you.’ Fatboy held the spear to the girl.

‘No! She’s like us.’

‘Who cares? There’s plenty like us.’ Fatboy pushed the point closer to the girl with dead eyes. ‘Come on!’ Hobo began to whimper.

‘What’s your name?’ Moose quickly asked.

‘Molly.’ The girl didn’t take her eyes off Fatboy.

‘Is that what your mama called you?’

Molly nodded.

‘You should choose a new name. We did. I’m Moose and she’s Fatboy.’

‘Why?’

‘Why what?’ Fatboy was losing her patience. ‘Stop distracting me. The bag! Now!’ She pressed the point into her.

Molly shuddered. ‘Why Fatboy? And why Moose?’

‘Because I’m fat! Because I look like a boy incase you didn’t notice. God, why do you talk so much? Now if you weren’t a sniveling idiot, you could put the two together. I’m Fatboy, OK? And he’s Moose because he couldn’t think of anything better. Happy? Do you think we’re friends now? Do you think I won’t kill you now because I know your name?’ Fatboy stormed off.

‘She’s just hungry.’ Moose helped the Molly up.

The warmth seeped into Molly, but she continued shivering. They ate the jerky around a fire. Hobo seemed to be the only one who enjoyed the cold meat. Fatboy chewed angrily and intently across Molly, the flames lapping the air between the two. Outside their shelter, snow fell like petals.

‘So what will you do now that you got away?’ Moose smiled at her.

‘Keep running. I don’t want to be here.’

‘You’re stupid. There’s nowhere to go.’ Fatboy fumed. ‘If you were smart, like me, you’d start hunting.’

‘It’s getting colder and there’s fewer animals around. Maybe we should leave.’

‘We’ve tried that! We just ended back here. And we’re lucky we didn’t wander farther back. There’s two things we can do. We either stay put or we go back.’

Molly rummaged through her pack. Most of her belongings were sodden, but Molly made sure to steal a map. The paper easily crumpled, so Molly carefully unfolded each section. Each crease seemed to flake off pieces and much of the print had faded and become discolored. Little Molly Moop gestured for them to gather around. She pointed to a junction. ‘I want to go here.’

‘Weren’t you listening to anything I said? I told you our options.’

Little Molly Moop wasn’t the loudest, but she wasn’t afraid of Fatboy. ‘We can’t go back and we can’t stay.’

The fire in Fatboy seemed to burn low then. She fiddled with her spear, sulking. ‘I wish we could.’

‘Yeah,’ Moose admitted, surprising the two girls. Hobo nudged the boy.

They all looked to the map once more. The roads converged at a corner of the map. It wasn’t the clearest, but the text was still readable: The End. Moose traced their travels. ‘It won’t be easy. Why there?’

Molly’s eyes were blank as if she had recited her answer many times. ‘I want to go where the roads end so I can forget.’

In their cabin, they always had a fire. The red glow became the only light they knew. That is until the leaves wreathed the floor. Mama would let them out. The sunlight burned their eyes and they stumbled out like blinded animals. Mama was kind then. She taught them the roads to take, the animals to hunt, and the berries and plants to eat.

They never went hungry and they never went cold when Mama was kind. ‘Always listen to your mom,’ she told them with warmth in her voice. ‘Listen to me, and you’ll be safe. Nothing will ever hurt you.’

Molly recalled those days fondly, but she also remembered Mama’s changing. She was never certain what caused Mama to turn into a monster, but she decided to blame the cold. One day winter slipped into their cabin and extinguished their fire. Molly woke up from a chill and walked out to a dark room. The windows were opened and their door rattled by the wind’s hand.

Mama stood by the embers, her eyes taking a ghoulish light. Her hairs looked frayed, and a smile crept from cheek to cheek. ‘Little Molly Moop,’ She said softly, ‘come to your mother.’ Something in Molly told her to run. Mama’s arms swept across her shoulder. ‘Wake Ben and Lucy for me.’

‘Ben. Lucy. Wake up,’ Little Molly Moop nudged them awake. ‘Something’s strange about Mama. I think we should go.’

‘What do you mean?’ Lucy rolled over with half-opened eyes. ‘And where will we go?’

‘Mama taught us how to live out there. We should go. I have her map in my bag.’

‘You’re imagining things,’ Ben got up. ‘Why would we leave?’

‘Ben’s right. Let’s go see her.’

The three children stepped out into the dark room. Mama was not there. The room was devoid of warmth, with only the draft swirling about the room. Molly gripped the strap of her backpack.

‘My children,’ her voice creaked from behind them. Her gun cocked. ‘Let’s go out.’ She made them stand in a line. ‘If you listen to Mama, you’ll be fine.’ She fired her first shot into the air. They all jumped from the sound. ‘Run as fast and far as you can. If you look back, you’re dead.’

Little Molly Moop shook violently. She wanted to look to Ben, to Lucy, but she was afraid that would break Mama’s rule. ‘I’m not me. I’m not me…’

When she took off, the gun fired.

Down the valley, at the horizon, they saw the end of their world. Little Molly Moop was no longer little. Besides their appearances, they weren’t certain how they have changed or whether they could forget. Always like a shadow, their memories followed them. And maybe they learned to bury their hauntings.  But there were the mauve mountains, the field of yellow-green that billowed, and the winds to ferry them elsewhere.

Hobo trekked down the slope, the years making him slow. They followed eagerly, waiting for the moment they could step off the map. They walked briskly until they were all running. Hobo did his best to keep up, falling behind more and more.

The grass tickled their ankles and the mountains rose higher and higher. In no time, they stood before the mountains. They were on the edge of the map, ready to take the final step. To Molly’s map, they looked back to the roads they have taken. It all culminated there at the corner.

For once, Fatboy had nothing to say. The three stood there, frozen, and they all had the same thought. It was the moment they waited years for, but it had snuck up on them. There, they lingered as long as they could. And then they took the next step.

 

Alan the Monkey

“All you have to do is keep this meter down. Easy right? A monkey could do it. When it gets past this level, right here, press this button. This one right here, with the signs pointing to it. That’s all.”

And if I don’t?

“I know exactly what you’re thinking. Well let’s say in the unlikely event you don’t, then a lot of people will die. Look down there. You see all of them? Yup. Goodbye to that happy couple. Him. Her. That old guy will definitely not make it. And that baby, forget it. Absolutely annihilated. You certainly don’t want that, right?” The latch turned and the door opened. Bill left, waving. “Remember the button!” His laughter has stayed with me.

“How many years has it been since we circled the sky?” I look to my monkey, who picks its butt and shrugs. “You’re right. Who cares.” The files have risen well above my head. For every person, another piece of paper. Their name, eye color, birthday, personality, their quirks and problems, everything must be accounted for.

The buttons scintillate against a galaxy of stars when my machine poops out another paper. I skim the details, which I had quickly learned matter very little in the grand scheme of things. Who cares if that kid will get anxiety when he turns twenty? Who cares if that old woman will lose her leg to a shark attack. What the hell is a shark? Bill stopped categorizing them since the dinosaurs.

My monkey hobbles over with a plate of food. “Wooo AHHHHHHHHH!”

“Hm. Yes, I should eat.” As I eat my celestial mush, I pour my monkey a glass of Tang, the delicious fruit drink brought to us by the astronauts, very rare and very delicious. It smiles with all its teeth at me. “You know I still don’t know your name after all this time.”

“EH. Heh heh.”

“I see. Well Alan I suppose you’re right. We should clean a little.” I look around the room. I never was very organized. But to be fair, I inherited this mess from Bill. The piles and piles of paper can’t be thrown away for however long. After I vaporize my dish and Alan’s cup, cleaning is done.

In my maze of documents, we take a stroll. “Alan, can I tell you something? I am tired of this room. It is both infinite and confining. I don’t even know what that means.” I sigh. “Do you remember your life before you came here?”

He mutters something under his monkey breath.

“Yes. The grass is greener.” The memories of my past life are vague and ephemeral. Its better to bury them. Yes. We walk for some time through the maze we’ve created. I am silent. Alan, disgusted by my existential fuming, runs off when red flashes about the room. The alarm sounds.

It must have been years since we’ve checked the meter. The room turns bloodier and darker with each passing second. I run my fastest, but the maze blocks me at every turn. “Alan! Why did we make this maze?” I can hear his hooting at the maze’s end.

“Where’s the button?” Alan is at the control panel pushing every button, flailing. He screeches at me to help.

“I can’t find the button!” I shove the papers off the panel. They fall like snow. But the panel keeps stretching to oblivion, all the buttons flashing. Alan slams his monkey hands down on all the buttons and I follow his example. The alarm keeps blaring. “What are all these buttons for?”

“Wooo WOO EHHHHHH.” He shrugs.

“What? You’ve been here longer than I have!”

I am filled with dread as I look to the stars in the black abyss. I see the people ignorant of their demise, and I see the consequence of the buttons. “Alan stop. Look what we’ve done.” I pull my hair. I had forgotten I have hair. “Shit! Why do we even have these buttons?!” I sink in the red. The alarm is blaring, louder and louder. I shudder at the thought of what’s to come.

Am I going to die?

_____________________________________________________________________________________

I usually hide my thoughts or opinions behind silly stories. But here goes. There’s no ending to this one, at least a satisfying ending. I wrote this to channel my anxieties, but it became an issue of how I address and resolve my anxieties.

There’s no way this story won’t end terribly, at least not if I’m honest with the writing. I’m not OK with that though. Because that’s not the message I want to send about anxiety…

If there’s any satisfaction reading this, it should stem from the fact that’s it’s completely hyperbole. Someone smarter than me wrote that anxiety is imagining the worst situation in which you are completely powerless.

But that’s purely a narrative that we choose to believe. I think rarely is reality as bad as our predictions; the worst situation being arguably dying. “Am I going to die from this panic attack/shitty situation?” Probably not. Hopefully not. And unlike this story’s situation, in which there’s no resolution unless its lame deus ex machina or absolute shit, life is more surprising and unexpected that my story. At least I hope so.

I like to believe that people are always willing to help when they see others in need. We all have friends and family, even though we lose sight of that sometimes. And maybe they’re not always observant of that because they have their own shit to go through. And if not find strength in others, maybe finding strength in yourself is enough. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, and everyone is equipped to navigate past their anxieties if that most terrible outcome can be dispelled.

All right, my nonsensical bullshitting is done. Thanks for reading.

And thanks Lily for encouraging me to write about my own feelings. I think it was the only way I could’ve resolved this.

Thanks Spencer for bouncing ideas back and forth with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind You

Late of night, my mind wanders to strange places. I watch the last passenger depart into the night, but I wish he had stayed. The door screeches shut, and fear consumes me. A strange presence haunts me, I just know it. To my rearview,  I see myself and an empty bus. ‘Nothing out of the ordinary,’ I soothe myself .

It is a road I traveled night after night. At this hour, there is no one, nothing, save for the shuttering trees. Once again, I peer into my mirror. Nothing. I must be overtired. For my sanity, I park the bus. Row after row, I look for the monster. It must be a homeless man who overslept. Nothing. No one.

My nerves are calmed. Down the road, I push this decrepit bus as fast as it goes. It is a sad endeavor. But alas, I am out of the tree’s vicinity when a gale slams my bus. To my dismay, the lights flicker until I am in the dark.

My eyes are drawn to the my mirror. But I stop myself. What if there is something there? What if the moment it knows I know, it attacks. I clutch my wheel in cold sweat. I pray there is nothing else there. I look. It is just me, nothing out of the ordinary.

I savor the idea of parking my bus at the lot. With only a mile to go, I am surely out of harm’s way. ‘You’re being stupid,’ I laugh loudly. Louder. My loudest. I can feel its presence. I can feel the weight of its stare. I see it.

At the farthest row, it grins at me. I cannot stop. The longer I stare, the closer it approaches. I look back. Nothing. My imagination is against me. I refuse to look at the mirror.

The lot is within sight. I strain not to look. It’s horrible visage haunts me. It plagues my thoughts. I almost wish to close my eyes. I turn my head to the dark. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.  ‘Be reasonable,’ I chuckle. My eyes climb to the mirror.

Two rows away, it reaches for me. I close my eyes. ‘Fuck this!’ I don’t know how, but I run out the bus. Nothing is behind me outside. The night is silent save the lot’s buzzing fluorescence.

I shut the door to my car. My breath escapes me. I heave and heave when I glance in my rearview. A grin and my screams are lost to the night.

 

 

Alan the Pirate

When my commute was two hours, I found myself fantasizing about different, exciting lives. And maybe that’s something everyone does; they’re just thinking of what’s possibly better.

I didn’t sit on my ass ten hours a day anymore. I didn’t stare at a monitor burning my retinas out anymore. I was a fucking pirate (I actually never imagined I was a pirate. It was always the award-winning novelist fantasy). And I don’t mean the Jack Sparrow kind of pirate. I mean Captain Phillips, ‘Look at me. I’m the captain now’ kind of pirate. Yup, I was a pirate with a machine gun.

“I see a ship,” my first mate called to me. His name is First Mate Matt for alliteration.

“Yes. Let’s get them.” There I was in my captain’s quarters with my walkie-talkie, in my ship with my many cannons, in the pacific ocean with the dolphins. And there it was, some loser dinghy barely making any waves.

They were obviously no match to my superior ship. I pull up. My crew is looking intimidating, especially Crab Claw Candice. She keeps the crab claws of the crabs she eats in a neat necklace she wears everyday.

“Oh hey man. Can you help us?”

“No!” I blatantly gesture to my machine gun.

“Come on, man. We’ve been here for a few hours, and its scary.”

“No! I’m going to steal all your things, and I’m going to be your captain now. Look at me. I’m the captain now!”

“We don’t have anything.” They were right. They didn’t even have clothes on, for they were nudist.

“Gross. Put some clothes on.”

“We can’t. We’re nudist.”

At this point my crew is quite disappointed. I can feel the tension in the air. “Argh,” I mutter to myself. I fiddle with my machine gun for a few seconds. “Where you guys going?”

“We want to go back to shore.” The old man stands up and points back to the beach. His belly heaves when he gestures. Everything sags.

“Oh god.” Candice leaves at this point.

“All right. Throw them a rope,” I say to Matt. “Hey you guys have to wear clothes on this ship because I’m the captain.”

The nudist comply. They succumb to my authority as captain. I sail them back to the shore, where an army of nudists welcome back their marooned brothers.

“Listen, Alan. This isn’t working out.” I turned to Matt. “We haven’t stolen anything for months now. I got to pay rent somehow. Sorry, I’m out.”

Deep down, I know he’s right. But I’m immature and angry. “Walk the plank then!” I yelled at him. Candice leaves as well, shaking her stupid judgmental head.

At this point, I have to concede that pirating is simply not for me. Whatever. There are plenty of other endeavors. I’m back at my desk. In my head, I cross pirates off my list. At least I have writing…