A story about nothing

At daybreak, they flew out like great cranes cutting through the heavens. Some mornings, the air was turbulent. But today was calm. With the wind, cold and biting, in their hair, they watched the earth, eager for the time they can step on solid ground. They followed the stream that cut through the farmlands. The ground drew closer and closer with all its details; fields of water and rice stretched as far as the valley ran. In them, the clouds and sun were reflected. And then they let go. Their paper planes flew away without them. They fell and fell until the ground kept beneath their feet. They looked to one another happily.

The farmers greeted them in their rice ponds. In the heavens, the people looked like the slightest brush of paint against a landscape. But here, they animated with their sun-bleached and hardened faces. They ran to them with excitement and curiosity. “How was it?” Chang asked. “Did you see Death?” And Mon said, “Yes, it was indescribable. I don’t think it was sad, nor was it happy. But you’ll see it soon if you like. Please show me your hand.”

Mon traced a word on Chang’s hand. They smiled at one another. “Thank you.” They made their way to the village. With each step, their feet stuck in the mud. It was a welcomed sound, for they hadn’t heard such a thing for an eternity.  “Who will you pick?” Mon asked Xin. She smiled. “I’ll pick the store owner.” They settled in their seats when an old woman came out. She embraced one at a time. She had a hunch on her back, and she shook like her joints were rickety. “Lo, would you like to see the heavens tonight?”

Her stoic face brightened. “Thank you. I’d love to.” Xin took her hand and traced the word. “I’ll bring out the usual then?” Mon and Xin agreed it was good. They sat by the entrance, where a drizzle fell by their feet. And they ate slowly with their bowls of soup warming their cold faces.

A stroll through the rain, and they saw the magic shop. Its owner, a fat man, waved to them to come in. “How was it?” He asked, as he handed them some tea. Mon wasn’t particular of tea, but it warmed his hands. “I think it was good. I’m not sure. But I didn’t have the weight I carried here.” “That’s good,” the shop owner said. “What about you, Xin?” She tried to remember, but it was like a fleeting dream. “I also thought it was good. It was peace. I don’t think there was any pain. There wasn’t any other feelings either. But it wasn’t better.” She paused with a thought in her eyes. “It’s good to be back. It’s good to feel the ground. It’s good to taste Lo’s soup. And I’m happy to hear the rain fall.”

The shop owner nodded. He handed them two pieces of paper. Together they sat beneath the lantern’s glow and they folded their planes. They smoothed out each crease with their palms, making sure it was to their best, perfect. Alas, two planes of different shape and size. Mon and Xin left them at the magic shop, and they took their separate ways in the dusk.

Some Feelers/Alan the Bacteria

And we sat there in the Christmas vibe, in the dark, talking about our anxieties of being in our twenties. We agreed it was a good day, it was the best day in a long while, but these are the things you just can’t escape. I’ve said it many times already, but it’s been a bad time leading up to Christmas.  Maybe it’s a millennial thing. As in we’re all in that precarious part of our lives when our certainties are being pulled out beneath our feet. You lost someone dear to you. I’m sorry is all I can say. Me, I’m lost. I’m standing on cracking ice. Everyday I see a piece break. But this is nice. It’s nice to laugh with you. It’s all we got, and I think I’m understanding who you are and why you do the things you do. Maybe.

The truth is I’m more afraid than I ever been. But it’s not something you can give in to because that’s death. That right there will eat you up and shit you out a broken person. I want to say it’s time to say goodbye to dreams. But I think I’ll hang on in secret.

I don’t sleep well these nights. I dream a lot. I dream too much that I wake up to you deeply asleep. My mind is a blur at 3 AM. I should be doing something, but I don’t know what to do. Sleep is good. Sleep is relief.

This is the time for fiction. I’ll pull something pretty from all this ugliness. With these fingers, I’ll paint a pretty picture. I am bacteria in a petri dish. Let me try again. No that’s all I got. I am vibrantly vibing with my bacteria friends. We’re growing and growing, and there’s music playing. It’s sorta like Osmosis Jones, but not really because we’re not in some guy’s body. Oh fuck! It’s that giant eye in the sky, but it’s cool cause it looks friendly and squinty. We got it all down here. Whatever you can think of. We got buildings made of bacteria. We got Mcdonald’s, but it’s bacteria Mcdonalds and they got bacteria cheeseburgers. We’re multiplying! I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but it made me happy so I’m posting it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty dreams and happy nonsense

If I could, I’d sell my sadness two cents a piece. I’d make a business of this, and I’ll be rich. After all I have an endless supply of sadness. And when I’m rich I’ll give everyone my two cents. I’ll say dumb shit like pursue your dreams or get a job so you can sustain your dreams. I think I got it. It’s all about perspective. I’ll flip like a coin. Heads for happiness. Tails for being two-faced. BLUB BLUB BLUB. Don’t listen to me. I’m full of shit.

Who turned the heavy back on? Seriously who is that guy? He keeps coming back here and fucking things up. We need to get rid him.

Yeah when we catch him we should tie him up and keep him in the basement.

Let’s talk about dreams because dreams are pretty. I dreamed of Cuba. I dreamed of walking down Malecon, the road by the sea. The city is colored in an orange haze and the cars that pass me are pastel. I’ll be the Chinese guy in Cuba, and I’ll speak to them in broken Spanish.

Discuple, estoy perdido. Me podria ayuda, por favor? Como llego a mi hotel something something.

They’ll answer faster than I can comprehend, and I’ll think I got it. But truthfully I’ll be in a haze. That’s how it was in Spanish class, where I lost my tongue. Profe Diego, lo siento. Trate de aprender, pero fui muy stupido. Some of that Spanish would be great right now. Gracias, I’ll say because I can feel their warmth and love. And usually they’ll point. Derecha. Derecha. Si, entiendo. Gracias. Sometimes I wish Chinese culture were warmer and more loving. But it’s all about appearances and saving face and stuff that make me feel poopy.

But it is what it is, and who really cares when you’re 24?

I dreamed I was a cook at a Chinese restaurant in Cuba because when you’re Chinese you stick to other Chinese people. But I don’t know how to cook any Chinese food and the other chefs, they’re mad at me for making hamburgesassssss!

Zhe bu shi zhong guo cai! Ni shi mei guo ren!

I really like this dream.

 

 

 

Happy in LA

I wandered LA with not a dollar in my pocket. I’m dressed in this shirt and these pants and these shoes that don’t feel good. I did my hair in a way I think adults do. I ride this elevator to top and they tell me they like me. But I got to drive to LA everyday and that’s a deal breaker. I’m a ghost in LA.

I look to the other ghosts and I wonder how am I really different from them. It’s a fascination with me to count my blessings and watch them slip from my hands. It just seems fragile, you know? So I walk around these tall buildings with my beliefs and my perspective. Who am I to say they’re crazy? I sit down on the street and watch the busy people, the pretty adults who got things down, and the crazy ghosts who babble and curse the sky. And they’re like me, the real me. It’s nonstop here. People got places to go, even those who got nowhere to go.

And I talk to myself like I’m crazy, but in my head, so no one knows.

“This is a world made of money. You can eat money. You can make houses with money, and when you need to shit you wipe your ass with money. People are money. Your friends and family, you gotta have money to keep them. The love you feel is made of money.”

“I don’t like that. I wasn’t taught that. I don’t feel that is true either.”

“They lied to you. They measured you with tests and grades, and they make you care about these things as if they defined your worth. But that was a lie. It was bullet in your leg, and now they’re telling you to run. The truth is you are measured by how much money you have.”

“Oh but I don’t have money.”

This is depressing. This isn’t happy. So I’ll  try to be happy now. I quit LA. I’m in the desert and I let the sand sift through my hand. Fine and silky, it coats my hand like flour. I let my eyes run fast above the dunes to the horizon where the moon sits comfy.

I’ve traveled a long way and this palace pops out in front of me. The towers are made of white stone. There are lush trees swaying in the arid breeze. I walk this paved road to a pond, where I clean myself. The dirt escapes me but I realize I just dirtied the water, and there are fishes in here. Shit.

“You came all the way here just to make everything dirty?” Its some old dude.

That doesn’t sound true. “No, I just came here to get clean.”

“You could’ve used the showers.”

“Oh sorry. I didn’t know.”

He shakes his head. I’ve disappointed you, old man. “You’re a fucking dreamer. I’ve see countless people like you come across this place all the time. Well why are you really here?”

“I guess I’m trying to find happiness.”

Everyone is trying to find happiness. You’re gonna have to be more specific than that. What makes you happy?”

“Writing. No, wait. Money makes me happy.” But then I remembered what it took to make money. I am a fry cook cleaning the crusty grill. I am a warehouse worker throwing TVs over my shoulders onto a truck. I am a cashier smiling at you when I really don’t like you. I am an office monkey trying not to make people angry at me. “Yeah I think money would make me happy.”

“Fuck you. Does it look like I have money to give you? I’m in a desert. I water these trees and I feed the fish.”

“I wasn’t asking you for money. I was just being honest.”

“Look, everyone wants to be happy and everyone wants to have money. What makes you think you’re so special that these things would fall onto your lap?”

You see the problem is I chose a desert. No one is happy in a desert. Most of the time a desert is something you try to get through, to a better place… I think I got it. Something’s on the horizon. I’m moving through this, but it doesn’t have to be ugly. I’m going to get better. I think I found it for now, and maybe it won’t slip out of my hands too soon. Goodbye LA.

Therapy

I wish beautiful words would flow from my fingers, but I fear the beauty has left me. You see there’s a deep darkness in me that I can’t figure out. It haunts me every morning, and I can’t seem to get rid of it. I can only bury it with things that tire me. People tire me. Writing tires me. Money tires me. I exhaust myself, and my mind goes numb. Sometimes I think I wasn’t made for this world.

I am frail and I am strong. I am smart and I am dumb. I am amazing and I am incompetent. I walk this line of manic and depressed. Sorry, but you are my therapist today. You can call it quits now and we’ll talk next time. Goodbye. Goodbye.

Let’s talk about pretty things. Let me paint you a pretty picture from my memory. I walk down the strip of Las Vegas, high out of my mind. The neon lights and the faces pass and I can’t remember much of it but I know I’m happy, anxious, and scared out of my mind. I see the homeless and I can see myself one day in their place, except I can’t sing or dance, so I’ll be that one who just lies there. Yes, I know I have it good. Sorry, I lied. That wasn’t pretty at all.

Give me another chance. It’s my first time seeing snow fall. I am walking in the mountains in Colorado with my two best friends. I don’t know if it’s the Rocky Mountains, but for the sake of saying I’ve been in the Rockies, it was the goddamn Rockies. I was told it’d be an easy hike. I am dressed for a SoCal afternoon, but it’s 20 degrees and it’s hard to breath. We trek into isolation. I say that for dramatic reasons. There were people running into the mountains during the snowstorm –it was a goddamn snowstorm –but they’ll tell you it was a ‘slurry’. “Nice slurry, huh,” this old, old lady passes us, smirking. Fuck you I thought I was going to die because we wander off the trail.

Maybe that wasn’t pretty, but it’s pretty funny now. You see I’m trying to dig out the happy memories, but I’m realizing that I don’t have any memories that are completely happy. Maybe that’s just the truth of it.

I acid tripped because I worked an office job and man it grinds you down, spits you out, and tells you this is life and this is being an adult. I turned 24, and I thought this is it! This is your life until you fucking die. The walls were maggots. I watched my girlfriend’s face melt and I’m curling into a ball but I see my demons when my eyes close. Acid is amazing and acid fucked me up. I woke up in the park and the wildflowers were never more beautiful. It was like an impressionist painting. Those impressionist must have always tripped on acid.

My hour is up. Thanks for reading.

Odd World

“There are some rules to Odd World. You gotta be odd. Yeah that’s number one. Then you gotta be like… like you know something, you know? I, myself, know many things. Otherwise, we don’t want you in Odd World because we’re all thinkers. And we think. We think real hard about things. You know? Oh and you have to be good looking –like I am!”

Smick frowned. That seemed entirely unlike Smick, who had been mostly normal, frequently ignorant, and well frankly, hard on the eyes; they didn’t call him Ick for no reason. But it wasn’t time to doubt himself. He had been at Odd World’s fence so many times, he had lost count. Smick had told himself that this time things would be different. He was so sure of himself too, but that confidence quickly died when the guard opened his fat lips.

The next morning, Smick snapped awake, sweat drenched, panting like he had been running. His hands trembled. His cardboard box was moist with sweat, and Eugene was hovering over him with his awning of a forehead.  “So they didn’t take you, huh? What did I say? They don’t want us. We belong in Todd World.”

How long has it been since he first came to Todd World? Ick ignored his menacing neighbor. He folded his cardboard. Such was the way of the Todd. You rise at 8 o’clock sharp. You fold your cardboard box, issued to you upon your arrival, and then it’s off to the soup kitchen, which actually didn’t serve soup but eggs –hard boiled eggs without any salt. Ick shuddered. The egg went down dry and the banana didn’t help. Chalky and pasty, these foods sucked. What the fuck is up with Todd? Who eats like this?

Eugene thrust his forehead into Smick’s sight. “You’re going again aren’t you?  You’re going to Odd World like you do every day. The Todd drones won’t like that. They’ll get you.”

The drones that everyone talked about sat dusty and deactivated in between the Banana Bread Bakery and The Yolk Diner on 7th street. Smicky knew, he saw the first day he arrived at Todd World. But the fanatics raised hell about the drones every day at 12, just right outside the Box Store, where you can buy cardboard boxes for your daily uses. Just name it, they got it. Box shirts. Box pants. Boxes. Box shoes. Box hats. Box toilet paper. Box houses. Boxer briefs. Box cars…

Ick tugged on his cardboard box pants. The paper wrinkled and stains spotted it like some design.

“I’m telling you. Those Todd Drones mean business. Once I heard from a man who was my friend’s friend that those Drones will put you straight into Cod World.” Eugene was whispering, his forehead pressed against Smick’s temple. A drop of spit flew from his mouth and landed on Ick’s nose. Ick flailed in disgust.

“GO AWAY EUGENE!” Smick ran as fast as his cardboard box pants would allow him.

“The drones!” Eugene shrieked. “The drones! Can I have your egg?”

Across Milk Hill, Odd World was pretty visible. The grass was literally greener! Well that wasn’t exactly true since Todd had never been fond of grass. No, Todd preferred asphalt, which made the ground cold at night and hot as balls during the day. Anyways, Odd World had a Ferris wheel with pulsing brains as carts! And they had electricity! Unlike Todd World, which relied solely on fire, Odd World shined with neon lights each night. What the hell was beyond that fence? Magic! Science! Other things!

The white fence wrapped around the black top. Anemic Cows roamed the asphalt licking rocks as they gathered around the banana peeler, who was tasked with feeding the cows all day, all night, every day. Smick ran past the cow feeder, who looked sickly like the cows. Why did they even have cows? No one drinks milk in Todd World. They drink Gatorade like it was water. Oh yeah, they didn’t have water either. What is water?

“Oh hi, Ick.” The banana peeler called behind his horde of cows.

“Hi Clyde.”

Back at the border, Ick rang the white fence louder than ever. He stepped back, his mind racing with answers. No, he wasn’t normal. He was odd. You think cardboard boxers are normal?! Oh how they chafe! No, he wasn’t ignorant either! He knew many things about Todd World.  The guard didn’t know! He didn’t know!

The man spewed the exact explanation he did every time. But Ick was ready. He didn’t even let him finish! “I could be a model in Cod World! I know things like Todd like eggs and bananas! And fuck you, look at these!”

The guard looked aghast as he stared down Ick’s cardboard pants. “What are those?”

“They’re underwear! They cut my legs every day! Now let me in.”

The guard scratched his brain hat in confusion. He then smacked his frontal lobe. A phone dropped from his ears to his fat lips. “Code 41560!  I repeat 4-1-5-6-0.”

“HUT HUT HUT HUT HUT HUT HUT HUT!” Five more guards in skin tight brain suits ran out of the grass hills, brandishing tasers-poles. The electricity cackled as they raised their poles over the fence. Ick watched with excitement and horror as they readied their sticks.

“You’re letting me in!?”

The jolt bit into his skin. His cardboard box suit burst aflame. He screamed so loudly, the cows walked away from Clyde, who looked on with amusement. Ick smoked. Ick flew. Ick landed, a crispy mess.

***

The fire curled in the dumpster. Many other Todderinos gathered around. Some of the stranger folks roasted their bananas unpeeled over the fire. The strangest folk bit into their eggs raw, uncooked, shell and all. Ick shook his head in shame. What the fuck is wrong with these people?  He was certain they would let him in. Did he not show he was nothing like other Todderinos? When he got over his nerves, he got nowhere! Sadly, he picked the wound on his shoulder. He was forever labeled with a frowny face.

“Told you they didn’t want you.” Eugene said triumphantly. “Clyde and I had to lug your body back. I even bought you clothes with my own Todd Dolla. Wasn’t cheap.”

“Thanks…” Ick mumbled.

That night, Ick laid out his cardboard, tired and restless. He didn’t expect this to burn him so low.  He had been rejected every day for however long he remained stranded in Todd World, yet this time did it. That brand oozed pain throughout his body that he felt anchored to the cold floor, which his cardboard did nothing to stop from stinging him. They rejected him at his best.

“Hey Ick, why do you want to go to Todd World so much?” Eugene asked, rolling to side.

How would Eugene ever understand? Born and raised in Todd World, Eugene was as much a Todderino as Todd himself, who lived somewhere in his cardboard skyscraper. But at least someone was asking. No one ever asked. They just thought that his thing. He had been known as the Todderino who always tried to get into Odd World. The fences and gates rapidly closed around him until he was confined to the small space known as Todd World. Maybe in the end, he wasn’t different, or so he had concluded from his branding.

“I thought I was different. Odd World just looked so much more -it has so much more. They have lights there. Have you ever seen lights, Eugene? They wear pink caps that pop out tools and radios. They have a wheel that spins in the sky. When you see that over the fence, how do you not wonder? Why would they keep us out?” It pained him to say ‘us’. He wished he could take it back.

“I guess I never thought about it. Todd gives us Todd Dolla. He gives us eggs and bananas. I feel happy here. Sure sometimes you have to buy more cardboard, but that’s OK if you save up. You can live well here. You save a few Todd Dolla, and then you can buy your own Box House. Then you’re set. You don’t have to go anywhere else.”

Ick looked to his neighbor, defeated. “Maybe you’re on to something Eugene.” Maybe he was. At least he was happy. At least he didn’t have a stupid frowny face branded onto his shoulder.

“I think I would like to see Odd World though.  You seem so bent on going over there, and I don’t think you’re insane –at least you’re not an Egg Biter. Maybe you know something.”

Smick rolled over. Hearing Eugene say that meant something. The dumpster fire slowly burned out, and all the Todderinos dispersed back to their cardboard hoods. Todd Street quieted. Most of Todd World went to sleep, except Todd Boulevard, which kept their dumpster fire until 3 AM.

The egg and banana chalked his esophagus. But Eugene ate his share just fine. No water. There was a lot of water in Cod World. It was the first time the two dined together. A little awkward, but the feeling almost felt like happiness. Smick found himself smiling, seated on the asphalt. There were the fanatics dancing, hailing premonitions about the Drones Apocalypse. Egg Biters bit into their eggs raw, drinking the shell and yolk. Same thing you’d see any day if you were stuck in Todd World.

Clyde waved past his cows as the two traversed the asphalt. The white fence rose no higher than five feet, yet Odd World seemed so elusive. Eugene followed behind Ick, a little too cautious. Sometimes, he ducked behind a dumpster or one of the few fire hydrants scattered across Todd World.

Once, Smick saw a cardboard catch fire. The Todderinos went into a frenzy; they all began rolling on the floor despite none of them burning. It took a while, but the Todd Fire Brigade screeched their way to the front of the burning box. A man emerged out of his box wagon in a red box suit. It looked like he had colored it himself with a red crayon. He latched a tube to the hydrant. Glacier Freeze burst out from the hose and quenched the fire. Smick remembered how enchanted he felt when he saw the blue rain drench everyone. It was just like the commercials –when the athletes beaded with colored sweat. The Todderinos rejoiced.

They pressed against the white planks. They could see over to Odd World very easily.

“Why don’t you just jump it?”

Ick scrunched his face up and squinted at Eugene. That was so stupid that Ick felt baffled. Why don’t you just jump it?  WHAT DOES EUGENE KNOW ABOUT WORLD JUMPING!?

“Look it’s pretty easy.” Eugene pressed his palm on the fence and pushed his stomach over the plank. He was crossing! He was CROSSING. OH MY FUCKING GOD! Ick’s jaw dropped and he screamed in excitement. He couldn’t help it. He was running around, screaming. “How are you doing that?! I can’t believe it!”

Eugene landed with an OOF . Why didn’t he think of that? Why did he always try the fucking guard? Why did he always try the doorway? His brain hurt. But it didn’t matter. He leapt at the fence’s head and volleyed himself over. THERE IT WAS. IT WAS ODD WORLD.  It was an odd world.

***

Brain carts with long extensions that ended in booted feet walked about the grassy knolls. The two boxed adults stood in awe as the bug walked over them. Two glossy faces behind the mirror waved at them, but the bug walked over them. Even in the daytime, there were bright neon signs. ‘NO SHOES NO SHIRT NO SERVICE’ gleamed in hot pink above a man serving street side hotdogs. He wore a similar skin tight brain suit as the guards. The scent lured Smick over. Never had he smelled such a delectable smell, and all the eggs and bananas never smelled half as good.

A few times, his box clothes nudged other people, who looked on indignantly. People seemed to just stand closer to one another in Odd World. Eugene stood to his right, but then to his left, he felt a constant stream of hot breath licking his neck. “What’s your problem? Stop breathing down my neck.”

“PFFT. Nice outfit, you squab.” The man shoved past him and went to the hot dog vendor. “Two of your finest long dogs. Eat Freshly.”

“May you always eat freshly.” The hot dog man blessed him.

Ick copied the man, but when the vendor opened his palm for money, he stared at Ick in confusion.

“What is that?”

“Todd Dolla.”

“What?”

“It’s currency. Take it.”

The man studied the plastic red coins that looked strangely like Monopoly hotels. He took one bit down on it, cracking it in two.

“What are you doing? You don’t eat Todd Dolla. You use it for eggs and bananas and boxes.”

“Eggs and Bananas.” The man repeated slowly. “Look here. I don’t know if I can take these. I only take Brainers.”

Hungry and tired of this hot dog slinging man, Ick asked out of desperation, “How do I get Brainers?”

“Well you gotta know something, you know? Like me, I know how to cook these things. And then you gotta sell them. Or you gotta be really good looking, like me! That helps. That helps a lot. Oh! You could always think. THINK REAL HARD.”

Ick frowned at the sleazy man. He made as much as sense as the Egg Biters, and they always spoke in their own language. “Do you potate?” an Egg Biter once said to him, while she rubbed his belly.

“How about I trade you this hat? I bet you never seen anything like it?” Eugene said, as he pointed to his head. A smaller box sat slightly off centered on his dirty hair.

The man studied the hat, his interest so brightly advertised in his eyes. “What is that? Is that some kind of new material? I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so profound. It’s so elegantly shaped.”

“Yeah,” Ick said, dumbfounded. “It’s the latest fashion. We’re the first to get our hands on it. But we’ll take twenty hot dogs for his hat.”

“Oh all right! You two have yourselves a deal.”

When Smick glanced back, he saw the hot dog man smiling in his new hat, which, Ick had to admit, did make the man rather dashing. There he stood a pinnacle among the brain hats. It seemed his new hat helped his business. More and more people flocked to his cart beneath the bright sign, just to see the man with the box hat.

The hot dogs were delicious that Ick and Eugene each ate five. Ick recalled the sleazy man fish out the wriggling pink dogs out of the dark brown water. Oh how they were delicious… What is water?

***

“So this is goodbye?” Ick asked. Eugene glanced over at Ick in his new brain garments. They rode their new brain cart which stomped across the city until it perched high on the skyscraper. It was an actual sky scrapper, rising so high into the air that Eugene felt nauseous when he peered out of the brain cart. Smick no longer wore his cardboard clothes. He had entirely discarded his ties to Todd World… “What will you do? Will you go back to Todd World?”

“I don’t know.” The years flew by, and Eugene had grown a fluffy beard just to show time had passed. How long had it been since they first entered Odd World? They did fairly well for two bullshitters. Ick had started his own cardboard box business. Though he would never wear any of his own creations, it sold well among the Oddicians. But since they entered Odd World, Eugene realized he could not go back.

Smick had found his place, and he would stay in Odd World until he died. But Eugene couldn’t stay in Odd World. It was too bright and too loud. Every night the Ferris wheel was like some artificial sun. In their brain apartment, Eugene would draw their heavyset curtains to sleep –if you asked him what curtains were when he lived in Todd World, he’d think you an Egg Biter.

How Eugene missed Todd World. It just felt like a simpler time on the asphalt road, seeing the same people rallying in fear about the drones that never came. Clyde, or was his name Byde, whoever he was, was still a face so well ingrained in his mind that he thought of him each night he slept. But then whenever he approached the white fence, he was filled with dread. How could he return to Todd World when he knew so many different things? And he thought a lot more now that he sometimes stayed up at night, cold with sweat, eyes burned from all the lights.

A radio fell out his ears, from which the sleazy hotdog slinger said, “Eugene, are you coming by for the hotdog Christmas party?”

“Ick, do you want to go?”

“I’m going to pass tonight. I got plans.”

“No thanks. All right, talk to you later.”

Together they sat at their table, which spat out two hotdogs. A pipe squirted a yellow stream onto the dogs, and then another pipe gushed out cheese. It was hotdog every day that he had forgotten what eggs tasted like. In his heart, there will always be a place for eggs and banana, but no one knew about those in Odd World, except Ick, who despised them and had repressed them into the deepest cranny of his mind.

He stared out their window that faced the ends of Odd World. Whereas a fence marked the border between Todd World and Odd World, there was only darkness on the border. No one knew what laid there, and no one dared to prowl too close to the DARK FARK.

“So you’re leaving tomorrow, but you don’t know where?”

“I can’t go back, so I can only go somewhere else.”

“I’m sorry I made you come over to Odd World.”

“You didn’t make me. I decided to go on my own terms. But I can’t stay here. It’s too… Odd.”

Smick smiled at him and nodded.

The next morning, Eugene walked to the border of Odd World and DARK FARK. He had sorted his belongings into a small bag that hung on his shoulders. Just as he made the first step towards the next world, he heard his name. Smick ran over, still wearing his brain suit. From what Eugene saw, he assumed Smick had packed his entire life into a few heavy bags that weighed him down. “Wait up!” He called. Ick took a while to catch his breath. “It’s not that great here. Who cares that I always wanted to be here. Who cares they have grass and brain cars. This place isn’t that great. Let’s get out of here. I’m tired of hotdogs.”

 

 

 

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.