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Archive for October, 2010

Dear reader,

I’ve often heard that confession is good for the soul. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how true the saying is. Let me begin by extending my sincerest apologies. The last thing I wanted to do was to involve others in my plight, but I’ve reached a point where I can no longer endure this burden alone. As the night swallows the city it is a bitter reminder of how little time I have left to do this; to tell a story I’d never thought I’d share with another soul.

It all started as a fantasy, but ended up in brutal murder that was masked in lies. It’s been nearly three years now and I still try my best to evade justice, not from the law, but from the man I assisted my colleagues in killing. Our relationship hadn’t always been so volatile. In fact, we were all thick as thieves, because that’s exactly what we were. Every member of our team had a specific talent. My skill; reeling in our victims after earning their trust. Whether they were male or female, young or old, I always made the catch and by the time they realized it—if they realized it—it was already too late. The other members of the team—which was comprised of two men, three women—were responsible for organizing the scheme, hacking and intercepting communications, standing guard and driving the getaway car—if necessary.

Soon our team discovered that our leader, Quint Connelly, was beginning to break his own rules. Looking back, that should come as no surprise since the bastard was stealing from his own well-to-do friends. He started dropping the dime on us by leaking details about some of our plans to the authorities. We even discovered that he was part of a sting operation to bust us all during our next scheduled heist. As you might imagine, that shit didn’t fly with us and we confronted him about it in the only way a group of last-strike ex-cons could. It all happened so fast. I thought we were only gonna scare him out of his plan to rat us out—that, and beat the living crap out of him, but that’s all. We only got to work him over a little before he got away. We chased him into the street only to see him hit by a car, knocking an older man out the way in the process. It would later turn out that the gentleman was a politician. The story was plastered all over the press, heralding the former ringleader of our group as a hero. Quint didn’t live long to fully enjoy his praise since he died the day after his news appearance.

One by one my cohorts met their end after a series of torturous events. They each swore they saw the ghost of our former leader, who vowed to kill them if they ever revealed anything about his involvement in the schemes. He had been buried as a hero and wanted to keep the honor he didn’t deserve. However, as dishonorable as he was, they somehow wound up dead as a result of ‘bizarre accidents’. I witnessed the last so-called accident for myself and I assure you, it was anything but. It turns out that had they spilled the beans, they’d probably still be alive right now. Better them than me, I guess. Quint actually came for me too, still bruised and bloodied from the team’s handiwork. He nearly succeeded—I have the stitches in my head to prove it. It was a nasty fall down the stairs brought on by a push from behind. My vision was slightly blurred since I cracked my head against the banister, but I saw Quint standing on the landing, laughing.

I called 911, knowing there was nothing they could do about a ghost, but I was desperate. I told the operator everything, possibly at the speed of an auctioneer. Of course, I left out the part about being haunted by an apparition. Before I knew it, my former leader had vanished. Ironically, the operator was found dead at her desk just minutes after I confessed. According to the reports, the young woman went very suddenly and the autopsy was inconclusive. Since mine was the last call she took, I was interviewed by investigators. Knowing I was possibly setting myself up for an arrest due to my part of the robbery schemes, I told them what I had told the operator. One by one, they too ended up dead or missing. Detecting a pattern? So did I. I know this confession is kinda rushed and choppy, but time is of the essence.

You’re probably wondering why I apologized to you earlier. You see, I’ve discovered that everyone I confess to throws him off my path and buys me more time. Being the egotistical man he is, he would do anything to eliminate any witnesses who could potentially spread the news that his demise was not the result of a heroic act on his part, but retribution masterminded by his former friends. I’m afraid that now, you are such a witness. Don’t bother to look over your shoulder, trust me, he’s even worse looking in dead form than he was during his living days. But don’t worry, from what I’ve seen, it usually goes pretty quick.

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We live in a world where almost everything is open for negotiation, but some deals are final. I learned this first hand after a business convention two weeks ago. My job was nothing special; processing documents and records for an international sales company. Then I was offered a promotion during the conference. Not only would it nearly double my salary, but would be my first management position. However, the job would require frequent travel. Nevertheless, I was very excited and after considering the proposal for a short while, I accepted. The company’s confidentiality agreement was ironclad and I was made to renew the contract. After that, the job was practically mine.

First, I had to pass a test. I had to make my first deal. The goal; get a potential client to consider buying an empty container. However, the client wouldn’t be aware of his vacant purchase until the point of sale. The task seemed odd, but my employer explained that my success would prove my ability to sell just about anything. He also indicated that exaggeration and mild deception would become among my many tools I’d use in order to thrive in the industry. In essence, I would lie through my teeth in order to get someone to go against their better judgment. Sure, people did it all the time in the name of business and success, but not me. I’m not the most honest of people, but I’ve never gone out of my way to deceive others. So, of course I felt strange about the prospect of  knowingly selling a person an empty container through false advertising. It was a concern I voiced immediately. My boss told me not to worry and that after the deal had been made, he’d make all the arrangements to give the customer what they paid for upon viewing the ‘sample’, back at headquarters. 

Somewhat relieved that no one would be cheated, I sought my potential customer, a middle-aged man enjoying a drink at the bar. I figured the influence of alcohol would make my job a little easier. After a brief introduction and some small talk I began my pitch. Following the cues from my supervisor, I verbally described the ‘exclusive’ product. I threw in terms such as ‘patents pending’ and ‘breakthrough technology’ to make the so-called product sound more credible. After nearly a lengthy discussion, the man agreed to view the goods later that week.

“That’s some pitch, man,” he laughed heartily, “I must be out of my damn mind. You show up here with no portfolio, no documentation, no photos, and yet I can’t wait to see whatever is you’re talkin’ about. This just better not be a waste of time. If so, you may be in for more than you bargained for.”

Judging by the serious expression on the man’s face I knew it was no idle threat. I reassured him that his time would not be wasted. Yet, in the back of my mind I prayed I hadn’t gotten myself into something deeper than I could handle.

The following Friday was the big day. My boss and I were waiting in the warehouse for our newest client. Sitting on the floor was a wooden shipping crate the size of a big screen TV. As the minutes ticked on, I grew increasingly nervous when he didn’t show. The minutes accumulated into nearly an hour and I began to wonder if he’d been pulling my chain. Just then, he swaggered in, apologizing for his tardiness. When he moved to open the box my boss seized his hand and said:

“Not so fast. You shouldn’t touch merchandise you haven’t paid for.”

“Can I at least see what I’m getting, here?” the client regarded him with a bemused expression.

I wondered if my boss was stalling for time to hide the fact that the box was empty. Had he still not filled it with the merchandise as he so promised?

Nevertheless, he took the reins to seal the deal.

“Oh, you will,” my boss smiled wryly, “but first, answer me this; how badly do you want success for your business? How much would you risk to achieve wealth beyond your wildest imagination?”

“You’re kidding me, right?” the client chuckled, “You’re saying your product can do all that?”

My boss nodded simply. “But you didn’t answer the question.”

“Because it’s silly. If there’s a guaranteed payback for a gamble, of course I’d risk it all. It’s a no-brainer.”

“I’m so glad you feel that way,” My boss laughed heartily. Suddenly, he flipped open the box and  the client immediately began choking. In a matter of seconds, a blue-grey smoke poured out of him and swirled through the air in an aquatic fashion. I stood with my mouth agape as it streamed into the box. My boss promptly sealed it thereafter. After a few moments of chilling silence, the client asked the question that was stuck in my head.

“What…happened?” he panted.

“You just made your payment in full.” my boss answered nonchalantly, “Enjoy your newfound success. You really put your soul into it. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, sir.”

Realizing what had just happened, the man pleaded for the return of his soul.

“All sales are final,” was my boss’ callous response.

The guilt of contributing to the damnation of a man weighed so heavily on my mind, it was sickening. Soon after the client left, I voiced my desire to leave the company. My request was met with condescending amusement.

“This is not what I signed up for. You said I was selling him an empty container!” I exclaimed.

“And you did. Don’t you realize a human being without a soul is but an empty container? I really must thank you for your efforts. They have garnered me not one healthy soul, but two.”

“Two?”

“Yes,” his smile broadened, “remember the agreement you signed?”

So, there you have it. I unwittingly sold my soul for my job by not remaining true to my convictions. If any of you find yourself in a similar position of betraying your values for the sake of a few extra dollars, be sure to figure out the cost in advance. Because, as I said earlier, some deals are final. Some people may say they have a boss from hell. As it turns out, mine actually is and there’s no way for me to resign or retire.

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Darryl was the last of the bunch. His friends had been struck down by an unlikely adversary. Though he was significantly larger and ten times heavier, the creature relied on speed and agility to slay its prey. As he ran, he could hear it stalking him from behind. His mind was etched with the memory of the feline’s soulless eyes and slinky gray frame. His ears were still haunted by the cat’s oscillating hiss that sounded like maniacal laughter. Darryl knew the fate that awaited him, for he had seen it befall his friends. First, it gave chase until it tired out its victim. Then, it would sit there with wide eyes and an exaggeratedly agape mouth, displaying its sharp teeth. It would pant hungrily while meowing in an otherworldly tone. Finally, it would attack, slicing and gnawing at any piece of flesh it could find. Each one of Darryl’s friends tried to kill the feline as it attacked them, but they had all but forgotten that they—and Darryl— had already succeeded once. It had been a cruel way to taunt their quiet classmate, but at the time they didn’t care. At the time, it didn’t matter that they were tormenting her only friend to death. Now, the tables have turned with splintering speed and Darryl was about to learn first hand that payback is a bitch… and sometimes, it has nine lives.

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Another day, another desperate attempt to see it merge into yet another. I bathe myself in this coagulated elixir of life. It’s much cooler than it had been a few hours ago, a sobering reminder that it’s my turn to acquire a fresh batch for me and my group. Fresh; probably not the right word to use in this case. The plasma is tainted and repulsive, unlike my own—at least for the time being. To the invaders, my blood reeks of health, vitality and fertility. If not for my spontaneous ritual to mask my ‘stench’, I’d be dead, or worse, one of their living victims. Sadly, my bid for my continued survival has reduced me to hunting my fellow humans. No, they are no longer quite human. I try to comfort myself with the reminder that the ones I have slain were far gone, mentally. They had become much like the rabid pets and wildlife that had sprung this disease upon the world. Actually, it was the intruders who sprung it on the animals first. Their plan, to apparently kill and wipe out as many humans as possible without getting their hands dirty. Yet, even so, I can’t help but realize that though I’m uninfected, my own humanity is somewhat diminished.

Let me tell you, these intruders, aliens or whatever you want to call them are ugly as hell. Their sagging skin is like semi-melted wax and I’ve seen them creep through crevices of no more than a couple of inches. It’s like they have the ability to manipulate their bone structure at will and reform their bodies accordingly. As you might imagine, this drastically reduces my ability to hide.

It only took them two months to send our world into a frenzy. Two months. By the time we noticed the symptoms, it was already too late. The alien strain was already forming a chokehold around humanity as we knew it. Forced to live underground and off the grid— since the intruders monitor communication through phone, satellite, and web—we communicate via old-fashioned means. This is how we discovered that bathing in infected blood is the only way to throw them off our scent. I have a fairly large group with me, but the term ‘safety in numbers’ doesn’t seem to apply here, since you never know who may become infected and turn against you. Vigilance has become our greatest ally. Some have refused sleep for this reason and have gone mad due to fatigue and paranoia.

Recently, our camp has received messages, both hopeful and disheartening. The first, that the military had begun a rescue mission for the displaced. The second, that some of the soldiers had become infected, themselves, and had begun attacking survivors. The last message we received closed with a warning, urging us to flee since our location had been revealed. It soon became apparent that the notice reached us too late. Gathering all we could carry, we make our way out of our makeshift bunker only to come to face with one of the invaders. I remind myself to hold my breath since I know it would be a dead giveaway of my healthy condition. Like a bloodhound, the alien sniffs vigorously as it moves progressively closer, forcing me to stagger backwards. My heart is thumping violently and I feel my pores prickling with anxiety.

Never let them smell you sweat, I think to myself in a strained attempt to remain calm.

 All the while, I signal my frightened comrades to remain silent. The stench of the creature was worse than the blood we were forced to bathe in just moments earlier. I stifle a gag as the intruder moves to inspect the rest of the room. I slowly make my way to the door only to be blocked by yet another invader. The first was now onto another member of my group. It licks her face, sending her into a panic. Gasping, she pushes it out of the way and makes a run for it. At lightning speed, something shoots out of the invader’s palms. The objects resemble umbilical cords with boney spikes at the tips. One impales her back, the other at the base of her skull. Screaming loudly, she falls on top of me. I swear she just shattered my eardrum. Knowing there’s nothing I can do for her, I push her away and run, signaling the rest of group to follow my lead.

Somehow, I make it beyond the second alien without incident. One of the men in my group isn’t as fortunate. His scream mingles with that of the doomed woman I was forced to abandon. We spill out into the street with no plan, no direction, only the desire to survive. My frantic breathing and furious footfalls are echoed by the rest of my group. The scene around us is chaotic to say the least. Infected people are roaming everywhere. My experience tells me to do the opposite of what my instincts demand. So I cease running and attempt to leisurely blend in. My group follows suit and it works—at first.  It’s not until I feel the anxiety pouring down my face in the form of sweat that I realize my shield is waning. The infected are beginning to smell it, not just on me, but the whole perspiring group. They are now closing in on us with the most maniacal expressions I’ve ever seen.  

Just up the block I see a squad approaching, weapons drawn. They look just as dirty and dull as the infected, but are they just as dangerous? They don’t seem to have that hungry look in their eyes, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from this whole ordeal is that looks are sometimes designed to deceive. I find myself choosing what I hope to be the lesser of the two evils as I run towards them, my hands toward the sky. My adrenaline continues to pump mercilessly as the enemy gives chase from behind. I don’t know if I’m running towards my salvation or death. The only thing that’s certain is that it’ll all be over very soon.

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Life had become too monotonous for Laney Posner. Everything from her job to her meals had become part of a boring routine she was all too eager to break. So when she received an invitation to a neighborhood costume party, she was happy to accept. Nevertheless, life interfered as the weeks ticked by and before she knew it, Halloween was just days away and she still hadn’t found a costume. Fortunately, she was able to purchase a costume, inspired by socialite fashions of the early 19th century. Laney loved the way the dress looked on her, but felt something was lacking. However, she figured she’d make do as is. To her irritation, she noticed a small stain on the hem that she had apparently overlooked in the store. Muttering under her breath, she made her way to the laundry room in her apartment building, all the while praying that there was at least one vacant machine available.

During the wash, she exchanged friendly, yet obligatory conversation with an elderly neighbor. Doris was the quintessential sweet old lady, yet Laney couldn’t help but feel there was something amiss about her. She seemed too nice and patient for a city woman. At the close of the discussion, Doris gathered her belongings from the dryer and left. When Laney went to use that same dryer she noticed something shiny within the drum. It was an antique ring with what appeared to be white diamonds and blue topaz. Knowing it most likely belonged to Delores, Laney pocketed it, intending to return the item on her way to her apartment. However, she changed her mind, at least for the time being. She figured the ring would make the perfect accessory for her outfit and saw no harm in borrowing it for the party and returning it immediately afterwards. Of course, she could’ve simply asked the kind old woman for permission, but in all Laney’s years of knowing her, she knew her to be extremely attached to her possessions.

In the days that followed, Laney became somewhat entranced by the ring, yet it weighed on her conscience every time she passed the Lost Jewelry flyers in the building lobby. She found it hard to shake the chill she felt when reading the urgency of the message:

To whoever has found this ring, it is VERY important that you return it. I will ask no questions, but please return it ASAP — anonymously if you choose.

Just a few more days and she’ll get it back, Laney reassured herself.

No harm, no foul. It’s not like I’m stealing it.

Soon came the day of the party and Laney’s outfit was a hit. As she socialized with fellow party-goers she collected a few numbers and gave serious thought about trying her hand at dating again. There was one man who stood out in particular; a handsome man with a chiseled jawline and eyes of jade. His costume matched hers in that he was dressed as an aristocrat. It was a memorable meeting as he slipped his arm in hers and said: It’s not often I get to see you, but it’s always worth the wait. You look as lovely as ever, Dearest.

Even though the room had been filled with music and the chatter of the other guests, his voice, thought slightly muffled, had a lingering quality. She also remembered his disappointed expression upon realizing he had mistaken her for someone else. Of all the men at the gathering, he was the only one whose number she actually wanted, and the only one she didn’t get. Nevertheless, she had been injected with a dose of excitement she’d been craving for months, if not years. Little did she know it was only a sample of things to come.

Upon returning to her apartment building at around 11:30pm, Halloween night, Laney saw at least seven emergency responders surrounding a white sheet on the ground. The lump beneath it was a clear indication that someone had died. She slowed her steps and peered over her shoulder in curiosity as she continued towards the building. A gentle breeze lifted the cloth and folded it back, revealing the bloody, contorted body of Doris. Laney froze, her breath trapped in her throat. The wide-eyed expression on Doris’ face was one of utter horror.

“The lady was hysterical. Talkin’ to herself and e’erything,” a voice boomed as a hand clapped her shoulder, prompting her to flinch. It was her neighbor, Arnie, “Swore someone was after her. Next thing we knew she was doing a swan dive from her fire escape.”

Laney’s eyes followed his pointed finger to Doris’ fifth floor window. The glass had been shattered.

“Crazy, huh?” Arnie chortled nervously.

“Yeah… It sure is,” Laney replied.

“It’s always the quiet ones that end up going ape shit. The letters shoulda been a sign.”

“Letters?”

“Yeah. Didn’t you get one in the mail yesterday? Everyone in the building got one.”

Laney had neglected to check her mail the previous evening and immediately rushed to do so. In addition to her utility bills and some junk mail, there was a modest looking envelope which read: Very Important! -Doris

A chill washed over Laney’s body for the second time that night as she headed into her apartment. She wondered if she had driven the poor woman to suicide with her negligence. Gazing at the envelope, she hesitated several moments as she sat on her bed across from her mirror. She couldn’t bring herself to look into it, she was so ashamed of her selfishness. Finally, she opened the letter, which read:

If you are the one who has my ring, I beg you to return it. The ring signifies my bond to my late husband and it’s very important that I have it back immediately. He’s gone insane and sees it as a betrayal of our union that I have somehow lost it. I will never be at peace until you do what’s right. Time is running out. One way or the other, this matter will be resolved tomorrow when he returns.

Please do not continue to wear the ring or my fate will soon be your own. I know this because I am not his first wife.

-Doris

Laney’s heart sank as she dropped the letter, looking at the ring on her finger. At once, she attempted to remove it, but it tightened like a handcuff. Frantic, she grabbed lotion from her dresser and slathered it over her hand in an attempt to loosen the restrictive piece of jewelry. It didn’t work.

Doris somehow found a way to break free, but I assure you, this will not happen again, a voice boomed. Turning around, Laney saw the flaxen haired man standing beside her. It was the same man from the party. She lapsed into profuse apologies as she begged the ghost to take the ring back, but he refused.

It’s much too late for that. The ring is yours, but now, your heart, body and soul belongs to me…forever.

As Laney continued her attempt to rip the ring from her finger she tried to scream, but was muted in terror.

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This past Sunday my husband, in-laws and I took a scenic drive to the Chuang Yen Monastery, located in Carmel, NY. The serene environment was well worth the lengthy trek from Brooklyn. Here are some photos from the trip:

Chuang Yen Monastery - Main Building

Inside the main building

A section of the ten thousand miniature Buddhas surrounding the main statue

Leisurely walk by the pond

Statue by the pond

Sharing laughs after feeding the fish

Female monk takes a moment to pet cat

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Like a drone, I fulfill my obligations in order to maintain the relationships, meager luxuries and necessities I rarely have time to enjoy. It isn’t at all what I imagined my life would be, but it pays the bills.

Breaking the repetitive circle of my daily routine, I decide  to take a different route to my destination. Along the way, I notice a small child ducking into an alley. I’m not the only one who sees her, but I’m the only one who stops. Everyone else is too busy, their time and attention too valuable to waste on this shelter-seeking child. There’s a part of me that can’t blame them. For all I know she could be a mischievous troublemaker hiding from consequence, but I decide to take a chance in hopes of something different. Nightfall is about to dominate the darkening sky and I know the girl is in dangerous territory. Going against my usual intuition to mind my own business, I carefully follow.

She sees me and is instantly startled, cowering in a corner in an outfit she has long since outgrown–a clear sign of neglect. I reach out my hand as I try to tell her it’s okay, but she only tenses even more. She’s an outcast to the world and to her, I’m a mere stranger. She whimpers if I dare come any closer, refusing to speak or even give me her name. It’s not just me she distrusts, but adults in general. Based on my visual assessment, though disheveled, she appears physically unharmed, but emotionally scarred. In her clutches is the tattered remnants of what was once the cuddly source of comfort and boundless imagination. However, time has reduced it to worthless rags. No, not worthless–she clings to the item as though it’s her only friend. I want to help her, but I don’t know how. I don’t even know who she is or where she’s from. How can I possibly help someone so fragile and reclusive without causing further damage?

In the span of a few minutes, I attempt to turn back the clock decades at a time, reminding myself of how intimidating and confusing the world can be for a child. I tried to bring myself to her level, figuring it would make me appear less threatening. As I make my approach, she’s still alarmed. She sees right through the shaky facade as clearly as she can see the creases in my crisply pressed suit and dashes off. Desperate to help her, I give chase, realizing my actions would probably only scare her even more, albeit inadvertently. Before long, the age of my body forsakes my intent and I’m unable to catch up. In a flash, the girl is gone.

I somehow know I will never see her again and it saddens me to know I failed her–undoubtedly like many others before. All that remains is the raggedy doll she dropped as she fled. Taking it into my hands, I’m surprised at how pleasantly soft the musty soiled toy feels. Almost involuntarily, I tighten my fingers and feel compelled to smell it, to nuzzle my face against it. There’s a nametag on the front, the markings a bit blurred. In spite of the fuzzy inscription, faded due to age, I am able to decipher a name… It is my own.

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