Stories

Bleak

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What was it? A waiting room? A lobby? A bus stop? Does it matter? Did it ever? Sure. At some point. It mattered to the person who paid for it. Who made it. The people who ate because of it. But now? No. Not for us. It doesn’t matter. Let’s move on.

They all sat in chairs. Mostly. Not all. One woman stood by a counter, exchanging words to convey purposes. Fulfilling her goals to some extent. Returning to a seat. Now they all sat. The people in the room were all seated. It was a room. We can agree on that. Let’s move on.

Another woman sat in another chair. She was watching people. People-watching, as they like to say. Whoever they are. Who are they? Some people. Generic now. It probably doesn’t matter. They mattered to someone at some point. They probably matter to other people now. Maybe to the same people now as in those other points in time. Maybe not. Let’s move on.

The woman who sat. The second one mentioned, not the first. Let’s not worry about the first one. She’s irrelevant. She always will be, won’t she? The woman sat and watched. She watched and thought. She thought and wondered and tried to decipher those thoughts that floated around. She grabbed one or two thoughts and examined them. Tried to decide why they floated. Why they floated in her head, anyway. She paused in her processing of those foremost thoughts to consider why she might draw back that layer. What’s the use in a metaprocess to consider those primary thoughts? “Am I questioning the purpose of examining the value of my thoughts? What’s the point in that?” She shook her head. This was going too far.

“Nevermind the why. That’s not really important. I’m going to go insane if I keep going. I’ll either go insane or decide it’s all pointless. I guess I’ll have to settle for a partial declaration of pointlessness. Only some of it doesn’t matter. Not to me. Not now.” Her face wore an expression of neutrality, or so she thought. In reality, it looked dark. Foreboding. “Don’t talk to me. I certainly don’t want to talk to you!” It broadcasted the message to any who cared to hear. Those who did address her addressed her by Jen. That really isn’t all that important, but endless pronouns are confusing.

“It certainly is a bleak day, isn’t it?” The lady next to her brought an aura of mental blandness. Jen could feel it. The new lady wasn’t malevolent. She didn’t know any words quite so long. She was quite proud of having remembered bleak. She had seen it in a magazine, next to a picture of the president. She liked the way it sounded. It fit her mouth. She moved through life by doing things. Why? Those were the things to be done. She had read in SILK that plaid was making a comeback. So she bought a plaid skirt. She had spent far too much on it, but with a laugh to assuage her guilt. That’s what credit cards are for, right? She drolled on about plaid and dark colors and how, when she watched John Samuels in the morning (oh, how she loved John Samuels), she would plan her colors for the day depending on his forecast. He said it would be a less-than-beautiful day today. Wasn’t that wonderful, how he kept sooo upbeat?

Always so reliable, that John Samuels. And, if she was honest, he was a looker, too. All this and more poured from her mouth. The useless drivel and recycled ideas tumbled from her brain as she upended it towards our lady in her seat. They contaminated the air as they mixed with the atmosphere. They obscured the background noises in their attempt to overcome Jen’s blockade of interaction. They succeeded. Jen looked at the new lady. “What should I call you, ma’am? I don’t really care, but I’ve decided that semi-unique names are better than entirely generic pronouns.” Barbara, as the hitherto generic ma’am was known by those who were required to refer to her specifically, blinked and looked vaguely surprised. She gave Jen her name.

“Well, Barbara, let me start by telling you, I’m not the best person to engage in small talk. In fact, I make a point not to. I used to try. I realized it was pointless, quite literally. Pointless for me, anyway. I don’t like interacting with people for no reason. It’s an exertion for me. It’s a chore I’d rather not have to undertake. It requires effort. Effort which usually isn’t duly rewarded. For example, normally, I’d say that I have nothing to learn from you. Nothing that matters to me. I don’t read SILK, and I don’t care about plaid.” Here, Barbara gave a patronizing smile, and began to say that she definitely understood differences in taste, but… “I don’t watch much television, and I certainly don’t care about personalities like your Mr. Samuels,” Jen finished.

Barbara’s face twitched for a moment as she reacted to being cut-off mid-sentence and insulted in her choice of style and men. “Well, now, I suppose, to each her own. I mean, I was talking with Clary the other day, and she said that she liked Carter Hoskins on channel 3! Haha! Of course she would. But let me tell you, she hasn’t gotten her copy of SILK yet, and when she sees my skirt, she’s going to just have to have one!”

Jen watched Barbara’s head as more and more of the seemingly endless supply of numbingly-unimportant prattle escaped from its constraints. Was it of its own accord? Was Barbara generating this? Was she just a conduit? A carrier?

“I honestly don’t understand it, Barbara.” Jen cut off Barbara again, and Barbara, though annoyed, was far too polite to protest. Not yet, anyway. She’d tell alllll her friends about this weird little woman who had acted so rudely. Maybe she could find a way to tease Clary about this, what with her dislike of plaid and all… “all this around us, for example,” Jen continued “it has a purpose. This room, it’s here for us to wait in. If we didn’t have to wait, if we didn’t have to be here, this room wouldn’t exist. These chairs… if we didn’t have to sit, or if the establishment here didn’t benefit from our relative comfort, these chairs would still be trees in some forest or lumber in some lumberyard. At some point, someone decided that someone else would need a chair, and some tree’s fate was sealed. From a seed, to a tree, to a truck, to a chair. All that because this place wanted you to sit here, and me to sit here, and nowhere in that line of events did anyone say ‘let’s make sure they talk to each other.’” Barbara didn’t get the point.

“Haha, you are really funny! Also, that’s so deep! I had never thought about a tree becoming a chair. Maybe that tree in my front yard will be a bench for someone one day! Hah!”

Jen pushed on. “So many things go on every day. Countless endeavors for the progression of events. Sometimes the events are related. Sometimes the endeavors fail. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing them. I wonder why, in the vast world of events and interactions, happenings and failures and successes, why I’m doing the specific things that I do. That’s what I’m getting at, Barbara, somehow. Your endless shpeel on fashion, friends, and meaningless sundry. Why did you direct it at me? What was the point? I don’t care about it. I openly am opposed to it. I told you as much. When I talk about something, I do so with a purpose. I talk in order to think things through at a cooperative level. I talk about important things because they deserve to be talked about. They have to be understood, and sometimes to understand something, one has to talk through it. I talk about things that matter, Barbara. I despise the things that don’t matter. They only serve to distract from matters of importance. Now please, leave me alone.”

Barbara left her alone. She had lost her fake smile. Her face wore an expression of deflation. She turned to her new copy of SILK. She turned dolefully through the pages, and wondered, for the first time, if this really did matter. Then she remembered what John Samuels had said. What she herself had rephrased later. This day really was bleak. She couldn’t wait to tell Clary.

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Hemaflora

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sunset-1645105_1920The letter had the strangest effect on my person. I really hadn’t anticipated it. My mood was foreign to me, though I couldn’t identify it when I tried. I looked at my soul through a window made of mud. I felt numb, and in my numbness, I felt nothing.

Perhaps now, looking back, I can more easily identify why it was that the letter struck me in such a fashion, but at the time, I really was at a loss. I do remember how everything fell out. The morning had been a nice one. The clouds were heavy that morning, but only in spots. It was one of those days when the sky looked like a river bed. The clouds were large and rounded and similar but not homogeneous. They promised rain, but their promises were empty. Maybe next time, they seemed to say, as they glided down the sky towards the places they were destined to go. Do clouds have destinies? Perhaps. I’d like to think they do. It gives one a sense of something greater… but that’s not a discussion for today.

The clouds passed over as I stood outside. The shadows at times made me a bit dizzy as they explored the terrestrial realm. I had woken up late that day, and the coffee in my mug was still warm. As I looked through the garden, I noticed a new plant. I shook my head a bit to clear the sleep, for I felt that I must have been imagining things. The tiredness was quite gone, though the plant still remained. I knew for a fact that it hadn’t been there the day before. I was an avid gardener, and there, amidst the various sedges and asters was a taller plant that had decidedly not been there. I moved closer to examine the stem, for only one stem came out of the ground. Around the stem rose broad leaves, rather like an orchid. I looked closer, and I realized that the leaves were fleshy, like a succulent’s. I took a leaf between my finger and thumb, and the plant shuddered from the impact. A dark spot appeared on the leaf. I frowned at how easily it bruised. The flower bud near the top of the stem was looking as though it would bloom at any moment, so I decided to go in after my camera.

The walk from the garden to my house was short, but I caught my breath as I walked into the dining room. On the table, next to my camera, sat the letter. Perhaps I should mention that other than a stray cat who sometimes wandered by, I lived alone. I quickly glanced around the room, but no one was there. A cursory, fruitless, search of the rest of the rooms in my house did nothing to ease the sudden feeling in my chest that spoke of danger. I picked up the letter and began to read.

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that I must tell you that [she’s] dead. I know this will reach you a bit late. I hope you find consolation in that she died while doing what she loved. The following is a picture of her latest finding. She named it Hemaflora.”

Contained within was a photograph of a flower. A gorgeous flower. It looked like an orchid, but the face of the bloom was entrancing. It told stories with its look, but I didn’t care about that. I only stood and gazed at that photograph and letter. She finally died. Of course, she had died to me years ago. That day she told me that her travels would give her more than I could, but now that finality was real. Now the anticipation of something that couldn’t be, that hopeless hope of a life unreal, it was gone.

I’ve told you already of how I felt. I don’t think that would do me or you much good to repeat. I didn’t tell you, however, of what transpired later. I had gone back outside to try and clear my head. The letter was in my pocket, and I gradually gravitated towards the spot where I had earlier found that new plant. Once again, for the second time that day, I started. It was, as I then perceived it, the moment of most clarity in the midst of my depression, but I now question the reality of it at all. The bloom that sat atop the stem was gorgeous and complex. The gaze of the orchid (for I knew not what to call it) seemed to look into my heart. I sat for the longest time, looking at this flower, and eventually, I removed the letter and photograph from my pocket.

I studied the paper for a little while longer, and then I began to tear up the letter and photo together. I scattered the pieces in the garden and turned back to the flower. It shuddered slightly, and then began to rend. A feeling of utter despair washed over me as I watched the bloom begin to drip a dark red substance from the tears that appeared in its flesh. It looked, if a flower can look such, as though it had felt the worst feeling possible, and then it gradually wilted down into a pile of bloody stem and leaves.

Hemaflora, I thought. That’s what she called it. I imagine I won’t see it again. To this day, I haven’t, and sometimes I question if I ever did.

The Concept Engine

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The man looked up at the giant building and its rows of blinding mirrored windows. “The Idea is Simple,” read the slogan emblazoned on the sign. A giant TCE logo sat midway up the face, playing host to several nervous pigeons. Our friend checked the time once more before taking a deep breath and plunging into the crowd that flowed into the building. As he looked around, he noticed that some of the people wore suits and professional wear, but most of the throng was dressed quite casually, even too casually, he thought, as he noticed some boys in pajama bottoms.

The crowd was split into queue lines as they moved through the door. The scene was not unlike a transport station of sorts. Ticket lines and baggage checks stretched as far as the eye could see to the left and right. “The Concept Engine, experience total connectedness. Experience simplicity.” A woman’s voice repeated TCE propaganda on a loop as the people moved to their various lines. Glass elevators shot up and down the walls constantly, the screens within showing various nature scenes with soothing TCE voice-overs. “Welcome to The Concept Engine. Go beyond your thoughts. Experience the Concepts.”

Our man joined a line labeled “First Time” and began reading a brochure he had picked up at the front.

“All of humankind,” it began, “is now connected through the Internet. We can contact anyone we wish and see their image, live. We can send files from New York to Hong Kong in less time than it takes to hand your officemate a paper, but we still have the barrier of language-based communication. International imagery is confusing, and translators are expensive. The Concept Engine aims to fix the problem of communication. We will revolutionize the way you talk, or rather, don’t talk. With communications streams to over 100 different countries, you can talk to virtually anyone anywhere in the world.

Think of your topic, consider what you want to do, and your partner will immediately understand you. The next level of human communication has emerged. Welcome to The Concept Engine.”

T♦C♦E

With his ticket in hand, he jogged to reach elevator 37, his designated transport. “From the cave man’s drawings and grunts, to the discovery of the Rosetta stone, to the emergence of acronymous text language, communication has evolved and changed drastically over time. We have eliminated language all together. Prepare yourself for raw communication.” The elevator voice droned on as elevator itself flew towards its destination.

The seat was fairly comfortable, he thought, as he settled into the white chair labeled 23,947. The helmet-looking apparatus was waiting for him, and the arms straps secured his wrists against the armrests. “Hey..!” he began as the device automatically began to close. Soon, his thoughts were blurred. He could no longer form the words he felt were necessary. His ideas were nothing but raw conceptions. His years of training as a journalist faded into nothingness. All he felt was an extraordinary affinity for the idea of a concept. Happiness flooded his mind.

“Language elimination complete. Subject 23,947 conformed.” The message flashed briefly on a computer screen somewhere deep in TCE offices. “Subject 23,948… 23,949…”

The man walked out into the sweltering heat of the building’s front mall. He blinked several times and looked around him in a confused manner. He looked up at the TCE sign and felt comforted, though he wasn’t sure why. Another man walked out behind him and smiled in his direction, and though they said nothing, each understood the other, almost as if they could read each other’s minds. They thought for a few more minutes about the deals their companies had required them to make, and soon, their negotiations  were at an end. The lights faded again and he found himself sitting in a chair labeled 23,947. He felt as though he would never need to read or talk again.

“Subject released. Infection complete. Logged and prepared for return.” The computer screen flashed names and information at a dizzying rate.

“Goodbye for now, and remember, for the most complete communication experience, use The Concept Engine.”

And so he headed out of the building, trying to remember why he visited in the first place but sure of one thing: language is dead, and he would definitely be back soon.

“TCE — It’s the Thought that Counts.”

~XK

So, I haven’t written in like… forever. You’re welcome. The Concept Engine was an idea I had a couple years back when I thought I wanted to write some sci-fi. I wanted to expand on Orwell’s idea of simplified language, and what better way than to eliminate language altogether! Perhaps you’ll see this idea exploited some more at some point, and I’ll try to make it a bit more cohesive next time. Right now, I’m working on an alphabet for use in a fantasy series at some point, whenever I get around to actually writing something. I’ll post some more on that sometime soon. Good to see you again!
Bye for now,
Chris