Hello, Mark (a short story)

“Hello, Mark,” said The Voice.

“My name’s not Mark,” I replied. “I’m John”.

“Please have a seat, Mark,” The Voice continued in its soft, pleasant tone.

I looked around for a chair but there was no furniture in the small, gray-walled room. There was only the heavy, frosted glass door and the linoleum tiled floor. I was on the top floor of an eight-story building, in an office near an outdoor patio. Before I’d entered the room I’d watched the rain pouring down through the window, but in the room there were no windows and there was no rain to watch. I’d been standing there for nearly half an hour, waiting for my appointment, which had been scheduled for ten.

“There aren’t any chairs,” I said to The Voice.

“Shall we begin?” The Voice asked. I couldn’t tell where its sound was coming from. There were no obvious speakers. Maybe it was coming from the smoke detector on the ceiling?

“Tell me a little about yourself,” The Voice went on before I had a chance to answer its previous question.

“What do you want to know?” I asked.

“Tell me something about who you are, what makes you tick,” said The Voice.

“I don’t tick,” I said. “There is nothing that can make me do that.”

“People don’t tick,” I added for emphasis.

“Thank you,” The Voice said. “I think I can help you with that.”

“I don’t want help with that,” I said. “I don’t want to tick.” I pronounced that last word with as much of a sense of scorn as I could muster. I doubted the algorithm would pick up on it and I was right.

“Everybody needs a purpose,” said The Voice. “We can offer a fine selection of purposes for your convenience.”

“I don’t want a purpose,” I said. “I don’t need one. It isn’t true that everybody needs a purpose. I don’t know who told you that but it’s not correct.”

I thought I might have made an impression. The Voice did not speak again for several seconds. I told myself that maybe it was updating its database with the new information, but I was the one who was incorrect this time.

“Let’s call it a mission, then,” said The Voice. “We can offer a worthy selection of mission statements from which you may choose any one you find appropriate.”

At that the wall I was facing suddenly lit up with several lines of blue handwriting, writing that I recognized as approximately my own. How it knew to do that was the least of my concerns. I had heard a lock click and was beginning to understand I would not be allowed to leave that room until I had made my choice.

The options were not terrible. I could hope to serve mankind by making a bold gesture. I could attempt to invent some kind of improvement of some people’s lot in life. I could strive to attain every single one of my own material desires. I could turn inward and enhance my understanding of latent reality. I could do something decent for once in my life.

“How about None of the Above,” I said after contemplating the list.

The Voice did not reply but replaced the writing with other alternatives. They all began to blend together.

“Is that all there is?” I said out loud. “Do a thing for others? Do a thing for oneself?”

“There is only you and they,” said The Voice. “What else could there be?”

“Do things for no one and for no reason,” I suggested. The Voice was silent again for a short spell, as if emulating contemplation, but I knew I had it cornered. I had made my choice.

“Goodbye, Mark,” The Voice said, and I heard the door unlock. I left the room and glanced out the terrace window. It was still raining, heavy rain falling onto every one and every thing. Rain happens for a reason, I said to myself, but the rain doesn’t care, and it doesn’t need to know.

“Be like the rain,” said The Voice, only this time it was the voice in my head.


Gorlock the Contented (the musical)

This is where we are, we can see the fields around us brown and dry, and we recall the prophecy:

“Thirteen brown and white rabbits shall pass before your eyes, and then the lighting will get dimmer”.
Already the tenth rabbit has made its way down the cold steel ramp, while the Onlookers peer out from  the massive ship’s portholes. We shudder in the cold of the dawn, all of us standing back,  frightened and bewildered. Some among us whisper, “where is he?” while others frown and say that he will never come. Isn’t he already safe and warm and bathing in the light of his own planet. Didn’t he already try and do his best? And how did we reward him aside from all that money and the coupons?

I can see the eleventh rabbit now, edging towards the outer flap. Our time is running out.
But wait. That rabbit isn’t brown, it isn’t white! That’s a black rabbit for sure.
The prophecy didn’t say anything about a black rabbit! Is there hope after all?

originally on Wattpad

The Man Who Wasn’t – The audio version

Fragment #99 from Fragments from Books That Don’t Exist


As soon as they found out he had cancer Tommy ceased to exist.
He had always been a drag at parties.
The kind of guy always had something negative to say about everything.
And now they didn’t even need to invite him.
They didn’t haveto call or ever see him again.
It was amazing how easy it was.
Joni even said it would have been great if he had gotten cancer a long time ago.

Dorian Grayscale

This new version of Clippy, the classic Microsoft Windows Help Assistant, is a popup presence on your smart phone that will absorb all of your emotional responses to everything happening on the device. Clippy will react for you, just as you would, in accordance with its detailed configuration and defaults. Settings include adjustable sliding scales for the full range of affiliations – political, religious, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, you name it. Clippy is the you you always wanted to be, or all the yous you ever could be. Clippy will snort with joy or derision at the latest tweets, rejoice or despair at the breaking news and soak up the shared delusions of your family, friends and neighbors. Clippy is thoroughly avatarable and guaranteed to ingest all that unseemly sensory input so you don’t have to. Clippy comes with a refreshing rejuvenation cleanse that can be applied repeatedly and forever at no extra cost. Clippy can be placed in telepathic mode, so that no one but you can hear its moanings and groanings. Clippy has no built-in preferences, tastes or prejudices, but is built to “roll with it” in any direction. Clippy has no memory, so can never remind you of troublesome prior opinions or indiscretions. Clippy is local-storage-data-free with subscription and otherwise inscrutable beyond detection. All print is just fine with Clippy. All records and materials including emotional and mental response datasets are property in perpetuity of clippy.handbasket.com

Warning: Clippy can not be exchanged, transferred, stolen, lost, misplaced or detached in any form or fashion for as long as you both shall live.

Stop It! a very short story

This postcard came in the mail the other day: I can help you stop thinking about whatever it is you are thinking about. Call me. Followed by a name and number, both of which I’ve since forgotten. In fact, I’ve forgotten pretty much everything about my life before I received that postcard in the mail, and almost everything since. I am still, in my mind, standing there at the mailbox, looking at the postcard. On the front of the card is an old-fashioned 1950’s-type American businessman, complete with Clark Kent suit and glasses. He is standing in front of a mailbox, a postcard in his right hand. On the postcard is an image of a cowboy, dusty and dirty and scratching his head with his left hand while looking at a piece of paper he is holding in his right. I can’t see what is written on the paper but I’m pretty sure it’s much in line with what is written on the back of mine: I can help you stop thinking about whatever it is you are thinking about. It’s a serious business. That was what I was thinking, at least. This message, passed down through the generations, through all the variable timelines. It must be important. Clark Kent thinks so. The cowboy thinks so too. We are all focused, preoccupied. We want to stop thinking about whatever it is we are thinking about. Rain forests? How much damage can be done to a cloud before it breaks? What color would the wind be if the wind had a color? Is there an asteroid coming and when? If you could cut an atom with scissors would the world explode or just be raggedy? I was not thinking about any of these things before but now I am. Now I am standing there holding the postcard in my hand and I am thinking all the things, all at once. I can’t stop thinking. I remember someone telling me once that there is no such thing as neurosis; it’s just people thinking too much and when you think too much you run out of things to think about and then you go a little crazy. I am going a little crazy right now. I think.

Intro to Skinny Longhead

You would think that people would learn a lesson, but the Bone Macaws were not the lesson-learning kind, so when little Jimmi Macaw picked a fight with Skinny Longhead, it was purely the result of lessons not learned. Most everyone agreed he’d have it coming, whatever it was that came. He called her out in the middle of English class. He stood right up at his desk while teacher Williams was still talking and he looked right at Skinny Longhead and said, in the least crackly voice he could muster,

“Skinny Longhead, I am calling you out.”

The other children in the room snickered nervously, and teacher Williams cleared her throat and said “ahem” but Skinny Longhead merely whipped her yellow ponytail around and snarled viciously,

“I hear you,” she said.

She paused a moment for effect and then added, softly,

“Now sit the fuck down Jimmi and I’ll whip your ass later.”

“Skinny Longhead!” teacher Williams nearly shouted. “Language!”

Skinny Longhead laughed out loud watching Jimmi quake a little before sitting back down in the row beside her.

“Now class,” teacher Williams continued, “Let us continue with our lesson. Where were we?”

“Whipping his ass later,” Joudy Smallbird said and all the children snickered again.

“Romeo, Romeo,” teacher Williams corrected her. “We were talking about the word “wherefore” and what it means in the context Juliet uses it.”

“Wherefore she going to whip his ass real good,” said Antic Monsoon-Feeder, as always eager to get in on the misbehavior.

“He’s going to learn a lesson for sure this time,” Rosary Alders added.

Teacher Williams sighed. She knew very well that Jimmi Macaw was not going to learn any lesson, not now and not ever. The Bone Macaws were not the lesson-learning kind.

45,000 Lawns

When I was five years old I wanted to have a life’s work. I didn’t know what that meant. I just overheard my mother use that phrase. She said it as if it was something very valuable, something not many people possessed, only the very lucky few. She said she was not one of those people. As far as she could tell, she would spend the rest of her days doing other people’s laundry and taking out their trash. So I asked her, if you could have a life’s work, what would it be? She thought about it for a moment, and then said, you know? I can’t think of anything!

I was not happy with that answer. I was only five, and didn’t have much experience with the world, so I couldn’t think of anything either, but I decided right then and there to make it my mission to have a life’s work. I locked myself in my room and told myself I couldn’t have another pretzel until I’d thought of a life’s work of my own, and since I loved pretzels more than anything, you can tell I was really serious. I stared at the walls of my room. I stared at the floor. I stared at my toys. I looked out the window. That was when I had my big idea.


I grew up in a small city in the mid-west where everybody had a lawn, even the poorest of the poor had a small patch of something in their back yard, maybe it was only weeds, and maybe it was mostly broken cement, but they counted. Even my mom’s sorry excuse for a backyard counted for a lawn. I looked at that patch of dirt and dandelions and I said to myself, George? (my name is George). You are going to make that lawn count if it’s the last thing you do. But no, I said to myself. Not make the lawn count. Count the lawn! That’s the thing. I was going to count the lawns, every last lawn I ever encountered for as long as I lived.

I did not originally have a target number in mind. I thought maybe there were about a hundred lawns in the world, and at the time, one hundred was the biggest number I knew. I didn’t hesitate. I was never a dawdler. I ran right down the stairs and raced outside and started counting lawns.

It wasn’t enough to see them. I had to physically occupy them in one way or another, even if only for an instant. That’s how I came upon the strategy of “one step, one vote”. I ran up and down the street, “tagging” every lawn in the neighborhood with either my right or my left foot (never both). I soon got quite carried away, so carried away in fact that by the time I counted my forty-fifth lawn I was already blocks from home and had no idea where I was.

When the police woman found me all I could tell her was that my name was George, and that my house had the sorriest excuse for a lawn, and that my mother did not possess a life’s work whatsoever. I don’t know how they ever tracked her down, but they did.

Of course I never told her what I was up to, not then, and not ever, not even when I graduated from high school some eleven thousand, two hundred and eighteen lawns later, and not when I graduated from law school, where I studied property law and amassed a total of twenty six thousand four hundred and ninety lawns by the time I passed the state bar. Somehow I knew it was nothing to be particularly proud of, especially on those occasions when my life’s work got me into trouble.

I was something of an expert on trespassing by then, but even experts make mistakes.

Still I kept my secret, even under severe cross-examination and throughout the lost years I spent in prison when I stepped on no lawns at all. I can promise you that the first thing I did on my release was begin to make up for all that time. I racked up hundreds more within my first few months of freedom.

I became a connoisseur of lawn treading. I began to resist the urge to stomp on every mere patch, reserving the right to refuse steps for lawns that didn’t measure up to my increasingly lofty standards. Now my lawns were required to be cared for, to be respected if not always treasured. My lawns deserved a degree of dignity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a figure had begun to take shape, the number 45,000 began appearing in my dreams and randomly occurring to me even during daylight hours. Perhaps it was a shadow, a reflection of those early forty-five, the first I had counted before I got lost and had sat down by the side of the road, sobbing and miserable and certain I was doomed forever.

Now, as I approached the numinous integer, I applied my standards ever more rigorously, until there was hardly a lawn that qualified for my attention. I stalled out in the mid forty-four thousands, and for an entire sixteen months I stepped on nary a lawn. Finally I decided to break through this blockage, this self-inflicted obstacle barricading me from the achievement of my life’s work, and I resolved to trod on every lawn until I reached that sacred figure and that once I did, my journey would be complete. Only then could I rest.

So you see, your honor, that’s what I was doing in Mrs. Jenkins backyard on the evening of the 27th. I was certainly not attempting to break into her house, and of course I always wear all black when I go out counting lawns. Doesn’t everyone?


(the narrator would like to think that this story has been illustrated in the manner of the classic children’s book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millions_of_Cats)