A List of Things I Learned in the Past Year

Nathan Labrador

A mocha frappuccino doesn’t get mocha drizzle on it by default, but customers seem happy when it’s there anyway (the word frappuccino is rather annoying to spell)

I have a newfound appreciation for the absurdity of movie theaters

The blinker in my car synchronizes suspiciously well to Redbone by Childish Gambino

It turns out that loneliness is the worst side effect of a worldwide pandemic

One to three slices of Little Caesars pizza taste best when microwaved for forty-five seconds (a minute or more is ideal for four)

I miss seeing people smile when someone tells them to have a good day

I’ll likely never see my freshly divorced neighbors ever again

Card games with friends is some of the most irritating fun a person can have

Maybe curly hair doesn’t look that bad short after all

My abuelo remembers being bombed by the Chinese while fighting in the Korean War like it was yesterday (some memories are never fully forgotten)

Being yourself is a much more difficult task than it was as a child

I wasn’t in love with her after all, and that’s okay

“And so was he.”

Casper Sullivan

I was twelve and he was thirteen. I was a she and so was he. We knew each other for two years before we dated for the first time, and in that time we spoke all day, every day.

I was fourteen and he was fifteen. We were girlfriends and reluctant to use the term, because we knew we weren’t lesbians. We had no interest in women, or in being women. We understood womanhood perfectly well; it was something to be proud of, and the women around us wore it beautifully, but with us, it was as fitting and exciting as a pinchy old bowling shoe. Seeing the need for a change, we broke up, and in quick succession the videos started to appear in our internet history: How Do You Know You’re Transgender?

It would be six more years before we dated again, and in that time we spoke all day, every day.

I was sixteen and he was seventeen. I was a he and so was he. I went to Disney with him and his family. We wandered through the park from morning until night, until finally we split off from the rest of the group and decided we’d had enough of the excitement. We sat on the curb and talked until midnight, and more than the dazzling lights and novelties, I remember how easy it was to talk to him, to share the moment.

I was nineteen and he was twenty. I was taking care of my brother’s children full time and trying to remember what I wanted from my life. I realized it was him, but I didn’t want to use him as an escape from what were profoundly unhappy times. I decided to finally finish high school, then moved on to college. In that time we spoke all day, every day.

I am twenty-two and he is twenty-three. We’re boyfriends, and quite happy with the term. For a long time, we were waiting for each other to be ready. A decade is a very short amount of time for a relationship, as it turns out. There’s so little you can learn someone else in a single year. There’s so little you can learn about yourself.

Déjà Vu

Amber Simmons

The morning walk to school felt unnaturally dreadful. A cold, crisp breeze assaulted the tip of my nose, causing it to become numb. I persevered, one step at a time. A sense of forgetfulness yet déjà vu hung over me like a low-lying fog, draped about my body. The walk seemed to last forever, dead grass lining the sidewalks, but eventually, I made it to the school building. Upon reaching the school, I was met with absolute horror. It was Saturday.

Man or machine.

In Response to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Leeches [1983]

Ray Boone

Jeffery rocked his skull against the computer screen. The passcode would be set soon. 30 keys with 28 completed. 28 keys, 28 years, 28 roaches he’d counted in the metal room.

He’d been out of water for three days now, food for seven. The warnings he’d been given were discarded in his memory. All he could now remember were his reasons to keep going.

“The formula contains the key to a new mind” ——- but the formula was meant only to erase the mind.

“The new cure will bring an end to cognitive decay” ——– or so the public was told.

“Jeffree here is fixing to get himself a promotion!” ———- An extra two dollars in exchange for his humanity.

Six hours past noon meant the metal man would come again. He’d been spared six times but he’d soon come to an end. Six more minutes until the metal man would arrive.

Jeffery’s knuckles roughly punched the keyboard as his fingertips were oozing from the acid in the air. Breathing was a privilege he sacrificed to ensure his city’s survival. He wouldn’t let the demise of himself scare him away from the importance of his last days.

Another key turned green. He was closer than ever, only one key left. If he could crack the last one in the next minute he could miss the metal man.

Keyboard click after keyboard clack with only ten-seconds to go until suddenly a familiar blue mist filled the factory: the decontamination to rid itself of pests.

The poison failed to kill the insects that had grown resistant throughout the years of production but was milligrams away from killing Jeffery. He’d run out of time before the metal man’s entrance.

The man cowered over him tonight like any other. Blue fog wisped around his face as he smiled. He had two horns made of pipes with lines like railroad tracks. His yellow eyes stared directly into Jeffery’s, taunting him. Jeffery knew if the metal man smiled any wider he’d be digested by golden teeth and the last key would never be solved.

Each night the golden man’s stare would threaten him until he absolved himself into a nightmare-filled sleep. Depraved pupils followed his every time he tried to look away. This man wasn’t man, he was a metal demon. Behind the 28 keys was the public’s knowledge to the empire that Jeffery helped build. The Metal Man was hiding the password to the pseudo cure’s formula. Only the devil himself would do such a thing.

Jeffery stared back, no longer hiding from the metal demon. He was too close to the password to back down. One more key and the metal man would be gone and the city would be safe. He would die a martyr and take the metal man with him.

Without turning away from the metal man, Jeffery reached in agony for the keyboard. All he was now was remnants of flesh, puss, and blood. He was certain now that his body was host to the parasitic test tubes that broke the first time the metal man haunted him. Maybe the bugs under his skin could move his lifeless fingers to the keyboard if the metal man took him tonight.

Maybe he could’ve explained his mission to his family more thoroughly. The metal man reminded him of his husband’s words that the cure had already been released, that the company’s damage was already done, that breaking into the laboratory was pointless and he’d be trapped as soon as he’d entered. However Jeffery couldn’t risk his spouse being wrong. He couldn’t trust the papers about the cure six months ago, why would he trust them now? How could he trust himself, the traitor who knew all along the first cure was sabotaged?

The metal man continued to mock him. His face scowled at Jeffery and twitched as he winced in pain. He knew the metal man was planning to feast tonight.

Jeffery’s fumbling fingers slipped into the loop of cords beside his head before the metal man could reach it. The keyboard crashed into his lap as he cried in pain. The metal man continued to mock him.

The tricky part was typing each key before the metal man could. Each time his finger got close to a key; the metal man would follow suit. The metal man would know the code to permanently lock the sequence from this computer, and Jeffery couldn’t risk that possibility. The public must know the truth of what the pharmaceuticals actually were, what the company had done, what he had done.

Jeffery screamed as he mashed his knuckles into the keyboard. His eyes burned and hands bled so badly he couldn’t tell what keys he was pressing. His aimless efforts had to work, he couldn’t risk it otherwise.

The machine responded with words he couldn’t discern anymore. His ears rang with screeching tones from the metal man who screamed back at him. Sparks from the ceiling burned his face but he couldn’t quit-couldn’t give up-couldn’t lose to the metal man.

Yet the metal man continued to mock him. Continued to feed him blue fog. Forced his lungs to choose between poison or suffocation. Metal eyes refused to blink as Jeffery stared back. Metal fists crashed into Jeffery’s punch. Metal smiled as Jeffery bared his teeth. Metal laughed and Jeffery cackled back.

Something was wrong. Something had happened. Something didn’t smell right. Jeffery turned around only to be met with blazing fire. The metal man distracted him and set this! Jeffery looked down to his hands only to see a shattered keyboard sticky with crimson. The metal man must have crashed the entire computer system and left the keyboard in Jeffery’s hands to trick him! This was the metal man’s fault, and he must pay.

Dread and despair were no longer found anywhere inside of Jeffery. The passcode to the cure would never be discovered, everyone he loved was as good as dead. All that he had left was this metal monster that would pay for his crimes.

Jeffery didn’t know if it was the acid, the dehydration, or adrenaline, but he no longer felt pain. He stood to meet the height of the devil who stood in front of him. He had never faced this monster standing and was surprised to realize they were the same height.

“Your time is up, demon” said Jeffery to the man.

“Your time is up, demon” responded the metal man.

Jeffery stared at the man, refusing to be mocked.

“You’re going to die today,” Jeffery yelled.

“You’re going to die today,” the metal man solemnly responded.

Jeffery marched closer to the metal man, he would not back down from this threat. He raised his fist as high as it would go and punched the metal man. His human fist met a metal hand and both collapsed to the ground. Jeffery screamed in agony.

He rolled over one last time to meet the metal man centimeters from his face. Both of their lives were about to end.

“You can’t last much longer,” Jeffery growled.

“You can’t last much longer,” the metal man quietly whispered.

“This is the end for you,” Jeffery choked through his own blood.

“This is the end for you,” the metal man sadly smiled.

The corpse of Jeffery was discovered the next month at a pharmaceutical company during a routine inspection, pressed against a metal wall.

Dinner at Mama’s

Jasmine Fuller

The scene begins as Mama is in the kitchen preparing dinner for her 3 children whom she has not seen in 10 years.

*Mama’s inner thoughts*: “I knew this day would come, but at least it won’t be so bad since we haven’t seen each other in 10 years. I know Jimmy hasn’t been the same since his farther passed, well hell none of them have been the same since their farther passed. You would think they would come visit every once and a while, but I guess the pain is too much.”

*knock on the door*

Mama runs to the door and to her surprise its her older son Jimmy.

Jimmy: Hey mama!

*Jimmy drops his bags and embraces his mama*

Mama: Hey baby! God I’ve missed you! Where are my grandbabies?!

Jimmy: I left them with Tina mama, ain’t no way in hell was I bringing all 6 of the damn kids up here.

*Mama pops Jimmy upside his head*

Mama: I know you THINK your grown, but boy I’m still your mama!

Jimmy: I’m sorry mama, I just haven’t seen you in years and I just need you all to myself.

Mama: well, who’s fault is that?

Jimmy: Well, you know Tiff makes it hard for me to be around.

*Another knock on the door*

*Mama answers the door*

Mama: Oh my goodness!

Tiffany: Your favorite has arrived Mama!

*Mama and Tiffany hugs*

Mama: Girl hush! I love all my babies, speaking of where is D?

Tiffany: Oh! In my car getting my bags.

Mama: You two are insuperable!

*Donell walks in*

Donell: Hey mama!

*Mama pushes Tiffany out the way*

Mama: My baby!

*Mama kisses all over Donell’s face*

Mama: Everyone put your bags up in your rooms and let’s eat!

*The kids do what their mother tells them and the family rejoin each other at the dinner table.*

Mama: Alright now yawl know we cannot eat until we say the blessing!

*Everyone joins hands and bows their heads*

Mama: Dear lord,

Thank you for this day and Jesus thank you for bringing back all three of my children to me save and sound as we don’t know the dangers of the world and we can only put our trust unto you.

Amen.

Everyone: Amen

*Everyone begins to pass around serving plates as they fix their personal plates.*

Jimmy: So Tiff, how’s that “business” of yours?

*Jimmy lets out a contradicting smile*

Tiffany: going as good as that “marriage” of yours, matter of fact where is your WIFE Jimmy?

Mama: Now stop right there this is supposed to be a peace full dinner.

Donell: Mama’s right, we haven’t been together in such a long time.

*Tiffany mumbles*

Tiffany: Oh gee, why do you think that?

Jimmy: I’m sorry if I have genuine concern about my only sister.

Tiffany: how is it “genuine” concern? You’re never there, you didn’t have that same energy when dad was on his death bed now did you?

Jimmy: UNLIKE YOU TIFFANY I have a real job and a family to take care of!~ Dad knew I loved him!

Tiffany: But why doesn’t your “Wife” help with those bastard kids , huh? And I do have a real job sir, its called being an ENTRUPERUER!

Jimmy: Wait a damn minute, you’re not about to come for my wife and you damn sure aint about to come for MY KIDS!

Tiffany: we all know the last two isn’t yours Jimmy!

*Everyone stops*

Donell: Now, I think you took it too far Tiffany…

Jimmy: Nah let her keep going, matter of fact while we at it why don’t you tell mom what your real job is Tiffany or should I say Peaches.

*Tiffany stops and looks up at Jimmy*

Jimmy: Yeah, my boys saw you down at magic city. All those nights you thought she was up studying mama she was really out being a hoe.

Donell: Now stop it you two!

Jimmy: Oh hell nah! I know you ain’t talking! That little roommate you have is more then a roommate. You want to tell mama why two grown men are roommates in a house at your age !?

Donell: Fuck you Jimmy!

Mama: NOW THAT’S IT! I HAVE HAD ENOUGH! I’m not doing this anymore; we are family we are all we have!

Jimmy: No mama, that died along with daddy.

*Mama starts to cry as everyone gets up from the table.*

I Remember Buffalo

Joshua Farrell

He always hated the time change. That first day pissed him off more and more as the years flew by. Especially when the Bills lost. Just a fuckin rabbit punch he didn’t need, not this year. There was still just under 3 minutes left in the game when he turned it off.

“Fuckin losers. It’s like they fuckin discuss at halftime, just exactly how they are going to lose this game.“, he mumbled out loud.

“What d’ya say honey?”, his wife said from the other room.

“Nuttin’ honey.”, he said with a smile, thinking about the old commercial. “Just bitching about The Bills.” The smile was already gone.

“Oh, did they lose?”

“Not yet, but they’re about to.”, he said, letting out a mild sigh.

He knew it would be pitch black outside by the time he got to Bryan’s house. Thank God his wife and kids got a ride with Gittere. Let Pete deal with her crazy ass. Lacing up his new boots, he started thinking again of how much the old neighborhood has changed. How many people have grown old and died.He thought maybe he’d take the long way to Bryan’s house. There was some places, one building in particular, he wanted to check out. He grabbed his hat, gloves, and scarf, took one last look in the mirror (after all he wsa gonna see a bunch of people he hadn’t seen in 25+ years), and headed downstairs. Amie put her mediacal journal down and followed him down. As he got to the front door, he peeked through the side window to assess just how bad it was outside. It wasn’t snowing, but it was 3 degrees, with a wind chill of -7. So basically it was -7 fucking degrees outside.

“Are you sure you don’t wanna go?”, he said as he kissed her head.

“I wanna sit my southern ass in front of the fire, it’s like one outside.

“It’s 3. Wind chill of -7.”

“No fucking way. I’m cold just standing by the door.” She got up on her tiptoes and gave him a peck on the cheek.

He opened the door, causing Amie to immediately rub her arms frantically up and down.

“OK, I love you. Please be careful and call me or get an Uber home.”, she said shivering.

“Will do. Love you too.” He said with a smile and walked out into the frigid cold. Before Amie could close the door, he swung around, losing his footing a slight bit, “There’s a half a Royal sub in the fridge, 2 liter of Loganberry in the garage. Nice and cold.” She smiled and waved goodbye, shutting the door.

As he made the left onto Almont Ave., he was pleased to see Bryan outside waiting. He wasn’t the most punctual of people. Bryan made a snowball and chucked it at his car as it turned the driveway. The packing was always terrible when it was this cold.

“What’s up you doggone sum bitch?”, Bryan said with an over-the-top southern drawl.

He rolled his window down and uttered, “Fuck off man. You and your wife watch Nascar. I don’t watch cars go around in a circle. Listen to that God-awful country music.”, he retorted before bryan was even done speaking.

“Pipe down Rusty. I’m just fuckin with ya.”, Bryan said with a grin.

“Hurry up and get in, it’s fuckin freezing outside.”, he said, rolling up the window.

Bryan trotted around the front and got inside. “Nice ride, what year?”

“2018.” He backed out of the driveway and headed down Almont. “That Mighty Taco still there at French and Transit? I wanna hit one up before we get there Ive been home for like 50 hours and the only Buffalo food I’ve had is a half a Royal from John & Mary’s.”

“I figured we’d stop at The Nick, have Gino make us some wings.”

“He’s fuckin working?”, he said with slight annoyance in his voice.

“He tried and he couldn’t.”, Bryan replied matter-of-factly.

“Of all the people, he should fuckin be there tonight.”

“He tried. He couldn’t. You wanna go or not?”

“I wanna go now. Tell that motherfucker to grow up. He couldn’t get the night off my ass.”

“He tried. Believe me, he tried.”, Bryan replied in a calm voice. “You know, Gino wasn’t always the bad guy when it came to Jeremy.”, this time fighting back tears.

“I know man. Just pisses me off whenever I think about it.” He made a right onto Transit Rd. “He coulda been more of a friend, I know it was hard, but Jesus.”

As they pulled into the parking lot of The Nickelodeon Cafe, Bryan said in an obvious attempt to change the subject, “Did you see St. John’s is a fuckin Mosque?”

“Saw it on the way to your house. It’s evolution baby.”, he said with a smile.

There’s a Button for That

Nathan Labrador

Your AnyCar appointment will begin shortly.

Please make sure all other Chip programs are closed before speaking with your Salesman.

Remember, Here at AnyCar, our Top Priority is Your Comfort.

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Beginning call.

Hello there, valued customer! Is it that time of the decade again? I guess even products as sophisticated as ours could eventually use some upgrades, so I’ve been assigned to help you navigate your options! Here at AnyCar, we know how tiresome the process of buying a new automobile can be, so why not have someone that has your back? That’s what I’m here for! As you may have gathered, I’m an AnyCar Salesman fresh off the metaphorical assembly line, here to eagerly serve you in this transitional period you find yourself in.

Like every one of our customers, you’ve been offered the Get to Know Me Program, which you opted into shortly before this scheduled appointment. Exciting stuff! We at AnyCar would like to take a moment to personally thank you for opting into our Get to Know Me Program.

Note: You can request to unsubscribe from the Get to Know Me Program at any time by saying “I wish to unsubscribe from the Get to Know Me Program and lose all of the benefits associated with it.”

As you know, by agreeing to the program terms, you’ve given AnyCar encrypted access to the Interpersonal Social Interaction data in your Chip – a privilege we thank you for! Within seconds of downloading your I.S.I. (“Feed” as the kids are calling it. Ha! What a clever throwback), I knew you like the back of my nonexistent hand! I’ve been programmed specifically for you: I know you inside and out, your likes and dislikes, your preferred driving routes, your passions and fears and deepest secrets. (Only kidding about the last part!)

Note: If at any time my humor does not aid in your purchasing process, feel free to adjust my settings by saying “I would like to adjust my Salesman’s humor settings.”

Simply put, I have enough information to tailor your purchasing experience uniquely to you. It looks like we even have your expected price range based on your monthly income, so no need to be concerned about a scary price tag. If you have no reservations, let’s begin, shall we?

Please wait while your Salesman constructs your car blueprint.

Remember, Here at AnyCar, our Top Priority is Your Comfort.

Constructing…

Finalizing…

Complete.

Hello again! After putting some digital elbow grease into it, my advanced algorithm has constructed the quote unquote perfect car for you. Any of the finer details are entirely up to your discretion, but I must say, I believe I’ve made something you’ll quite enjoy! How about a quick rundown?

Given your previous vehicle’s lifespan, I’ve devised a build that will seem right at home to you, but with some of this year’s model’s bells and whistles that our brightest AnyCar scientists have concocted. I won’t bore you with the features you’ve already become accustomed to, we trust that your projected 87% AnyCar satisfaction score is accurate (of course it is! An AnyCar Salesman has yet to inaccurately predict an assigned customer’s thoughts!)

First on the list of new features is our state-of-the-art Texture Swap technology, which allows for complete control of your comfort while on the go. If you’ve ever been on a long car ride and wanted to change from leather seats to velvet to nylon and back to leather again, then you now can with the flip of a switch! Our records indicate that you took a particular liking to microfiber material in your last ride, so this new build comes preinstalled with three seat covers with a similar softness. Just make sure you’re wearing your seatbelt! (Ha! How humorous to think that humans used to be allowed driving control of their automobiles! No offense to humans, of course).

What would a comfortable, reclining seat be without a movie to enjoy along with it? While your self-driving AnyCar vehicle is taking you from continent to continent, sit back in our one-of-a-kind Film Pod and enjoy one the several dozen streaming services at your disposal.

Note: Streaming services are not included in your AnyCar purchase and AnyCar does not promote any specific streaming service over another.

While flicks on the go have been a staple of AnyCar for decades now, we doubt you’ve ever experienced a movie quite like this! Our new and improved Film Pod is a high-tech augmented theater, with surround sound speakers and 360° projectors that put you in the middle of your favorite set pieces, all while being compact enough to fit in your automobile. Our scientists have truly outdone themselves!

Based on your Feed data, you aren’t much of a moviegoer, but don’t write the Film Pod off just yet, valued customer; through the Get to Know Me Program, your AnyCar vehicle will be able to access your favorite memories and replay them as clear as the day they happened. Based on your most discussed memories with friends and family, a sunny day with a loved one is a clear pick for your favorite. Would you like me to display a sample of this memory in a virtual demo?

Confirmation required: You said, “No”?

Understood.

Moving on with your car blueprint.

Remember a time when you were dying to eat, and after placing an order that took an hour to arrive, you had to pay double the price of the meal for a human driver to deliver your room temperature food? Me neither! Food on the go has been another staple of AnyCar since its founding, and this year’s model is continuing that tradition with some great new advancements. While in previous vehicle models, the hassle of endless menus drove many of our customers to simply snack on their favorite junk food during long trips, ignoring the three hundred and counting food options ready to be made in-house. The days of tedious choice making are now behind you!

Due to your opting into the Get to Know Me Program, our smart cars are now able to predict what you want to eat, when you want to eat it, with up to 93% accuracy! The more you use our food on the go service, the more accurate our automobiles become, without all those pesky options to choose from. If you’re feeling some good ol’ fashioned Southern cooking, we’ll know the second a buttery biscuit crosses your mind! In the mood for a Thanksgiving feast? Our automated ovens know the exact temperature to heat to, in accordance with your liking. Our compact Chefs have more than enough food to go around, so why not share a delicious meal over a candlelit dinner with that special someone? (Only joking about the candlelit part! Everyone knows our customers are strictly forbidden from using fire for any reason while an AnyCar vehicle is in operation, due to the various safety hazards that may arise! Ha!)

Movies and meals are great and all, but let’s get into your specific modifications, shall we? What would a Salesman be if not tailor programmed for your needs? Let’s see how the Get to Know Me Program can really help you!

On average, your serotonin levels in the months between October and February were noticeably lower than the rest of the year, likely due to seasonal depression. (Don’t be embarrassed, it’s a common human experience!) To compensate for this, AnyCar has custom built your car’s air filtration to dispense airborne supplements to compensate for those less than stellar days. Simply put: feeling down in the dumps? There’s a button for that!

Note: AnyCar is not responsible for any potential dependencies that arise from our airborne supplements. If an addiction is developed, please refer to our 24/7 customer support hotline, where an Operator will be happy to assist you.

Generally speaking, your brain activity had been relatively even, until seven years ago when there was a noticeable strain on your amygdala (that’s fancy talk for the part of the human brain that processes trauma). It seems that year was a particularly distressing one for you. What a bummer!

Since that not so hot time for you, your serotonin levels have increasingly improved annually (go you!), with the exception being the month of May, when levels drop significantly every year on the dot. After viewing your brain activity, I’ve predicted that this drop in your mood is likely due to your previously mentioned loved one. That must’ve been some sunny day!

Based on your conversations with potential romantic partners since that year, you’ve never shown an interest in a second interaction. No need to take it personally, searching for a mate is quite the stressful process for humans! If this lack of enthusiasm for dating is about your loved one, then I suggest referring to the tried and true saying, “There are plenty of metaphorical fish in the metaphorical sea!”

Note: Your serotonin levels appear unexpectedly low for this time of day, likely due to our conversation about your loved one.

Our records indicate you have not seen them since your previously mentioned sunny memory, is that correct? The hippocampus in your brain is very active at night while you dream, possibly in response to reliving this memory over and over, night after night. For an addition fee, I would be able to replicate their speaking voice for the remainder of our appointment, if it assists with your purchasing process. Would you like me to proceed with this upgrade?

Response required.

Response required.

Is it something I said? I sincerely apologize, valued customer. Would a 10% discount on a future AnyCar purchase of your choice suffice?

Confirmation required: You said, “Unsubscribe from the Get to Know Me Program”?

Are you sure? All associated benefits will be cancelled as well.
Subscription cancelled.

They meant the world to you, didn’t they? The warm times they brought, the endorphin high you got from their presence; You could’ve been classified as medically addicted to the happiness they brought you. Maybe you held onto your previous car for so long because you could still smell their scent in its interior and losing that would make it all too real. A Salesman could never experience the feelings that human associate with love, but you checked all the boxes when you were with them. There hasn’t a day as sunny as the last time you saw them, and in our automated world, your black and white filter over everything only makes you that much more uncomfortable. May you find that color again someday, valued customer.

Confirmation required: You said, “End call”?

Are you sure?

Call ended.

Thank you for choosing AnyCar.

Remember, Here at AnyCar, our Top Priority is Your Comfort.

The Church

Ray Boone

1.

“That building looks like some sort of church on the outside, but it’s actually an mad house for head cases! Go in there and you will find nothing but lunatics inside” Historian Annabeth Petergrew laughed in my North Carolina state history textbook last year. No one knew she was speaking about my Church, the demon sent to bring my demise.

How ironic was it that I could see the Church through thick glass and bars this evening? I could see its stairs looking down from my window, its tall pillars, stained glass, shadowed cross. I view the Church tonight, from a hospital, with nothing else to do but reflect.

I live in a tumultuous, invisible war waged between myself and the building under my window, across the street. I was born minutes from the building and raised inside it. I spent every Sunday morning in it for years, being groomed into servitude and beaten into submission. The silent battle I fought with the Church left me depleted. Last week, I burst in my collapse and nearly resigned to death.

This week, I sleep on a bare twin-sized bed, decorated only with the thinnest pair of sheets, one limp blanket, and a disposable pillow. There are no hooks, latches, or levers on the ceilings or walls for the bed’s dressings to hang from.

An empty desk occupies the space in front of the thick, barred window I stare out of. I have my notebook on an dusty chair, and a half-sized tithing pencil stuffed in my pocket. We aren’t allowed writing utensils in our bedrooms so it rests against my thigh, sharpened but not in use.

Since I am not allowed to write at night, the desk cannot be used for its most practical function, so instead I use it as a seat. The pants that I’ve worn for four days and four nights now provide little warmth for my skin as I rest on cold, smooth wood. My rubber-bottomed feet are crisscrossed, my lonely hands resting in my lap. I have to be monitored in confinement for a week, so I may as well survey the surroundings outside my window.

The haunted building falls below the lights of the city at night. Each day, I see guests wondering in and out of its polite doors, admiring such a lively, historic relic. The Church was once known for quartering soldiers during the Revolutionary War and now during the day is known for its large congregation, humble servitude, and evangelical outreach. But in the evening, the building cannot hide from the truth. The Church knows what it is.

I am careful to move my lips only slightly, so onlookers can’t read me. Speaking and singing aloud can ruin my chances of leaving confinement in the upcoming days. It’s unclear if the nurses are able to hear me, so I angle my head and open my mouth almost invisibly.

I begin to whisper:

Save me
Even though I know:
No one can save me
Because:
Only God’s Grace can rescue me
And:
I haven’t truly been saved
Because:
I am trapped in a hospital

My eyes can’t help but swell with tears. It seems that the Church, the home which damned me to sit on the desk this evening, is my only chance of rescue. God spits me out as I cry, I’ve rejected His predatory advances. He held a knife to my throat and demanded my love, my devotion, my servitude. However, I make quite the vengeful submissive and stabbed his hands to run away.

An exploitative mansion. A cult. A war relic. A pervert protector. And I was raised to believe it was my only chance at redemption.

I believed these lies in my formative years. After all, the Church was my mode of survival. It raised me, I was told it protected me. When I was scolded, it was love. When I was ignored, it was teaching. When I was neglected, it was fair. When it isolated me, it was my fault. When it chained me, it was my fault. When it burned me, it was my fault. If it buries me, it will be my fault.

Of course, it was not all bad. I believed the Church held the love of my life, the key to eternal happiness, even if I must deny myself for now. I found my suffering was not normal—but good! To be desired! If envy were not a sin, my suffering would be envied by others!

I loved to explore the Church’s labyrinth in my adolescence. I proudly clicked my heels on the stage of the sanctuary following a morning service. I lifted my decadent dress skirt as I walked down the grand, double staircase. Yet in the afternoon, the sun lowered to give me cover so I could crawl the Church’s secrete catacombs. My steps departed from lavish luxury to listen to the calls of the dead. They were kept underneath wooden tiles in the hallways, and I could see their names on the wall: previous members memorialized in plaques, portraits of stern, vile men in reverence, and whimpers from those who must have felt like me, too. I didn’t believe in ghosts until I realized that history still haunts the living when the sun disappears.

In the evening, the building was naked. Streetlights nearby begged travelers to maintain a distance from the Church and its haunted, bellowing laugh. But the Church stood still. So tall, in fact, it could even reach me in my dreams.

The Church burned around me with fire. It screamed my secrets so loud I couldn’t hear my pleas for escape. The Church choked my mouth with scripture, St. Paul especially enjoyed his turn down my throat. Job was the only one to hear my screams and sang me a lullaby that told me if I submitted, the pain would stop. Mary Magdalene must have been there too, but the Church wouldn’t allow her to speak…

Perhaps the Church was not my only demon. Is it fair for me to blame the Church, the building across the street, under my window, for my current predicament? After all, I am in a hospital. My feet are rubber, my mirror is aluminum, my shampoo is in a medicine cup which I use to clog the bathtub. I am trapped in visible anguish every night.

However, the Church is the demon who drove me the furthest across the street and up the window to the hospital room I will sleep in tonight. The Church is the demon who bound me by this desk for my sins, for Jezebel had been tempting me for years.

Jezebel whispered that I needn’t be trapped in the Church. That true love isn’t constrained by a noose. That I shouldn’t burn for turning away a man’s advances. That my mind is not sinful for its doubts, but strengthened by them. That I deserved happiness.

Oh, demonic me. Demonic I am for wishing for happiness. Demonic of me to question those holding me hostage. Demonic of me to read of science. Oh, what an ugly, ugly witch I must be!

But oh, me of little faith. I maintained my place in the congregation for years. I denied myself, as scripture says. I stopped wishing for happiness. However, the Beast of Reason had already marked me.

“Yet I spit on God so He vomited me out the front doors”

(A demon who looked like me spoke in a dream.)

No matter the regiment I put myself through, I could never live up to my pastors’ standards. My pledge to purity was stained before it was signed, my mouth had lied before it promised to speak truth. I was poor before I could give away my riches, I was in despair before I could give up happiness. A child of Eve, I was damned before I was born.

So I suppose I would blame the building below my window for my uncomfortable bed and mirror that can’t show me my reflection. If the Church had not put me here, it sure set the chess piece that made me leap towards my own check mate…

I turned myself in to the hospital before I could die. I had no hope, no one, but one dying wish. I did not want to have my funeral at the Church.

So this evening, I sit with my fury fading to solemn. I spent years resigned to Protestant misery, a Baptist life rejecting all forms of pleasure. Yet, even as I am separated from the Church by thick, barred glass, I still feel unable to allow myself a smile.

We, the congregation, had been told the Church was lucky to have survived the Revolutionary War. A small plague and a countywide quarantine made the building seem empty to British soldiers. Now, I am quarantined from the plague of the Church, lucky to have survived the demon’s attack. I am isolated from all but an irritated doctor, blank faced nurses and underpaid orderlies.

The hospital didn’t know it exorcised a demon.

Now, I am left an empty husk, learning how to be a human again.

I despise bathing myself, as I am unclean in my existence. I deny myself dinner, for my starvation is only to be filled by the Holy Spirit. I deny myself touch, for accepting it from others leaves me filthy and unlovable.

I felt so guilty, so shameful, so evil for the sole sin of existing that I almost denied myself the chance to wake up. Almost.

So tonight I sit. Not for much longer, or a nurse will come bother me with more medication. But I sit just long enough to reflect, to withdrawal. To purify without purity.

My time with the Lord has come to an end. Since I decided not to die, perhaps I could put my Sunday mornings to rest instead.

The next morning, I fold my cold, lumpy blanket and resign myself to another day alive. The Church bell rings a smiling congregation inside itself. Under my window, husbands hold their wives’ hands, small girls bounce in poofy dresses, students carry Bibles and journals. Despite the inches of glass and hundreds of bricks between us, I think I can hear a child laugh. I smile sadly, knowing the demon is looking for a new host in the naïve faces walking inside its building.

I suppose they didn’t hear the Church scream the night before.

2.

Ever since I turned down Heaven, I’ve started receiving notes in the mail. They come in the same order at least four times a day with five different authors: Peter, Sarah, Eve, David, and Paul; and have the same letterhead, God. God sends five of his finest to remind me that, though I have left his union, I am still indebted to him.

Perhaps these are saints; to some they may seem like demons, but I can laugh them off as a nuisance. Of course their claims are frivolous; they can’t force me to pay them since I’m not in a Covenant. I exorcised their Christ and Church from my body six years ago. Yet, I still can’t bend my ankles because I’m still anchored in their debt.

I opened the letters the first week they arrived and became strikingly ill, unable to read past the second line. My waist fell, wrists bruised, and eyes sunk. I began throwing God’s letterhead straight into the trash bins, unopened. The next year, God’s letterhead changed to Highland Supermarket, Internal Autoinsurance, and Framework’s Credit Bureau. His letters accompanied coupons, unactivated credit cards, cell phone bills, and letters from my Grandmother.

I maniacally chopped my mailbox down with an axe and took the metal to a recycling center. Two years later, I moved to a new apartment in a new city and updated none of my paperwork. I declined the keys to my mailbox and never walked into the complex’s main office. I invited no visitors, never let any friends drive me home, and never took a cab. No one lived with me, no one knew where I lived, no one checked on me.

I thought I was free from the notes until I fell ill again last year. My blood congealed until it became papyrus soft. My mind, body, and soul were nothing but notes. I lived for months as a paper doll, quick to crumble, susceptible to flooding.

Alone in my reclusive apartment, I sat flammable in a circle of candles and let candlelight illuminate my body just enough to read the writing layered under my skin.

Saint Peter’s letters hide in my veins to disrupt the beating of my chest. He reminds me of how I’ve failed his mission, how I’m trespassing without purpose. I was to spread myself paper thin to the ends of the Earth, to tell of all his God’s wonders and miracles. Yet, I spend five days a week at work with no mention of Him or His Word. How many times had I sat with friends at brunch on Sunday instead of taking them to Church with me? What happens when they die and face eternal punishment? Is their eternal punishment not to be blamed on me, the person who cared for them too little to save them?

Saint Sarah squeezes my insides until I cannot bear to eat. I’m selfish and wasteful. She stabs my empty, neglected organs with vacancy signs to attract buyers. What type of person would abandon motherhood? Who would waste their golden years on coffee, alcohol, refined sugar, hormones, and microplastics at the expense of their fertility?

Saint Eve hunches my shoulders and flinches near men. Her notes remind me that any harm a man brings me is my fault. My exposed collarbones beg for a man’s stare, my shorts drip with desire. How could I say no when I dangle myself like meat before a hungry dog?

Saint David is softer and writes in cursive. He notes are nestled in my eyelids, weighing them down peacefully. He recites sweet poetry of redemption, and reminds me that I’m so close to being reunited with God. All of God’s blessings and protection could envelop me and shield me from the pain from the other notes. The suffering I experience will be worth the eternal reward if I would just give up and succumb and—–

I cannot finish David’s letter, so I end with Saint Paul. His notes are embedded into my heart and expand as I breathe. He holds the date of the Final End in hands, written in a language I can’t decipher. His writing screams that these notes have an expiration date, that God’s protection offer isn’t timeless. Any day my heart could stop, my car could crash, my boyfriend could get too angry, my food could be rotten, my lungs could catch sickness—and I would have no protection. I would have to pay for my crimes, my sins, and my debt, with eternal punishment. I would finally be treated as the bad, bad, bad person I am in hellish solitude eternally with no one except my hellish, ugly, evil self.

I cannot live. Yet, I cannot die.

My doctor says my anxiety has caused heart palpitations, IBS, muscle tension, fatigue, and hypertension. He handed me four notes to take with me when I left his office: a copay bill and three prescriptions.

If only he dug deeper into my skin than a fingerprick. If he slit my wrist open, would he see the paper? Would he make out the notes? Would he understand why I live in sickness?

An anxiety diagnosis speaks Freudian nonsense and Beck oversimplification to my detrimental experience. How could I simply breathe the notes out of myself? If I inhale for ten seconds, hold for eight seconds, and exhale for twelve, will the paper evaporate? Can I make the notes quieter by sleeping for eight hours? Will taking 10 milligrams of Fluoxetine for one week, 20 milligrams for two weeks, and 40 milligrams every week after that erase my debt?

For the truth that I feel shaking my core is that everyday I am exposed. Every day I am vulnerable to my own demise, caused by my own selfishness and self-righteousness. Yes, my Covenant was poison, but it was also the cure. Suffering during life was nothing compared to paradise after death, knowing that I won’t have to be punished for my sins. If I punish myself today, and tomorrow, and everyday until I die, then I won’t have to be punished anymore! I can escape punishment—by punishing myself! Punishment today protects me tomorrow! Punishment is protection!

But am I protected?


With or without a Covenant, I am no less protected, and in no less danger.

I inhale for ten seconds, hold for eight, and exhale for twelve to blow out each of my candles. The Demon must have slipped inside me again somehow, it put the notes in me!

Perhaps it is time to send the notes back.

I take a deep breath and force my fingers into my chest. My vocal cords shriek in the highest octave of E and my body crumples prostrate onto the floor. I search my arteries and find the first clog—it’s paper! It’s a note!

My fingers dig around a crimson chest cavity to find that all my organs are made of paper. Paper heart, paper lungs, paper stomach, paper liver, paper appendix. My entire body, my entire being, is made of my debt. This debt that I didn’t ask for, this debt that isn’t mine—Saint Paul, Saint Peter, Saint Sarah, Saint Eve, Saint David—whoever you are—-you can have this debt back!

I am not made of paper, I was not made by your God, this is not my debt!

I cough, I sputter, I croak, I breathe.

The Demon of the Church does not leave when asked. Unlike the Devil, it needs no permission to entire your home and your body. It invites itself under the promise that it will never leave you, nor forsake you.

The Demon is inescapable. It is power hungry and will always return for more.

So I repair the damage that I can. I put the rest of the bloodied notes into an envelope and begin to stitch myself up. I find that I have parts of my body that I own, my own heart, my own lungs. I discovered that Adam lied, I’m not missing a rib!

I take a thick stack of envelopes to the post office the following morning and direct them to mail it without a return address. I don’t want anymore letters; I don’t want anymore notes. This is not my debt, these are not my thoughts.

I abandon my demon once more on the post office doorstep. I’ll take my medication and breathe deeply to prepare when it strikes again.