Where have the posts been? What is “A Thousand Watchful Eyes”?

A few years ago, while working with students to create real and believable characters, I came up with an idea for forming a short story contest at our school. The contest involved creating a piece of flash fiction, no longer than a page.

Students were asking how to develop a character and a story in such a short space, so we began going over the ever-so-practiced Show, Not Tell exercise, where all the writers involved attempted to show or imply as much about a character as possible without explicitly stating the facts through boring sentences.

How an idea matures…

Students began to grow their own ideas into longer works, editing them and revising them throughout the year as part of an ongoing writing project. Many of the kids thirsted for fun wordplay, and soon after, I began asking myself why I hadn’t written more in my spare time.

As a result, I began the 40 Scenes in 40 Days project on Paper Palaces. Much to my embarrassment, it didn’t last that long, as I had no complete story to motivate my writing – just scenes. This all changed when one of my students asked me a question a few weeks later, “Whatever happened to Aurelia and the Crystal Dagger?”

He looked at me with wide eyes.

“That was just a scene I did in class to show you a couple tricks,” I said. He gave me a look that only the most serious of middle schoolers could give. It communicated the same feeling as when students begged for no homework or hope for longer summer afternoons.

“You should make it a story,” he said.

I went home that weekend, and after drinking several cups of coffee, thought why not? It was then that I had an idea which grew over the course of two years. I mapped out nine novels for a young adult fantasy series, under the working title A Thousand Watchful Eyes. This is my most current project, and I have never felt more thrilled to create as I do now.

What does this mean for the Paper Palaces blog?

From this day forward, this means that Paper Palaces will continue to have book reviews, opinion pieces, teacher-related content, and fiction, but the largest difference will be this:

Paper Palaces is now a home for A Thousand Watchful Eyes. With every step of my journey toward publication, I plan to build a readership that is vast and diverse, proving to my students that there are so many types of people in the world that value reading and writing – not just teachers!

Let’s Connect!

Are you working on a project? What is it?

-Curtis

@curtiswritesbooks

@staghorncrown

/curtisteichertbooks


If you want to show your support, you can follow this blog, or join the Books of Brylennia Facebook Page.  In either case, enjoy the stories and articles to come.

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40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 11

Hajime: Before The Desert

Hajime had cocooned himself in his apartment for two days. He wondered how long it would be before Wit found out about Shawn, but luckily for Hajime, these two days away from work were already scheduled. No one would expect anything from either one of them. Still, he didn’t even wanted to try to leave town. This would of course look suspicious, and Hajime wanted to steer clear from any confrontation with Wit until he knew what exactly to do.

Anyone who did not know Hajime would not be able to tell he was an enforcer. His hair had started to grow slightly longer than regulation cut – looking more like an ex-athlete or a fitness-centric civilian than anything else. His clothes were plain on his days off. Although he liked the feel of dress clothes, he preferred to look like everyone else when the work week was over. But most of all, Hajime was not at his desk, looking over files in the kitchen, or watching the news like most enforcers would do to get ahead. Anyone who walked into the apartment would find him – not right away, but after a few minutes of looking – wrapped lightly in a bed-sheet in the corner of his room next to the bed stand. He was watching the window as the sunlight came in, thinking of the main land.

Most of his thoughts followed the same patterns – his family, his wife, his daughter…the town he had left them in while he worked the Regions. It would be another two years before he was given retirement leave, unless he voluntarily left. This was not unheard of in his line of work, but most men had ambition and would not leave early. He once had ambition too when he was young, and he wondered if he had somehow traded his wife and daughter for it. For a long time he believed they were the cause of him taking up work, but now he was unsure why he did any of it.

Clouds obscured the sun and his thoughts were interrupted. This happened periodically. The sound of the faucet would distract him, or a garbage truck would crash outside. Somehow his mind would lapse to the last moment he had seen Shawn, the processing plant, the steel containment drums, the sound of water rushing, but his mind would not let him fully see the whole picture. And it was that stubborness of the mind that kept him cocooned in his room. He could barely remember the day before, but he remembered the important bits.

Each time he thought of Shawn, he wondered if he made the right choices, taken the right steps. He imagined being there now, reliving the previous afternoon. As if swept up by a dream, the sunlight would break through again and he would stop thinking at all about it. Perhaps the light gave him an excuse to think of happier things, or perhaps he was prolonging the period of time between denial and acceptance.

In all cases, Hajime had made a decision. He would take his time today and recoup, and then, tomorrow, he would gear up and drive back to Region Three. He could find some answers, even if he had to go out to the outskirts of town. If anything happened to him, his family would be notified, and he had specified in Wit’s contract that no details of his death would be disclosed. This was one of the nicer features of his career. Even if they considered him a traitor, they wouldn’t tell his family. He was sure this was for business reasons more than some act of integrity.

He thought of his daughter again, and then the offender. In a haze, it seemed as if the two were similar, although their physical builds and look were completely different. Maybe it was their shared habit of defiance that bridged the two of them in his mind. No matter what it was, Hajime needed to let it go. If his name was to be cleared, he would need her, and if he wanted any answers, he would need her alive. He preferred the latter scenario, but only for the relief that clarification could give him.

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 10

Claire: Disconnect

Claire was overtaken by a creeping sense of betrayal as she fell down the stairs. Each step felt like someone was pummeling her with stones. When she reached the bottom, she had wished there was some way to slow down time to make sure she had fallen correctly, but there was not. She tried to prop herself up, but her whole body seemed to scream out in a flash of pain, the epicenter of which was based in the left side of her body – more specifically her wrist. She could put no pressure on her left palm or hand, forcing her to prop herself up using her right side. She looked incredulously at the loose appendage; her left wrist had dislocated. She could not move it, not without feeling severe pain, but she had little time to dwell on her discomfort.

Two steps from the door, and she would be free for now.

She could make it if she tried, and she knew that if she stayed behind, he would finish her off. She shouldn’t have trusted him in the first place, cursing herself for being arrogant enough to know another person’s motivations. Could anyone really tell what anyone else wanted anymore? Had she ever been able to?

She pulled herself up as quickly as she could, first pushing the ground with her right arm and hand, and then lifting herself to her feet. When on the other side of the door, she began running. Light attacked her eyes, and she made her way across the city as if by luck, dodging past people in the crowd as some gawked and others ignored her. In a city so large, chases were common, and people took for granted that other people’s lives were not their business, regardless if any injustice may have been exacted at any given moment. Anyone being chased deserved it; anyone shot deserved it – not because it was right, but because it was easy to ignore. A soft feeling pushed through Claire, a feeling she could not name. It was almost nostalgic and sad, but excitingly revealing as if reaching some step toward enlightenment that other people hadn’t. It was only a half-understanding, but it felt like great knowledge, nevertheless. She was coming to terms with the gradual explanation of why it was so easy to be anonymous in Region One and Region Two.  For in that moment, as she ran, Claire had glimpsed the lack of care that most citizens had towards each other.

She had once had this same apathy when she was younger, remembering that it was too easy to live within the bubble of her own commitments, problems, and desires, and like so many people trying to make it by in their lives, Claire was mostly concerned with that basic level of survival and comfort that all humans crave. Sera was the only person to have changed that for her, but only marginally. A pang of guilt filled her stomach. As she ran, very few people cared, and no one stopped the man chasing her, and Claire knew it would remain this way.

“Stop!” yelled the man.

Yet barely a face turned for his sake. Not a soul tried to tackle Claire or bring her down to help the man, but just the same, no one came to her aid. With each panting of her breath she felt more and more alone in a world of people that were disconnected from each other. Some would not even look up from their screens or silence their earpieces. She past one boy whose eyes were glazed as she ran; his music leaked from his earpieces to her ears in a blur of incomprehensible sound. There faces passed, and she ran from him to another face, and then another, until she lost count.

In any other case, she would have considered ducking down an alley and climbing up one of the fire escapes, but her hand was now useless, and she found herself losing balance as she ran while cradling it with her good arm. A trash can crashed to the ground after she bumped it with her right hip and spun her body into another path. Garbage scattered across the streets, and a few rats moved from piece to piece with great concern for what they could scavenge. The shoppers nearby eyed mannequins in the window, without as much of a turn of their heads or whisper to their children. There was bargain today, and it was good.

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 9

Case 0783: Spheres of Influence

Hajime’s office was two doors down from the interrogation room that Wit had used for most enforcer-related processing. At this hour, few enforcers worked in the building – only the one’s that had pressing cases or wanted to make their way up in the business. It was Hajime’s turn to bring the coffee from the end of the hall into the projection center.

With each step, he tried to bring himself to a point where he could tolerate staying another hour or more. Working with Shawn, training Shawn, had taken a toll on him. He passed by the interrogation room, it’s door ajar just slightly enough for any person to see that it was empty. He tensed as he walked by, almost clenching his left and right hands and spilling the coffee.

“Careful,” said Shawn. His accuracy for knowing where Hajime was at all times sent prickles up Hajime’s neck. Shawn continued manipulating the data files with his hands, moving as if conducting an unseen orchestra while digital lights swarmed in front of him. Hajime admired his gracefulness, as he felt too old to move so quickly. However, he knew that Shawn could also miss finer details, and this gave him the comfort of not being totally obsolete.

“Which case are you reviewing?” Hajime asked. He had caught the case number in his periphery: 0783. Still, he thought to ask Shawn. It was important to let new enforcers take the lead on some cases.

“Six men were charged with assaulting an enforcer just outside of Region One,” said Shawn. “The offenders were subdued and searched by Wit personnel. One was shot.”

“What did they want?”

“Personnel found propaganda from a resistance group,” said Shawn, rotating the projection so that Hajime could read it.

“Nonsense,” said Hajime. He sipped his coffee.

“Are you saying that the information was fabricated?”

“No.”

“Are you implying that our employers lied?”

There was a long silence between them, as if all the ideas and words they could exchange had been put on hold. Shawn’s last word had punctuated the air suddenly, sounding more like a statement than a question, and Hajime knew better than to walk into a trap.

“Of course not,” he said. “Are you?”

Shawn’s eyes widened for a moment. The silence filled the room for a short time. The lights of the projections spun slowly around the room. As Shawn seemed unable to say anything else, Hajime decided to take initiative. He  put his hand up and swiped the air vertically against three projections. Pages of information faded into darkness.

“What are you doing?”

Hajime zoomed in on one particular document – the testimonial of the five remaining men, and then he delicately pulled up another document which contained the official summary of the incident.

“What did they want?” he asked Shawn again.

“They found propaganda –

“No. Look at the testimony.”

“They wanted to distribute propaganda.”

“Take a look at their testimony,” said Hajime. “You’re not reading into it.”

“They pleaded innocent,” said Shawn. “And everything happens out of order. They said the enforcers shot first, but anyone from the resistance would say that to weaken the integrity…”

Hajime’s eyes half-opened as if listening to a child tell a story that had little matter, weight, or significance. Shawn waited for Hajime to say something, but again, the room was quiet, only the soft hum of the projectors. “Wouldn’t you plead innocent?” Shawn asked, “Wouldn’t you lie?”

Hajime scoffed. “Not if I was resisting. If I was resisting, I would simply state my message.” He paused again. “What do they want?”

“I don’t know,” said Shawn.

“They are not resistance,” said Hajime. “At best they are drifters, maybe barflies that insulted enforcers who had too much to drink. You know the type. One provokes an enforcer, and the enforcer gets angry, and…” Hajime motioned with his index finger, a mock shot in the air.

“That would never happen,” said Shawn.

“Don’t be a fool,” said Hajime.”We are just people at the end of the day, and people are just as unpredictable as the next, regardless of what side they think they belong to. The enforcer is lying. The drunks were just avenging an idiot friend.”

Shawn looked away for a moment as he mulled over what to say. “How can you tell? The file is airtight.”

“That’s how I can tell,” said Hajime. “How often do cases come in neat packages? Sooner or later, you will learn not to trust anything so pristine.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 8

Claire: Searching

On the other side of the door was a small circular room, no bigger than Claire’s bedroom. The floor was black, and the surface caught the light with a slight shine.

When she entered, projections lit up automatically, while the once dark and reflective floor disappeared almost completely from her vision. In total, there were five projections, four of which took the size, shape, and color of black marble statues. The fifth was a blur, still taking time to boot up. Of the four statues, two were men, and two were women.

She had seen statues like this before, projections in the library of her school that were donated from Wit Systems to provide a Classical education. The fifth projection was flashing, unable to take on a solid visual display. She looked to the walls for a control switch.

She assumed this was once a private gallery, as each projection was set at a particular height. She had to look up to work out the details of their faces, but if she took a step back, she could see that each projection was at the exact same height. They didn’t look like they were from a specific set, or that they belonged together. Clearly, whoever had collected them had resized them to fit his or her needs. She assumed they were projected to be exactly at the eye-level of their owner. Each face was strangely intimate, each gazing in the center of the room, where the viewer was expected to stand. The thought of looking into the eyes of these lifeless faces made her shiver.

She ran her fingers against the cool wall, looking for a notch, crease, or loose tile that would reveal the control panel, but she found none. Must be externally controlled, she thought. Or maybe voice activated. She was weary to try out any commands using her actual voice; the area could still have some security protocols active, and after all she had been through, she wasn’t ready to try her hand at being attacked. She took the modifier that Rizal had given her, pressing the fabric against her throat and swiping her three fingers across the surface to activate it.

The pad heated up slightly, and she smelled something metallic. It was in this moment that she wondered if Rizal had betrayed her, but soon the heat subsided, and the pad began adhering lightly to her skin. All she had to do was wait for the modifier to be fully activated.

Rizal’s instructions arose in her mind as she walked the perimeter of the room. She gazed at each face of each projection, coming finally to the fifth. It still hadn’t taken a clear shape. Rizal had said that she would need the modifier, and that she would eventually need to trust him. What if he had just fed her that information to satisfy Wit’s initiatives?  She couldn’t trust anyone who had worked for Wit at any time, and it was clear that Rizal had more motives than helping her find her mother in the first place. Deep down, she hoped that he had told her the truth, but conversation with Rizal always felt like an exchange of half-truths, riddles, and bad advice.

The modifier beeped. Claire spoke, “Reboot projection system.” Her voice sounded distinctly male. At first it was shocking, but she was soon used to it. The voice didn’t belong to anyone she recognized, but she was convinced it belonged to the owner of the gallery, or at least someone else who was real. She tried again. “Reboot projection system.”

Nothing happened. She searched her mind for the correct codes. Most systems functioned the same way.

“Reboot projection protocol,” she said. Still, nothing happened.

She tried a few dozen codes, resisting the urge to plug directly into the system and override it, as that would be a sure way to accidentally red flag Wit’s security. When she had enough failed attempts, she sat down and cradled her head in her hands lightly. She pushed the stray strands of hair out of the way of her vision and took a few deep breaths. Rizal had told her something specific, something that would help her get past this next step. He had discussed so much with Claire: her mother’s hobbies, their shared passion for history, astronomy, and the classics. She thought Rizal may have been a real friend to her mothers; maybe he had programmed this system, and the keyword was hinted at in their conversation.

She looked at the fifth projection, it’s holographic body flashing in and out of existence. Out of the chaos, she made out three or four distinct columns – only they weren’t columns of stone or marble. They looked as if they were made of clouds. Somewhere in her mind was the right command to the back door of this program.

It was then that she realized her mistake. The projection was perfectly displaying the image that she needed. She could make out the shape clearly, and the rays of light that interpenetrated it’s shape. This was not a statue like the others. She knew the right word to say.

“Navigate” she said.

The hologram’s flashing stopped and the other four projections faded away. An artificial voice came from an unseen speaker. “Destination?” it ask.

“Eagle Nebula.” She smiled to herself. Rizal clearly knew her mother well.

Almost instantly, the room filled with a projection of one section of the universe. Claire was standing in the center of the Eagle Nebula, but when the projection had reached the outer walls of the room, Claire could see that almost every star had a number assigned too it, as if the projection was organizing a vast and incomprehensibly large file system.

Claire sighed. There were many moments in her life when she felt like she didn’t know her mother, and know she was sure she had barely scratched the surface.

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 7

Claire: Case 0799

Claire reached into her back pocket and pulled out two photos. She had grabbed them from her apartment just before the enforcers broke down her door. Managing to get away was a challenge on its own, but now, she was able to sit completely undisturbed, tucking her body between two dumpsters adjacent to a building at the very edge of Region Two.

With each photo on the ground, Claire meticulously lined up the edges as she did when she was nervous. She looked at each face. Is this the last time we’ll see each other? she thought.  She worked through the odds of that being true, holding up Sera’s photo first.

Claire laughed to herself. Sera would have laughed too had she seen her there.  Claire sentimentally looking at a paper photo was a rare occurrence when they were together. None of their friends kept paper photos, and very few people her age or younger had taken them.  Everything was digital now, but Claire couldn’t rely on digital memories anymore, not with the enforcers after her. It was unsafe to use any personal devices, as they would trace her and take her away.

The paper photo was an act of practicality for Claire, or so she would say if Sera ever found out. Paper was untraceable, at least in the sense that Claire and the photo couldn’t be found by Wit Systems. The truth was, she had always preferred paper photos. She could smell paper. She could touch paper. This was not true with anything digital, including projections. Claire stared at Sera’s wild eyes and began to drift. It was Sera’s wildness that attracted Claire to her in the first place, and had they limited themselves to a friendship, Claire would have felt that she was somehow incomplete.

It was as if Sera understood and shared a secret with Claire that they had buried so deeply within themselves that no other person could possibly unearth it after years of trying. The door between Claire and Sera’s worlds opened for each other, and they could honor that openness with endless conversation, or moments of sacred silence. She thought about this now more than ever. Claire had often anchored Sera when the tides of her life were turbulent, but now Claire needed her more than ever. Should she call her? Could she call her now? What where the chances that the enforcers would trace the call? She calculated the odds in her head, but as she ran through the numbers, reminders of Sera bubbled up in her thoughts like the anomalies in the code she had found that morning.

“There must be a way,” she said to herself. “There is always a way.” She thought first of using the public lines, but that was obviously very risky. Any line connected directly to Wit’s systems would expose her for sure. If she could get into the mainframe of The System, or even in one of the data transfer lines…

She put the photo in her pocket and shook her head.

None of it was worth the risk. Although they rarely explicitly stated it, they loved each other more deeply than they could describe. Claire had now understood how the terrifying nature of distance and time could create an uncrossable void between two people, but now was not the time to think about how she could bridge that gap between here and now, and Sera.

Claire took out the other photo with her right hand while running her left hand through her hair.

She glared at the face from this photo, her eyes half-lit with curiosity, and the rest dimmed by confusion. She turned the photo in what little light there was in the alley. The face stared back –  a  plain face, with long straightened hair tied back in a bun, and what looked like methodically placed makeup. Her expression was neither happy nor sad to any casual viewer, but to Claire, she recognized it as contentment. The eyes were just like hers, but she hated to admit that. This was her mother at her happiest, staring into a camera at the man she had loved. Claire’s father had taken the photo before leaving them both, three years before her mother disappeared too.

“Where are you now?” she said. She whispered it again to herself, half expecting an answer to come from the air. As she stared at the picture, she thought about the entire morning. Everything had unraveled so quickly. First she found a hole in Wit’s firewall and broke through, then The System reported her. Then the enforcers had come to question her. Claire felt trapped in an urban legend, the kind she heard as a kid: enforcers taking men and woman from their homes and little boys and girls to turn into slaves. She stared at the photo one more time.

“It’s all your fault,” said Claire.

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 6

Hajime: The Desert

Hajime unholstered his gun and left it in the car, taking instead his old notepad and a pen. If the offender were here, he would not make an arrest. All he wanted were answers. He thought of Shawn for a moment, and then forced Shawn’s face out of his mind. This was not the time for this, not at all the time to feel guilty. He traced the horizon with his eyes, first catching site of seven flags hoisted at the far end of the shore. Each one was spaced evenly from the other, beckoning him to move forward and see their flitting shapes.

He could understand why the outskirts of Region Three were nicknamed The Desert. There was really nothing left. It was alarming in some ways, as all three regions were coastal, and any town so close to water was expected to be teeming with life. This was once a beautiful city, enviable to many in the other regions. What a waste, he thought.

From where he was standing, the dust and sand abruptly ended at the shoreline and the sea began. The divide was stark, almost neatly drawn into place as if divinely plotted. The blueness was fresh and inviting. Each wave that lapped against the next was a reminder of how dry the land next to it had become.

The sight was enough to make anyone cry, and he imagined he would have cried had it actually been the first time he had seen it. He stared out into the greatness of it all, not wanting to move.

In total, he had visited the area six times in his career. The first three were as a trainee. He had seen processing, seen the refugees from the neighboring islands and children from the outer villages. The fourth and fifth time, he had processed two offenders in this area. This was after the shift in Wit’s management. The sixth time was after the attack. Now he was here a seventh time. The sea failed to startle him.

He was fond of the nickname, The Desert, as this wasteland seemed to stretch infinitely behind him, pockmarked with the ruins of the old city, the processing area, and Wit Corporation’s former headquarters. In some ways, the whole area looked as he imagined ancient ruins looked – the dunes of sand and rock protruding from the horizon, fading signs of a formerly civilized area now taken by the wild. He wished it were so. An ancient city would fascinate him, thrill him even, but now he turned his mind towards the pressing matters of his employment. He would find no ancient cities here, just shadows of what Wit had once been.This was merely a former processing site, and the offender was rumored to be hiding here.

“Why?” he said to himself softly. “Why come here?”

The sun left the sand glistening and hot to the touch. Each aged building propped against the next, many in the same direction as if a force had knocked them all over in one blow. If the offender was here, he bet she was already dead. One small shack had even collapsed when he passed by – the wind, he supposed. In an area that was so fragile, how was it possible to find a place to sleep? To find a place to eat? He refused to believe the rumors that a resistance was forming again, especially here. What would be the point?

Hajime looked around, but he couldn’t see any cameras. The revelation shook him. There were camera’s everywhere in Region One and Two; they were inescapable. He was so sure that Wit, his employers, had kept some security feeds open in the area, but where were they? Part of him assumed that they were watching him now, but how?

Any feeds of this area and any processing facility would be marked as a need-to-know priority, with a higher clearance than Hajime was offered. He was used to this – almost raised this way. He thought of Shawn again and let the idea go in his own time. He crouched down in front of one of the buildings and touched where the sand had recently been wetted. Perhaps a wet shoe or clothing had made it. A water drop from a canteen?

As he looked up, something hard hit him in the back of the head. It took him a moment to understand. He tried to stand up, and then all went black.

 

 

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 5

Hajime

Hajime imagined that a drop of blood or a strand of hair would not hide in a room as bright as this. Nothing could hide here. Each tile of the room was white as clean polished ivory. The walls were less so, due to the emulsion needed for the projector screens to function without a glare; they were the color of milky-white broth, the kind made from pig-bones in his old country. The room always made his stomach uneasy, as the holograms moved too fast for him to picture. He wondered why he had thought of blood, but he soon let the thought pass onto work as he was accustomed to do.

There was an underlying current of hatred towards his employers, and he was sure it was reciprocated. The company had taken on new ways of carrying out business, and honor had slipped away. Was there nowhere left in the world that they had not touched? For the moment Hajime had suppressed these feelings as a nauseas child waits for the car to reach his destination. Somehow he knew this feeling would not pass, but he had a responsibility; he had the honor of his job to uphold.

He touched the projection in front of him, stretching it to view one of the offenders in Case 0782. He had always believed that nothing should come between him and executing the business at hand, even his personal feelings. He flipped through the photographic projections: six faces in total. Their skin was eerily iridescent from the projectors. Their pallidness was disconcerting for new enforcers, as all the pictures looked taken from obituaries or autopsies – expressionless, motionless. However, they were simply official photographs – some taken from mugshots, others from security cameras.  Hajime had managed to remind himself that these were just files and these men were not dead yet. In fact, that was the point.

But for all the time he had spent on his career, looking at these criminals, searching them out and hunting them down in the name of the common good, he felt empty, and he wondered if this was normal for a man his age, or normal for an enforcer, for that matter. They paid him enough, and the job was as honest as a job could be in this region.

He breathed in slowly and rubbed the back of his neck.There was nothing remarkable about this case, or the case before it – nothing out of the ordinary about the crimes, nothing special about the assignments. Yet now more than ever he had felt the weight of these cases bearing down on him. How many years had it been since he left the mainland? Twenty? Leaving his family behind had been a mistake. His shoulders began to tense. This company had stolen his life from him.

He caught himself before he could let this line of thinking get too far. He breathed in and out slowly. No, he thought. He didn’t leave them behind; he mustn’t think this way. He mustn’t let himself get bogged down in all of this. He sighed. There were times when he glimpsed the immensity of his life, the crushing weight of its intricacy. He felt now as a boatman does before a storm, watching the sky roll with clouds, when the colors shift and the smell of even the air has changed.

“How terrible,” he said to himself, unaware that his partner had just entered the room.

“What’s terrible?” asked Shawn.

Hajime thought quickly; he didn’t want to ruin the motivation of a partner so young. He smiled to the boy. “There is nothing exciting about this case.”

“That’s a shame,” said Shawn. He stepped over to Hajime and spun one of the file logos until the right information came up. “You don’t like much action though. What’s really bothering you?”

Hajime said nothing, trying to keep his body and face calm enough so Shawn couldn’t gather further insight into the situation. Hajime wasn’t sure if this was habit from years of enforcement or simply his nature. He supposed they were one and the same.

Shawn zoomed in on a file. He looked over to Hajime as if to change the discussion.”This is an easy one. No heavy work. We could leave our firearms here. I’m sure you’d be relieved to do so.”

Again, Hajime said nothing, but he gave Shawn a slight nod.

“Right. I’ll get the car. You must be tired.”

 

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 4

Skylar

Had Skylar entered the room quietly, everything would have been fine.  She had mistaken his bedroom for the attic, and now he was after her. She swore never to sneak into a house again. Nothing was worth this. If she hadn’t broken in so rashly, she wouldn’t have had to run down the crooked stairs, past the first floor and into the basement. Skylar swore to herself. She was not an amateur, not a rookie, but hiding here was a rookie mistake. She should have vaulted out of the top window or found the attic and hid there. At least then, she would have found what she was looking for.

Out of her panic grew the need to hide, the need to tuck herself away in heart of the house’s deepest shadows. She regretted that her chosen hiding spot was a crawl space just wide enough for her to breathe and feel the soft cobwebs against her lips, almost as much as she regretted that it was in a basement that had only one way in and out. For a moment, she imagined a a thin pall of cobwebs covering her from head to toe, but she was quick to shake the image from her mind. It seemed to her like the smartest location to hide, and for now, that was all she could do. She heard him coming.

Two steps and then three. They sounded heavy. When she was upstairs, she didn’t get a good look at the man’s face. At the exact moment when she had opened the bedroom door, he had turned around so suddenly from what he was doing. She remembered it and replayed it in her mind: he was bent over the bed before she came, and when he turned, his figure unfolded upward – a large, looming man as thick as the doorway and one head’s worth from the ceiling. She could fit at least two of herself in his standing figure, and had she had the time to understand who he was, she would have been more fearful. But, the bite of fear pulled her to where she was now, and all she could do was wait until he gave up looking for her.

Four steps. Six steps.

She stopped breathing at once. Skylar had always criticized actors for doing this in movies, because logically it meant that they would eventually have to gasp for air. Any person with any common sense would realize that slow, soft breathing would call no attention to herself, unless the pursuer had superb hearing. Still, she held her breath, almost in spite of the logical side of her brain telling her to start breathing. Everything in her body welled with energy to gasp and then run. Skylar tried to calmly tell herself to breathe out slowly enough for him not to notice. When she began doing so, she saw a flash of light in her periphery.

Had he come for her? Had he found her out? The light disappeared, and she told herself not to sigh. A sigh would be deadly. A sigh would find her out, leaving her helpless in this little coffin she had tucked herself in. What if he never left?

The light came again, and then was gone.

She slowly let the air return to her lungs, stifling back a sneeze from the dust around her. The light periodically came and went, and  she realized it must have been a flashlight panning over the walls and the ceiling. There was a crack in the walls, a sliver of a crack at the edge of the crawl-space. She could see it: one foot from her face, at the exact height of her eyeline,  just the size of Skylar’s thumb. She edged herself closer to it, careful not to make a sound, careful not to let her sneakers push against the dust and betray her location. Each tiny step was carefully planted, almost too careful in their positioning that she lost balance.

She caught herself at once, letting her hand push against a support beam, or something hard. She couldn’t tell; it was too dark. She inched herself closer to the thumb-hole and peered through. She saw nothing. There was only darkness, and for a moment, she thought she was free.

 

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 3

William J. and the Stolen Name

Will paced outside, watching the moonlight flick from one puddle to another in the alley behind Smithe’s. It had been exactly eight hours and twenty-five minutes since he had last allowed himself to pee, and when this exact number became eight hours and twenty-six minutes, he couldn’t help himself any longer.

“Hurry up!” he whispered. He wasn’t sure if he spoke at the right volume. Part of him calculated that a voice of his timbre could resonate far enough for his partner to hear, but not far enough for anyone else – namely anyone who could threaten the security of their operation.

Smithe’s was the last shop at the end of Greenwood street in their hometown, and he had remembered passing by it in elementary school every day. The long, barely maintained street was one notch away from being a dirt road, and Smithe’s looked as if it hadn’t been repaired since it’s grand opening forty-years earlier. Even the lettering of the building was beautiful – an old calligraphic script that read Smithe’s across the top. William especially liked the curve in the letter e and how it complimented the flourish in the S. 

The owner had rationalized that the building was a pharmacy, and that a family-owned pharmacy should have a specific, conservative look to honor the town’s past. William thought the man was an idiot, but the pharmacist’s alleged idiocy was inconsequential to tonight’s success. He wasn’t even named Smithe, thought William. He wondered where the man had stolen the name from in the first place.

When he was a child, he would walk past the letters and trace the air with his fingers. He would count the letters and use each one to spell different words in his head, which was right around the time he learned the words anagram and palindrome. His favorite rearrangements were:

he mist
theismS
mS heist

The last one made him think of a woman, a den of thieves, and a very funny German swear his grandfather had taught him.

It was in those moments when he was rearranging letters and calculating new possibilities that he felt most comfortable in the world, most at home, and suddenly all those moments when people had treated him as if he was different, strange, or stupid melted away. He felt at those times like he was actually very much like other people, despite the fact that most people treated him otherwise.

Eight hours and twenty-seven minutes. Will climbed the ladder to the top of the shop to see if Reed had taken the right equipment.

“Is it done?” he asked. “Have you got it.”

“Two minutes,” said Reed, putting the last of the tools away. “This is illegal work, but it still takes time.” Reed looked up for a moment,  seeing a look of disbelief in Will’s face.

“What is it now?” he asked Will.

“My bladder will explode.”

“That’s your fault. You and your rules about using the bathroom before a job.”

Will crossed his arms, teetering back and forth before sitting on the edge of the building, his feet tucked in and facing Reed. “You act like I do this all the time.”

“You do it before tests,” said Reed. “And before interviews, and before important conversations. And I’m sure you did it last week before talking to those girl’s at Kelly’s”

“I like the pressure,” said Will. “It makes me think.”

“It makes you nervous,” said Reed.

Will watched as Reed packed up the last bag. There were eight bags altogether, some of which would fit into the two larger backpacks that Reed and Will could carry respectively. They had planned it so that if someone saw them walking down the street, they would look like two boys returning home from college, which was in fact what they were. But this week, it was Will’s birthday, and Will rarely asked for anything. Reed was happy to oblige. He tied up the last sack.

“Why don’t you just pee behind that dumpster.”

“That’s illegal,” said Will. “And immoral.”

Reed opened his arms as if to point at all the bags around him.

“Well,” said Will. “I’d rather wait.”

With the last of their loot packed away, the two of them made their way down the street, careful not to call any attention to themselves. When they made it to Will’s parent’s place, up the stairs, past his parent’s bedroom, past his old childhood bedroom and into the attic, they began to unpack their spoils.

He laid each bag out in front of him across the floor as if they were presents on Christmas Day. While he unwrapped each one, his heart raced more and more. There they were, each one beautiful in its own way. He read them: S m i t h e ‘ s. He could arrange them into any word he wanted, he could look at them whenever he felt alone, and when the world was unbelievable crazed with some new fashion, or person, or phase, he could find order here. He was so relieved.

And he knew now why so many people around him had their obsessions – his father and mother with their TV programs, his brothers with their football fantasies and baseball collections, and even those long lost connections who rearranged the people in their lives to fit into their own doll-house inspired realities. Now he could do the same, just once-in-awhile in the attic, or in the dorm if he ever figured out how to sneak these letters back to school. But most of all, now that they were home and the job was done, he could use the washroom.