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So I took a science class last spring. An actual, honest-to-God science class. With p-sets. And math. And things.

It was sort of a soft-astrophysics class. And if you’re wondering how on earth astrophysics can be made “soft,” well the answer is it can’t really be and the class was very hard (though not as hard, of course, as an astrophysics class that hadn’t masqueraded as soft). In the end, I scraped an A, mostly because I got away with de-sciencing the final project by convincing someone to let me write a science-fiction short story, rather than design an experiment or go to a local elementary school to try and soften quantum theory even further.

The end product was an eighteen-page romp through a future Pasadena, peppered with fancy jargon (which I understood when I wrote this and since have completely forgotten), which did its absolute best to make it look like I actually understood the theoretical science I was using to send my maniacal antiques dealer through to a parallel universe. The result is absolutely ridiculous; I lifted heavily from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (explanations turn into a whole lot of handwaving at crucial moments) and the tone I struck sounds somewhat like a weak parody of the 40s and 50s scifi I love so much shot through with a good dose of wannabe-Douglas Adams.

I reread this yesterday while doing anything I could to avoid writing a paper on Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and, since it’s been long enough that its ridiculousness makes me laugh rather than cringe, here it is.

(Let it be noted that, since this was a final for a science class, I wrote it in the science library, which definitely legitimates my entire project.)

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it.” Niels Bohr, 1927

“Nobody understands quantum theory.” Richard Feynman, 1967

Inter-state

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Elgin stopped scrolling—he’d read enough. Owen had done it. All those years of trial and error in a Caltech basement (well, Elgin wasn’t really sure whether it was a basement. Owen was probably important enough to have an office or a lab or whatever it was physicists had) hadn’t been for nothing and he’d done it. This could—no this would—change everything. Read More

This is old as all hell, but why not post it? Not like I have two papers due tomorrow that need finishing (read: starting) or anything.

An odd little exercise I set myself while in Paris on my gap year: observing a group of Americans in my program at the Sorbonne at the lunch hour and creating my own little cast of characters out of them. A fun way to pass lunch time, though reading over it now I’m a bit horrified at my own prose. Ah well. Gotta start somewhere.

A Cast of Characters

They stand in a little half circle around the bench. There are seven of them—no, nine; they are joined by two more boys, their topsiders feebly protesting the day as they’re dragged through puddles and over cobblestones. The semi circle breaks to allow them access and tightens once more. Shoulders hunch, insteps rub calves.

The first girl stands with a studied nonchalance, a cigarette, kissed by rouge, hanging from the first two fingers of her left hand, a carefully crafted reminder: I am dangerous. I am not what you think I am. Her eyes flash a challenge which no one bothers to meet. The toes of her boots are artfully scuffed, but her ankles betray her: rolling outward over and over. Tattered tights and too-short skirt, a long, ill-fitting jacket does nothing for the cold, but at least it’s of the moment. Her lips are a bright red smudge, the only color on her, her fashionably disheveled hair disappears under a knit cap, and the color is bitten from her nails. Her favorite book is On the Road, but not because she’s read it. Her voice is not loud, but sharp as it passes her curled lips, assaulting the air, hanging for a moment, before it hits the pavement and shatters at their feet.

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If I dig my heels into the front mat real hard, maybe Annie won’t make me go. That’s what I tell myself every Sunday morning, cause it makes me feel a little bit better for trying even though I know it won’t ever do much good. But I do it anyway, cause it’s a pride thing—you know, like running away before bath-time every night despite knowing that Annie’ll get me eventually. It’s more fun that way.

Robbie explained it to me one day while we were chucking stones at the ducks in the pond over in central park when we were supposed to be watching my little sister Clara so she wouldn’t do something stupid like fall in the pond. He says that doing what the grownups say takes all the fun out of life, even if you know they really do love you. I told him I didn’t see how making sure to get soap behind my ears meant they loved me, but he said it does and he’s four and three quarters months older than me so I guess he knows.

Anyway. So I’m straining on Annie’s hand this Sunday morning just like all the other ones, whining that I don’t want to go to her beastly church, Catholic or anything else, and Annie’s ignoring me because that’s what she does when I whine (Mummy says that’s “good parenting”). “Annie!” I say, reaching back for the door frame as she effortlessly lifts me up the steps onto the cracking pavement, pressing my face against her Lavender-scented bosom in the process.

She drops me down into the early Sunday morning quiet of E 78th street, where I brush myself off, complaining loudly of smelling like ladies’ perfume and hoping nobody saw that, and soon I am on the way to church, trailing behind Annie and perfect Clara, hands shoved deep in my pockets, and dragging the toe of my left boot in the gutter as I do my best to scuff its shiny surface.

“How come Mum and Dad aren’t coming?” I ask sulkily, just like I do every Sunday morning.

“Yer mother and father lead busy lives, Michael, they deserve a bit of a rest of a Sunday mornin’. Stop dawdlin’.” She’s like those superman toys you pull the string on to make it go “Up, up, and away!” or “This looks like a job for. . . Superman!” over and over again every single time, except with a couple more things to say. I don’t think the Sunday Morning Argument has changed since she gave up wasting a “Jesus Christ, mother Mary, and all the Saints, young master Michael, I’ve told ye before!” on it.

We cross the street and I start dragging my other toe against the curb, just to even it out. It’s a sunny morning, which makes having to sit in church all the worse because I know all my friends will be out in Central Park or hanging around Mr. Harrison’s begging for the old Micky Mantle cards.

I hate going to church. It’s a waste of my time. But Annie insists that Clara and I accompany her to church every Sunday, and, even though our parents are about as religious as a bunch of chimpanzees, they think Annie’s idea is a good one. I guess it’s cause it gets us out of their hair. So every Sunday I’m dragged out our green front door (number 177) to follow my prim little sister and sturdy Irish nanny to God’s house to listen to a bald old man give the congregation lessons on how to fall asleep.

And now, not only am I out in my Sunday best early on a morning which would be better spent with my friends, but I’m being dragged to some foreign house of God in order to hear some new bald and pudgy man give lectures that for some reason it’s okay to ignore once you’ve reached the freedom and relatively clean air of the Upper East Side. It’s also apparently Catholic.

Catholic. I know Annie is Catholic and that she never liked taking us to the Anglican St. Paul’s over on the corner of Madison and 74th, but that’s about it. My parents insisted on St. Paul’s because they saw no reason to shell out subway fare just for Clara and I to visit a Catholic church and St. Paul’s is close enough to walk to. But now with the church on Lexington and 75th reopened, we’re going there and I can tell Annie is just happy as a clam about it, though I don’t know why people say that because what would a clam have to be happy about anyway?

There’s a bit of a spring in her step as we turn right onto 75th and she’s actually smiling, swinging Clara’s hand as she walks briskly past the electronics store where six TV’s are all playing reruns of the Ed Sullivan Show. I’d like to stop and watch, but Annie will have no dawdling, I know. She’s on her way to a Catholic church, and not even the girl scouts offering cookies on the corner of Lexington and 76th will slow her down.

Annie’s one of those old-fashioned Irish nannies New York can’t seem to get rid of. All my friends have them, but Annie’s the worst of the lot. She has one of those long, horsey faces—all nose and forehead and cheeks—and newsprint-colored hair that looks like it hasn’t been unpinned since Columbus set sail. Her eyes are framed by big thick glasses like Mr. Peabody’s and sometimes they make her look a bit like a fly. I told Mummy I thought that once and she asked me what I thought she looked like and I said I didn’t know. Annie wears sickly purple to church every Sunday (and, I guess, Wednesday night, when she goes to church over on her brother’s side of town in the evening to “pray for yer worrisome little soul, Michael (and yours too, dear, o’ course, though yer case ain’t so pressing as yer dear brother’s).”) and succeeds in looking a lot like the race horses you see on TV, except Annie would never dream of running around on all fours. She never, ever forgets to scrub behind my ears.

Still, I can’t reason why Catholic churches are different from Anglican ones, nor why Annie doesn’t like anything that isn’t Catholic. Just because she isn’t Anglican doesn’t mean she shouldn’t like Anglicans, at least I don’t think so, but I don’t even pretend to know anything about church. It’s not as if I pay attention; I spend my time squirming in the pews and begging Annie to let me take the wine at communion—which she never does.

Not that I really care about whether I attend a Catholic service or an Anglican one—I’m sure I won’t be able to tell the difference at all—and actually, I’m happy about cutting our walk short by a few blocks, but at least the old church was familiar. And it’ll be a bother to find new targets for my spitballs.

I just have to make sure I do that when Annie isn’t looking so she won’t tell Mum. It’s always such a fuss when Annie drags Mum into discussions over my behavior. Nothing ever comes of it—Mum only ever says “You’ll be a good boy for Annie, won’t you Michael? Mummy doesn’t have time to deal with your pranks and tantrums you know,” and gives me a lollipop or, on the rare occasions when she has the time, takes me around the corner to Baskin Robbins for a sugar-cone of Rocky Road for me and a mint chocolate chip cup for her. I don’t know why she always gets the same flavor wherever she is, but when I was younger and got a different flavor every time, I always felt a little bad because she only ever got the same mint chocolate chip. And she never has a lick of whatever flavor I had, even if I offer it to her and, eventually, I settled for Rocky Road.

Clara must never have noticed, or maybe never cared, because when she accompanies us, she still gets whatever she feels like and then climbs into Mum’s lap to show off her print dresses and adorable pigtails. I still think that the best thing those pigtails are for is pulling.

I eye Clara’s pigtails swinging temptingly before me now as she primly holds Annie’s calloused hand. Her doll, Clarisse, is half-falling out of her right coat pocket, the doll’s absurd eyes blinking with each of Clara’s steps. I wonder how long it would take Clara to notice if I stole Clarisse, already imagining the look of horror she’d get once she realized that she must have dropped the silly doll on the walk to church. She’d close her eyes tight and wail, though, which is only ever funny for the first two minutes. Then I just want her to shut up.

Annie turns and gives me a look as we reach the corner, causing me to abandon all plans of doll-napping and lean on the button guiltily. Clara and Annie are discussing the latest episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, in which Bullwinkle unwittingly discovered the missing boxtops stolen by Boris and Natasha by falling down an elevator shaft. I thought the two nogoodniks were funny when they tried to kill Bullwinkle, but these things frighten baby Clara (she still cries in every episode of Tom and Jerry) and I hear her complain to Annie that sometimes it’s all “too scary” and she wishes she could just watch Disney’s Wonderful World of Color instead. I begin humming the Roger Ramjet theme song under my breath, hoping that when we get back from the new experience of Catholic church, I’ll be given free reign with the TV.

Might as well call it now. “Dibs on TV when we get back!” I practically shout.

“Hey! I wanted to watch Tom Terrific!” Clara immediately whines, looking up at Annie. Whoops, should’ve seen that coming.

Amazingly, though, crisis is averted when Annie reminds Clara that Dee is coming over after church and that they had planned to hold Barbie’s four month wedding anniversary party or something under the grand piano in the living room and that someone whose name sounded like Skipper had flown in specially for the event. I am pleased to announce that I will not be attending.

We’re in front of St. Jean’s by the time Clara has run out of people to invite to her party. Now she’s asking Annie if it’s alright for Sleepy-Time Barbie to wear her pj’s to a party and Annie is telling her that she thinks so, as long as she can stay awake for the toast. Clara wants to know why Barbie would eat toast at her anniversary and I tone them out.

St. Jean’s is bigger than St. Paul’s and more old-looking. I guess it’s the pointy things all over the roof that do it. The place looks rather prickly and I’m not sure I want to go in. We’ve stopped so Clara can stare up at the big colored window. People going into the church part around us and I can tell they’re giving me looks. Not pretty little Clara with her pigtails and Mary-Janes and her hand in Annie’s. And not Annie herself with her thick glasses and wooden cross around her neck. No, just at me, wondering what I’m doing there, a boy with the toes of his shoes all scuffed up and only half his hair combed flat. Wondering what my mother must have been thinking to let me out of the house with my shirt untucked like that. I know I’m the lesson for one boy a few years younger than me when his mother bends down next to him and points to me with a finger tipped with a shiny pink nail, while smoothing the kid’s Bobby Brady hair. I stare at the ground, hoping my cheeks aren’t reddening, and wanting Annie to hurry on inside.

But then something touches my head, rough fingers smooth my hair just the way that other boy’s mother was doing and Annie takes my hand. I look up at Annie. She’s not looking at me, but she’s smiling. We begin walking up the steps to the church door and when we go in and people start singing, Clara lets go of Annie’s hand. But I don’t.

The Orestiad: Epiphany

Bright, white, boring, and hideously feminine. No one prepared me for that part of death. If they had, I never would’ve been so on board with the “glorified deaths are the height of honor” mantra and I certainly would never have entered into anything liable to send me to this monotonous, ladies’ perfume-scented hellhole any sooner than the date I actually arrived here. Of course, I knew about the Asphodel beforehand. Who didn’t? But I never really thought about ever being completely surrounded by the ghastly stuff, let alone being surrounded by it for all eternity.

Yes, eternity. A large word for a large concept. It makes me laugh when I remember how the living used to complain of people or things taking an “eternity” to be completed or to do something. They have no idea. No one has any idea of eternity until they have died and are forced to exist, bodiless, amidst this sea of whiteness. And still, the dead know only a fraction of what eternity truly is unless they, like me, are forced to wear their regrets like chains for the rest of it.

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The idea for this comes from the story of God’s test of Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Things Never Happen the Same Way Twice

It was the fourth night now. The fourth night in a row. The fourth time she had started up, sweating, surprised by the darkness. The fourth time she had woken with that voice in her head. Always the same one. The same bright white light, the same voice… the same words.

Slowly and cautiously letting herself down onto her elbows, Laura glanced at the clock. 4:57 a.m. Too early to wake Claire, but too late to fall properly back to sleep. Reaching across the bed, she nearly knocked her grandmother’s cracking, old lamp off the table in the process of yanking the stiff cord which—nine times out of ten—would turn the light on. The sudden light emitted by the fading bulb was enough to blind her for a moment; a reminder of The Dream. Lights popping before her eyes, Laura felt around for the book on her bedside table. It was old and dog-eared, full of fading post-it notes, and hard to read for all the hand-written annotations covering the text in many places. There were entire sections that were highlighted in yellows or blues (and sometimes both) and in one or two places even newspaper clippings or what looked like internet articles were paperclipped in. The title was only just recognizable beneath the name “Laura Moran”. She traced it absentmindedly with a finger as she opened the book and a folded newspaper clipping from 1974 fell out onto the coverlet.

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May 17, 2010, update: We were assigned to write a portrait of a bedroom for English and this is what I came up with. It’s hard with this kind of thing to walk the line between painfully boring and Gossip Girl dramatic and I guess I decided to err on the side of the drama. Looking back I wish that I had taken the challenge of making a boring room interesting, but too late now.

The window bangs open against the wall behind it, letting in a gust of wind which swirls through the room, ripping a few old newspaper clippings from their places on the wall. The wind subsides and as it does the curtains fall back into place and the clippings come to rest under the bed, whose sheets and blankets are twisted and hanging off the side.The clock on the bedside table flashes 12:00, though the sky outside clearly indicates otherwise. One wall of the room is occupied by an enormous map of Canada with red, blue, and green pins peppering it. The lower left hand corner of the map curls up hiding Vancouver from view. The remaining space on that wall is taken up by a myriad of yellowing and torn newspaper clippings all seemingly completely random—sports scores from twenty years before, an earthquake in Chile, the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker showtimes,  an interview with the author of a bestseller, stock market reports from every month since October of 2013, a story detailing the success of a movie released November 13th, 2009.

On the opposite wall above a cluttered desk, hangs a mirror whose face is turned to the wall. Flanking it, are two framed blueprints of what look like The Whitehouse and La Défense. Thrown carelessly across half the desk is a street map of London with a bold red line traced on it in Sharpie. A closer look shows that this line follows Downing Street. The rest of the desk is mess of old gum wrappers, broken pencils, crumpled bits of graph and lined paper, torn computer printouts, several calculators, and a toppled stack of newspapers in several languages. The topmost headline blares: Nuclear Bomb D—but the rest is covered by a long cold cup of coffee in a mug which reads World’s Best Dad on the side.

The desk chair is not in its place before the desk, but instead leans haphazardly against the opposite wall, a crumpled black rain jacket on its seat. Lying beneath one of the chair’s wheels is an eighteen month calendar open to April. Every day before Monday the 27th has a neat black X through it, while the 27th bears a hurried squiggle. A note sticks out from between the pages of a paperback novel which lies face down upon the first week of April.

It begins: Jean, I am taking—

The handle turns and the door opens.

“Ten green bottles, hanging on the wall, and if one green bottle should accidentally fall. . .” a little girl sang softly as she clambered indiscriminately over the grey rocks, her hair whipping about her face in the sea breeze. “There’ll be nine green bottles, hanging on the wall. . . ”

The little girl paused and gazed out to sea. Just at the point where the sparkling, deep blue sea met the bright blue of the sky there was a ship. She watched it, all the while singing the song.

“Seven green bottles, hanging on the wall, and if one green bottle should accidentally fall, there’ll be six green bottles, hanging on the wall. . .” Her thin, white summer dress billowed about her legs, rippling in the wind like the waves below her.

“Five green bottles, hanging on the wall. . .” The little girl’s bare feet slipped a bit on the wet rock as she turned to watch the fluttering of a kite on the other side of the rocks. She stretched out her arms on either side of her body to keep her balance, but did not stop singing the song.

“Three green bottles, hanging on the wall. . .” She began scrambling over the rocks once more, going almost on all fours now, as the slope increased. “And if one green bottle should accidentally fall, there’ll be two green bottles, hanging on the wall.” She crested the rise and stood looking out over the sea and beach on one side, and the mundane little village on the other.

“Two green bottles hanging on the wall, and if one green bottle should accidentally fall, there’ll be one green bottle hanging on the wall.” As she sang, she worked her way carefully forward until she stood on the very edge of the rock overlooking the sea. Her countenance brightened as she neared the top. But once there, she looked down at the waves crashing on the rocks below her, and for the first time, her song faltered. This side of the rocks was sheer, not at all like the gradual climb she’d had up the back. The waves lay some fifty feet below her, but she could not take her eyes off them. She raised her voice above the wind to sing and took another step forward in fascination. “One green bottle hanging on the wall, and if that green bottle should accidentally fall. . .”

* * *

At first, everyone inferred that she had just wandered away. No one really worried; the village was small and she couldn’t have gone far. But nobody had seen her.

When the little girl’s hair clip was found on the rocks above the beach, her parents began to panic. What if she’d slipped and. . . ? They called in the police.

A police boat set out to patrol the cliffs with the girl’s parents accompanying them, now resigning themselvesto the girl’s fate.

They found her body lying broken on the rocks. Her dress was soaking and torn from the sea spray and rocks. Blood covered her forehead and seeped from her side, in harsh juxtaposition to the pale white of her skin and dress. Her father stood soberly as the mother buried her head in his coat and wept as the police searched the body and the area surrounding it.

Nothing else was found on the beach except an old green glass bottle. It was brought to the sergeant in charge and he used his pen-knife to dig the cork out of the bottle’s neck. Inside was a crisp, white sheet of paper with one sentence written upon it.

There’ll be no more bottles hanging on the wall.

The police could make nothing of it and decided that it was a mere coincidence. One young officer, new to the force, was reminded of the old childhood song, Ten Green Bottles, but he did not mention it to his superiors, for fear of being laughed at. And anyway, he told himself, it doesn’t matter.