ISSUE 2 · SPRING 2009



   BACK TO ISSUE 

            HOME

           ISSUES

    SUBMISSIONS

       MENTIONS

  REVIEWS BY AZ

        ABOUT US


Copyright © 2009

Miles Klee

This Better Go As Planned

MILES KLEE



"If you leave a thousand monkeys in a room with a thousand typewriters, the monkeys will shit all over your typewriters. Leave anything to chance and I will eat your heart and absorb what paltry soul-residue you had.”

 —Amanda Applecate

                 Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs

                         Sanders & Price Global Public Relations,

                                 A Glyphix Φ International Company

  

“The space within becomes the reality of the building.”

 —Frank Lloyd Wright

  

“The patient does not deny agency in the crimes of which he stands accused, but nonetheless posits an external affective force which ‘informed’ and necessitated his actions. He describes the murders as ‘raising an army’ to bring about peace.”

 —Dr. Alan Holden-Fielding

                         Inmate Report #AP119912

                         Twineball, NJ, Correctional Institute

 


STOP DROP AND ROLL WONT WORK IN HELL warned a punctua-tionless church marquee Alex passed each morning on the way to work at Sanders & Price in Phoenix Towers. One day it was inexplicably blank, which bothered him. He found this unsettlement itself unsettling, because come on—who cares? Not me, he said aloud, twice. Earpiece trembled; voice described their problem. ProFusion, Sanders & Price’s massive personal intranet database for journalist contact info and other classified data, was haunted bad. Fakely sentient. Predicted that President Fullner’s next child would be a month premature and “half albino,” the latter not quite a possibility so far as Alex reasoned.

 

“Software’s haunted as shit,” Gates said, sounding impressed and tiny in his ear.

 

“Don’t worry,” said Alex, “I know a guy.” He twisted/palm-pressured an orange bottle open, rattled out a handful of his favorite painkiller. 

 

The S&P programmer charged with keeping PF from talking back was AWOL. Perhaps the ghosts, with spectral efficiency, had absorbed him through the interface. Amanda Applecate was one of those people who punched a wall when enraged, and, well, that happened. 

 

“The Pope will declare himself a vampire next Easter,” ProFusion prophesied.

 

“Fix this,” Amanda told Alex after the morning meeting dispersed. One hemisphere of brain dared another to stay, to say: Or what? He nodded like a jerk and left to join his herd in the hall. Did she crave defiance or total obedience? An insurgent will for the breaking? 

 

Back in his office, Alex flicked a dead ladybug off his keyboard and flopped onto the couch. Those spirits are having a laugh, Gates had said—another British idiom learned on business trips that couldn’t mask a lack of character. Alex fingered a business card he’d gotten in the mail that week. The words “Digital Exorcist” were faintly embossed. A number. No name.

 

 ·     ·     ·

 

He was in the habit of getting hard-ons under the conference table when Amanda’s vitriol surpassed a modest threshold, but that’s not something you come out and say. Still, as they stood alone in a glass elevator, tracking down the sun-spotted north face, he knew he should take action. Do something. He was momentarily distracted by a blurred outline standing at the entrance of the park below, a figure charting their descent. Amanda said she couldn’t wait to take a load off. Alex tried to hear get a load off instead. She asked if work-related stress was a problem for him. 

 

“I get by,” Alex mumbled as they fell towards the man.      

 

She confessed that she imagined slow-motion plane wrecks to relax, shining cylinders sunk in blossoms of fire. That she pictured the world covered in skeletons, which the Dalai Lama recommends to regulate tranquility levels. He admired her oversize pupils, studied her adjustments of the odd ring with Glyphix’s logo until the elevator doors opened onto Phoenix Towers’s pristine lobby, which jutted out impressively into the plaza. They moved in lockstep. He asked if she had plans.

 

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “And that shows unoriginality on your part.”

 

Clicking heels carried her off.

 

“I want those ghosts out or turning a profit!” she announced to the busy atrium.    

 

The way things were, you could see clear through the building’s north entrance to the park, with its piebald trees and statues of the dead. The husks of bronze men maybe staring back at Alex. The one alive and surely watching. To the south, a raw hole in the earth awaiting theoretical office complexes. Beyond, scummy fast food and more glittery skyscrapers shooting up overnight, built by New Jersey’s ever-slackening tax laws, homesick for New York inspirations.

 

Alex’s purgatorial apartment beyond that. 

 

The Central Jersey Dunes beyond that.

 

All reflected in lustrous terms by thousands of one-way windows that cased the tuning fork of his onyx towers, all rendered sinister in the glass. 

 

Even me.

 ·     ·     ·


“We build buildings which are terribly restless. And buildings don’t go anywhere. They shouldn’t be restless.”

—Minoru Yamasaki

 

“Glyphix has always played the role of a pioneer in information advances, and the RFID Epi-Chip is further proof of Glyphix’s commitment to making yesterday’s unthinkable tomorrow’s fact through the power of dedicated imagination.”

—Glyphix Φ International Press Release

 

 ·     ·     ·

 

The announcement was months early, but if S&P’s parent company had a radio frequency tag ready for epidermal insertion, so much the better. If he’d felt like popping up to the ninety-fifth floor of the East Prong, to Glyphix’s state headquarters, he could’ve held a mock-up in his hands, felt the brittle tinyness of it, muttered innocuously (That’s something) and hit the major food court on ninety. Were it not for the garbled cell signal—monstrous interfering magnets slid pneumatically in the crowns of the towers to cancel otherwise noticeable swaying—he might have used the abbreviated lunch hour to make a client call. Or two.

 

Instead, he wondered numbly from his ergonomic chair how Glyphix could dodge the FDA on this. A substance half printer ink, half ectoplasm was running up the walls in gooey bars. But Alex still wouldn’t call the mystery number, focused his rage on the FDA: every member of that whole toad-licking administration should get a brain implant that tells them when to nod and when to make like a clam. He skimmed his copy of The Twineball Picayune, began an essay bemoaning the “eyesore” of Phoenix Towers, abandoned it five lines in. Maybe he’d refine the FDA observation he’d stumbled on a moment ago, up its pith, drop the repackaged sneer in front of Amanda. It would give him edge, or content, or whatever. He took a swig of Black Adderade XR, wincing at the chemical aftertaste. But let her prompt him organically. No good forcing it.

 

“You seeing this?” Gates asked, sticking his head in, poking the runny ooze with a finger.

 

“Living it,” Alex said.

 

“What about your guy? Looks like they’re spreading.”

 

“Giving a lecture somewhere.” 

 

Gates’ eyes bloated darkly, but the vision passed.

 

·     ·     ·

 

Merging Interests With

The Spirit World

(A Hollowpoint Presentation)

 

Sanders & Price Global Public Relations

A Glyphix Φ International Company


“Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page,” Amanda began at the project-launch pep talk. The projection-friendly blank white wall of Conference Room A echoed her introduction in type with a dynamic hollowpoint display scheme. Another word: Ghosts.

 

“Ghosts,” she chirped, prompted by bulging shapes on the room-wide screen. “The new wave in a sea of information, one we need to ride.” She ignored a whispered comment on the left of the table that called attention to her allegedly fitting initials. Outside, layers of desert heat warbled and shone over the sand-coated landfill.

 

“The new market for advertisement, for opinion, for shaping image,” she said, rapping out each syllable. The screen behind her distilled points with a bullet each—

  

WHY ARE GHOSTS IMPORTANT? 

WHAT POTENTIAL DO THEY HAVE?

   o     Advertisement

   o     Opinion

   o     Shaping Image

       

—and visualized it rather smartly. She said S&P would be updating their be-all, end-all ProFusion database with specs on over three dozen known ghosts and spirits who had invaded Phoenix Towers in the last few days. Just as soon as ProFusion . . . exactly. The floor turned to glitchy static, snapped back to carpet.

 

“Ghosts are about as influential as it gets,” Amanda went on, encouraged. “Imagine being told that you’d better buy another bottle of Belltruvin or your baby’s crib will get haunted through infancy. That’s damage you won’t risk. A pop-up ad you can’t X out of. Commercials that can extort you. People will do anything to get rid of them.”  

 

“What about the . . . spirits . . . I mean it seems like a lot of them are just regular teenagers . . . or whomever . . . that is, what if they’re too dislikable to really sell, if they just complain about not getting VV’d and dying as a result, for example, or being boxed out of human pleasures, no more sex, or maybe food?” a bony pillhead woman blathered when the time for questions came. “Though I suppose that wouldn’t bother everybody,” she added, throwing vicious blinks at the anorexic girl who had started on Monday. Everyone laughed with the following exceptions:

     •       Those with a history of eating disorders themselves

     •       Those who knew others unable to afford VV surgery

     •       Those hoping to have intercourse with the new anorexic

 

With a fair bit of overlap we won’t delve into.

 

“They all get classified,” Amanda deadpanned through a smile. “That’s sort of the point?”

 

“But if they really have nothing to say?”

 

“Okay, if you truly feel the spirit is so bereft of value, summarize like this: This ghost, a teen, mostly appears in bathrooms, since she died in one, and wails about the tribulations of a teenager, which, though they may seem trivial to a lonely twenty-something so-called PR specialist who was probably a teen once herself, are actually kind of a big fucking deal to people of the teenaged demographic, and hence the ghost is rather obviously a dream come true for an advertiser wishing for a medium through which to reach said fucking demographic, a demographic that, as far as demographics go, is elusive and empathetic and suggestible in ways we would say are majorly relevant to us.

 

“Or, if you insist on keeping your head stuck up your cunt, it’s not too late to disappear forever.”

 

Even the more jaded could admit this was harsh. Alex popped a stiffy. Several people independently made a PMS conjecture but kept their mouths shut, knowing Amanda Applecate was possessed of demonically bolstered hearing. 

 

“But how can we reach out to these things as corporate shills?” Alex blurted, wanting more. “What incentive can we offer? We haven’t even gotten them out of the office.”

 

“I noticed,” said Amanda. 

 

The anorexic girl excused herself to the bathroom.

 

“Probably to throw up,” Gates whispered to Alex, fiddling with his obnoxious tie.

 

“Her prerogative,” Amanda said. 

 

Two people reached for the donut box.         

 

·     ·     ·

 

“The patient has taken to decorating his cell in unusual ways, imitating something akin to cave painting. The figures themselves resemble insects set against massive webs.”

—Dr. Alan Holden-Fielding

                        Inmate Report #AP119912

                        Twineball, NJ, Correctional Institute

 

·     ·     ·

 

Could ghosts export their misery? A metric assload of aging execs on Phoenix Towers’ hundred-twentieth floor got totally cancer’d by their own greasy products. It was up at Io, a cosmetics giant started by a nineteen-year-old vacuum cleaner heiress. Oncologists shat themselves tender when they got around to looking at soaps and creams in the product line. The memo that ghosts were potentially carcinogenic made its rounds, and Alex could feel the towers quiver with spirited laughter, and a squeaky glee in his molars, like fresh peanuts were being ground between them. Gates messaged him a joke:

  

Q. Why did ghosts haunt the office building?

 A. They had some unfinished business!

 

Then and there, Alex scaled back his Belltruvin and painkillers. 

 

A scruffy new janitor had been cleaning his office too often, exploring furniture with a dustbuster. He was fascinated by a mischievous ghost who, with Alex’s endless influx of magazines, made romantic collages for a girl it had coveted in life. It hung these on the window, where they stayed until the janitor collected them in a fat manila folder.

 

“They sure like being around you,” the janitor said, peeling tape off the glass.

 

“Who?” said Alex, mired in loopy algorithm.

 

Io’s chief rival, he noted with manufactured pleasure as he skimmed the paper en route to work the next day, was an S&P client, but he couldn’t remember if they, too, resided some million miles above him in Phoenix Towers (whose surface, he thought, was looking less reflective and more absorptive by the day; it had undoubtedly worsened and still Alex ignored the card). He ultimately concluded that it didn’t matter, and after eyeing an article on Glyphix’s new organic light-emitting diode screens—is the TV then supposed to be alive? he chuckled—gently laid his Picayune next to a sleeping bum whose newspaper blanket was in tatters.

 

“You’re welcome,” he said. 

 

In the office he found co-workers huddled around live footage of Arman Patruzzi, the Picayune’s blistering architecture critic, evading police cruisers at high speed on the sun-drenched Turnpike in a dirty jeep.

 

“It’s nasty,” Gates filled him in. “Pedophile, kid killer. Think maybe forty.” The picture got jumpy and someone close enough whacked the TV, eliciting a garbled human moan.

 

“Has to know they’re gonna catch him,” chimed a voice. “What’s he think’s gonna happen?” 

 

“Is he driving towards the city?” asked a hot temp.

 

“Shit, girl,” Gates guffawed.

 

Alex started in. 

 

“Figures he’s got time to do one more. Gotta go where there’s high kid-saturation, right?”

 

A few people shot him baleful looks over shoulders before turning back to the screen, which framed a photo of the fleeing madman. Alex instantly recognized the odd new janitor. Then the face on the screen dissolved into silhouette—the one that had watched his elevator drop.

 

Arman’s car took the Downtown Twineball exit. 

 

If he was trying to come back, Alex thought, he didn’t have a prayer.   

 

The fluorescent lights overhead darkened with what he imagined to be the virginal blood of Arman’s victims. But when it was tested and found to have a cholesterol level hovering around 800, that seemed less likely.   

 ·     ·     · 

 

Life dragged on. Alex’s office regained its mess, and no one remembered that Arman had toiled in their midst. Didn’t even show up on payroll.

 

A lunatic nearly killed Mayor Hotchkiss—hurled a “rock of justice” over the scrum of oblivious reporters questioning her outside city hall. Would-be assassin was recognized by S&P employees as the troubled weirdo yanked off their north plaza for harassing passers-by with roadkill ballet. He’d rigged the flattened things with marionette wire. Alex froze in his tracks when confronted with the spectacle, more horrified than he could remember. The haggard street performer had noticed his audience, frozen the dance and fixed Alex with a stare. 

 

“You seem unstable,” he said.

 

Alex burned the candle at both ends following that encounter. It showed dedication. Moral fiber, even, something no unstable person possessed. He soon knew every doorman’s first name despite the red-eye shifts they sat. Once, he passed the threshold of the revolving lobby doors as he used to cross from sleep into the real and, distantly noting that it was three in the morning, went to sign in.

 

“Shouldn’t you be out living it up?” asked sweet old Greg behind the front desk, closing The Great Gatsby around a worm-shaped bookmark and sliding over the sign-in screen.

 

“I wish,” said Alex, sighing. He’d learned to feign displeasure with work, so as not to confuse the unannointed. When in reality something beckoned to him from inside his nest, where he’d make quality assessments and identify redundancies, claim responsibilities not his to take.

 

Alex left out the e in his last name as Greg blew his nose. He slipped out of the desert into a dim fantasy wherein he heel-palmed the doorman’s nose, rocketing bone shards into brain, and faced that roadkill puppeteer with a strung-up Greg who’d outdance and outbleed any two-dimensional raccoon. Then who’d be the unstable one?

 

The odd thing, he reflected in his sprint for the elevator, was that Greg normally brought out his friendly side. 

 

In the upshooting crystal chamber, a transparent girl with an infected VV incision cocked her head at Alex, hanging upside down from the ceiling’s escape door by the knees as she might’ve done on monkey bars. Her skirt umbrellaed around, exposing panties a size too small.

 

“You found me at the playground,” she said, and covered the space between her legs.

 

“Who do you think I am?” Alex said, turning to focus on the gaslit park she must have meant, below the electric dots of a city starting to burn out for good. “I never found you.”

 

“You did.”

 

Alex forced himself to look, to put a curious finger through the Van Vetchen scar.

 

“You didn’t . . .” Alex began. “How many of you are there?”

 

“Lots.”

 

“How old are you?”

 

“Eleven.”

 

“How old’s the oldest of you?”

 

·     ·     ·

 

In his office, a shattered man rang him up.

 

“I want them back,” it said.

 

“Your one call?” Alex asked. 

 

On the other side, Arman was already gone.   

 

·     ·     ·

 

Amanda’s floor-to-ceiling window faced south, towards the dunes. She told Alex she had no patience for men who wouldn’t come out and say they wanted to fuck her. Did he think it was going to fall off when he stuck it in? Alex noted the when-not-if. Her outfit couldn’t hide burning curves.

 

“How about tonight,” he said. “Elevator.”

 

“Thing about you,” she said, “you always rise to the bait.” 

 

“And now that I’m on the hook?”

 

Amanda swiveled in her chair. Studying him.

 

“I can see you as a kid.”

 

Alex waited.

 

“Feeding your goldfish till they burst.”

 

He nodded, stifling his confusion, and turned to go. Spotting a Newton’s cradle on her bookshelf, Alex pulled back a metal ball and let go.  Invisible fingers kept it aloft.

 

Got almost three steps down the hall before he asked. 

 

“Did you get maybe a business card?” Alex called out. “In the mail?”

 

“I get a lot of those, Alex,” came her reply. “Being an undisturbed person, I throw them away.”

 

“Any odd phone calls?”

 

Thought that was you.”

 

·     ·     ·

 

“I have recommended that the patient’s writings be temporarily confiscated from his cell in order to shed light on his perplexing obsessions.”

—Dr. Alan Holden-Fielding

                        Inmate Report #AP119912

                        Twineball, NJ, Correctional Institute

 

“Let me tell you something most people would be ashamed to admit. I was Queen Bee in high school. And if I was back then, I damn sure am now.”

—Amanda Applecate

 

·     ·     · 

 

Alex scoured MeetingFace.com for an official reaction to the spectacularly thorough murder of an eleven-year-old girl—an atrocity made axis for Arman Patruzzi’s trial. Patruzzi was aided and abetted, it seemed, by open access to personal info, widely available on the hectic site. 

 

The ghost stuff had been making him ill, + some blog-whore congressman was trying to make the destruction of the Glyphix EpiChip his political raison d’être, dragging in Holocaust references that were killing the mood, the positive vibrations of the whole endeavor. Not seeing the big picture. It gave Alex howling pinpointed headaches; frontal knobs of brain barely withstood these drillings. But hurt provided clarity all its own. He stretched the hours between painkillers, plotting journeys through blissful droning wastes.

 

He wished that he were good at something, anything else. That someone besides Amanda made suffering an art. The public flayings no longer sufficed. In private, her cruelty was honed for him alone, a tumbling centrifuge of misery from which they emerged smoother . . . polished or eroded, impossible to say which, only that their gloss matched the indelible face of Phoenix Towers (blank, growing blanker) and the azoic desert air it kissed. 

 

·     ·     ·

 

“But the building’s identity resided in the ornament.”

–Louis Sullivan

 ·     ·     · 

 

Nearly all SharKen Electronics model T500 Crisp-R Toaster Ovens within Twineball city limits exploded on Thursday. Simultaneously? But who could tell. Seventeen fatalities: morons monitoring their bread for that instant of golden brown perfection, skeptical of the dial’s “Golden Brown” setting. At least five houses burned down, but courtesy of a warranty loophole exploited by major law firm Saunders & Peters (coincidentally located on floor ninety-two of the west prong of Phoenix Towers), SharKen E. didn’t pay one dime.

 

Alex had the same kind of toaster oven, he realized that afternoon, but could not recall where in the kitchen it sat, or if it had self-destructed that morning along with the rest. He strove to picture the kitchen’s layout, the warped linoleum, the parties in the past with . . . whoever he used to party with, fleshy smudges swapping personal trivia in his bled-out memory.

 

He’d finally called the exorcist number, hoping against reason that it wasn’t Arman’s. A voice told him he was being disconnected, and a fog that reeked of sex poured through the receiver.

 

His empathy for victims could not hold a candle to Amanda’s seething. He reveled in it, her fury a secret cataclysm.     

 

“Seeing as a lot of toaster ovens in town just up and exploded, people are going to want new ones. Ones that won’t kill you,” she told the Corporate and Public Affairs staff. “Meanwhile, our client has to pull its toaster oven ads out of ‘respect for the dead.’ Guess what—you’re going to find a way around it.”

 

Her pupils swallowed their irises whole. His tired eyelashes clasping. How many days without sleep, to prove his worth . . . the ghosts in a coyly whistling vortex around him. Many floors above, groaning magnets compensated for vicious wind. That wasn’t unusual, he knew, but the fact that he could feel all this through his seat, the floors, the rippling walls, that was new. Lights flickered with a hyperactive pulse, a pitch-dark gap in the center of each movement. All continuity severed. On the conference table: a strobe-lit, stop-action art, pulsing with suffocated rhythms.

 

The vertiginous holes in Amanda’s skull promised warmth within that could never escape. Yonic cat’s eyes let out terrible ink arms, and she rose, hovering over the polished oak table. Cold ink strings interlocked behind his neck, pulling him to her. Desert brightness graying as if told to hush. Mute eyes glowed through shut lids, staring as she vanished his clothes with a tiny gesture. Momentary suffering for a world of reward, they hummed.  The projection wall flashed bullet points from nowhere:

 

   o    Retain                  

   o    All

   o    Hope

                     

“It’s going to be like battery acid,” Gates intoned. “Like a poisoned-tipped bear trap snapping shut on your junk. A big ol’ vat of boiling lead.”

 

And it was. It was that good. 

 

Relief.

 ·     ·     ·

 

Routine waterworks maintenance exposed twenty children or so buried in the park opposite Phoenix Towers—a mass grave of strays believed to be the handiwork of Arman Patruzzi. YMCA daycampers yet to be relocated to more appropriate play areas were allowed to take refuge from the heat in Phoenix Towers’ lobby, which Amanda was less than thrilled about. “Leave them on the street,” she remarked. “Childhood is remembered as a series of traumas anyway.”

 

Alex gazed out at the cresting bar graph curves of downtown Twineball, sensed no snatches of wailing siren or scattered gunshots. He had woken at dawn on the conference table. Alone. His clothes too crisp and freshly pressed. And suddenly eclipsing other questions was: Had the dream brought him to the room, or vice versa?

 

The day’s looming suns were swollen with time. Alex sweated even in the obscenely air conditioned hallways, a fluid sucked up the hollows of spine. He scribbled furiously on a pad, trying to stumble onto an address, an apartment number, to will forgotten figures out of the pen with dimming muscle memory. When was the last time he had even been home? Had he paid rent, utilities? His desk was a field of unopened painkiller bottles; no more need. He wandered to the conference room.        

 

A man appeared before the meeting got underway, flattened against the window, attached to it by suction cups. A charismatic daredevil out to conquer their spires. Gates waved as he climbed past.

 

“He can’t see you,” Amanda scoffed.

 

“I know,” said Gates, wounded.

 

The man’s face through the window was a rot-covered skull.

 

·     ·     ·

 

“There is no such thing as an excuse. There is only you pouring liquid bullshit in my ear and hoping that I’ll take pity on you. But something in me likes that desperate faith.”

—Amanda Applecate

 

“In writing, the patient has the tendency to engage his area of expertise to the exclusion of anything else, with alarmingly specific targets. ‘Architectural evil’ is a recurrent foe, often described as ‘attuned to suffering but in need of false optimism.’”

—Dr. Alan Holden-Fielding

                        Inmate Report #AP119912

                        Twineball, NJ, Correctional Facility

 

·     ·     ·

 

Amanda was in rare form at the end of the week. All indicators showed S&P far outstripping the ambitious revenue, client-retention, client-snaring, and client satisfaction goals set a year ago. The latter reached ionospheric highs about which one daydreams. She announced that PrimAir, an airline that directly rivaled a client in the transatlantic market, was buying a fleet of five-hundred passenger jumbo jets that nobody else could possibly match.  No commentary offered. They were dismissed.

 

She had really lost it. Alex saw his chance, tiptoed up to it.

 

“Haven’t really made much headway on the haunting, seems like the guy went out of business, or something, which doesn’t—”

 

“Alex,” said Amanda lovingly. “Shut up.”

 

All his fingertips pressed each other as he waited alone in the elevator bay, and lo, all seven sets of glass doors produced a small whine, opening in unison, daring him to choose just one, Phoenix Towers whispering in its glossed obsidian voice.

 

I’ve been waiting for you.

 

·     ·     · 

 

“Buildings, too, are children of the Earth and Sun.”

—Frank Lloyd Wright

 

“They have abandoned me. But not on purpose. One day they will haunt the rightfully haunted.”

—Arman Patruzzi

                        “On Phoenix Towers, Vol. CLXXIV”

                        The Collected Prison Works

 

·     ·     · 

 

He stood in the freshly waxed lobby, stared out onto a plaza that blistered white. Over the dug-up park, beyond a slant of shadow: superheated lacunae in the air, space shimmering apart in oily bubbles. Exit had become impossible, the revolving doors infernal circuits that deposited him sprawling on chilled marble again and again. Only one thing to do and that was quit. Don’t even bother asking for severance. A few security guards jogged by, barking numbers into walkie-talkies.  

 

Every hair lurched in its follicle as he approached her office. He was late, and she would care. Alex hardly walked; the floor swam gorgeously beneath him.   

 

Knocking, he opened the door. She stood oddly at her desk, flushed.

 

“What.”

 

“I’m quitting. You’re going to let me quit.”

 

“Fine.” She gestured to the door like would you please. “I have work to do.”

 

Neither of them moved.

 

“What’s wrong with you?”

 

“Do you ever get tired of pretending you care? Shut. Up. And. Go. 

 

Her voice stopped but lips moved silently.

 

A bearded man leapt out from under her desk, holding an enormous hunting knife to her throat, pinning her arms behind her. She struggled, but he was big. Hadn’t even shed the orange jumpsuit. Put their backs against the view. 

 

“Shut the door,” Arman ordered. The door got shut. 

 

The room throbbed a violent purple.

 

“You’ve brought my children,” said Arman Patruzzi. “Hello.” 

 

Walls sucked inward and gave off a bewildered screech. Alex thought he saw three spots floating over the garbage dunes. Amanda’s windows dirty?

 

“Just telling Ms. Applecate how these spirits are rightfully mine.” 

 

“Finders keepers,” Amanda snarled, and Arman stabbed her in the shoulder. Alex stepped forward, but Arman pointed the knife at his eye.

 

“And seeing as you’re weeping,” Arman said into Amanda’s ear, “what would that make you?”

 

Low digital warble from the phone.

 

“Answer it,” Arman said. “In a manner that would not prompt me to kill you.”

 

“Amanda Applecate speaking.”

 

“Leading my swarm astray,” Arman said. He tried not to cry. 

 

“Escaped? But why would he come here?” Amanda said in her distinctive phone-voice. The splotches on the window had grown and arranged themselves in a V. “Wrote all that, did he. Well, I’m sure our employees would recognize him and go through the proper channels, of course.” 

 

“My profession misguided me, made me think it was this place,” Arman sniffed. “No better place to rise from the ashes . . . and the playground so close.”

 

Alex nodded but locked eyes with Amanda, who was smiling. An uncomfortable sight.

 

“No. Let’s not cause a panic,” she sighed, and let the phone drop.

 

“But now I realize it’s just you,” Arman wept: 

  

“They can’t tell the difference between you and me.”

—Arman Patruzzi           

 

The office rumbled faintly. Metal clicked on metal.

 

The stains became three planes closing in. Window was clean after all.      

 

“We’ll have to relieve the confusion,” said Arman as he gripped the knife. 

 

But Amanda’s head reared back, and her mouth opened into formless furious noise, that perfect O of negative. Alex seized the Newton’s cradle from her shelf and brought it high in the air. 

 

Her head whipping back to break Arman’s nose.

 

The blade wheeling down, stuck in the floor. 

 

Its razor shadow gently on the carpet, swaying.

 

Arman reeled, took three toxic steps backward as Amanda opened the vise of his elbow. She propelled herself backwards against him, loosing a banshee note as Alex hurdled the desk, bringing the cradle down. Shining orbs broke loose in a hail. Arman put up a useless curling hand as his head and steel connected. From the kiss of the frame came the clean dry sound of a skull separating.

 

Arman endured just one full-body spasm, vermillion tracks easing out of nostrils. He groped at the bookshelf, toppling it. The knife’s shadow shivered. He slumped back against the panorama’s glass edge, muttering as he slid down it and finally sat.

 

“I’m—you’re—I think,” he said, and expired. 

 

His fist blossomed. A silver ball rolled out.

 

“Hello?” came a faint voice from the floor, the phone. “Everything alright, Ms. Applecate?”

 

Alex traced the polished stare of Arman’s dead eyes to a hairline crack that snaked across the ceiling, glowing like a white-hot slice of Paradise. 

 

Amanda hung up.

 

“Don’t know what he meant by that,” she said.

 

Alex was about to take her when the trio of PrimAir’s classic blue-and-orange jets burrowed magnificently into the dunes. Could already taste the blooming fireballs on his tongue. Fountains of sand and garbage, metal and glass. It was as if this awful thing was arranged to be viewed from where Alex stood.

 

Amanda was at his side.

 

“Soothing,” she said.

 

“Exquisite,” he replied.   

 

The once airless room drew a rush of cool wind, and he imagined himself a prehistoric man, the destroyed office a geologic cavern called home. A whirlpool of loose pens and papers screwed upwards around them. Couldn’t tell the difference—that was ridiculous. Arman was a monster. It was safer here, inside.    

 

“Our swarm now,” she said. “We’ve added to it.”

 

“I meant it, though,” he said. “About quitting,” 

 

But Amanda said nothing, adrift on the tide of flooding dusk as she and flame and sand and sunset and Alex and Phoenix Towers together conspired in one cleansing breath.