Posted in Short Story

The Lives of a Killer

I have lived so many lives I’ve lost track. With each one, I am met with pain and suffering. There is no way out and nothing that can ease the torture. This is the punishment of a murderer.

The Lord is making me pay for my sins. I have been brought back as men, women, and children. Death never comes quickly. Instead, he follows me slowly and leisurely but always making his presence known. Death can not come quickly – I must suffer first.

I am a man now, with a wife and a child. Each time, I believe my life will be more fortunate, and my God more forgiving, but that is never the case.

I am a farmer, and in this drought, I have no food to provide for my family. Aid has been offered from other nations, and yet all have been declined. Millions are starving. The government takes nearly all of what I can grow to provide for the politicians and aristocrats in the capital. I have nothing to provide for my family, and so I must steal.

The police always hold the most food, and it is from them that I steal the most. I took – or stole – a police uniform from a dead man once. I use it to blend in. Yet, I was caught. I was leaving the station with a small bag of grain stuffed in my trousers. I saluted the chief as I left.

“Halt!” He yelled. Three other guards came towards me. “Put your hands up, pig!”

I did as I was asked. I was tired. I understood that I was to die again, here and now.

“Where did you get the uniform?” The officer asked.

“A graveyard,” I answered. There was no use in lying. I was too tired for that. He stared at me for a moment, then jammed the butt of his gun into my rib cage.

“A graveyard? I don’t believe you. I’m sure you killed the officer yourself!” He brought down his gun on me again. I was knocked out. I woke up minutes later, chained up in the back of a wagon. The chief gave the order, and we began moving.

I was too tired to put up any fight. It’s what happens when you’ve lived so many lives, so many hundreds of years. I slept through the ride, through the countryside, waking up when we reached the city. I had no idea where I was being taken this time – I assumed I would be killed on the spot, yet I was still alive. I paid no attention to my surroundings.

We stopped in front of an eerily familiar court. A crowd was present, jostling one another for a view of something at the top of the stairs. Two guards unlocked the chains and pushed me roughly up the stairs. The pushed me through the crowd to the very top, where I saw a rope tied in a noose. They brought me up to a stage, and the crowd jeered at me as they realized I was the victim today. The propaganda of this nation had been very effective.

The noose was put around my neck. The noise of the crowd was deafening. The courtroom doors opened, and many guards came through, surrounding a single man. The crowd cheered now. Some cried and wept. I could not get a good look at his face yet.

The king strode up to the podium to address his people. He seemed so familiar.

“Today, we show an example to all our enemies! We show what happens to the murdering, stealing farmers in the countryside who leave us hungry! We will make an example of this criminal today, in the name of our country!”

The crowd cheered throughout. My eyes were fixed on the king. I knew him, but I could not recall how.

The king gestured to the executioner to stand at the lever. The crowd went quiet, waiting for my end. Then, the king met my eyes. I understood now. It had been so many lifetimes, I had nearly forgotten. I had tried push aside that time. I had forgotten the appearance, but looking into those hateful eyes, how could I mistake him? I remembered this moment as I realized those eyes were mine.

The ground gave out from under me.

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Posted in Life

Will I be Forgotten?

What happens to those who are forgotten? Billions of those who died thousands of years ago with no mark on history for us to remember them by, what happens to them? Is that it, do they disappear like they were never there?

In a thousand years time, it will have happened to most of us. Significant names will be remembered and taught about in history classes, but the rest will simply fade. How far back can you or I remember the names of our ancestors? We think of our grandparents, maybe even great-grandparents, but who else?

Think of a rice farmer in China whose daily work was hard yet rewarding. She dies and is buried on her field, where battles are later fought and ownership changes hands every hundred years. A city is built on that land and she is forgotten. What happens to her now? Is she still there, fertilizing the soil so trees can grow? Is she up there, enjoying a life of happiness eternal? Or maybe she came back as an emperor or a writer or a worker or a slave.

The question that is asked is “How will I be remembered?” They imagine a long-lasting legacy where their accomplishments are taught in history books. Is that what brings fulfillment? Did those who were lost to the void of time fail?

Most of us will be forgotten by name, as most of us have forgotten our ancestors. I believe that we are never forgotten.

How did that farmer treat her sons and daughters? How did she treat her neighbors and her community? With love and respect or with doubt and distrust? Love is not a limited resource. We leave behind our love, and it carries on.

If she loved her children, it would teach them to love others, and future generations have that love passed on to them. If she loved her neighbors and cared for them in times of need, they may have shown the same kindness to others, and that love would carry.

Maybe she only loved her crops, her flowers, and her field. How does love carry then? But someone eats those crops, and someone admires those flowers, and someone lies on her field enjoying a pleasant day. The love put into each of those things is stored until it can be passed on to someone new. Someone eats those crops and enjoys a full meal. Another admires the flowers and develops a new respect for the beauty around him. Love can be given, stored, and given again.

Maybe she was cold and uncaring, but one day showed the smallest ounce of kindness to a hungry child, who remembers the act for years and years, paying it forward every now and then. Love can carry.

And what happens to those who were hateful? Maybe their hate carries all this way, but I don’t believe that. Love can end that hate – it’s just that sometimes not enough love is given to do that.

We are all products of our communities, and each person in our community is a product of their own. It carries like this for generations and generations. I will be forgotten by name, but I believe that the people I inspire and the love I give will keep moving for years and years to come.

Posted in Life

The Wage Gap in Medicine

I just read Salma Hayek’s moving piece on the New York Times. Since the Harvey Weinstein debacle, we have heard more and more about how women are abused and taken advantage of in Hollywood, where candidates are chosen based on a sort of eye test, excluding women because they simply “weren’t talented enough”, when exclusions could be due to anything. For example, a woman that does not want to do a sex scene in Hollywood may not be chosen by a director. That director can then simply say that the lady did not have the acting capabilities, and that is why she wasn’t chosen, regardless of what the real reason may be.

My perception had always been that this is a problem that mainly affects fields like acting or writing, and other subjective, creative fields. I wanted to write about another career field that needs to be changed.

I am pursuing a career in medicine. I see many women much smarter than I am at school with me. My thoughts have always been that those who are smarter than me and work harder than me, regardless of whether they are men or women, will get into better programs than me. It makes sense, and it’s how the world should work.

I talked to some friends about this not long ago. There are stats that show that women earn less than men in the field of medicine. That is not something that can be debated. But friends and I discussed why this might be. For example, women make up the majority of some of the lower paying fields in medicine, like family medicine or pediatrics, while men make up the majority of higher paying fields like surgery or radiology. On top of this, women work fewer hours than men and are more likely to work part-time than men.

From all of this, I thought that the wage gap between male and female physicians could be explained by differences in hours worked and specialty, and that male and female doctors must be paid around the same when these are accounted for.

A lot of these sites don’t make it clear whether hours worked or specialty are accounted for, but after finding sources that make the differences clear, the results are clearly awful. Results from a recent study show that, when only using data from men and women who both work at least 40 hours a week, there is a 27% difference in wages. Some fields had even more drastic differences. A female neurosurgeon may earn $92,918 less than a male counterpart. Regardless of how you frame it, women are at an earning disadvantage in the medical field. This is not something that excuses can be made for. Facts are facts, and for some reason, women continue to earn less than men in a field entirely based on knowledge.

Why is this? The Time article, also linked above, offers a few explanations. Do women negotiate less aggressively than men? Are they less likely to use outside offers to seek a raise for employers?

Or maybe there is a discrimination problem.

Women earn substantially less than men in nearly every field. It’s a dilemma that will not go away without action and awareness. I hope to spread that awareness in my field and encourage others to talk about the fields that they are a part of. It’s the first step towards a change.

Posted in Short Story

Something

Something in the way she moves…

Her hands on his shoulders, his hands on her waist, they swayed back and forth. Her head rested gently against his chest.

Attracts me like no other lover.

She could feel his heartbeat, in rhythm with her own.

Something in the way she woos me…

He kissed her forehead softly as they continued their embrace, moving to the sound of the music.

I don’t want to leave her now.

You know I believe and how!

The lights were dim, and they imagined they were dressed extravagantly, a beautiful red dress on her, and a black tuxedo on him.

Something in her smile, she knows…

That I don’t need no other lover.

She smiled at this part. She did know. Who else would dance like this with her, both of them in their pajamas, in her messy room. She put her head up for a kiss.

Something in her style that shows me…

Their circumstances weighed on them. The two of them had their problems, but that wouldn’t, no, it couldn’t stop them.

I don’t want to leave her now.

You know I believe and how!

What others said didn’t matter. Things would change. It would take time, but these moments? These moments they had were worth all the trouble.

 

Posted in Short Story

The Old Factory

“Come on now, get out of there.”

Marcus was getting frustrated. As the oldest, it was always his job to protect his little brother, and that seemed to be no easy task. All Marcus wanted to do was curl up by the window and read a book, or play some board games. Danny always wanted to go on adventures.

“Danny, now!” Marcus shouted. But Danny didn’t listen. He never listens, Marcus thought.

Danny and Marcus lived with their parents in the town of Clemenson, on Lincoln Road. It used to be one of the nicer places in the area, when more factories were still in use. Now, people were out of jobs, homes were being foreclosed, and families were leaving, looking for better lives. Their parents stayed to continue running their fast food joint. As long as people still live here, we can keep this place going, their parents would say to them. And so they stayed, as friends, who were more like family than friends really, left town.

One of the big factories left behind used to make cars. Marcus and Danny weren’t around for it, but schoolkids their age were given tours of the building every now and then. Now, it was the unofficial homeless shelter. Its smokestacks seemed to pierce the clouds, and could be seen from anywhere in town. For Marcus, they were the highest structures he had ever seen, and he imagined cities with buildings that touched the sky like those smokestacks did.

The fence around it no longer served its purpose, as portions had fallen with bad weather and time. Therefore, it was no problem for Danny to make his way over to the factory’s walls, a broken window an arms length above him. Marcus called to him from outside the fallen fence.

“Danny! We have to go home! Let’s go!”

“Do you know what’s inside here, Marcus? I’ve never been in there.”

“Danny, you’re really making me mad. I need you to come here!”

“You’re so boring Marcus!”

Danny still didn’t pay attention. He took off his book bag and swung it through the window, turned around, and waved to Marcus in a come here gesture. Overgrown grass and weeds were all around the factory, growing in any crack they could find, as if mother nature was slowly reclaiming her land.

“Fine Marcus, you don’t have to come. I’m just going to go see, and then I’ll come back out and we’ll go home, okay?” And with that, Danny picked up a stick and cleaned off any remaining glass on the windowsill, and then pulled himself up and through.

Marcus had no idea what to do. No one was around. It was his job as the oldest to take care of his brother. He remembered his parents telling him that, and with determination he stomped over to the window. I swear I’m gonna beat him up. With that thought, he vaulted himself through the window, and landed right on top of Danny.

“Ow, get off me! Get off!” Danny whispered. He wasn’t yelling. Marcus rolled to the side, looked up, and saw the beautiful night sky. Beautiful night sky? Night sky? Marcus stood up quick and looked around. The moon was out…wait no, two moons were out? Where were they?

Ahead of them was a barren landscape. Nothing seemed to be growing, and the ground was hard and rocky as far as he could see. Marcus turned around, looking for the window, and found them on the edge of a cliff. He stumbled backwards once he saw the height they were at. Danny began crying.

“I’m so sorry Marcus, I’m so sorry,” Danny said, stumbling over his words. “I didn’t know this would happen, I just wanted to see some old cars, Marcus I’m so –.” Danny was cut off  as Marcus pulled Danny’s head towards his chest and hugged him tight.

“It isn’t your fault. You’re gonna make an awesome explorer one day, you know that?” Marcus said to Danny. Danny smiled a little.

“You’re right, this is an adventure!” Danny exclaimed. As if on cue, the sound of a plane engine suddenly passed by overhead. Danny and Marcus looked up to see a vehicle, completely lit up by what must have been headlights, flying over the rocky, barren land ahead. And as they followed the lights of the aircraft, Marcus and Danny realized there were a few lights in the distance, the sort that would come from a house or a small village.

“I think that’s our only option,” Marcus said. “We’ll have to walk to those lights, because that probably means people.”

“And I’ll lead the way!” Danny said, standing up and placing his hands on his hips. “Come on, let’s go!”

Marcus rose, and he and Danny walked side by side towards the lights in the distance.

Posted in Short Story

Death Giving Life

This was inspired by a writing prompt from Reddit.

Death’s job had gotten quite stale the last thousand years or so. In the early days of humanity, he made it a game, taking the form of a pretty lady or a crying baby to lead someone away, into the woods or towards a desert where he would take them back to their maker. Of course, doing this for thousands of years was a little much, even for Death. He had become much more orderly, requesting an office and a staff to compile a list of those he needed to bring in that day. He had seen every way a human could be killed, and had brought all their souls back with him.

For a while his job had gotten very hectic. Radiation, famine, war, disease, all of this was making his job Hell. It wasn’t his job to ask questions, just to take souls, and he continued to do his job dutifully. Worrying about living wasn’t his problem.

“Death, I need you to come see me in my office today,” Death heard over the intercom. Great, he thought. Gabe and his damn micromanaging.

Death got up from his cushy office chair, and looked at his phone. 8:30. In other words, too early. He turned off the screen, and caught his own reflection in it. He was looking especially bony lately, it seemed to him. After examining the definition of his cheekbones for a bit, Death headed out the door to meet with Gabe up on the 6th floor.

Death came in without a knock, and eased into one of the chairs in front of Gabriel. Gabriel’s office was lavish, a perk of being the Boss’s secretary. The ceiling had been decorated by the soul of Michelangelo himself. Beautiful rugs were laid together, covering the floor. A couple of Gabriel’s greatest achievements were shown off in paintings on the walls.

“You’ve lost that spring in your step, huh Death?” Gabriel asked, smiling. Gabriel was a good looking guy, or at least this persona of him was. He usually took the form of a young man, wearing a nice, tucked in light-blue button down, and dark blue dress pants. His blonde hair was parted in the middle and tucked away behind his ears. “Well anyways, I asked you to come so we could talk about work. You know, you’ve brought in a lot of souls lately.”

“Well, yes, there’s a lot people,” was Death’ s response.

“Well, there were a lot of people,” Gabriel said. “So we need to talk about your job for a bit. You think you could, well, help people for a bit? Keep them alive instead of taking their souls?”

Death gave a tight-lipped smile that showed no friendliness. He leaned forward and looked at the things on Gabriel’s desk. A coffee mug, a telephone, a few books. No camera. He got up and looked around the room, trying to find one. Maybe even a recording device. This was a joke, and he needed to get back to work.

“I know what you’re thinking Death,” Gabriel said to him. “This isn’t something I would usually ask you, but, well, we’ve run into a problem of sorts. So, the Boss has been away for a little vacation with his son. You know him, always complaining about not seeing his dad ever. Anyways, they’ve been out of town, and I couldn’t really hold down the fort like he expected me to.” Gabriel twiddled his thumbs. He met Death’s glare for a moment, and quickly turned away. “So, I just need you to stop killing people for a bit.”

“And help them live?” Death asked. His voice was filled with surprise and annoyance. “That’s not my job Gabe. That’s like asking you to kill someone. You know you can’t do it.”

“Well, we’ve never been in this situation before. Look, you know what the boss is going to say if he gets back and finds us in this situation. He’ll kick us both out. We’ll be done for. He can make new helpers. We have to combine forces for a bit, Death.” Gabriel was pleading for his help. Death couldn’t help but let out a chuckle.

“And how would I help with this, Gabe? Everything I touch dies.”

“See, that’s how you can help.” Gabriel said. “They need food. Kill a deer or two near their camps and place them in traps for them. They need to avoid some of the more vicious animals, like bears, lions or wolves. So maybe you could bring the souls of some of those guys back to me? Just make their lives a little bit easier, you know? By killing things.”

Death sat back down at Gabriel’s desk, thinking. This didn’t seem so bad to him. Taking souls could get old after several millennia. This was very different from what he was used to. And Death felt he could use a change.

“You know what Gabe? I’ll do it. I’ll save some humans for you. But look, I want a better office, okay? I mean, it’s kind of bland in there.”

“Done.”

“And I need a coffee machine too alright? I get tired too, you ever think of that?”

“Okay, done.”

“And some vacation days now and then. And a raise. And be generous with it, or I might start giving out hugs to some villagers.”

Gabriel shook his head, muttering “You got it, Death.”

 

Posted in Short Story

Cookie Clicker

My grandmother made me some of the best cookies I had ever had. The chocolate formed chunks, and in just the right amount, and the dough was soft and warm as it came out of the oven. The smell would summon me straight to the kitchen. These were the best cookies I had ever dug my teeth in to.

Ten years later, and grandmother was in a coffin. She had died in her sleep a few days ago. My mother and I were there to clean up her house. Most of the furniture needed to be sold. The cat hair needed to be cleaned. The attic needed to be sorted, so that all sentimental things could be taken back with us. It was our job to get the house ready for the market.

“Have you found what you’re looking for?”

I turned around. I had not been much help that day, as I was spending more time looking through grandma’s old stuff, rather than helping mom pack things up. She found me sitting on the floor, cages and boxes shoved aside, looking through an old cook book with my back against the wall.

“You know those cookies grandma made?” I asked her. Mom smiled. “You think we could make some? I’m sure others would like them. It’d be a way for grandma to live on, you know?”

“Those were special cookies you know,” my mother replied. “Even if you do find the recipe, are you sure you could make them like she did?”

I knew I could. I spent so many days sitting at the counter, watching how she would beat the eggs, stir in all sorts of ingredients, and pour the batter over the baking sheet as a new kitty would rest in my lap. But she would always sprinkle something in, something she claimed would give it that extra oomph. That’s what she said at least.

I didn’t have a job. I had just graduated college with a degree in business. I thought about those cookies sometimes, how I had never found another like them. A year or two ago, I asked grandma why she never tried selling the recipe.

“Marcus, this isn’t the kind of recipe you can really sell,” grandma would say to me. “There’s enough cookie recipes out there, this isn’t anything special.”

“Grandma, I mean it. This isn’t just any recipe. You know what, we don’t have to sell the recipe, but we can make a business out of this ourselves. Open a bakery or something. We’ll start local, maybe make a website, I can handle all that stuff.” She never bought into the idea.

I flipped another page. Basic Chocolate Chip Cookies was written across the top of the page in grandma’s beautiful cursive. There’s nothing basic about this recipe, I thought to myself. I read through the ingredients. Several had been crossed off, numbers had been frequently changed, and notes were written on the side. It must have taken forever for her to make this recipe. I read through it. Eggs. Butter. White sugar. Vanilla extract. There was nothing out of the ordinary. It was, well, a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. And yet, they tasted so, so good.

Maybe it has something to do with all the kittens around here, I thought. Always a new one in this house.

I thought about it, then laughed to myself. What was I thinking? I opened up my laptop, still avoiding work. A new update had come out for cookie clicker, and I was looking to get back in to it now. 2.73 nonillion and counting. I really needed a job.

 

 

This story was inspired by the web browser game Cookie Clicker. Somebody, please help me stop this.