“so what do you see?” asked marie.

they had been in the art gallery for about an hour at that point. marie had dragged jason to see the latest painting she had fallen in love with, and, to be honest, he didn’t really think much of this latest passion of hers. “i don’t know,” he answered. “impressionism never really made much of an impression on me.”

jason’s attempt at humor was rewarded with a swift punch to the arm. “jason, these paintings are so highly priced for a reason. the artist is renowned for his ability to capture human emotions precisely. i’m sure you see something.”

“i’m sorry,” i replied. “i’m trying really hard, but i can’t really see anything. why don’t you tell me what you see, and i’ll try and figure if i see the same?”

“well, i see a vast loneliness, a desire to be free of this loneliness, and an anger at the emptiness. note the bold brush strokes,” marie concluded.

“uh huh,” jason concurred, “i do see that.” it was a lie. he stole a glance at the brochure that he had picked up on the way in, and saw that the painting was named happiness. so much for marie being an art critic.

“so, honey,” asked jason. “how much does it cost?”


“so what do you see?” asked dr. williams, holding up the ink blot.

“hmm. that’s an interesting one.” replied carl. “i see an egg smashed against the ground, with the yolk running out all over.”

“and now?” dr williams changed to a different picture.

“well, on that one i see the splatter of a bug against the windshield.” he interrupted the doctor as he was about to change the slide. “honestly, doc, how long do we have to keep this up?”

“well, carl, you came to see me because you had been repressing issues for a long time, and you felt that you were on the verge of exploding. i’m trying to get an idea of what form this explosion might take.”

“you’ve shown me about a thousand ink blots in the past forty minutes, doc. you must have some idea by now,” pleaded carl.

“you’re right, carl,” said dr. williams, putting down the ink blots. “and to be honest, i’m trying to be completely sure, because the picture i’m getting is not a merry one, to say the least.” he took off his glasses. “now let’s go over some history. you’re parents got a divorce when you were 12, correct?” carl nodded. “and, as you told me earlier, you never forgave your father for having an affair and breaking up your family. and then your mother married a man who used to abuse you physically. and ever since then, you’ve been stressed out most of the time, correct?”

“yeah, doc. you know all this, and you also know that i’ve never really opened up to anyone about any of this – before you, that is.”

“i understand. unfortunately, while your coming to see me was a good idea, it may have come a little late. you should have come to see me sooner.”

“why, doc? what’s wrong,” asked carl, concerned.

“well, i see vestiges of aggression hidden inside you. there’s an anger in you, an anger born of all this repression, and while it hasn’t manifested itself yet, i don’t know how much longer that will be the case.”

carl was resigned. he had been feeling this anger boiling inside himself for a while. “so what now?” he asked.

“we continue our sessions. as i said, this anger is born of repression, so the best thing for you would be to open up as completely as possible to me. we need to work through all the issues and pain you’ve been repressing. i’m afraid that’s the only way to deal with this. of course, you understand that there is no simple and quick solution to this.”

“yeah, i understand,” said carl, rising from the chair. “same time next week, then?”

“see you then,” said dr. williams as carl walked out of the office.


“so what do you see?” asked the voice on the radio.

“i see the fulfillment of all my desires, all my needs, and the only path to my happiness,” replied another voice.

richard’s one secret was his love for soap operas. when he was home, he watched them all afternoon on tv, and when he was out driving his cab, he loved to listen to the radio versions as well. for good measure, he had several CDs filled with audio of soap operas lying on the seat next to him all the time, in case the choices offered on the air waves were limited or not to his liking. he generally did not care what his passengers thought about his sole obsession. it helped him focus on his driving, and it helped him keep his indifferent cool most of the time.

this afternoon, however, he was slowly losing his cool, and the soap operas were not helping. he had been on the beat since eight in the morning, but since the inauguration of the subway, he had been having trouble finding passengers. today had been tremendously bad. he had only had two passengers since the morning, and both of them had only needed short rides. he was due back at the garage in just under four hours, and he hadn’t made enough to pay off his daily rent. on top of that, he had been stuck in dense traffic for almost an hour, managing only to move a couple of inches.

“22,” squawked the walkie talkie lying next to him. “come in 22.”

richard turned down the volume on the soap opera, annoyed at the interruption. however, the dispatcher would only call him in an emergency, or if she had a fare for him. “go ahead, dispatch,” he replied.

“are you still in the downtown area, 22?” came the answer.

“that’s an affirmative.” richard liked using police lingo over the radio, because it made him feel like he was doing something significantly more important than driving a cab.

“head to 22nd and 8th,” came the reply. “fare’s waiting for a ride to cranton.”

richard did a quick mental calculation. cranton was about 40 miles out, a suburb lying on the edge of the city. with this traffic, it would take about an hour or, if he was lucky, an hour and a half. that would more than make up for his daily rent for the cab, and he would have enough left over for dinner and beers at the bar that he frequented. then he cursed to himself. getting to 22nd and 8th meant taking a right turn at the next light, but he was in the left lane. but he could do it. in ten years of driving cabs, he had learned a trick or two. luckily, he was at the front of his lane.

when the light turned green, he was ready, speeding out of his lane and making a quick right, ahead of honking cars that were in the correct lane. he was going too fast to see the man attempting to cross the street. by the time richard managed to stop, a crowd had already gathered, and a policeman was hurrying towards his stationary cab with a determined look on his face.


“so what do you see?” asked carl.

they were at his favorite spot in the universe. he had discovered it on one of his long drives, and since dr. williams’ diagnosis, he had been coming here more and more often, because of the beautiful view, and because it helped him relax.

they were parked on top of a cliff, with the sea stretching out in every direction below them. they sat in his car, watching the sun set on the horizon. the sea gulls were in a flurry of last minute activity, cawing at each other futilely. more importantly, the entire scene was devoid of any other human existence – no traffic, no noise, and no pollution.

“i see eternity,” replied marie. “i see a vast sadness, yet i also see a semblance of hope, as if the sun will rise again, and everything will be all right.”

“so what next?” asked carl. “you’ve won five million dollars in damages from the cab driver for causing your boyfriend’s death.”

“i wouldn’t have won it without you. you were brilliant, especially in your closing arguments to the jury.” she looked at him, and he thought he saw something in her eyes that he had never seen before. he looked away, embarassed.

“well, you know, that is my job,” he admitted. “so are you going to leave the city now?”

“no,” she replied. “i still work here, and i can’t afford to leave.” there was a long pause. “so, what do you think?” she finally asked.

“about what?” he asked, confused.

“when the sun rises tomorrow, is there hope for you and me?” she asked, looking into his eyes again. he was sure now – in the past ten months that he had represented her, beginning with the criminal case and through the entire civil trial, he had sensed something blossoming inside her, something more than just professional respect.

“that may not be such a good idea,” he replied.

“why not?” her eyes were pleading now, and he thought he could see a hint of tears.

“don’t get me wrong, marie. i would jump at the chance to be with you, because i’ve slowly fallen under your spell the past few months. but it wouldn’t be fair to you. i have problems – i can’t really explain, but they need to be solved.”

she reached out and took his hand in hers. “what ever it is, i’m sure we can work through it together.” she leaned over and kissed him. he kissed her back, eagerly, and pulled her close to him. neither of them wanted to be the first to let go.

they pulled apart after a while, reluctantly.

“so,” said marie, snuggling up to him, “what do you see?”


author’s note: i’m pretty sure that sucked ass. oh well. had to get something out of my system to make sure i didn’t have only three stories in me for the rest of my life. the next ones will be better, i promise. leave your thoughts.

club rio

…i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you
the way you walked
the way you talked
the things you used to say
i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you
i couldn’t say
for sure today
whether your eyes were blue and grey
i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you.

i’m through
thinking of you
i tell you i’m through
thinking of you

i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you

oh, what a lie
i shall think of you, think of you, think of you
till i die…

her voice cut through the haze of cigar smoke and the dim lightning like the sound of thunder on a clear summer’s day. i sat up straight in my chair, entranced by the sound of the voice boring towards my ears through the mist that surrounded me. i looked around – others had been equally affected by the singer’s voice, and were paying attention to her, instead of to their hastily abandoned conversations.

the year was 1987. i had been coming to the jazz club regularly for about ten years now, and this was the first time i ever heard someone of her caliber perform there. the usual fare of semi-talented musicians had passed through the doors, and had never stayed too long on stage. with her, i could tell that this time it was going to be different. the club would not let her go until her talent had taken her to the lofty heights that she was destined to reach.

her name was rachel armstrong, and she was new in town. she had grown up on a farm outside the city, and had travelled to the city to earn her keep through singing when the farm had closed down due to massive losses caused by the recent drought. i thanked nature for its mercy, as without the droughts she would never have had cause to leave the farm and would never have wandered up on stage at the club to delight us with her voice.

at the end of her performance, the applause was deafening. the crowd, mostly regular attendees, stood together and applauded her till she finally walked off stage. lubricated by the alcohol they had consumed en masse and fuelled by the soulful performance, the audience could not show enough appreciation for the music. i agreed wholeheartedly – i only wish my claps were more audible over every one else’s applause, because i had spent years searching for someone like her.

when she finally proceeded backstage, i left my table and walked towards the dressing rooms. i had to find out all about her, and how often she would be performing, because i planned to be there every night that she sang, just so i could soak up the radiance of her voice. i wound my way through the corridors that made up the backstage area until i found myself near the dressing rooms. the area was in a state of apopleptic chaos – everyone was talking in excited whispers and hushes about the performance, some genuinely appreciative of her talent, while most were more worried about their future with the club. i couldn’t care less about these selfish “musicians” who claimed to have talent that was never revealed when they were onstage.

i walked into her dressing room to find her seated with the manager of the club, who was having difficulty finding words to express his admiration. “my god, that was amazing,” i heard him say as i walked in. “i’m so glad i decided to hire you.” dear old mike. couldn’t stop praising himself for a second. no matter. rachel was a star that was soon going to outshine this crummy little joint, and there was nothing he could do about it. “i’m prepared to offer you a permanent job here at club rio. twice a week, an hour-long set, full publicity, the works. i’ll pay you twelve hundred bucks a month.” i cursed under my breath. mike was offering her much less than she deserved. i was shocked when she agreed, but then i realized that twelve hundred bucks must seem like a lot to someone who just arrived in the city from the brink of destitution. no matter. mike would have his hands full trying to keep other jazz clubs from poaching her from him, and in a few months, when news about her spread, he would be paying her much more than that, just to keep her on board.

mike left, and i sat in my chair, watching her remove her make up. she didn’t seem to mind my presence, which i appreciated. so many other performers felt annoyed when i came to speak to them, brushing me away like a mosquito. rachel, however, did not have a problem with my sitting there, just watching her. i was glad for that. besides, i couldn’t think of anything to say, because her performance had left me speechless. not too many other singers had ever done that before.

she got up and left shortly after, but not before i had found out where she lived – a rundown section of the city, famous for its crime and vagrants. i didn’t feel worthy enough to walk her home, so i watched her leave through the back door, followed by the envious stares of the other performers. i returned to my table, to watch the rest of the performers, all of whom i doubted could measure up to her performance. i was right. i left about an hour later, walking out the main entrance, the walls of the corridors lined with pictures of distinguished members and musicians who had played at the club and reached some sort of fame elsewhere.

rachel was back twice the next week, and twice a week after that for about three months, seducing everyone with the sound of her voice. i was surprised to see that every day the cigar smoke seemed to be thicker – it seemed that news of her talent had already spread, and she was drawing larger and larger crowds with every performance. i still had no difficulty getting my regular table, but there were many more new faces at the club every time. i tried to express my annoyance, but to no avail. mike was too happy with quantity, and didn’t particularly care about quality. i couldn’t blame him. rachel was a gold mine that he had just begun to tap, and he could therefore be excused for his behavior.

i didn’t see much of rachel outside of her performances for quite a while. mike, already worried about his competitors, had hired two large body guards who drove her to the club right before she went onstage, and then hurried her out of the club at the end of her performance. therefore, i was pleasantly surprised to find her sitting in the audience one day, watching the performers. it was a wednesday, and she wasn’t scheduled to go onstage, but her love for jazz had drawn her to watch these mediocre fools who were not even half as talented as she was. i thought i would mention that to her, but before i could sit at her table, she was joined by mike and her bodyguards, who took up all the empty chairs. dejected, i seated myself at a table near her, instead of taking my regular seat near the stage. no big loss. i was too focused on rachel to care about what was going on on stage anyway.

mike was his usual happy self, displaying the bright smile that had not faded from his face since rachel’s first performance. he was commending her on her skill, and her talent, and her voice, but i knew mike well enough to know that he was commending her on bringing in all the money he had made since her debut. selfish bastard, i thought to myself. i wondered if he was still paying her twelve hundred a month, or whether he had given her a raise yet.

rachel smiled at mike benignly, and i could tell from the look on her face that she was paying more attention to the music than to what he was saying. she seemed much happier now, and was still amazingly beautiful, even without the make up or the sleek red dress she wore on stage.

mike, suddenly devoid of any more praise, tried his best to seduce rachel. it was a disgusting sight – an overweight, bald man trying his chances with what was certainly a siren from the gods. rachel seemed not to notice, and i felt my heart leap at the thought. surely i wasn’t falling in love with her?

after several minutes of pathetic lines from mike, rachel decided to change the subject. “i’ve noticed,” she began, “that the table nearest the stage is always empty. why is that, michael?”

mike snorted. “well, you see rachel, one of the chief reasons this club stands here today is because, a few years ago, this slightly…er…eccentric jazz bassist named colter smith left his entire life savings – over 3 million dollars – to the club when he died, on the condition that that table should always remain unoccupied, in case he ever cares to visit. and since the money is in an account overseen by his lawyers, we have to accomodate his wishes. lord knows that that money has come in handy for repairs, maintenance and on the several occasions that this club nearly shut down for lack of profits. plus, the story is a fun one to tell new members, and adds to the atmosphere of the place.”

“interesting,” said rachel, and for a while she kept silent, listening to the music, while subtly evading mike’s attempts at seduction.

half an hour later, she rose. “i have to leave now, mike. i’ll see you on friday. oh, and can you save a table near the front for my husband? he just got back from the war, and he’ll be here to see the show.”

i was shocked, as mike probably was also. a husband? she was married? i had never even considered the possibility, probably because of her spouse’s conspicuous absence for so long. but then, of course he was off fighting for our country in the war. i was dejected, i have to admit. i had been feeling the first pangs of love for rachel, and it was difficult to come to terms with the fact that she could never be mine.

i sat in the club for about fifteen minutes after rachel and her entourage left, followed by a very eager to please mike. i felt i needed a walk and a breath of fresh air – stale cigar smoke, dark lights and jazz was suddenly not the kind of atmosphere i wanted to be in. i would, of course, be back on friday to watch rachel perform, so there was that comfort at least.

i walked out the main entrance, past my picture hanging on the wall. i noticed the plaque below it needed cleaning – one could hardly read the words: colter smith, 1923-1977.


Lyrics to song borrowed from Agatha Christie’s Yellow Iris.


“Don’t look up.” The words still reverberated in my head as I woke up in the morning.

What was that dream about? I couldn’t remember, no matter how hard I tried. It was getting increasingly difficult to remember the dreams I had since I had started drinking. I was convinced I wasn’t an alcoholic, even though the nightcaps I took before heading to bed became more frequent. For the past month or so I had been waking up with a hangover, but I felt I was getting used to it. Nothing a couple of Tylenol and two shots of whiskey couldn’t fix.

But what was that dream all about? For an instant, I felt I remembered the entire dream, but then it was gone from my mind, as if that part of my brain had tripped some invisible switch and turned off right away.

I shook off the thoughts and walked into the bathroom to look at my face in the mirror. For the past six weeks, since I’d been diagnosed, I did this every day. This morning, it seemed the worst. The disease was eating me alive. My eyes were sunken and my cheeks were hollow. My chin, usually inconspicuous, jutted out like the Rock of Gibraltar. I wondered whether anyone would notice at work. I didn’t think so. I had heard everyone talking behind my back about my “alcoholism” and how I needed help, even Gina, who had never said an unkind word about anyone behind their back. Well, fuck them all. If they didn’t have the decency to come and ask me what was wrong, I had no reason to tell them.

I brushed my teeth and decided to shave. Halfway through what had become a conditioned reflex over the years, I cut myself. Immediately I was gripped by this paranoia that I wouldn’t stop bleeding. I gripped the side of the sink to keep myself from falling over and fainting at the thought. Slowly I watched in the mirror as the blood trickled to a stop. My hands wouldn’t come near my face after that. No matter; I’d go to the office half-shaven.

In retrospect I guess the fear of dying had been with me since I walked out of the doctor’s office, stunned and in shock. But I didn’t want to die in such a pitiful manner – I didn’t want to find my half-decomposed body lying in the bathroom, naked and bleeding from the face. I wanted to die in a peaceful, glorious manner – so that I would be buried with the beginnings of a smile on my face. Going to bed one night and not waking up would be much more graceful than dying there and then in the bathroom. Trying to push the thoughts of my death out of my mind, I went back into the bedroom and downed four shots of whiskey in quick succession. To hell with it.

I went to work as usual, and spent the next nine hours listening to whispered conversations outside my cubicle about my health. I headed home and hit the bottles right away.

I died that night in my sleep.


For a while I didn’t realize I had died. I walked into the bathroom the next morning when the alarm went off and tried to look at my reflection in the mirror. Instead of my pale, haggard face, I saw my body lying lifeless in the room behind me.

I couldn’t comprehend what exactly was going on. I looked back into my bedroom, and saw that the mirror wasn’t lying – I was lying in bed. I tried to touch the sleeping form, but my fingers just couldn’t make contact with the body. In an instant, I saw that I wasn’t alone in the room – there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people around me, all of whom I could see. All of them seemed to be quite distant, but still gave me expectant looks, as if they were waiting for me to do something. There were people of all ages – a woman carrying a baby, a child holding a toy, an old man with a cane, a man in a suit with a briefcase. They were stuck in some sort of instant, unable to move forward or backward, all staring at me as if I was supposed to do something. Then I heard the voice.

“Go on, follow them.”

I turned around, and behind me stood a man, robed in white. “Walk with them,” the man urged.

“Who are they?” I asked, still very confused and slowly growing nervous.

“They are the ones who died the moment you did. Their souls cannot reach their final destination unless you join them.”

So I was dead? So my wish had come true, and I had died in my sleep? I turned to look at my body, and the face had the beginnings of a smile on it. Just the way I wanted it to be.

“Go on,” the man repeated behind me.

“Just one more minute,” I insisted. I couldn’t take my eyes off my dead, lifeless body.

“I know it’s hard to tear your soul away from the body that has housed it for so long. But you must proceed. Your soul, and the soul of all these others, must get where they need to go.”

Fuck all the other souls, I thought to myself. I was dead. My body was now just an empty shell, soon to be overrun by insects and disintegrated. I wanted one last look at the body that I had taken for granted all my life. Fuck the man, too, whoever he was. Who did he think he was to give me orders?

As if he had read my mind, the man sighed. “Look, you’re my last one. Don’t make this anymore difficult than it has to be. I’ve had to drag all these people away from their bodies and get them here, and now you’re holding all of us up. So do me a favor and hurry up and walk.”

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m the one responsible for getting all of you to your final destinations. So please, turn around and start walking!”

His voice made it obvious that he was losing his patience with me. I took one last long look at my body and turned around and started walking.

“Good,” he said. “It’s not long. And remember, don’t look up.”

The phrase sent shivers down my spine. The dream seemed to leap back into my consciousness, but then jumped out again. I started walking.


I don’t know what happened after that. I walked in the direction the other people were facing. Immediately they all started moving as well. The people in front of me seemed to walk into my wall, and so it seemed to be the reasonable thing to do. I walked through the wall, and immediately I was in a huge dark tunnel.

I followed the people in front of me blindly for a while until my eyes adjusted to the light. The man who had spoken to me was in front of the line. I looked around me. I realized that the walls of the tunnel were covered with rubies, diamonds and emeralds, arranged into intricate designs throughout. Light bounced off the gems and formed patterns on the wall. Suddenly I heard the whispers.

“If you think that’s something, just look up at the ceiling.”

“The ceiling’s even more beautiful – beyond your wildest imagination.”

“Check out the ceiling – it’s more beautiful than the freshest flower or the best painting.”

Every step I took, the whispers increased in number and in volume. Soon my head was filled with the reverberations of a million voices, all imploring me to look at the ceiling. I tried to keep my head down, but everytime I looked at the floor, the voices increased in volume even more, until my head was filled with shrieking voices. Unable to bear it any more, I looked up at the ceiling.

The ceiling was nothing beautiful. I felt a tremendous flash of heat on my face, and the brightest light blinded me. My neck was stuck – I couldn’t look in any other direction anymore. I was transfixed by the light.

Several moments later, I felt something running down my cheek. I put my hand on my cheek to wipe it off, and with the hand came a chunk of the flesh on my cheek. I stared at my hand in horror for a split second.

I began to scream.


At the front of the line, the man heard the scream, paused for a second, and then kept walking. The man in the suit and with a briefcase asked, “What was that?”

“Don’t worry about it. The last soul we salvaged was just extinguished,” said the man, and kept on walking.

“And you aren’t going to do anything about it?” asked the incredulous woman with the baby.


“Why not?”

“Because that’s the way it’s meant to be. One soul is destined to be extinguished before we reach your final destination. Only by sacrificing one of the souls can we open the gates to your final destination.”

“What will happen to him?” asked the man in the suit.



“No. His soul will dissipate and will be added to the energy of the universe.”

“And no one knows about this?”

“Only the ones who’ve walked this way before you. On Earth, they think it’s just a routine voltage fluctuation.”

And with that the man kept walking.