Thursday, July 5, 2012

Idea Number Two: Results

Prompt:: I will never show anyone what I keep in the box beneath my bed.


Courtesy of Nathan Burgoine

“We’re going to be late for the bus,” Derek called, ducking back into the bedroom. “You know how I feel about being...” 

Kenny sat on the bed, slender shoulders curled forward, staring down at the open box. 

“...late.” The word died on Derek’s lips.

Kenny held up the book. “What is this?”

Derek swallowed.

“This book,” Kenny said. “These papers... The... is this an iPad?” He held up the tablet. “Is it for one of your stories or something?“

Derek closed his eyes.

“Don’t do that,” Kenny said. “You only do that when you’re going to lie.”


“Open your eyes.”

Derek did.

“I’m on this,” Kenny said. He’d turned on the tablet. “And I’m in this book.” He was turning the pages of the textbook now, frowning at it. He scowled as he flipped forward, then backward again.

“It’s page fifty-six.”

Kenny looked up. His eyes were wet. Worried. Afraid.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

Derek stepped toward the bed. Kenny shrank back.

“Why would you write that?”

Derek shook his head. His throat was aching, and he had to blink quickly. This shouldn’t have happened. How stupid was he? “I didn’t write it. It was written...” He shook his head. “I didn’t write it.”

“That was the night we met,” Derek said. He looked down again, and found page fifty-six. “There’s a picture of me. Right here. And it says... It says that the night we met, the two men who assaulted me left me quadriplegic. And then, apparently, before I could continue my ‘pioneering work on the B.C. Offshore Wind Turbine Project’ I died of complications from a spinal infection.” 

Kenny’s eyes rose. Not worried now. Not afraid. Angry. “In your story, not only do I apparently get the job offer tomorrow, I’m a big hit right up until the point where I die. But that isn’t sad enough, right? I apparently need to be paralyzed before you do it?”


“What is the point of this?” he snapped. The cover of the book mocked Derek. Pioneers of Energy. “The iPad, the newspapers... Why did you have them made? Is this a joke? Because it’s a sick joke and it’s not at all funny.” Tears were spilling down his cheeks now. “I... I think I should go...” He rose, and slid off the bed. He was so slim, so graceful, even in this. 

“No!” Derek’s heart was thundering in his chest. He reached out for Kenny, but the slender man dodged his hand. But he paused. “I can explain. I can. I just... How did you even..?”

“You talk in your sleep,” Kenny said. “It was adorable.” He shivered. “Then you kept saying... ‘I will never show anyone what I keep in the box beneath my bed.’ Every night since I first stayed over.” He sighed. “I looked. I’m human. There was nothing there, but you had that rug under the bed and this morning, while you were in the shower, I just... looked under it. Loose boards, the box...” He held up the newspapers. “These are all stories about people dying. Cancer, murders, accidents... They’re all fake. What is wrong with you?”

The last words were the hardest yet. Not angry now. Disgusted. Kenny threw the pages onto the bed.

There was no protocol for this. Derek had had the rules drilled into him so hard he heard them like a constant mantra in his head – and apparently spoke them in his sleep. It wasn’t like he could ask for help. His next opportunity for recursion was months away...

Kenny was staring at him. Derek breathed. In. Out.

He was going to get in so much trouble for this.

“They’ll call and offer you the job on Monday. You accept – and this time there won’t be any delay for your rehabilitation. You’re whipcrack smart, Kenny. You’re going to do amazing things for the energy industry. Better than you would have been able to do the way it would have been.”

Kenny crossed his arms over his bare chest. Derek could see the gooseflesh as Kenny considered the words. Tried to digest them. Considered them – just for a second – at face value.

“All these other people,” Kenny said, jerking his chin toward the newspapers on the bed. “Who are they?”

“Candidates,” Derek said. “For a change for the better.”

“How..?” Kenny shook his head. “This is insane. Impossible.”

“They would have broken you. I showed up to make it different.” Derek watched as Kenny remembered that evening. Remembered how Derek had – in Kenny’s own words – ‘come out of nowhere just at the right time.’

“And then you seduced me, because..?” Kenny’s eyebrows rose high on his face.

Derek blushed.

“I take it that wasn’t part of the plan,” Kenny said. 

Derek shook his head. “No. I’m supposed to be a complete recluse and stay away from people, other than... Other than the candidates.”

“So that’s why you said you were a writer?”

“It’s a credible cover.”

“Why me?” Kenny said.

“Because you had so much more to offer than you’d given.” Derek paused, considering. “This project... My group... We’re building something better.” He looked at Kenny. “And all the quanta show the world is better with you.”

“If that’s a line, it’s pretty much the best line.” Kenny bit his lip. “Like, ever.”

“It’s not a line.” Derek smiled. “It’s the truth.”

“Okay, see, that’s even sexier. God! I thought you were too built to be a writer. Are you like some sort of soldier?” His eyes brightened. “Oh! Is your name really Derek? Are you sure it’s not Kyle?”

Derek frowned. “What?”

“Not big on movies where you’re from, eh?” Kenny frowned. “Or, I guess, when you’re from is more correct.”

“Are you okay?” Derek asked.

“I just found out I was supposed to die. You may have to give me a few more minutes.” He flinched when he realized what he’d just said.

“That’s my job,” Derek smiled.

“Okay, seriously... That’s an even better line.”


Courtesy of Timothy Forry

I lifted her skinny, atrophied legs with one hand and felt beneath her bottom with the other.

“You’re wet.  Why didn’t you call someone?”

She turned her head and looked at me with rheumy eyes.  Stringy grey hair surrounded her sagging, wrinkled face.  She hissed at me.

“I urinated on myself.  It’s what we do.  Old people and babies.”

“Well, now I have to wash you, change your clothes, and bedding.  There’s a button by your bed, Ms. Kirchner.  All you have to do is press it and someone will come.”

I reached beneath her back and legs.  I lifted her off the bed.  She couldn’t have weighed more than 100 pounds.

“Don’t ‘Ms. Kirchner,’ me.  You can call me Roberta.  We’re not in school anymore.”

I recoiled as I set her down in the wheelchair.  She never let on that she remembered me.  Her moments of clarity were further and further apart, but were usually reserved for a distant past; from long before she became a teacher, even.

She let out a dry, wheezing laugh.  She scrunched up her eyes, staring at me.

“I don’t remember your name, but I do remember that you thought the Battle of Hastings took place in 1225.”

She cackled at me, pounding the arm of the wheelchair.  Apparently, this was hilarious to her.  I felt my face flush, embarrassed.  I ripped the pink comforter and white sheets from the bed and tossed them to the floor in one angry motion.

“1066.” I said.  “1225 was the year the Magna Carta went into effect.”

That shut her up.  For a few seconds.

“Someone got through to you, James.”

“That’s not my name,” I sighed.  “It’s Greg.”

I walked around her and gripped the handles of the wheelchair to take her to the bathroom to get her cleaned up and grab a fresh gown from her closet.  She turned around in the chair and looked up at me.  She smiled.  It was the smile that she reserved for someone in her past, not for me.  She had slipped back in time.

“James, I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me, too,” I responded, playing along.

She reached up behind her head and caressed my hand.  Part of me felt guilty for leading her on, but I knew she would forget this moment in a few minutes.

“Your secret is safe, James.  I’ll never show anyone what I keep in the box beneath my bed.”

I turned the wheelchair around and backed into the bathroom.  Now, I was really curious about who James was and what secret she was keeping for him.  In all likelihood I would never find out.  All of her worldly possessions were in this tiny room at Cedar Hills Nursing Home.  There was a clock with different types of birds pictured for every hour.  In a few minutes it would be nine o’clock and we would hear the call of the goldfinch.  There were five ceramic bells on the window sill that she had collected during her travels.  The small book case beside her nightstand held history books and photo albums.  Other than that, she had a scant amount of clothing in her closet.  I had never seen any sort of box in her room.
“So, everything is safe?’  I asked as I reached over to the silver knobs to turn on the water in the bathtub.  I held my hand under the water to test the temperature, and then faced her.  She wore a quizzical expression.

“Everything?” She asked. 

Then, as if a giant eraser had appeared from the air and wiped the chalkboard clean, Roberta’s eyes glazed over and became vacant.  Her chin fell to her chest.  She muttered.

“I’m wet.  Get me the nurse.”

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