Getting Past The Glitch

Part 1 of 7

His eyes opened.

He blinked. Blinked twice, three, four times.

Stainless steel metal walls. An indented grid tiled the cold, silver walls, the floor, the ceiling. A blinding, singular beam of fluorescent lighting ran across the length of the ceiling.

Eric looked up and had to squint, and shield his eyes in recoil.

He looked down. no shoes, no clothes, just a hospital gown.

He cried, yelled, and screamed, and gazed at his trembling hands as he tried to remember how he ended up here. Again.

He felt put both hands on his own head, frantically feeling on his own skull, as if he was searching for something on the back of his head.

“Force Release!” He yelled, frantically.

The familiar, soft electronic tone sounded, and he heard a woman’s silky-smooth voice in his head say, “Are you sure? Please confirm by saying ‘Yes.’ ”

“YES!” he bellowed in frustration.

Eric’s headset returned to it’s home screen. “Power off,” he sighed, took his VR helmet off and threw it onto his bed as it powered down.

The smell of french fries, burgers, and hot summer air flooded in. A bright wave of sunlight made him squint again and turn away from the curtainless windows.

“Mom! It’s still not working!” Eric whined.

“What’s that, honey? Come get your lunch!” his mother replied from the kitchen down the hall.

Eric lazily trotted down the hallway.  His mother had a burger-filled steaming pan in one hand and a spatula older than her 15-year-old son on the other. She was most preoccupied with her new tablet, mounted on a necklace-like apparatus that held it about 10 inches directly in front of her face at all times.

“It keeps glitching, mom, it’s busted!” Eric said to his mother, paying more attention to a TV show streaming on her tablet than Eric or the stove.

“Hold on, just hold on… pause… PAUSE!” his mom yelled. The TV show on her tablet stood still.

“What is it, hun? Here, your burger’s ready–”

“The keeps glitching! It’s busted! It goes to a different reality. It happened three times already, and this time the External Release button didn’t work,” Eric said, ignoring his mother.

“Well, we can always return it if it’s really not working. But I thought I told you, you need to clean that room! Never mind some game,” Eric’s mom said as she set the table, “And do you remember what grandpa used to say about getting stuck playing video games all day?”

Eric rolled his eyes. “There’s always a way to get to the next level.”

“Yes, exac- wait, no! That was your head-up-his-ass father of yours! Your grandfather always said ‘there’s a whole world out there that’s not on your iPhone,’ ” Eric’s mother replied, in a rare moment of lucidity.

“What – what’s an iPhone?” asked Eric.

“Ugh… you sure know how to remind of my age, boy- they don’t teach you about the first smartphones in school?”

“Not really?” Eric said, half-sarcastically.

“Well they should! Now c’mon, take your food and go eat, I can’t cook and talk to you and watch my show at the same time.” said Eric’s mother, toggling between her corroded spatula, a hot pan and a plated burger and fries.

“So can we return this VR headset, then?” asked Eric, as he took the plate.

“We’ll see, honey, I’m falling behind right now and you’re not helping!” His mother said. She was anxious to keep up with the show on her tablet, mounted in front of her, like a high-tech harmonica.

“And you need to clean your room after lunch. Now eat, your food’s gonna get cold. PLAY!” his mother yelled at her tablet.

“Honestly, mom, it’s 90 degrees out. It’s not gonna get co-” His mother’s face-facing tablet was already drowning him out.

Part 2 of 7

Eric finished his lunch rather quickly, bolting back into his room after dumping his empty plate into the sink. He put his headset back on, determined.

“On!” he yelled.

The visuals of the VR headset illuminated once again, filling his gaze with the all-too familiar title screen of his most-and least-favorite game:

“ANOTHER LIFE VR” appeared on the screen in a minimalist, typewriter font.

The usual dashboard screen emerged: a black, worn, typewriter from the mid-20th century, with elevated, circular keys and an otherwise blank page ready with the words ‘ANOTHER LIFE VR’ written at the top center, in all caps. The typewriter sat on a dark brown wooden desk, with a stack of paper on the left, held down by a cigar box. On the right was a steaming white mug, presumably with virtual coffee inside. 

Eric tried to look around, and could only get as far as the interior of what looked like was a single-room cabin in the woods, with a twin-sized bed on a simple, metal frame in the far right corner. Next to it stood a beat-up looking wooden night stand with a lunchbox-sized transistor radio on top. It felt and looked as real as if he were really there, at least until the next version came out with better graphics and performance.

They could’ve done a better job with the main menu, Eric thought, as he felt the virtual breeze from an open window in the cabin, and the unmistakable smell of pine trees it carried in.

Eric moved ‘his hand’ to the stack of papers on the desk and said “Let’s pickup where I left off.”

The game took control, cutting to a quick cinematic snippet. Eric’s ‘hands’ switched out the mostly blank paper in his typewriter with the top sheet of paper out of the stack. The paper was rolled into the typewriter, and as Eric’s ‘hands’ started typing the first few keys, the screen quickly faded to black.

He was transported to his last save point.

The sun was out. Eric blinked as the brightness in his eyes made him turn away. He found himself laying on the grass, somewhere. He looked to the side and saw her, the usual flowing red hair, freckles, and piercing blue eyes.

“What’s wrong, Marky? D’ya nod off again?” said the red-headed young woman in an apparent British accent, laying next to him.

Eric looked around. A blue and white flannel shirt, light blue jeans and a tattered pair of black Chuck Taylors enveloped his ‘body.’

He glanced at his analog watch. The time read 1:03 PM – APR 23 – 89.

Yes! Eric thought, No more glitchy, psych ward checkpoint bullshit… for now, anyway… this stupid game…

“Right, yeah. It’s been a long day,” Eric said, in Mark’s voice-and British accent as well.

“S’about time! I was gonna give you a whack with my hardest textbook if you didn’t wake up! We’re gonna be late to class, again, Marky,” Emma said, as he just remembered her name.

“Right then,” Eric/Mark said, “guess we should get going. Maybe we should get an Uber,”

“A what? Uber?”

“Huh? what?” Mark/Eric said, trying to move past the moment.

“I don’t think I heard you right?” asked Emma.

“Yeah, erm, we should get a move on,” he replied.

“Don’t be so American! ‘Get a move on,’ how crass,” Emma said.

Whatever, your highness,” Eric/Mark said, relieved. “Shall we then? The Circle Line?”

Right on, dude!” Emma said, in her best Baywatch-inspired American accent.

He playfully punched her in the shoulder.

The ‘External Release’ button clicked on his VR headset. Everything suddenly went dark.

Part 3 of 7

Eric let out a growl of disgust as reality set back in. He pushed his headset up onto his forehead and saw back of his mother’s tablet, with her piercing stare a few inches behind it.

“What did I tell you earlier, Eric?!” she said.

“What the hell, mom?!”

“This room is a mess! Let’s go! I don’t care about your little game and what other life you’re living! You have one hour from now to finish, start cleaning up!”

“Mom, I was right in the middle of the game! That’s how that stupid glitch thing kept happening! I’m supposed to pause it and save it and then turn it off-”

“Alright,” His mom said,”well you can certainly do that, after your room is clean,” she said as she quickly snatched Eric’s VR set off the top of  his head, where it was resting like a pair of goggles.

“Oh come on!” Eric whined.

No, you come on! You’ll get it back in an hour, if your room is clean.”

Eric sighed.

“I’m going to start watching my show, — no wait, pause, PAUSE!” she said, after accidentally starting her show.

“If you’re done by the time it’s over, you’ll get it back then. If it’s still a junk yard in here, then oh well, you’ll have to wait,” said his mom as she trotted out with Eric’s VR set in hand, her tablet swinging back and forth on her neck mount.

The door slammed as she stormed out. Eric sighed and threw himself onto his bed.

He looked up at the ceiling and then glanced around his room. There were dirty clothes and a snake pit of old computer cords strewn across his carpeted floor, which hadn’t been vacuumed in months.

He thought about yelling at his mom, and calling her a hypocrite and a stupid bitch, but that didn’t go over too well last time, so he elected to ask her where the vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies were.

“Mom! Mom! Hello?!” Asked Eric, staring directly at her, standing across the living room right in front of the couch she lay on. She stared directly at her tablet, blowing her nose and wiping tears from an emotional scene happening on her show.

“Huh?!” she jolted slightly in her nestled space on the couch. “You’re not getting out of this, Eric! It’s only been 5 minutes, you need to give some real cleaning a try! PAUSE!”

“Where’s the vacuum?!” he asked. He knew the less words he used, the better when Relationship Island was on.

Jesus Atheist Christ! It’s in the closet under the stairs, where it’s always been! I guess I should be grateful you actually want to use the vacuum for once. Have fun, and stop interrupting my show! I swear, you kids today…”

“Alright-cool-thanks!” a freshly annoyed Eric replied rapidly, heading straight for the door under the staircase, right past the living room.

“Play! Max volume!” Eric’s mom said as her tablet’s volume increased, a tactic used to drown out any further sass Eric usually retorted with.

“Stupid bitch,” Eric said out loud on his way out, taking full advantage of his mother’s last countermeasure.

He opened the door under the stairs and saw the dusty, yellow and transparent vacuum cleaner. He grabbed it by the handle and wrenched it out of the sea of cardboard boxes and random trinkets stashed under the stairs.

Of all his friends’ houses he’s been to, his was the only house with a manual vacuum.

This thing has to be from like, the early 2000s, He thought as he rolled it behind him to his room. He cleared the rug of all his dirty laundry, throwing it into his already overflowing hamper.

Clearly anticipating his mother’s snowball of yelling to come about his dirty clothes, he dragged his hamper out of his room and over to the washer and dryer closet by the kitchen.

He looked at his wrist. “OK Google – search ‘psych ward glitch in Another Life VR’,” he said while loading the washer. Definitely a two-loader, at least, he thought.

Eric went back into his room, his energy level now climbing back to normal. He plugged in the vacuum and turned it on.

He was not ready at all for the vacuum noise. He turned it off immediately, just in time to hear his mom holler “CLOSE THE DOOR!” from the living room.

Eric slammed his door shut, asking himself Why can’t we just get a fucking Roomba?! and I bet noone’s touched his thing in years!

He turned it on again and got to work. After a few grueling minutes of rolling over his rug and floor, he turned off the outdated monstrosity and unplugged it, wrapping the chord around the vacuum as he found it.

Now back to hell, where you belong, thought Eric as he carelessly stuffed the old vacuum into the closet.

Part 4 of 7

Heading back to his room he looked at his wrist, forgot he googled anything and saw there were several recent results on his watch for ‘psych ward glitch in Another Life VR’.

He lay on his bed, aimed the edge of it at the wall over his bed, touched the side of it and said “Project.”

A blue laser grid quickly flashed on the wall, followed almost instantly by an auto-fitted projection of Eric’s search results, displayed from a small orifice in his watch.

“Scroll down,” Eric said, looking  for the most relevant listing. “Next page. Next page…”

Eric knew it wasn’t worth looking into too much at this point. The glitch had been coming up for weeks and he hadn’t found anything relevant on it yet. He clicked on anything resembling a glitch in the game, but nothing he found came close.

After a fruitless search of anything related to his ongoing game glitch, Eric finished one load of laundry and started another. He rolled up and organized a few of the old cords worth saving and then threw out the bulk of them.

His mother had fallen asleep on the couch, with her tablet apparatus hanging off to the side, also in Sleep Mode. He easily moved past her and reclaimed his VR headset before heading back to his room.

He folded laundry from his first load of laundry while the second one dried. Even with their differences, finishing his chores was his attempt to be honest with his mother, who was now snoring audibly from the living room.

His second load of laundry finished drying. While folding his clothes he realized how little of his school uniforms were making it into his laundry lately, and thought if he were to keep cutting days of school he had better get better at covering his tracks.

Eric felt like it was a close call earlier in the day when his mother asked about whether or not he learned about ‘the first smartphones,’ or not. He had been to school only about 1 to 2 times a week for the past month, catching up on homework in between days that he didn’t spend entirely engulfed in ‘Another Life VR.’

While folding the rest clothes he tried to dig a little deeper into the glitch that kept happening.

“Project,” Eric said, and his watch followed suit on the wall next to his bed.

“OK Google – Search for ‘Another Life VR support.’ Scroll down,” said Eric as he quickly dismissed the first few most popular links:

“‘Another Life VR’ Addiction – Knowing the Signs”

“‘Another Life VR’ Support Groups in your area”

“Psychology Today: The ‘Another Life VR’ Pandemic and Today’s Youth”

“Study: High School Attendance Plummets, Dropouts Increase Since Launch of ‘Another Life VR'”

He found right link near the bottom of the first page of search results: “‘Another Life VR’ Tech Support, Support Forums.”

He looked directly at this title and said “Open.” The web browser projection detected his eyes aiming at the link and opened it.

‘anotherlife.vr/support’ was deliberately vintage – styled like a website from the 2010s. There were text-clickable hyperlinks and hashtags, an actual mouse cursor that moved with your eyes, and links to ‘Share’ the site on Snapchat, Facebook, and other now-defunct giants of the Social Media Age. How ‘artsy’ of them, thought Eric, frowning at the harrowing inconvenience that lay before him.

He scoured the support forums while putting away the rest of his laundry. After browsing through nearly every category on the old-fashioned, website-style forums, he couldn’t find anything related to the recurring glitch he was having.

In a last ditch effort, he found what he thought looked like one of those old telephone numbers in their ‘Contact Us’ section.

Sighing at the idea of trying to use the old telephone system, Eric begrudgingly said “OK Google – Call 1-800-555-6193.” Eric said the number slowly and carefully, finding the word ‘call’ so foreign to say out loud.

He was startled by a repeated, wildly annoying sound that sounded like an old telephone his grandparents used to have, that was connected to a wire that came out of their wall.

The ‘ringing,’ as he remembered the name of the old sound, stopped after about 30 seconds, followed by a low-quality recording playing out of his watch, stating:

“I’m sorry, the number you have reached is not in service. Please check the number and dial again.”

Great, Thought Eric, Should have known a game about past lives would have an old phone number just for aesthetic.

Eric collapsed onto his bed, exasperated. He put on his VR headset and weakly spoke the words ‘Power On.’

Part 5 of 7

‘ANOTHER LIFE VR’ displayed, followed by the main menu of the log cabin and typewriter. “Pick up where I left off,” Eric said.

The screen faded to black, then instantly, he was Mark again. He found himself on the ground, face-to-pavement with a London sidewalk.

“Are you all right!?” Emma asked Eric/Mark. She looked shaken.

“Erm.. I’m fine. I guess I must have fallen,” Eric/Mark said, climbing back to his feet, dusting himself off.

“Marky – did you just blackout? Do you not remember anything?!” Emma’s eyes were watery, her voice quivered. Mark was surrounded by a few concerned onlookers.

“Take it easy son, don’t try to get up too quickly, now,” an portly, older black man placed his hand on Eric/Mark’s shoulder.

“Deep breaths, mate,” said another stranger helping him up on his other side – a young man his age in a leather jacket, with long black hair and spiked bracelets. “My sister’s an epileptic, too, she gets the spells quite often-”

“Sorry, but, I’m not following,” replied Mark to the Good Samaritans helping him up.

“You’ve had a seizure. You just collapsed and I didn’t know what to do,” said Emma, wiping tears from her strained blue eyes.

Eric/Mark remembered the way he had last left the game, and immediately understood.

“Marky. . . let’s get you to a doctor,” Emma implored.

“Er, no thanks, I’ll – I’ll be fine, Em,” said Eric/Mark.

“You’re joking! You just fell to the floor! You were convulsing for a for at least a minute! You were speaking in tongues!” Emma said, grabbing both of his arms, shaking. He had never seen her look so drained.

“It’s…it’s happened before, Em,” he lied, “I know it’s a scary thing to see, but I’ll be alright,” Mark said. “Promise, I’ll be alright.”

“Thanks, gents, but I’ll be fine,” Eric/Mark said to the two men who helped him to his feet.

“Snap out of it, Eric,” said the younger man, calling him by his real name, now with a clear American accent.

Their grip on him tightened. Eric/Mark’s vision flickered. His surroundings began to flash a metallic grey, a scene all-too familiar – the London street with his best friend-crush and helpful passersby began to flicker out, like a malfunctioning screen.

The two men who helped him up remained, but everything else had changed. No more signs of his previous environment. The two Good Samaritans in London were now dressed in nurse’s scrubs, wearing white gloves, firmly holding Eric on either side by his arms. Eric was himself again – not Mark in 1989.

“Eric. Eric! Are you with us, buddy?” The younger man with long hair asked.

“Force Release!” Eric yelled, unable to reach for the External Release button on his VR headset.

“He still thinks this is some kind of game,” the older black man, now one of the orderlies restraining him.

Eric waited a few seconds, and to his horror, the ‘Force Release’ command did not work this time.

Part 6 of 7

“Eric, you need to help us help you,” the older man restraining Eric said. “If you keep yelling and screaming like that, we’re gonna have to give you the shot, understand?”

Eric refused to acknowledge any validity to this reality. He resisted, squirmed, tried to break free.


“We gotta give him the shot!” said the older orderly. The younger one tapped a device on his right temple and mumbled “Code orange, I repeat code orange west corridor.”

“You need to calm down, son!” said the older orderly.

At last, a familiar tone came on that only he seemed to hear. The noise around him fell to the background.

Are you sure? Please confirm by saying ‘Yes.’ ” the familiar prompt asked him.

“YES!” he said.

Eric gasped and shot up out of his bed, transported back to the main menu.

He ripped off his VR headset and threw it against the wall with as much strength as he could muster.The headset hit the wall ‘face’ first, cracking the goggles’ front end in several places.

He sat there, endlessly gasping for air. He was in shock, hyperventilating, drenched in sweat.

After several minutes he got up out of bed, still trembling, and picked up the pieces of his now unusable – unreturnable – VR headset.

He looked around at his pristine bedroom. It was so much bigger and cleaner-looking than it had been in ages. His breathing was returning to normal.

He appreciated the calm silence around him, until he heard his mother snoring again.

“Project,” he said to his watch.

“OK Google – Search for ‘Another Life VR support,’ again” Eric said, repeating the search from earlier in the day.

Part 7 of 7

His mother arose a few minutes later, to find him in his picture-perfect room, sleeping soundly, tears running down his face. It was the first time since his parents’ divorce, nearly a year ago, that she could remember Eric sleeping without the VR headset on.

She saw the destroyed VR headset in his garbage can, and the last two articles  on his watch still open and projected on the wall above his bed.

He had opened the first two links he had overlooked before falling asleep:

“‘Another Life VR’ Addiction – Knowing the Signs”

“‘Another Life VR’ Support Groups in your area”

His mother was bawling. She was blocked by her tablet mount from covering her face.

“Power off,” she whispered, while smiling through a stream of tears. For the first time in just a long, she took her tablet’s neck mount off, as her  screen powered down.

She drew the blinds on his curtainless windows, shading him from the sunlight flooding the room.

She picked up his garbage can took it with her as closed the door behind her to his room.

Eric’s mother made her way to the garage and transferred the contents of Eric’s garbage can into the City Sanitation-grade receptacles. She threw her tablet and metal neck mount garbage bin right after.

“There’s always a way to get to the next level,” she mumbled to herself, “I guess his stupid father had a point.”

_ _ _

(The End – Thanks for Reading!)

Projection Lounge – Parts 1-5

Part 1

The green and white lights flickered and spun, showering the stainless dark floor with small circles. They bounced off several dozen bodies; some lights bounced off a shiny watch or flickered within the diamonds of an earring. The DJ played a calm, trancy mix within the minimalist yet chic medium sized lounge, nestled within the basement of one of the city’s most posh hotels.

She was at the bar alone, an after-work haven for many. She didn’t quite stand out in the mostly dark space as she casually sipped on a small glass, filled with ice and an indistinguishable clear liquid.

At 10 pm on a Friday night the mood was serene, yet yearning with potential. Eyes were floating around the well-known Projection Lounge. This place had a reputation for luring Manhattan’s youngest and hottest low-key millionaires. There were no five dollar beers or screaming sports fans here. She remained at her post, slowly sipping her drink and scaling the room.

Her legs were crossed as she sat at the on a bar stool, wearing a tight black dress and the most elegant black Prada heels, showing just enough of her toes to show a metallic silver pedicure.

A man in his thirties approached the bar. He had flowing, mid-length dark brown hair and wore a dark colored suit that may have been black or navy under the lounge’s atmosphere.

“Scotch on the rocks, please,” said the man, now more clearly wearing a navy suit and a light blue shirt without a tie.

The bartender quickly poured the drink, pouring the scotch in a counter-clockwise motion over a small glass of ice.

“Would you like to open up a tab, sir?”

“Sure, why not? And I’ll take a drink for the lovely young lady next to me, too. I’m Malcolm Griffin III, you may have heard of me before,” said Malcolm to the woman in black, now neighbors at the bar.

“Um, I can’t say that I have,” she coolly replied, “And I’m not interested in a drink from you, but thanks for not really asking.”

“I can assure I have no ill intentions, I just figured a young lady at the bar by herself with a glass of vodka might want a drinking buddy.”

She responded with silence and by turning away from the tall, handsome man.

“You know I hear you’re considered an alcoholic when you drink alone.” Malcolm persisted to try and grab her attention.

She again said nothing, carrying on as if his stool was empty.

“Another scotch, on the rocks sir.” the bartender promptly delivered his second scotch.

“Hey, I’ll tell you what, if you’re still that uninterested in me after one drink, I promise you I’ll leave you alone. I just think you’re breathtaking, and I’m glad you haven’t heard of me. Maybe it’s better that way, so you can see that I’m not so bad. Just one drink, how does that sound?”

She slowly turned her body to face him, crossed her legs and locked eyes with his. She waited just long enough to say:

“Sounds like something a guy says before he slips some kind of date rape drug into the drink he just bought for some ‘lovely lady.‘”

Malcolm’s face contorted. He looked surprised and hurt. He looked away, sighed and shook his head.

A silence followed, this time Malcolm was the one avoiding her gaze.

“You can have it if you want. I haven’t touched that drink and you saw the bartender make it, but if you’re going to make me out to be someone like that, then never-fucking-mind. Have a nice night,” Malcolm said, and walked away with his glass in hand.

She tasted the glass of scotch. It was a bit strong, just how she liked it.

A few minute had passed when she walked over to Malcolm, now sitting on one of the many dark purple, rectangular love seats that rounded almost every wall and corner of the lounge.

He was admiring the visual display projected on the wall next to the DJ and stage.

“Hey. I’m sorry about that,” she said, with a much friendlier tone than before.

“Sometimes I tend to push the right kind of guys away, but I can tell you’re genuine.”

“I appreciate it, but I’d rather hear your name, and how you like that scotch,” Malcolm replied.

“Stephanie,” she introduced herself,”and this scotch is pretty good.”

She sat down next to him, encapsulating his eyes into hers as she slowly sipped on her glass of scotch.

“Can I try yours?” Stephanie asked.

“Sure, although they are the same kind,” Malcolm said, as his previous spirits seemed to be restored.

She took a small sip of his glass, grimaced a little, and then stirred the drink a little with her ring finger on her right hand.

“Not bad, but it’s better if you stir it every now and again,” Stephanie said in her silky, confident tone of voice.

“Try it now,” she said as she stirred her own drink with her middle finger. He took a sip of his scotch on the rocks, now about halfway full.

“It tastes a bit more watered down like that, but to each their own, I guess,” Malcolm said.

“You have really pretty eyes,” Stephanie said, her ice cold walls melting fast.

“You have really pretty everything,” Malcolm said, with a smooth half-smile.

After a few minutes the music seemed to have gotten louder, as did everyone’s voices and the otherwise muted street noise outside.

Malcolm and Stephanie seemed to be hitting it off.

“Oh my god! I know where I’ve heard of you before. Didn’t your like, grandfather or something invent something really important? I’m sorry, I’m horrible at these kinds of things.”

“Well, sort of I guess, I don’t know how important they are now, but he came up with the idea of public phones. He patented the first pay phone and sold the rights to the big phone companies of the day,” Malcolm replied.

“That’s quite the family history, don’t be so modest!” Stephanie said with the green and white lights twinkling off of her smile and sea green eyes.

Malcolm smiled back, looking a bit more fatigued then her.

“So you must be some kind of heir to the throne, huh?”asked Stephanie.

“Eh, I try to not to flaunt it,” replied Malcolm, “I’d rather make my own name in something, something different. It’s hard to do that when I’m literally named after my grandfather and my dad,” said Malcolm as they both chuckled.

“How about you? What do you do?” he asked.

“I work for a few modeling agencies,”said Stephanie,”Maybe you’ll see me in a magazine or on TV one day.”

“I hope so,” said Malcolm, wiping sweat off his brow.

“Whoa, you’re really sweaty,” said Stephanie, her voice sounding half-concerned at best. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, it’s just a little hot in here, ” said Malcolm as he unbuttoned another button in his shirt.

“Could you go for another round?” he asked.

“That depends,” Stephanie answered, “Do you have that brand of scotch at your place?”

They locked eyes for a few seconds. “I’ll get us a cab,” Malcolm said, trying his best to play it cool.

_____  _____  _____

Malcolm’s eyes opened from an uncomfortable slumber. He heard an unfamiliar, rhythmic beeping and had to shield his eyes from fluorescent lights.

He saw two gray rails on either side of the twin sized mattress he was on. After blinking several times, he drifted back to sleep.

He remembered hailing a cab with Stephanie, telling the driver his address, and then ferociously making out with her in the backseat. His consciousness shifted between memories of kissing her, having his hand on the back of her neck, and feeling her hand reach into his pants on the way to his place.

His memory went dark.

He was lying in bed sideways, naked, covered only by his sheets, watching Stephanie get dressed. He couldn’t speak and couldn’t move at all, except for his eyes. It felt like a bad dream.

As she finished putting on her dress and heels he heard her talking to someone with her phone in hand. She was speaking a language he couldn’t recognize; the only thing he understood was her saying his address to someone on the other end.

His memory went dark again.

His eyes opened. Back on the hospital bed again. The rhythmic beeping was a bit more familiar.

He jumped up into a sitting position.

“Nurse! Nurse!!!” Malcolm frantically pressed the nurse’s alert button.

Three nurses came in, one woman and two men.

“What the fuck happened!? I want to speak to a doctor! Get me the fucking doctor!”

Malcolm tried to get out of bed, his face bright red, struggling to move.

“Sir! Sir, just calm down-”

“What the fuck happened?! What did she do to me?!”

“Mr. Griffin you have to stay in bed now!” The head nurse bellowed, drowning out his frantic yelling.

“Stop moving so much! You’re lucky to be alive. If you move like that you’ll rupture the stitches!”


“Yes sir, on your lower left side. The doctor will be here shortly to explain everything to you. There are also two detectives who need to speak with you.”

He sat up in bed, and reached around to his left side. He felt a jagged scar sealed with large staples around the area where his left kidney should be.

The news was on the old TV mounted onto corner of the ceiling.

“Police are on the lookout for this woman, last seen on security footage from the apartment complex of Malcolm Griffin III on the Upper West . . .”

Malcolm’s eyes locked on the morning news, displaying a grainy security camera photo of the woman he met the night before. He was more fixated now on ‘Stephanie’ than ever before.

Another memory from last night came to mind:

“‘I work for a few modeling agencies,’said Stephanie,’Maybe you’ll see me in a magazine, or on TV one day.'”


Part 2

“That bitch! That fucking bitch!”

Malcolm yelled in a rage, frantically shaking the grey rail on the right of the hospital bed.

The head nurse quickly left the room while the two male nurses pinned his arms down and urged him to calm down.

“I’ll fucking kill that bitch! Get the fuck off of me!”

The head nurse returned to his bed side with a large needle prepared.

“Turn him over,” she said, with an emotionless, militant tone of voice.

“Sir, we’re giving you a shot ’cause you’re presenting a danger to yourself right now. When you wake up, you will need to stay calm or this will have to happen again.”

“Don’t you fucking dare! I’ll fucking sue this whole hospital!” Said a red-faced Griffin, arms secured against his back, legs pinned, face down on the mattress.

“I’ll put all of you quacks out of a fucking job! Don’t you dare-” A jolt of pain, followed by a yell from Malcolm interrupted his threats as they administered a sedative by needle to his right buttock.

The effect was almost instant; his violent barking was reduced to heavy breathing, his limbs gave up the fight to leave the mattress.

He was gently turned over by the two nurses to a more comfortable sleeping position, pillow reset underneath his head and covers pulled over him. He fell into a deep slumber.

_____  _____  _____

Malcolm and Stephanie slowly staggered off the elevator to his condo. Malcolm slouched and leaned on Stephanie as they slowly walked toward his door.

“Have you ever done this before, honey? It looks like you can’t hang,” Stephanie asked Malcolm, with a menacing giggle.

“Uh, I . . . I’ve, I’ve done this. I wanna do YOU, Step-uh-nee . . .” Malcolm’s vision looked like an incomplete kaleidoscope, a mix of lights and colors that faded in and out with each closing of his eyes.

“Mmm, I think I hold liquor a teenyweeny bit better than you, big boy. Let’s get you inside,” Stephanie pressed her body against Malcolm’s, now semi-conscious, with the strength of a crash test dummy.

She kissed his dazed face, digging into his pockets.

“You’re so hawt, you’re like . . . yeah,” Malcolm said as she found the keys to his apartment.

“Show me to your bedroom, baby,” she said as she unlocked his front door.

“Come this way,” Malcolm pointed with one arm and hung on to Stephanie with the other, his one-night stand and human crutch.

They made it to his bedroom, as she let him collapse sideways on his king size bed. She left the lights off as enough moonlight leaked into the room from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The elaborate spread of Malcom’s liquor cabinet caught her eye.

“Hey sexy, how about that night cap before the real fun starts?”

“I dunno . . . I’m kinda fucked up, baby . . .” an almost fully sedated Malcolm managed to say, laid out sideways along the bed, arms and legs spread wide, struggling to keep his eyes open.

“Oh come on . . . take a trip on the wild side, you big, handsome man!”

Stephanie pulled up Malcolm by both arms, stirred a glass of scotch she just poured a few times with her ring finger on her right hand and fed it to Malcolm.

He swallowed the scotch. She lay him gently as he was before.

Stephanie visited the bathroom within his master bedroom, and turned him over on his  stomach. She unzipped her wallet and spread out a very small set of stainless steel surgical knives.

Stephanie called an unsaved number in her phone. A short conversation in Russian followed as Malcolm lost his slipping hold on consciousness.

______  _____  _____

Malcolm, sedated at the hospital, faded into another memory:

“Can I try yours?” Stephanie asked.

“Sure, although they are the same kind,” Malcolm said, as his previous spirits seemed to be restored.

She took a small sip of his glass, grimaced a little, and then stirred the drink a little with her ring finger on her right hand.

“Not bad, but it’s better if you stir it every now and again,” Stephanie said in her silky, confident tone of voice.

“Try it now,” she said as she stirred her own drink with her middle finger. He took a sip of his scotch on the rocks, now about halfway full.

______  _____  _____

Malcolm woke up in the hospital again.


Part 3

The bright lights blinded him, but didn’t startle him this time.

Malcolm slowly sat up, careful not to place any weight on his newfound wound. He coolly sighed and rang the nurse’s bell button, just once.

The head nurse entered his corner, single bed hospital suite once again. She was a short, older African American woman with short, curly, grey-ish hair and bifocals on the end of her nose. She came in with a tired look on her face, and looked at Malcolm like she had seen worse cases than his.

“Hello, Mr. Griffin, I’m Nurse Williams, Head Nurse for our ICU.” she greeted. “You slept for about two hours. How was your rest?”

A smug grimace engulfed Malcolm’s face. “I’ve had better.”

“Well, we’ll need to talk about what happened to you. You had a poisonous drug in your system last night and was in a sedated paralysis through the early morning today. Your left kidney was removed, it looks like it was by an organ poacher.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Malcolm replied with a deadpan tone, matching his expression.

Nurse Williams went on, unphased:

“Your housekeeper found you lying in bed soaked in your own blood. There were jagged stitch staples on your skin near your kidney area. The EMTs rushed you here, the surgeons here did an emergency procedure. You had  internal bleeding from the initial incisions before you got here. The doctors stopped further bleeding internally and replaced the bonding around your kidney area.”

A long silence followed. Malcolm let out a heavy sigh and slowly blinked and rolled his eyes, while shaking his head.

“The FBI has personnel guarding this floor. They believe you may still be in danger. You should expect a full recovery in 4 to 6 weeks. You will have abdominal pain, and of course on your left side, but after 1 to 2 weeks it will decrease significantly. The doctors will be keeping you until Monday morning at least to run tests and make sure you can walk out of here alright. You may need crutches or a wheelchair on the way out of here, we’ll have to wait and see. We are here to help, Mr. Griffin.”

A humble, slow motion head nod was his only response.

“There are two gentlemen from the FBI who have asked to speak with you when you feel able and ready. They’re interviewing the EMT crew downstairs. They interviewed the doctors who performed surgery on you earlier. If you like, I could-“

“Send them in,” Malcolm said with a tone as serious as his gaze.

“Very well,” said Nurse Williams. ” I’ll be back with them in a few.”

_____ _____ _____

After a few minutes the double hallway doors opened parallel to Malcolm’s hospital room. The smell of black coffee and wet trenchcoats filled the room as two detectives walked in.

“How ya doin’ Mr. Griffin, I’m Detective Santelli, FBI,” said the tall, bald man as he flashed his badge.

“Detective Horowitz, FBI,” the shorter, younger man did the same.

“We have a few questions about last night,” the older detective said.

“Well, that makes three of us,” Malcolm scoffed. “By the way, I assume this will all be off the record until we can arrange a meeting with my legal team.”

The younger detective said “Fine, sure. Why don’t you take us through the night? Whatever you remember.”

Malcolm began recalling the night out loud.

“I was at Projection Lounge. Met a beautiful girl at the bar. I offered her a drink, she turned me down and then changed her mind. We hit it off, had a few glasses of scotch. I felt kinda sick coming home. I passed out on my bed, woke up here.”

“Did you see her put anything into your drink at any point?”

“No sir not at all. She would just stir it with her fingers.”

The younger detective looked at his older counterpart with a slight nod and an ‘I knew it’  written on his face.

“Mr. Griffin, could you provide a positive ID on this girl?”

“Sure, I can pick her out, no problem.”

“We’ll be back later, sir.”

_____ _____ _____

The detectives returned a few hours later in the early evening. Malcolm began going through mug shots on one of the detectives’ laptop.

“No. No. Nope. No. Not her, either,” Malcolm said as he scrolled through mug shots of women who fit his description of ‘Stephanie’.

“Who are these people? These women who all look so similar.” asked Malcolm.

“We believe this ‘Stephanie’ character may be part of a group of Russian black market organ dealers. They’re called ‘The Poison I.V.’s’. They’ve been arrested time and time again but always avoid jail time somehow. They must have friends in high places. We have little to no idea who they work for, but the rumor’s behind these women are beyond anything I’ve seen,” said Detective Horowitz.

“Wait, what do you mean?!” Malcolm asked, a bit unsettled.

“There’s rumors that they work directly for the Russian government. Or wealthy elite of the world. Or both, whatever. They’re said to a be a secret squad of assassins and sell organs to the highest bidder, including Russian government doctors, these mad science freaks who want to test stem cells for human cloning, making perfect expendable human army clones, all that jazz,” Detective Horowitz said.

“What? So what are they gonna do with my DNA?!”

Detective Santelli chuckled. “Relax, kiddo, none of that is more then Horowitz reading too much bullshit on the internet.”

“Oh, fuck off, Santy-“

“Yeah yeah, all we know is they’re a group that works together and makes organ poaching a business. I wouldn’t take the whole conspiracy stuff too seriously.”

After the mugshot slideshow count getting into the hundreds the search seemed pointless to continue. Then, there she was, ‘Stephanie,’ with a stoic look on her face, in an orange Dept. of Corrections jumpsuit, staring straight ahead in her mugshot.

“Nope. Not her.” Malcolm said, fully aware of who it was. “No. No. Not her, no,” he carried on as they kept scrolling through shot after shot.


Part 4

After a day of questioning, the detectives assured Malcolm they would follow up in the coming days and left the hospital for the evening.

Malcolm rang the nurse’s bell around 11 pm. Nurse Williams came into the room.

“Yes, Mr. Griffin?”

“Miss, I’m sorry for my outburst earlier. It’s been a rough 24 hours.”

Ms. Williams chuckled. “Oh, you are a sweetheart. Don’t worry, you have had quite a day.”

“I never got to ask, was my cell phone on me when I was taken here?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Could you please bring it over? I have A LOT to catch up on.”

“Sure thing dear, one second.”

Nurse Williams came back and handed him a plastic sandwich bag with his special edition Android phone inside. He unlocked his phone with a fingerprint scan and 10-digit code.

Dozens of notifications poured in as his home screen unlocked. The time display read 10:48 pm. He set his phone from vibrate to silent and started typing in an international number from memory.

He ignored email and social media notifications while texting a code of random symbols and letters. He clicked on ‘Send’ and stared at his phone, feverishly.

The mystery number replied with the same string of symbols and letters.

Malcolm let out a sigh of relief, reclining in his propped up hospital bed. He set an alarm for 2:38 am.

He rang the nurse’s bell.

“Yes, Mr. Griffin?”

“Could I shower?”

“Well, that depends. Can you stand up on your own?

“I think so.” Malcolm began trying to get up-

“Hold on a second there, we’ll need a male nurse to assist you to and from the shower. he’ll need to be near you at all times, you’re not cleared to walk without a nurse.”

Malcolm sighed “Alright, alright.”

“Also, because you are who are, and what happened to you, there are still FBI agents here and one of them will be standing guard by you at all times.”

“Let’s just get this show on the road, please.” Malcolm said, trying to stifle his frustrations.

A male nurse entered the room, one from the previous day, and stood by Malcolm’s bed. He was a tall, buzzcut wearing, blonde haired, blue eyed colossus who dwarfed Malcolm in sheer size and muscle.

“Shall we try to stand up, sir?” He said in a thick, Russian accent.

“Yup, let’s go.” Malcolm slowly put his feet down into hospital slippers on the floor.

“Good. Let us walk slowly for now, sir,” said the Russian Fridge of a man.

Malcolm slowly shuffled to the shower and bathroom down the hall.

Already standing on one side of the door was a man in a black suit and tie with a clear ear piece in his left ear. He gave Malcolm a slight nod as he went in. The nurse/bodybuilder stood on the other side of the private bathroom, and made sure the door could not lock.

About 15 minutes later Malcolm hobbled back into his private room, got back in bed and got settled for the night.

“Could I have a wake up call at 7 in the morning, please?”

“Mr. Griffin, you do realize you need your rest, correct? It’s above my pay grade to deny you a wake up call, but I do advise against it. You’ve been through trauma. You should rest.”

Malcolm paused. “You know what, you’re right, Miss…uh Miss-“

“Williams.” she filled in the blank.

“Sorry, Miss Williams. Don’t worry about that wake up call.”

“Very well. I’ll be leaving soon ’til the morning, have a good night, Mr. Griffin.”

“Have a good one. You can call me Malcolm if you want. Thanks for everything.”

They exchanged tired, humble smiles as she left the room.


Part 5

Malcolm’s alarm rang at 2:38 am.

He woke up and silenced it after a few seconds. He lay back down, on his side, watching the time on his phone with an obsessive angst.

A few minutes later a deafening explosion erupted from the opposite side of the building. The sounds of shattered glass, fire alarms and nervous yells from staff and patients filled the 3rd floor ICU. The emergency sprinklers were set off .

“Agents down! Agents down! Secure the peri-” guns shots interrupted an FBI agents orders.

A quick storm of gunfire resounded, with one set of bullets firing much faster than a chorus of handguns. After about 30 seconds and one last scream of agony, the faster gunfire had the last word.

The giant nurse came into Malcolm’s hospital room, wielding a black plastic bag and an Uzi submachine gun.  He was dressed entirely in black, including a hood and face mask. He turned on the light as he walked in. The 3rd floor was now eerily void of human voices.

He threw a plastic bag at Malcolm with newly bought street clothes, and sneakers, all in black. He spoke to Malcolm in Russian:

“Poydem, moy drug,” “Let’s go, my friend.”

“Da, no devochki prinesli klon?” “Okay, but did the girls bring the clone?” ‘Malcolm’ replied in Russian.

“Eto bylo v morge. U menya ono yest’, nam nuzhno uyti, ser.” “It was in the morgue. I have it here, we must leave now, sir,” His apparent inside man affirmed.

He helped ‘Malcolm’ get dressed and carried him on his shoulder down the stairs, alarms blaring and sprinklers spraying to a backdoor toward the garbage pickup area.

A large black SUV awaited midway down and across the street.

The large ‘nurse’ carried ‘Malcolm’ the length of the walk to the SUV.

The lights were on in the car behind dark window tints. A faint shape of red plastic cubes with the biohazard symbol appeared to fill the trunk to capacity.

“U vas yest’ vse eto? Ona zdes’?” “Do you have all of it? Is she here?” ‘Malcolm asked while hanging over the Russian ‘nurse’s’ shoulder.

“Da, da, vse ob etom pozabotilis’.” “Yes, yes, it’s all taken care of.”

He opened the back seat and placed ‘Malcolm’ inside, like a father would place his child.

‘Malcolm’s’ eyes lit up once he saw her again.

Sitting next to him was ‘Stephanie.’ They embraced and shared several intense kisses. They hugged each other as tight as they could until he yelled in pain:

Ahh! Eto moya plokhaya storona!”“Ahh! That’s my bad side!”

‘Stephanie’ was crying. “Mne tak zhal’, chto ya prichinil tebe bol’, moya lyubov'”  “I’m so sorry I hurt you, my love,” she whispered to him.

“Vse normal’no. Nam nuzhno bylo sdelat’ khorosheye shou,” “It’s okay. we had to make a good show,” ‘Malcolm replied, while wiping away ‘Stephanie’s’ tears.

“My mozhem nachat’ snova seychas, gde-to v drugom meste.” “We can start over again now, somewhere else.” ‘Malcolm’ said.

The Russian ‘nurse’  put the SUV in drive and pulled away from the back end of the hospital. The car had international diplomat plates, a deterrent to any police attention. Police cruisers, swat team and fire trucks sped past traffic towards the hospital as they quietly they drove the opposite direction into the night.

_____ _____ _____

“… And now for a follow up on last night’s explosion at St. Luke’s Hospital in Midtown.

A powerful explosion rocked the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit around 2:45 am last night. Police have not yet ruled out terrorism as a cause for this attack. The blast came from a set of explosives rigged into the air vent system.”

The news showed an overhead helicopter shot, then to a reporter across the street from the main building. The whole block was diced with caution tape, local police, counter-terrorist units and ambiguous men in black suits.

“17 people were killed and 29 more were injured. Among those casualties were hospital patients, staff and police. Among those killed was Malcolm Griffin III, heir to the Griffin Telephone Company fortune, along with his security detail. He was in a private room  in the ICU, guarded by FBI agents when the blast hit. He was pronounced dead on the scene, although the medical coroner was said to be ‘Suspicious of Mr.Griffin’s actual cause of death.’ An autopsy will be conducted on Monday, according to hospital officials.”

“Demetri! Vasha rabota byla neakkuratno!” “Demetri! Your work was sloppy!” ‘Malcolm’ yelled to his right hand man, half-joking. Demetri barely reacted, shrugging his gargantuan shoulders while lounging on a recliner.

“Police believe this was a hit-job by an underground assassin group known as the Poison I.V.s, reported to be human organ dealers on the black market.”

‘Malcolm’, ‘Stephanie’ and the Demitri laughed at that line as their private jet flew non-stop to St. Petersburg. The three of them sipped champagne while watching the latest CNN briefing.

“The hospital’s morgue was almost completely raided of preserved vital bodily organs, many of which would have been used for life saving surgeries. This detail has raised suspicions that this heinous attack may have been carried out as an ‘organ heist’ by the Poison I.V.’s or a similar group. Police are searching for this man:”

The hospital ID photo of Demetri displayed on the screen.

“Nurse Boris Asimov is a recent employee and  person-of-interest in the St. Luke’s Hospital bombing. He has not returned to his job nor his home since reporting to work last night.”

Many grandiose theories exist about the ‘Poison I.V.s’, including spying for the Russian government, being funded by members of the global elite. They are also said to be spearheading a DNA reconnaissance program to perfect genetics in human cloning, and are rumored to even use facial reconstruction surgery on their members to hide their true identities.”

“Hmm, I don’t know, lady… all of the above?” Demetri said in English and threw his head back for a big laugh.

“Hey, Veronika?” ‘Malcolm’ asked her in English. “Yes, Mikhail?” she answered.

“Can we not take my fucking kidney out next time?”


Tightrope Walking

So close, yet so far once again, he was on the roof of the wrong building. He tried to open the door leading back downstairs; locked.

His back lay on the gravel and grit of the pebbles spread across the roof. Hands behind his head, the grey sky creeped along. Feet crossed, jacket unzipped and jeans ripped, he closed his eyes as the rain fell.

He awoke after what felt like an eternity. His surroundings hadn’t changed except for the sky, a smug grey now a cloudy black, save for the streetlights near and the skyline from afar. He turned his gaze from Manhattan’s lights to a solitary window, directly across from his rooftop sanctuary.

Window closed, lights on, white curtains parted, he began to regain hope. He knew those picture perfect curtains, just as if he had seen them yesterday.

The temperature was dropping. The cool Autumn wind was now a stinging gust, sure to be below freezing. His socks had some holes; his shoes had more. Underdressed, malnourished, and down to his last few cents, his long journey had come to a halt right at the end.

They had made arrangements before he left. Every night at 11:11pm, she would look out of her living room window, onto the street, waiting for him. Before he made the jump. Before he turned all his pesos into dollars, stuffed whatever he could into a tattered backpack and took off.

He said he would be there by September. Before he got beaten and robbed in Alabama. Before he narrowly escaped ICE in North Carolina. Before traveling from house to house, doing odd jobs for next to nothing. Before begging in broken English for 5 weeks in DC. He scraped money together for a Chinatown bus and a few calls to her on payphones.

As the November winds frosted his young face, she prayed and prayed, prayed and prayed again for him to get to her safely. A love she may have lost, but hopes to God she didn’t. She worked at the daycare in the morning and at the hotel in the evening. She said a prayer whenever she could for her love to come, but hadn’t heard from him since his troubled lips whispered “Te quiero tanto” on the phone two weeks ago.

Stuck on the roof, there he was, beginning to shiver from the frigid Northeast winds. He looked across to the white-curtained windows. He knew. He knew it had to be where she lived. He memorized her address, for the most part; he knew she was in apartment 5C. One street off makes a big difference when it’s below 30 degrees and are stuck on a roof.

He saw the roof doorway of the building across slightly ajar, light peaking through the cracks. A solitary cable ran from his roof to hers. He hoped with all his heart and soul it was hers; deep down, he knew.

He approached the barrier surrounding the rooftop. The cable connected the two buildings over their wide, adjacent alleyways, about forty feet apart. Looking down, he saw a 5 storey difference between the roof and the concrete floor.

Slowly, timidly, he placed both hands on the freezing cement ledge, brought both legs over, now sitting on it. He tapped one foot lightly on the cable; a thick cable, no shock, not slippery. He planted his right foot as firmly as he could. He felt his weight depress the cable. Adrenaline and fear consumed him unlike ever before. He knew the cable would bend, but not break under his weight.

He remembered the one time he went to the circus as a child, and cautiously lifted his left arm while holding onto the ledge with his right. As the sky decorated his filthy hair and clothes with light snowflakes, he knew that he had to find shelter. The shivering young man planted his left foot in front of his right, and let go of the ledge.

Before he knew it, one foot had stepped in front of the other; right over left, left over right, right over left, left over right. Small, balanced steps, he took, each leading him closer to the roof ahead. Arms spread, legs moving, he found an unexpected rhythm in his footwork. He focused on the cable ahead, not on the concrete floor below, and recited prayers to himself over and over. Right over left, left over right, right over left, left over right. A gust picked up over the alleyways, but he was not deterred. He had come too far to fail.

He reached the opposite ledge. He climbed over, arms chilled to the bone, and fell onto the opposite roof. He hurried into toward the door, not looking back at the aerial gap he had just conquered.

He ripped the door open to the warm, well-lit building. Down the stairs one flight, his stiff, wet legs descended, and he was on the 5th floor. He slowly approached the door marked ‘5C’, with tears already falling, warming his frozen cheeks. He rang the bell several times and yelled her name, a faint cry at best. He heard frantic footsteps and many locks unlocking.

The door opened. There she was.

They embraced like never before, with more passion then they ever would again. She had a rosary in one hand, cell phone in the other, with the time on the screen reading 11:11pm.

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