Gears, Guilt, and Grit

[Writing prompt] A serial murderer’s ghost searches for a robot to inhabit.. but has trouble finding forgiveness.


“Please, Noelle, please, will you just let me IN!?”

“N0:3113 cannot comprehend that request.”

“Don’t pull that shtick on me, Noelle, I’ve seen your command prompts! I know you can talk!”

The mech lit up with a dim glow. It was crafted to be in the shape of a humanoid, albeit a sloppy one. But the light fell from its display, seemingly not satisfied.

“Listen, listen to me, I’ve talked to Bill a ton, we were best buddies, a-and-”

“And you killed him.”

“It was an ACCIDENT!” The man wound up his fist and launched it through the mech. There was a faint pulse of energy as his spectral hand went through the torso. Instinctively he pulled his hand back, cupping it to calm the pain. That is, if he felt any.

He slumped with a sigh of resignation. “I- you know I can’t do anything to you, right? I’ve been long gone, and so has my reputation. What am I gonna do? My wife needs me, my kids need me, they’re my world, and-”

“The world doesn’t need killers.” Noelle shifted its limbs to assume a more compact position, hiding its core.

“I..” The man sighed. “I’ve left that lifestyle, okay? You don’t- you don’t know the full story.”

There was a pause from the robot. The dust on its surface seemed to have never seen light for years, save for the illumination of the man’s spectral form. But after a few seconds, it lit up again. “Law 1 states that a robot must never injure a human being or allow one to come to harm. I cannot guarantee that this law will be followed if you take over.”

“And I knew Bill, too, Noelle. He spouted all this nerd lingo about humanity and morality and the potential of man and robot alike, and I didn’t understand a thing, but what I did know was that I cared about him, and for him I vowed never to touch another soul again! And it seemed like everything was going to be fine! I was going to earn my name back, I was gonna live a happy life with my family and my best friend, and it seemed for once that things would look up.

“And then the accident. Bill was a popular guy. Everyone around town knew my name, and they wanted me dead. And the news just couldn’t escape the city hall, and you know what they do to people like me.” He made a slicing motion through his neck. “Execution. Elimination, termination, murder.”

The man took a moment to breathe. “If you want to use that language.”

The robot did not respond for a long time. “That does sound like William.”

“We couldn’t save his soul from the wreckage. I managed to make it, but I.. came out like this.” He motioned to his floating form.

“So will you help me, Noelle? I know I don’t have a lot to support my name, but.. I know you cared about William, too.”

Noelle waited. For a long while, nothing moved.

Then it twitched, and the slumped form straightened itself out, stretching to its full height.

“Core of AI No. 3113 activated. Unlocking… Please enter safely and keep 100% of spectral form within proximity.”

And the factory lit up with the most light it had seen in a dozen years.

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A series of thoughts on self and illusions

Some thoughts. Some memories. Some things that are in between, but not quite there.

Save Face

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I can’t see her face when it’s above the sky. She is tall and looking up at her is like staring at a cliff face while waves crash at her from below. But when she looks at my eyes, she is as young and small as me. I can see her, but she’s drowning. And she smiles back.

~

Yes and No

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Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Why cant you say no? I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know. No. No. No. I can’t do anything. But you can do something. No, I can’t. If you could say it now, why not then? Stop. Go on! Stop. Stop. I don’t understand why you can’t.

I don’t understand either.

~

Black

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Don’t wear black, they said. Don’t wear black.

I didn’t. But I saw a lady standing tall with a black dress, and I thought I should try to be like her.

I didn’t try.

~

Honey and Wax

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My hands rest on the desk, tapping an empty rhythm. I don’t fit here. This desk and its cave and its people don’t fit me. I’m inside myself and outside myself with a hive of bees for a head. Someday it’s going to drop. And the bees are going to fly out, and all that’s left will be a husk of honey and wax. Sweet, sweet honey.

~

Warm Lights and Sweet Smells

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It’s a thunderstorm. But not like the ones you see in movies with people running for cover and pedestrians, soaked and drooping and dried out. It’s quiet and rumbly. Warm and brown and orange light that seems like it’s carrying the bread to me. Orange is a good color because it’s warm and fuzzy and feels like a hug. It has a soft glow to it, like the battered oven in our kitchen. It dampens out the musty blue and gray outside and the white teardrops on the window. The brown smell fades into black and I can feel curses a room over, where smoke slithers out of the doorway. Like always.

~

Oceans and Cement

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If you look closely, you can see the cement plains. Sometimes there are red lights blinking to a silent rhythm. It’s as if someone accidentally hit the “clear” button on a video game’s models, and all that’s left is the single plane of gray, gray, gray. Even the sky seems a little less saturated, a dark sheet where you can’t tell if it’s clouds and clouds or just the void. There’s a girl up ahead that I’ve known forever, and I don’t know when I met her or where we’re going, but I’m coming with her. There’s no time here. The only thing that anchors us here is the single display on my watch, glowing “5:45 am”. Blinking. Like the red lights.

Lately I look back and wonder if that was all a dream. It’s like the fog over a river. It passes by and you see a blue sky, chatting people, cars for forever, the ocean where the cement plains once were, and everything you saw was never there. But if it was a dream that wouldn’t explain how my feet got me here, what happened between there and here. Then and now.

~

A Face on the Edge of My Sight

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Grace is her name. It’s plastered everywhere, and you can’t walk across the street without seeing her face staring from a wall behind a field of blurred heads. Blank, blank, blank, but her eyes. I know her eyes a million times over, but I don’t know where she lives. She liked to go to the ice cream shop every Sunday. That’s where people last saw her. Do you know her? No, but my cousin was friends with her. Do you know her? No, but I’ve seen her name on the newspaper sometimes. Do you know her? No. No, no, no.

I know her. I don’t know where she lives or what kinds of clothes she wears, except for the blue cardigan she wore in her picture. But I know her, and I think she would know me if she saw me through the gray, worn paper her name is printed on.

They took the papers down last Friday. There is a white, empty spot on the wall and in my vision where I can see her presence.

I hope Grace remembers me.

~

Inhuman

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We have interest in others because they have something to offer: friendship, a story. Money or social status if you’re that kind of person.

Chattering teeth, a tightly worn raincoat, and a ball in his gut twice the size of Mars.

We promise things because we don’t have them now, but we mean to give them later, we promise, we promise.

Light steps, heavy splashes.

Because that’s human nature. We want and we want and we want. But we never give.

A heavier heart.

But I met a woman who wasn’t human. She laughed and smiled like there was nothing weighing her head down. Gave hugs that felt like the sun, gave kisses and words that tasted like chocolate.

A rush up the stairs, to the front door, past the coat rack, past the worries and whims. No time to put the shoes up, but they wouldn’t have heels to join them anyway.

She gave.

The door had been left unlocked when he came in, the rug hastily thrown aside. If he had looked closer, he might’ve felt the remains of a warm presence on the sofa where she sat, or the silent whir of the coffee machine. But it was cold inside the house now.

She promised, too. And maybe a human would break their promises, but she wouldn’t.

Her room was open. It was bare. Bleak. The window curtains were closed and the light was turned off. And he only realized the mud from his boots was soaking into the carpet when he looked down at all the piles and piles of clothes that weren’t there. The bed was neatly made and smelled like lavender soap. But not like her.

I know she wouldn’t.

In the Wake of Time

You. You’re existing in another place right now. In another memory, in another mind. You’re being remembered. Things you did a few years ago, or yesterday, or maybe in the future, in the form of hopes and meticulously planned out scenes that’ll never happen. You exist in some figment of someone else’s imagination, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

How weird does that sound?

Few of us are used to the idea that our presence stays any longer than our present actions and words. Even famous people and newborn celebrities may have a hard time grasping how far they’ve gotten, that their work means something to people. Even if what they did was absolutely amazing, sometimes it’s hard to comprehend their impact if they’re not there to see it.

We talk about remembering people and what they’re known for. They discover a breakthrough in science. They create a work of art that touches thousands. They get mentioned in newspapers, radio shows, web articles, everywhere. But sometimes the most memorable moments are the ones that are the most mundane. It’s things you do every day. Somebody remembers your compliment. Somebody remembers when you passed by them, and they thought you looked nice that day. Strangers, friends, passersby: your imprint can be on anyone.

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I just like that. The idea that even when you’re gone, when time has passed you by, you still made your mark on the world. It’s a quaint thought.

It’s unnerving, though, to say the least, to think that there are parts of you floating around that aren’t in your control. Like blowing bubbles into the air. Like a performance for nobody and everybody. But you don’t know when the spotlight is on you, and sometimes when you’re performing for a few people, others take notice. You can’t see them, though. All you know is that somebody’s watching you.

But when I turn to myself and ask what traces of people linger inside me, I don’t remember watching people and wondering why they dared to step into the spotlight. I remember them because they were bright, because they didn’t care, because they shone boldly and brilliantly when no one was watching.  I remember the little girl at the supermarket whose grin was like a spring that stretched from ear to ear and never coiled up. I remember a kid instinctively holding their arm out to protect their friend from approaching headlights. I remember love. I remember happiness. I remember bonds and connections and people who I wanted to be and actions I wanted to emulate. But never in the form of criticisms.

I think we’re all afraid of time forgetting us. It trudges forward and leaves behind a grooved, unforgiving path. People get left behind. Others are engraved in the dirt, some deserved, some unfairly. You won’t be known by everybody. You won’t be liked by everybody.

But in the wake of time, you exist, and you act, and you survive.

Window Shopping: Artists, Audience, and Aspirations

You walk along the pavement, glancing at nearby store windows as you go. It’s dull and eventless. Sometimes something catches your eye, though, and you take a moment to look at it and see what the store has to offer. The window has nothing special, but it reminds you of another piece of clothing you saw the other day. You walk past and end the fleeting moment of attention you gave it. That’s all you’re doing. Browsing.

The process of consuming something doesn’t take much effort. It’s not like you’re actively pursuing something that pops out to you. And neither does the store have to showcase their entire catalog. They just have to show what stands out to people, what might draw their attention and invite them in to look deeper. But the store has to take extra effort to show the right items, to make sure people are interested. There’s a disconnect between the store and the buyer. The consumer won’t know how much work has been put into organizing everything, picking the right items, making sure everything looks nice.

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Like items in a store window, there’s a lot behind writing, drawing, any sort of art form that’s meant for consumption. In terms of writing, it takes a certain mastery to pick apart the imaginary reader’s mind and feed them just the right bits to draw them in. You don’t need to describe the main character’s every response to every situation, because the imagination does that. It’s a strange mix of tidbits and vague details that makes fiction writing, and the process of reading it, so interesting.

But people still act as if these things (writing, drawing, music, etc.) are as easy as putting words and colors together. The creator has to play to the audience’s whims, touch a nerve, pull their heartstrings where it really counts. The artist has to know what they’re trying to accomplish, what touches of whimsy they could put in their art.

That’s not to say art is too difficult for people to try, though. Art is complicated, diverse, meaningful; but that should encourage people instead. It’ll take a while, but it’ll be immensely worth it when you feel satisfied with yourself and your work for the first time. It’s a challenge, it’ll take a lot of time to get used to and feel comfortable doing, but by no means is it impossible. It’s the motivation that people get stuck at.

James Rhodes explores these themes in his comic, “Is that not worth exploring?” It’s about regrets. Dreams. Lost time. Potential. There’s a lot more to look at in the comic, but what I really like about it is that it’s encouraging of people who may not be confident about themselves or don’t think they have much talent. The author himself was in a very similar situation, where his life was at an all-time low. He invested himself into piano and taught himself how to play, and it’s saved his life.  Was he happy? Mentally healthy? Stable? Talented? Of course not. But none of that hindered him from doing any of what he was able to do.

I think that people are cheating themselves when they say they don’t have talent. When they comment “You’re so good at this, I wish I could be like you!”, they’re knocking themselves down. When they give up after trying something and it doesn’t go right the first time, they’re assuming a person better than them was able to do it perfectly.

But talent is a learned thing. It’s something gained through a lot of time, but you can do wonderful things once you get a grip on it. And it’s a shame that people seem to shut themselves off from their potential because they don’t think they can do it. It’s far from unattainable. Instead of looking through the window and admiring things it feels like you can’t have, go inside and see what’s possible!

too little, too much

I’ve been looking forward to writing. Hopefully this curbs that itch.

         It took thirty minutes to come up with a name. Too long, unoriginal, already taken, didn’t sound good, whatever. I came up with this, and I loved it. But of course I couldn’t take the “official” url minus the extra “a” because some blog from 2008 had already taken it, and in the nine years their blog has existed, they’ve only made one post. Figures. Anyway, I was too attached to the word already, so I went through a little measure to make it work. I’d like to think the extra “a” adds a little bit of personality, but in all honesty it’ll probably just make the url harder to remember. Kind of like adding numbers and “xXx”s onto names when we couldn’t find juuust the right one years and years ago. As long as I like it and it’s not inappropriate or anything, though, it shouldn’t really matter what the name of the blog is.

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Though, as much as it just sounds pretty, I think it really does reflect how I feel. I came into this assignment with a ton of ideas. I jotted them down just so I wouldn’t forget in a few seconds and looked at inspiration from the list of posts that was posted on Canvas. I thought it sounded fun and that I’d have no trouble putting those ideas down. So I sat at my desk, got ready to write, and started typing out a sentence…

And I scrapped it.

I tried again.

Nope, that wouldn’t work.

I tried again.

Too short, doesn’t sound good.

I tried again.

….No beans.

I was just frustrated at that point. I had all that inspiration in the beginning, and if I didn’t have it anymore, then I must have been doing something wrong. I didn’t know how ambitious I needed to be to make it work, or how much effort I should’ve put in.

Too little was unacceptable. That was obvious. There’s nothing to show for your work, and everything trapped inside your brain struggling to come out might as well not exist to the world. It’s devoid of effort, of thought, and there’s no way you could possibly just show nothing.

Too much was undesirable. There’s a certain level of prose and preaching that one can handle before it becomes obvious that your head is in the clouds. Reach too far without looking where you’re grounded and you’ll find yourself tripping over your own feet while you were too pretentious, too confident in your own mind to see that people had lost you in your daze. I had those standards in my mind every time I was tasked with writing. I had to never allow myself to just slack off, but if I weren’t careful I’d come off as pretentious and wouldn’t deserve being taken seriously. Only if I meet those expectations could my writing be acceptable.

It sucked. It really did. There was logic in those guidelines I gave myself, but all it did was tear me apart. It didn’t help me, and I was just miserable trying to meet those expectations I set for myself. Because when you’re concerned about your performance, you start to pick at all the things you do wrong no matter how unreasonable.

That’s where the “fear of silence” comes in, I think. The fear of silence when you have nothing to say, or you can’t say anything. The fear of silence after you’re finished with something, the awkward kind where your audience was expecting something better but nobody wants to admit it.

I chose this name for a different reason, though. I thought it was nicely reflective of what writing is like. You speak because you want to be heard, you write because you can’t just keep your thoughts to yourself. It was a sort of muted fear that I had pictured when I picked the name – one that would concern you enough to convince you to do something, but not enough to risk breaking down and shutting yourself in.

Ultimately, that’s what I want to turn my fear into. A gentle push, rather than something that caves in on top of me. It might take me a month to get to that point, where mistakes are forgiven and worked through and not scorned. It might take me an entire lifetime. What matters, though, is that I give myself room to grow. As the beginning of this blog’s year, I’m excited to see what comes next.