LJ Idol - Week 2: Living rent-free in your head

Personal Jesus

           Unceremoniously I plunge my knife into her. The blade moves down, a strap is flayed, a glistening spot of flesh is bared to the moonlight. This sight is a long lost lover. Her nudity is soft and bitter against my tongue. In words only she understands, apologies fall from my lips. She has suffered my neglect for too long. The cooling breeze shivers her leaves and her fruit falls for only me. I pluck her offerings from the ground and place them in my brass collection bowl, their seven reflections gleam with auras of life. With the strap of bark clenched between my teeth I walk from the courtyard and back towards my home, brushing a dangling noose, my failsafe, from in front of me.
              With age comes resilience, our bodies learn to fight off the foreign invaders that wish to bring us harm on a cellular level. We adapt to survive. That is until the day that our age belies us and our bodies become too elderly to defend themselves. This is where she comes in. My old friend. My ancient love.
              So long it has been since performing this ritual that I’m astonished I can still recall the process. Christ is looking down as I light the candle and place the pot of sanctified water over its flame. I drop the strap of bark inside the pot, where its knowledge will steep. I hiss when my knees meet the wooden rung in front of the altar. This was made for a younger man, I think. A man with more to lose.
              With closed eyes and slow fingers I grab an apple from the brass bowl, bringing it to just before my lips and whispering to it. “You are that which all horde. The driving force behind thievery and war. I shall keep you from my brothers lest I starve.” My teeth tear into the flesh of the apple and sweet juice runs my chin. There is no savoring; just devouring. Devouring every bit of it from skin to seeds to stem.
              People are reckless. They’ve adopted the mentality that transactions take place only inside the world of commerce. There is little care given to the emotional, spiritual transactions they make everyday. The universe is one of checks and balances. The scale always needs to be zeroed out.
              My sticky hand reaches out for another piece of fruit, finding it and bringing it to my lips. “You are that which all desire. The driving force behind adultery and whores. I shall have you.” This one is savored bite by bite. Not a fleck of flesh or drop of juice misses my tongue.
              It is the fool who thinks he can get away with anything. Memories have their own tricks at keeping the truth alive. Even if the crime scene is cleansed, you are your own star witness.
              To the next one I whisper “You are not as good as those before or after you. The juice inside you is bitter. If I hadn’t picked you I would be all the better.” With this I bite and chew and spit until the whole apple is rendered into a mush in the palm of my left hand that I blindly dump into the top of the kettle. I know I’ve hit my mark when the hot water splashes onto my hand.
              I’ve heard the depravity of man and woman alike be recounted with a subdued glee. In the shadows I’ve watched that flick of happiness dart through their eyes, twitch their lips. That upturned lip when they say they cheated on their husband. That hopeful stare when they say they molested their child. That nearly imperceptible happiness at the memory of gangbanging Brenda at the company party in lunch room while their boss recorded.
              My vestments are as good a place as any to wipe my hand clean before groping another apple into my grasp. I whisper “You are not worth my effort. You drive nothing. I shall leave you to rot.” With that, I place the apple on my altar, believing it to be below the feet of Christ.
              This ritual, like so many others, has been borrowed from Pagans. Those undisciplined heathens left too much room for individual interpretation, scrapbook religion. With us, you just get to sit back, listen, and relax. Let the big man take the wheel. He has all the answers you seek. Call the hotline. Be absolved.
              To the next I scream, “You are fire in my palm and brimstone on my tongue! The driving force behind all that is to never be again! I shall devour to defuse you!” This one is consumed in three massive bites, the last of which threatens to choke me. I fight it down, but it leaves me coughing and gasping for air.
              Checks and balances. Good and evil. Consent and rape. Truth and lies. Yin and yang.
Antidote and poison. Pleasure and pain. We create the darkness we want to see. There are no demons. There is just intention.
              For a moment my hand can’t find the next piece of fruit. My eyes threaten to open, and though I don’t know if that will ruin the ritual, I’m not willing to give up so close to the end. Finally my fingertips graze flesh and I roll it into my grip. “You are the best of the best of the best. The driving force behind emperors and empires. The knowledge contained in a death rattle. I shall prove I’m better.” With my head tilted back and mouth open I hold the apple up and squeeze. Nothing happens. I had worried this would be my hardest challenge, my strength not being what it once was. But I squeeze until my arm shakes, until my fingers burn, until tears roll from the corners of my eyes, until a small stream of juice falls into my throat. When I eat my quarry, I do so delicately, like one eats anything they’ve worked to gain.
              Six gone, one remains.
              They don’t teach you any of this until you’ve fully committed to your vows. Some say the church’s best kept secret is the truth, if they only knew the half of it. If they only knew how we only serve God in the sense that we serve humanity. We are licensed sin eaters, and every sin eater has to purge them eventually.
              I grab the final piece of fruit as if I could sense where it rested. “You, you are more than I need. The driving force behind extinction and famine. I will consume you, not because I must, but because I can.” The noises I make while eating this one sound perverse, pornographic. Even my collar is damp with juice by the time I’ve let the last pulverized seed slip down my throat.
              Seven apples for seven sins. The opposite of the holy sacrament. An unholy communion. I breathe deep, knowing that this last step is the largest gamble of them all. If I performed everything up to this point properly the candle beneath the pot will have burned out and the water within will have cooled to a point that will not cause my throat to blister. I can’t think about what exactly will happen if I rushed this, I can’t open my eyes and lose faith in myself. I grab the kettle and put the spout in my mouth, one breath through the nose before I tip it back and chug, chug, chug. The temperature is perfect. The liquid tastes just how it should, disappointing.
              My stomach starts to turn. The acid is boiling. The bile is clawing its way up my throat. My knees explode with fresh pain as I move from the altar. Shift by aching shift I crawl my way towards the bathroom, where the tub sits half full of holy water, not blessed by the power of God, but by the good intentions in me. Groping out to find my way, I can taste the darkness on the back of my tongue, feel it pulling at every fiber of my being. I can hear it screaming in my ears. “These fucking people and all of their weaknesses. They come to you so they can sleep better at night. If they know of the visions you have in your sleep, would that make them stop?” Yes. “No!” Yes. This is my lot. This was my choice. Like father, like son. “They think Jesus was real. They don’t realize that people are dying for their sins every goddamn day.” To hell with you.
              Only after my hands meet the rolled edge of the tub do my eyes open and pitch black vomit spews from my mouth. The water bubbles. There is smoke. The water bubbles. My chest feels empty. The water toils. My spirit feels light. If the anguished whispered screams are in my mind, I cannot tell. The water clarifies. Slowly, I push myself against the edge of the tub and stand. My joints feel better than they have in months. Carrying around the darkness of others gets exhausting.
              This is the reason for my life of celibacy. Negativity has a way of implanting itself in the most innocent minds. There are other ways to cleanse oneself, ways that make newspaper headlines and bring apologetic statements out of the Vatican. Innocent hearts can kill evil as quickly as the holiest of water.
              I look at myself in the mirror and forgive myself of the bitterness I directed towards the sinners that place their burdens on me. A bell chimes in my room. I pull free from my dirty vestments. Standing there, in my clean black suit with a slightly yellowed collar, I force a smile into my worn down face. I walk from the mirror and back to my room, past the altar where Christ looks down, past the sloven apple. There is no one in the chapel when I enter, but I hear a muffled cough from across the room. I stroll over to the confessional and open the center door, take my seat inside, and slide the screened partition open.
               “Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been six months since my last confession.” She says.
              I smile. “Tell me your sins, my child.”

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LJ Idol - Week 1: Resolution

Say Cheese

1: The Call

            “Do you see that?”
            “It’s Dad, isn’t it?”
            “Yeah, of course, why?”
            “Because I took that picture yesterday.”
            “Haha, okay.”
            “I’m not joking.”
            “So what, you edited him in, big deal. It looks real, you did a good job.”
            “Ian, I didn’t fucking edit him in. I took the picture and I printed it out.”
            “What are you trying to say, Becca?”
            “I’m saying that I took a picture and Dad’s ghost, or spirit, or whatever is in it.”
            “I’m not buying it. I think you’re trying to pull one over on me. You’re trying to get me all worked up and then you’re going to tell me how you can’t believe I’m such a rube.”
            “Jesus, do I sound like I’m trying to fuck with you?”
            “You sound panicked.”
            “I’m freaking out over here.”
            “Are you smoking again? Mom would flip.”
            “What do you think she would say if I could show her this picture?”
            “You’re not joking, are you?”
            “Ian, just get over here.”

2: The Camera

            Becca’s apartment always made me uneasy. She called it an artist's loft; I called it a previous heroin den. If she had just decided to get a real job, even a minimum wage part-time one, she could have lived somewhere that broken glass didn’t litter the streets like parade candy. I used my key to get into the street level door and made sure to lock the bolt after I was inside. The stairs always seemed to me like they were going to crumble to dust at any moment and I thought of that as I walked up them, just a small tremor before I vanish into a cloud of concrete misery. Her door was cracked open when I got to the top of the stairs, I rapped my knuckles on the frame before pushing my way in, “Becca?”
            “Back here!” She called out from deeper in the space.
            There she was, on her hands and knees with dozens of pictures spread over the battered wooden floor. A lit cigarette was clenched between her teeth as she crawled around picking up the photos one by one, shaking her head and tossing them back down. “I don’t get it. I don’t fucking get it.” She said to herself.
            “What don’t you get?” I asked, walking closer and looking down. Some of the pictures were of landscapes, most of them were just of buildings.
            “Every single one of these is wrong. Three dozen shots and not a single one makes any damn sense.” The cigarette bobbed as she spoke and a large ash fell from it to the floor.
            “You’re going to burn this place down if you don’t watch that.” I pointed to her mouth. “How don’t they make any sense?” I hadn’t looked at them from closer than six feet in the air and she looked at me like I was the crazy one for asking the question before she looked back to the floor.
            “Okay, this one for example.” She plucked one up by its corner and held it out to me as if it might burst into flames. “Look at it.”
            I did.
            “No, take the fucking thing and look at it Ian! Look at it and tell me how fucked it is.”
            I grabbed it as carefully as she offered it and stared at it. “It looks fine to me sis.”
             “Does it?” She pulled the cigarette from her mouth and dropped it in a beer can. “Does it really?
             “Yeah, I don’t see what the big deal is.”
            She jumped up, and half ran towards the wall of iron framed windows that faced the harbor and downtown. “Come here. Come stand right here.” Her finger stabbed the air, indicating a spot on the floor. “Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t you dare roll your eyes. Get over here and look out the window.”
            “What am I looking at?” I stared at the lights downtown, the squat buildings and the courthouse clock. Nothing seemed out of place in comparison to the picture.
            “Arrgh!” She yanked the picture from my hand and shoved it in my face, her finger pointing to an area. “Look at the picture, here, you see that?”
            My eyes went from snapshot to reality and back again. It didn’t take me long to realize what she was trying to get me to understand. Where reality showed a vacant patch of land the snapshot showed “the antique shop…” I whispered.
            “Yeah, the antique shop. And the hair salon and the book store, they are all there.” She pulled the picture away and looked at me with ‘I told you so’ eyes before running back to the pictures on the floor and picking some up. “And this one, there is a train on the tracks. A train hasn’t gone down these tracks in ten years. How about this one? This is of my bedroom, but look at the bed, the bed is made up like I haven’t slept on it in months. And here, here is another one. I took this of the bathroom door, tell me Ian, where is the goddamn door? Why is there no door there?”
            I wanted to ask her how this was possible, but I knew she had no more of an answer for that question than I did. “Maybe it’s just a trick of light?” I said, knowing full well I didn’t believe it.
            “I don’t think that’s it at all. I think it’s the camera.” She was lighting another cigarette, trembling so badly that she had to chase the tip of it around with the flame before it finally caught.
            “Is it a new camera?”
            “Same one I’ve been using for years.” She took a deep drag and sighed the smoke out.
            “The one Dad gave you?”
            “Yeah.” She was staring out the window, crossing and uncrossing her arms. The cigarette kept going in her mouth and coming out with every change of posture.
            “A new lens or something?” I watched her begin to pace, throwing the pictures she still held back onto the floor.
            “Well, something had to change. Camera’s don’t just start taking pictures of shit that isn’t there.”
            “This one did.”
            “Can I see it?”
            Without looking she pointed towards her computer, “It’s on the desk, over there.”
            I could hear her talking to herself as I walked towards the desk. “Honestly Bec, I don’t get why you are so freaked out. This is pretty cool if you ask me.” I picked up the camera and turned the power on and started scrolling through the photos, I got back to what I thought was the picture she had sent me earlier, the one of our father. “Wasn’t Dad leaning against the counter in that picture you sent me?”
            “Yeah, why?” She was already walking towards me
            “Did you take more than one with him in it?”
            “No, why?” She was standing next to me now, looking at the screen on her camera. “What in the fucking fuck, Ian?”
            “He is sitting at your table now.” We both looked from the screen towards the now dark corner where the Formica table sat vacant. “He changed positions.”
            “How is any of this possible, Rebecca?”
            “I need a drink.” She said as she walked to the fridge, taking the path that kept her the furthest distance from the table. “Do you want one?”
            “No, I’m good. How many have you had?” I said, staring back at the camera screen and opening up the menu.
            “Not enough. Not nearly enough.”
            I scrolled through the options and found the one for resolution, “I didn’t know one hundred mega-pixels was even a thing.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “Your camera is set on one hundred mega-pixel resolution.” I said as I started walking to her.
            “Yeah, that’s not right. You’re reading it wrong.”
            “Look.” I shoved it in her face.
            She squinted, blinked, squinted. “You’re not wrong.”
            “What if...what if that MP doesn’t stand for mega-pixel?” I ask her. “What if it means metaphysical? As in transcendental reality?”
            She tilted her beer back and finished it. “I want you to take my picture.”
            “What?” I pulled the camera to my chest.
            “Ian, I haven’t taken a picture of anything living since this started happening. All I have taken pictures of are inanimate objects. I want to know what happens if I take a picture of something alive.” The idea made my stomach turn. If this camera could add life to lifeless photos, could it also take life away?
            “That doesn’t seem smart.”
            “What are you scared of?” She asked as she got into the fridge and grabbed another beer.
            “I just…” I looked down at the camera screen and tried to change the resolution settings to something lower, no other option showed up. “I don’t think that is smart. How about we go take a picture of a tree or a plant or something?” What I wanted to do was throw the camera into the ground and stomp on it. That is what I should have done.
            “Nah, just take one of me.” She said, chugging her second beer before dramatically crushing the can and throwing it in her sink. “Don’t be a pussy.” She opened the fridge and took out another beer.
            “Fine.” I said, with the slight tone of a brat in my voice as I lifted the camera. “Say cheese.”
            “Cheese!” She yelled as the beer can opened with a crack.
            Then the flash went off.
            Then the can hit the floor.
            On the screen, where she was just standing, the frame showed only the open refrigerator door. The camera slipped from my hand.

3. The Computer

             After catching the camera with some act of dexterity previously unknown to me, I rushed to the other end of the loft and plugged it into her computer. Seventeen password attempts later and I was able to log in. I followed the prompts and began uploading the contents of the SD card.
            How? How? How? Was the single syllable question racing through my mind.
            “Hurry the fuck up!” I screamed at the screen. “This is impossible. It’s impossible.” I said to myself, standing from the chair and walking in a circle before sitting back down. “I have to be dreaming. This is just a nightmare, Ian. Just wake up. Just wake up.” My hands crawled up my face and began pulling at my hair. “You’re losing it man. Hahaha. You’re cracking up.” The computer chimed, alerting me that it had finished uploading the photos. I clicked the confirmation button and the screen opened up showing the latest picture first, Rebecca standing in front of the fridge. Suddenly she spasmed, as if exhaling a long held breath, and then she began to silently cough. “No fucking way.” I whispered as I watched her walk out of the frame.
            I sat there, staring at the screen for what felt like an hour, before she walked back into it and went to the fridge. She opened the door and pulled out two beers, shut it, and walked away. Frantically I began jamming down the arrow key, scrolling through photo after photo until I got to the one she had taken with our father. Both of them were in it now, sitting at the table, with the beers she had just gotten. They were talking and laughing, his hand was sitting on top of hers.
             “Holy shit!” I jumped up from the chair and pressed my hand to my mouth in an attempt to stop myself from saying the words that were about to spill out, “they are living in the pictures.” But they couldn’t see me and I couldn’t hear them, there had to be some way to communicate, to find out what it was like for them in there.
            An idea sprang into my head and I sat back down, opening up the editing features. Maybe I could do something, insert text of some kind into the picture and they would be able to see it, so that’s what I did. I typed in “Bec, this is Ian, can you see this?” It just looked like block print on the wall behind them. They both turned and looked at it, then at each other, then as if Rebecca remembered the exact spot she took that picture from she stood up and walked towards me. Her face nearly filled the frame by the time she stopped and she nodded before holding up a finger. “Yes!” I screamed, but why? What was my goal, what was the end game here?
            When she walked back into the frame she had a dry erase board she was writing on. She held it up and it read “Dad says hi :)” She pulled it away and erased it with her hand and started writing again. My body was a coil of tension. There was a cue ball lodged in my throat. “Ian, I don’t know how to explain any of this in a way that makes sense…”
             “Yeah, join the club.” I said as she erased the board and started writing on it again. When she held it back up my heart dropped. “Ian, that camera is like a portal, it has the ability to transfer things between existing realities…” it read. I didn’t speak. I hardly breathed as she lowered the board and erased it before writing again. “Dad said that he can explain it all to you when you get here. Mom is here too, Ian, I talked to her…”
             “When I get there!? How the fuck am I supposed to get there?” I shouted at the screen as she erased the message and began writing some more.
            She held the board back up. “You’re going to have to make sure the camera is hooked up to the WiFi and auto sync is enabled. Then, just shoot yourself.”
             “No, no…” I stood up again and paced in front of the computer. My eyes fixed on the camera and I wanted to smash it. “This is impossible...impossible.” I grabbed the back of the computer chair and flung it to the side, screaming at the screen, “You’re fucking crazy! I am fucking crazy! A goddamn portal! A teleporter!”
            She held up a new message. “I know this sounds insane, but trust us, please. We can all be together again.”
            After reading it I sat on the floor and stared at the ceiling. “What have you got to lose man?” I asked myself before standing.
            So here I am, getting ready to take the most important selfie in existence. Not one that will get loaded up to Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat; one that will take me to a different time and place. Then again, isn’t that what every photo does?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you enjoyed this story (and would like to read entries from the other contestants) please click on the link below to vote. Username is lost_nepenthe to vote for.


Voting closes Thursday, October 3rd at 8pm EDT. The two contestants with the fewest votes will be eliminated.