but that’s okay right?

You’re in a boat and I’m swimming out to it. But the water gets deeper quickly. Soon I am gasping with nothing to hold onto, and you have gotten no closer.

I push forward until my arm muscles burn. Waves are constantly coming at me. Sometimes I float above them, and sometimes I submit to them. I cough and flail.

Meanwhile you are teasing me with your invitations. It’s been so long. You’ve missed me so. Once I get there everything will feel so good. We will melt into each other like we did before, will go even further beyond what we did before. You didn’t actually disappear; you were just too far out on the horizon to see, but you wanted me there the whole time.

I’m so close, and when I come it will be amazing.

Water stings my eyes but I push ahead. Fueled by lust and fantasy and promise.

I open my eyes and you are pulling up your anchor. The boat is leaving. Plans have changed. You’re so sorry we keep missing each other.

Then you disappear. And the shore is so far away.

secret world

Election night week 2020 was a deeply stressful time. And I got through it with an incredible amount of sexting.

This makes it sound like the sexting was standard: photos of body parts, in and out and you’re done. It was much more intense than that.

Hours and hours of D/s fantasies. Revelations of our kinks. Deep, vivid descriptions of scenes. Sounds, thoughts, textures, emotions. Pain and pleasure and edging and denial. Tell me exactly what you want, exactly what you’re feeling. And if you don’t want something, tell me immediately.

The whole thing started so simply. We started talking about my neck. That ever-so-sensitive center of sexual energy for me, that is constantly hiding in plain sight. He’d started to wonder what would happen if he touched that neck. Or let his fingers, or hand linger around it for a while. Or maybe if he put his mouth on it. Or tongue. Or teeth.

I don’t remember all the exact words. I mostly just remember my pussy instantly developing its own heartbeat, and feeling that way for weeks after.

Before that, I had wanted to avoid and ignore my submissive side. The result of one too many people taking advantage of it or hurting it, perhaps. He later said he had no idea I was so submissive. But suddenly it all came flying out, just by talking about my neck like that. In a huge rush, I had built this beautiful secret world of pleasure with someone who had thoughts like I did, and who could write beautiful (and fucking hot) in-depth paragraphs about them.

We both had external worlds to tend to as this was all going on. I was staying with a friend at the time (otherwise I probably would have just been masturbating myself into oblivion for weeks) and he would end up going on a trip to visit a friend’s family. But we thought about each other constantly. It was like being physically present, but mentally out in space. Like, trippy psychedelic here-is-every-dark-and-beautiful-sexy-time-you-could-think-of space. Fuck, it was so heady.

It was with a good friend. Someone who is still a friend. Who, yes, I am still attracted to.

And then that friend started Prozac.

Our dark secret world didn’t immediately disappear. It was more like, it felt weirder and then faded away. The last scene we wrote was more about pain and punishment than I’d like. More extreme. Like he was trying hard to make himself feel something so he wanted to incorporate electroshock and humiliation. I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job. The intensity was there but there was a disconnect. That last scene was just before Christmas.

We still talk every day. Texts and audio notes. He is going through *a lot* of personal work and therapy (hence the Prozac) and is not what one would call available. But at the same time, in other ways he is available for me. And those ways are meaningful.

All of this is to say, the other night I realized (not like it’s a big shock) that I have really deep feelings for him. It doesn’t change anything. I’m not going to do anything, probably won’t even tell him about them. But still. It’s nice to know.

So I’m just going to write about it here. There you have it.

thinking while banging

I was so revved up from not seeing Leo Wolf for two weeks that I could have shot off into space like a sex-starved rocket. The deprivation gave me the idea to withhold my own self-pleasure until I saw him next. To make it, you know, fun and sexy.

In practice, it nearly drove me insane. He got strep throat, took antibiotics, and had a few side effect reactions. So he kept moving the time, which sparked my anxieties from past experiences of being stood up.

A normal human reaction to someone you care about getting sick would be to feel compassion, and to understand that they’ll take the time they need and then come back to you. 

My reaction was to get snippy and frustrated, skirting the edges of panic. “This is not a normal human response,” I realized. So I made the executive decision to give myself an orgasm. And magically, like clouds parting, I could think clearly again. 

Then came the date itself.

With the time away, I had gotten deeply bogged down in my own head. I’d envisioned jumping into his arms at first sight, kissing him without even saying a word as we spun around, pushing him onto his bed, etc. etc. etc.

We met in a fancy furniture storeroom and I had to behave. This made me nervous. Nerves sparked an avalanche of critical thoughts that lasted much longer than I want to admit. 

But in the storeroom he kissed me, and told me I looked pretty, and made cute faces at me, and said it had been a long time.

We went back to his place. We made soup and listened to music and watched TV and had sex 5 times. 

By the third time, the Internal Criticism Avalanche(tm) was starting to slow down. Before that, things were intense. Yelling at me for gaining weight, for not being perfect enough or cool enough or sexy enough or this that and the other thing. 

He’s growling in my ear and in the middle of fucking me. So maybe you could just COOL IT with the insults for a second?

I think the key to getting through the self abuse is to shift from being in my head to being in my body. Feel instead of think. It’s an ongoing process.

sexual frustration magic energy

It has been 13 days since I last saw the person I am dating.

During that time, he has texted me every day. He has sent photos of himself. Of his arms and their tattoos. Of his face. Of his body.

He has written me notes. Of things he wants to do to me. He mentioned a dream he’d had, an idea for a fantasy, and it happened to be one of my deepest: the two of us in a room full of women. Then we had a 2.5-hour sext session, easily the most intense I’d ever experienced.

And then I had to wait a week.

I was far away, in the state I grew up in, and my body was constantly burning for him. Self pleasure eased things slightly. But there were always more photos, more promises, more fire.

So then I decided I wouldn’t touch myself until the next time I saw him. It was supposed to be yesterday. And then he got strep throat. So here I am, trying to do something productive with the energy pulsing through me.

He, of course, loves this.

Ugh even the word pulse does it.

beach house fantasia

Sometimes I have fantasies that I have a big beach home with hardwood floors and I never wear shoes. I have my friends over a lot and we drink red wine and laugh. Oh and I have a courtyard with green trees and a long wooden table with candles on it.

A romantic partner doesn’t show up in this fantasy. I don’t know why. That would be nice too.

Baldemar Is Made of Clay: 9

Writing story fiction drama fantasy comedy man life office tense baldemar creative novel

Much of the late morning was spent with his head on the desk.  Baldemar had forgotten what work he was supposed to do today.  Every time he looked up at the inbox the pile of propaganda had grown higher.  People from other offices had caught word of what floor he worked on and swarmed around his desk, saying close to nothing.  They assumed he was asleep and waking him would leave him less inclined to listen to any of their messages.  But rather than try to pencil themselves in to Baldemar’s appointment calendar, they leered.   For hours.

“I don’t think he’s going to wake up any time soon.”  Someone whispered.

“He’s got to.  We’ve been standing here all morning.”

“This is getting ridiculous.”

“If you wake him up he’s going to say no.  You’re too weak to even give him a poke.”

“Quiet.  I don’t see you trying to wake him either.”

“You will if you don’t shut the fuck up.”

“Excuse me?”

Baldemar sat up and smacked the desk.  “Is there something I can help you all with?”

“Baldemar!  You’re awake!”

“So good to meet you Mr. Baldemar!”

“You’re so much more handsome in person!”

“Oh for God’s-”

“Are you having a good day today?”

“That’s such a great shirt!”

“We were hoping you could take a look at some of our literature.”

“There’s a lot there, have you ever considered sorting your stack into two piles so you’d know which issue you were looking into?”

A blue stick hand grabbed the top paper.  “It’s hard to tell which issue you’re even looking at until you’re done reading it.”

“You touched his papers?”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Hey, shut up.  You’re being extremely unpro-”

“Can you please get out of my face while I’m trying to talk to Mr. Baldemar.”

“Everyone else here has just as much a right to talk to him as you do.”

“Stop interrupting me please.  I was here first.”

Baldemar watched as if he was not there.  Gradually people stopped paying attention to him and focused on yelling at each other.  He snuck past all of them, went to the bathroom (not having gone the whole morning), and when he returned they were still there, pushing now, trying to strangle.  Baldemar clapped his hands and hollered.  The yell gained volume until it sounded like an animal and hushed everything around it.  They all looked stunned at finding him there in the corner, yelling like a savage, angry like the rest of them.  

When his lungs ran out of air he regained his composure, and went into the break room for a much needed cup of coffee.  Ever one for pleasantries, he decided to make it himself.  When he walked back out they were still there.

“..You feeling alright Mr. Baldemar?”

“Fine and dandy.”  He took a sip from the mug.  “Fine and dandy indeed.  Good coffee.  I haven’t made any in a while.  You guys come to this floor often?”

“…No, Mr. Baldemar.”

“No, many of us are on the higher top floors.”

“Well that sure is funny.  You guys want any coffee?”

They looked around at each other with uneasy smiles.  “No thank you, Mr. Baldemar.”

“And where did we get this whole Mr. Baldemar formality?  I’m sure many of you are higher up than I am.  It’s nonsense.”

“It’s… it’s because you’ve reached a new stature as of late.”

“It’s nonsense.”

“So would you like us to just call you Baldemar instead?”

Another, longer sip.  “No.”

A yellow stick figure of a man approached Baldemar, carrying a packet and smiling.  “It’s a great honor to meet you, Mr. Baldemar.”  He gave a laugh but nothing was funny.  “I was wondering if you-”  

“No.”  Baldemar pointed to his desk.  “Put it there or I will not read it.”

He gave the same laugh.  “But Mr. Baldemar, if you, if I put it there, the likelihood is not very good that you will read it, and since you have met me now and you know that I am not some sick angry individual,” there were dissenting shouts in the background, “then you—then- then wouldn’t you like to just read this for yourself now?”

Baldemar held up a hand and the shouting stopped.  “Put it on the desk.  Or I will not read it.”

The man waved the packet in despair.  “You won’t regret it, sir, I promise.  It’s too good an information brochure to let be passed on in a wad of paper.”

“Shut up man, he told you what to do, you just know he doesn’t want to side with you.”

“How the fuck do you know?”

“Oh that is very professional.”

“Well then, I will put it right on top of the stack, that way you will know right where it is when the time comes.”  The yellow man walked back to the desk, knocked the entire stack out of the inbox, and placed his on top of what was left.  

“What the hell is the matter with you!”

“Who do you think you are!”

“This asshole is going to screw it up for all the rest of us.”

“The only sick individual is the one trying to weasel his way past us.”

“He’ll probably be out back waiting to run you over when you’re done with work.”

“EVERYONE.”

No one heard him.  The shouts worsened.  Pleasantness was failing horribly today.  Baldemar walked to his desk.  Only when he threw his coffee mug at the desk, and ceramic and coffee sprayed, only then was there quiet.

Baldemar clasped his hands together.  “I want all of you to leave.  Right now.  No one is welcome at my desk unless they have thoroughly been screened.  This is particularly unpleasant, I know, but frankly so are all of you.  At this rate I am not going to agree to do anything you want me to, no matter what side you are on, so you should best see yourself out the way you came.  That coffee mug is worth nine dollars seventy cents.  I expect to be repaid for it.”

“Mister.. Mister Baldemar?”

“Oh for God’s sakes, what else could you possibly need to say to me?  I just told all of you to go away.  I will read every piece of literature that will fit on that god-forsaken inbox in due time.  And then I will come to a decision.  And when I do, I will let you know, but until then, please kindly get the ever loving hell away from my desk.  Much appreciated.  Sincerely, Mr. Baldemar.”

They shuffled off.  He could not remember a time where he felt more exhausted.  When he was sure he was either about to die or fall asleep in paper, Pud appeared.

“Good gravy what happened here?”

“Grave unpleasantness.”

“Oh Baldie.  I picked a hell of a time to be productive.”

“Yes you did.”  He blinked.  “You were actually productive?”

“Ch-yeah!  It surprised me too!  Baldie you look kind of terrible.”  

“Thanks.”

“What’s this brown stuff on the floor?”

“Coffee.”

“You forget where the sink was?”

“No.”

“You broke something too?”

“It is all ridiculous.”

“What?”

“Did you not hear what was happening?  How did no one hear that?”

“I did hear a lot of noise, but you know that that’s gotten to be sort of commonplace around here by now.”

“I told them all to leave.  I threw my drink at them.  It broke and now I don’t have a mug.  This has been a horribly unpleasant day and it’s not even lunch yet.”

“And we haven’t even had that daily town hall thing yet.”

A suck of air behind him, of another balloon inflating.  He hoped the eventual spear would go right through him.

“Definitely not a day for pleasantness.”  He said with a sigh.  “I’m taking a walk.”

“Where?  Can I come?”

“No Pud.  I don’t really want to be around people for a while.  No offense.  But right now, I can’t believe I’m saying it, but you would be the most likely person I’d want to go for a walk with.”

“Oh wow.  Gosh.  That means a whole hell of a lot Baldie.”

Baldemar still never knew when Pud was being serious.  He left the desk and the coffee cup stains and walked down the hallway and could have bumped into Admus himself and not noticed.  Walked outside and watched the birds and forgot his safety reports and put his head and his hands and slept in the sweet elusive quiet.

Baldemar Is Made of Clay: 8

Writing story fiction drama fantasy comedy girl creator filmmaker baldemar creative novel lesbian love heartache sylvie bernadette

Bern’s head fell onto her knees, not of her own volition.  Green clay, Igobert’s sludge, was all over her hands.  The film felt like a mess.  What had she been thinking when she made this strange little thing?  Was it too frightening to fit into Baldemar’s world?  What purpose was it going to serve?  When had her head started throbbing so badly?  Her body knew it was late but in the dark room it was impossible to tell how much time had passed.  There was at least pizza in the fridge.

She imagined drug users felt this way after a long binge, delirious and forgetful of who they were, with unsightly smears on their hands, from God only knew what.  The main difference, she assumed, was the satisfaction that hummed in her bones along with the fatigue, at having accomplished something, at having at least had a reason to be up so late.

Baldemar stared in frozen terror from his desk chair.  Often Bernadette worried that she had made him look too cute.  Even with the sad black caverns for eyes, he verged on looking more fitting in a children’s cartoon.  But it was too late to make a new one.  If she could do it again she would probably have picked a color besides blue.  Pud crouched in a ball beside him.  She worried he looked too much like Gumby.

“Berrrrrrnie Bernie Bernie you need to go to bed.”

But first there would be pizza.  She would save the Coke for tomorrow, when she needed the caffeine.  It was now time to reward hard work with an obscene calorie intake.

Outside was black and the kitchen clock read 4 AM.  Loneliness slammed into her unexpectedly.  She went to the window and the glass was cold.  Were it not for the brilliant stars outside and the little world lying in wait downstairs, this would have been a spectacularly ordinary evening.  But she had been productive.

Loneliness was not caused by Sylvia necessarily, though her presence sans children or husband would have been nice.  They would end up bickering about something, but it would have been an improvement from staring through frosted glass at the crack of dawn by one’s self.  If she closed her eyes and stood there for a few more hours the nagging mental pain would become too much sensation to bear.

But the pizza.  Yes.  Where did you put the pizza.  Rationality unexpectedly took reign when she was not thinking and directed her to putting the food in the refrigerator.  Sometimes she felt it would be better to turn her consciousness off completely and give subconscious full control.  Only with that did she ever end up in her bed after a night of drinking, or not kiss an inappropriate human after a night of loneliness.

The pizza looked significantly less impressive after eight hours in a dark studio.  She was sure the meat had had a more appetizing color while the sun was still up.  Now it looked like human flesh left out in open air too long.  But she still took a piece, still felt the hot cheese and sauce and the wet heat on her tongue and incisors.  Momentarily forgot that for most people daylight was starting imminently.

In times when the world was at its quietest, her mind seemed to prattle louder than ever.  Did she do her laundry today?  Put money into her Roth IRA today?  Because God knew she wasn’t going to be a claymation animator forever.  Did she clean the apartment before that fateful horrible phone call with Sylvia?  Did Sylvie actually enjoy picking up the phone and talking to her?  Was her mother all that surprised that her daughter became lonely in that little black room and had to talk to someone?   Was it true that all mothers, no matter how much time had passed, secretly loved hearing from their somewhat estranged children?  

The single slice of pizza was not satisfying enough, so Bern began devouring a second.  Fed up with thinking about Baldemar and co., she allowed her mind to venture to Sylvia, futile though it was.  It had not always been bad, but became unbearable when it was.  Sylvia, even with a polyamorous husband, never believed she could truly have Bernadette, and of course, Bernadette, in love with a married woman, never believed she could truly have her either.  So they pined away and lied to each about it, and the cycle continued until Sylvia moved to middle of nowhere California, popped out two children and made herself even less attainable than ever before.

Bern pulled the crust off the pizza. Had it really been so simple?  Was that really an abridged version of the last eleven years of her life?  Not five, not ten, eleven.  Oh my husband’s away, but he knows what I’m doing and he knows who you are, so this is okay.  Derek is on a business trip but he told me to say hi, even though you haven’t met him.  Derek saw a picture and said he loves your hair that length, especially with the color and thickness you already have.  False hope and flattery until one day Derek wasn’t so keen on you anymore after all, and suddenly the couple was a family, and not only that, but shipping itself across the country.

“You must understand Bernie, Derek thinks it will be a better place to raise a family.  No one ever seems to suffer from stress in San Francisco.  Ultimately it should be better for them there.”

She had listened nicely, done all the things she thought a supportive “girlfriend” should do in the situation.  But in the end it did not matter.  In the end, even if she had flipped a table over, Sylvia still would have left, still would have been pulled to the sunshine state and started a supposedly “open” family, which probably only meant Sylvie took care of the kids while Derek wandered off to a company event and flirted his way into the bed of someone else.  But even then, Sylvia and Derek would still have each other and all Bernadette would have was her figures.  Her sweet, at times all too unrealistic figures.  Well at least you have some friends.

Before completely aware what was happening, Bernadette was on the roof of her house with a beer and a piece of pizza.  Her taste in alcoholic refreshment was dreadful and always had been.  After producing a wildly successful independent claymation film, in an era where claymation was practically irrelevant, she had her pick of the India Pale Ales and all the other generic fruity concoctions.  But she stuck to what was true, cheap, and foul.  Miller Light, always Miller Light, even though she was sure licking the rim of her toilet seat would have been tastier.

The night was colder outdoors and the stars more briskly bright.  Bern drank the bottled urine.  She liked the roof because there was always the chance that she could move an inch the wrong way and go tumbling into a twisted demise.  Then she felt dreadful for liking this.  Sane people never thought things like this.  Then again sane people did not spend days in a dark room with a group of handmade people.  She was now  commended for creating her only friends.

“What do you ultimately want to do with this skill?” Sylvia had said once.

“What do you mean?”

“You have to know what I mean.  Or else you wouldn’t have gotten into this thing in the first place.  What do you hope to accomplish with specializing in claymation?”

It had seemed like a ridiculously obvious question at the time, but Bernadette could not think of a good explanation to save her life.  She pretended to ponder, but just grappled in her head for words, when really the only reason she could think of was, “because I wanted to create a group of people who would understand me unquestioningly.”

What came out instead was, “I am a part of this craft because I want to show how I see things, or how I feel things should be, without them being tainted by anything else.”

Sylvia, bless her heart, had bought this bull shit excuse.  Had smiled her sweet, blonde smile, and taken all her nonsense for legitimate reason.  And Bernadette had momentarily forgotten her loneliness, kissed a soft neck and buried a face in soft hair and heard soft moans again, knowing it would end all too soon.  Would lose herself in the awful dream moment.

Sylvia asked her only once if she wanted to try for a ménage a trois.  It had seemed like such a bizarre question that Bernadette almost laughed in her doe eyed face.  To be with a man felt completely unnatural, especially with a woman she loved in the same room.   

“No,” Bernadette had said, “Unlike some I am a full on lesbian,” and the subject was never brought up again.  Sylvie was sweet enough that she had probably become embarrassed.  Bernadette had never met or even seen Derek Smith.

In her delirious roof dweller state she wondered what it would be like to have dinner with the man who married her girlfriend.  Wondered if the topic of conversation would inevitably return, time and again, to Sylvie’s nether regions, as that was all they had in common in terms of conversation topics.  She even let herself imagine what he looked like, and stuck the results in the backgrounds of many a short clay film.  Buff, bronzed, blonde.  A beach-colored blonde to match Sylvia’s soft, vintage hue.  The children were inevitably blonde.  Bernadette had never even looked at pictures, though a copious amount were emailed to her over the years.  Every time a paperclip was attached to an e-note from Sylvia, Bernadette deleted it.

But what is to become of you, she thought desolately.  Delusions of grandeur swamped her thought.  Too good to simply roll off the roof and into oblivion, but too strange to adapt.  She would not be having children.  She did not want them.  This disappointed the parents.  What happened when the film was over?  When ideas ran dry?  When all you were left with was your own odd self and irrepressible loneliness?  Kill yourself or die trying?

The sun was starting to come up and in the low light there were silhouettes on tree branches.  Birds sleeping in a perfect line, but soon one would wake up and begin to chirp, rouse the others into bickering back.  The day would begin with chaos, like it always did, like it always would.

Bern drank more beer.  “This is getting ridiculous.” She murmured.  “You are sitting on a roof.  How did you even get up here?  Why didn’t you just go to bed when you were done working?  Why are you talking to yourself?  What is the point of any of this?”

She would get down from the roof.  She would wake up tomorrow and the day would be the same.  Always the same.  There was pain in the mundane but there was even more in death.  Or was there?  Monotony went on endlessly, while death only needed a second.  Which of the two hurt more? How could anyone really tell?

At five fifteen Bernadette crawled back into the house through her bedroom window.  The bed looked like a cloud and the moment of falling onto the softness was the most beautiful of the day.  She moved her hand across the pillow and imagined it was Sylvia’s body.  Only gave herself permission to fantasize about lips and eyes and yellow hair in the final seconds of her day.  

Her weary mind still hummed with worry.  Why had she called her today?  Had the state of lonely really been so terrible?  Was there no other number she could have dialed instead?  But even then it did not ruin the fantasies.  She still fell asleep dreaming about soft fingers on her body.

 

Six hours later she awoke with no headache, surrounded by white sheets.  Sunlight and sleep erased much of the loneliness.   Today would be better.  There would be no more wallowing.  Nothing productive ever came of that, at least in her process.  

Something buzzed on the night stand.  The sound was unfamiliar.  This was the noise phones made now?  When had this happened?  Before rationality took hold her heart pounded at thinking it might be her.  

It was a reminder of a lunch date with her agent in an hour.

“Well shit a brick.”bernie.gif

Baldemar Is Made of Clay: 6

Bernadette met Sylvia at a networking cocktail party for soon-to-be graduates of the art school, when she was 21.  

Bern had looked the same, except her hair was twice as long and half as kempt.  She had picked out the most ridiculous suit she could find, black with a corset-cinched waist and immense shoulder pads even though it was 1997.  That night she had thought to make herself stand out even more with a robin’s egg blue cravat, which had given the whole outfit an aura of possessed rodeo clown.  But Bern had pulled her frizzy cloud of hair into a tight knot that allowed view of her face, and that was all she believed people needed to see.  A face to put with a body of work.

Having never been to a mixer such as this, and having never been given instruction on etiquette at this kind of event, Bernadette planted herself squarely by the snack table for the bulk of the night.  She had brought a monocle but was unsure whether it was appropriate to put on in the middle of the event.  It was an accessory that worked best if the wearer arrived with it, not if they deftly snuck it on after they’d met everyone there.  People already had a first impression of her, and if she had thrown that at them they could think her pretentious.

Before she was Sylvia she was just a girl with very pretty hair in a silver dress.  She smiled at Bernadette first.     

“Figured I would come by and get some nourishment.” She said, slipping vegetables into a napkin.  “Someone told me there would be dinner, but obviously they were lying.”

“If it’s any consolation they have probably starved to death by now.”

The girl in silver laughed.  “That is quite a get up you have there, Miss! It’s certainly an eye catcher.”

“Thank you.  Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Is a monocle missing from this outfit?”

She guffawed until she realized it was a serious question.  “Oh, I don’t think so.  A monocle might turn it into a Halloween costume. It’s quite perfect the way it is now.”

“Thank you!  It’s really nice to hear an honest opinion.”

“I love your accent!  Are you English?”

“Oh, ha, yes.  I am.”

“It’s lovely.  Are you an illustrator or a sculptor or what?”

“Animator.”

“Ah, I was hoping you would say that!  That’s my favorite to sponsor!”

The S word was not lost on Bernadette.  “Yeah, and it’s clay-mation, so people are always asking if I want to do something like Wallace and Gromit.”

“Oh God that’s terrible.  I hope you tell them to screw themselves and that you’re not about to sell out just yet.”  

“Well I usually say it more politely.  But yes the general message is the same.”

“That’s very good to hear.  So what’s your name Miss Claymator?”

The quiet thrill that connection was being made, even if it led to nothing in the long run.  It was all new to her.  

“Bernadette Gibbons.”

The silver girl smiled.  “That is so English.”

“Is it?  Thanks I suppose.  And you?”

“Sylvia Smith.”  She extended a hand.  “I’m one of the crazy people here who tries to get new art recognized.”

“Well you won’t hear anyone here complain about that.”

“I know.  It’s a great ego boost to go to one of these.  But yes Miss Bernadette, give me your phone number and we can have dinner sometime this week.  And not of the sneaking-veggies-into-napkins variety.”

Bern blinked.  “Are you- are you really going to call me?”

“Well yeah!  Is that so unheard of?  I want to see some of your work.”  She pulled out an address book and wrote Bernadette’s name.  “Two T’s?”

“Yes.”

“Good.  I was right then.  I didn’t know if you Brits had a special secret way of spelling it.”

“Well it’s a sort of French name isn’t it?”

“I know I know.  What is your phone number Bernadette?”

Sylvia wrote with nimble little movements, and her head bobbed with her hand’s rhythm.  

“How does Friday work for you?  I know it’s date night, I’m sorry, but it looks like my calendar is sort of jam packed except for that night.”

“Friday is fine.  I don’t have anything planned for that yet.”

“Oh okay!  Perfect!  It’s a date then!”

“Heh.. Okay, yeah.  Great!”

“I’ll give you a call about it later.  I’ve got a PA area code, so don’t screen your caller ID when you see a strange local number.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Of course not.”

“Lovely meeting you. Have a great night!”

“You too!”

Whatever intoxication the free wine had caused was stopped dead while she watched Sylvia walk away.  Most of the next week was spent in her studio, which was also her dorm.  She needed to study for the finals in practical artistic theory and every other class she had fallen asleep through all during the semester.  For a quarter of each day she focused on books.  For the rest she sculpted figures.  They were not all blonde females but many were.  None got her nose right, but with no photos to base the design off of, the work was difficult.

Having her in a silver dress would be too obvious, so Bernadette attempted a rendition of what her potential sponsor would likely wear on a day where she could put on anything.  What transpired was a tiny blonde woman in a pair of blue jeans and a red plaid button down, with a unfitting nose.

On Thursday she left her apartment and it felt like the first sunny day the state had seen all year.  Staying inside much longer was the fast track to cabin fever insanity.  She should have brought her books, on closer inspection it would have been more productive, but she needed to relax, even with dozens of lectures left to review and countless unread chapters.  But outside she felt completely pointless, sitting limp on a bench, staring at a tree, accomplishing nothing.  Even the overzealous sunbathers several feet away were at least actively changing themselves.  She was only converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.

And so she stared at the tree and visualized it into something else, twisted and darker, burning its image in her head for sculpting later.  The branches extended and blackened and the trunk grew speckled veins.  The tiny dots grew closer together as the branches stretched and stretched and soon it seemed like a great molding hand with gnarled fingers growing to the sky.  The sap oozed from all of it, like black blood in tiny rivulets, while the speckles expanded into giant canker sores and the tips of the tree branches grew long needlepoint nails.  

Bernadette hated this image but she held it in her mind for as long as she could; maintained a nightmare in her mind’s eye until it was etched there.   Then she stood and went back to the studio and constructed a ¼” scale of the horrible dripping tree, and it was vile activity but somehow it was healthy.  Turn your horrors into something real and see that there is nothing to them.  

The phone rang a local Pennsylvania number.

“Hello?”  Her voice sounded like a croak from somewhere else in the room.  

“Hi, Bernadette?”

“…Yes.”

“Hi!  It’s Sylvia Smith how are you!”

She knew she was speaking but the words were detached from conscious thought.  Thankfully they were good ones.  “Hi Sylvia good to hear from you!  I’m doing well how are you?”

“Oh good good, just wanted to see if you were still up for grabbing a little bite tomorrow night?”

“I.. of course I am.”  She ran her thumb down the blonde puppet’s nose.  I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”  

“Me too!  Can you bring me some of your work?  Sketches?  Photos of figures?  I’d really love to see them.”

“Certainly can.  As long as I don’t have to pick where we eat.”

“Oh you leave that up to me.  There are some good, sort of fancy haunts around here, believe it or not.  I’ll take care of that.  But can I just get your address so I know where to pick you up?”

The nose seemed even more off than before.

 

The restaurant had dark cherry oak walls and Sylvia wore a red dress to match.  Bernadette had decided to wear one as well, though significantly plainer.  Sylvia waved with such force that she looked like a doll about to snap itself in half.  She stood with open arms and pulled Bernadette into a bear hug.

“Hello there.”  

“It’s so good to see you, miss!” Sylvia said.  “How have you been?”

“Fine.  Just studying a lot.  And you?”

“Disgustingly busy!  Work events like crazy this week.  I need to sleep this weekend.”

“That would be perfect.  I can’t even rest for two minutes without feeling like I need to do something else.”

“That’s just how it is right before you graduate though.  You go and go and things are a blur and it seems like it will never end.  And then it’s all just, over.  And you know what to do with yourself.”

“I’m not looking forward to it.”

“I didn’t either.  And it was definitely tough at first.  But you realize eventually that now you have all this time and you can spend it doing what you want.  Besides the hours when you’re at work I guess.”

That word was sour to hear.  “I’m hoping those hours will be spent doing something I like.  Like working for an animation crew or something crazy like a Tim Burton movie.”

Sylvia smiled, sweet and sad.  “Uhm huhm.  Well.  You certainly have all the necessary tools to do that.”

“You don’t think I can?”

“I didn’t say that at all.  I’m sure you can.  It just, I wouldn’t hope for it right away.”

“You invited me to a dinner to discuss sponsoring me, and then you don’t even think I can get a job relevant to my studies?”

“Oh my. Sponsor you?  We are in stage one of that.  The pre-stage.  The stage before we even talk about my potentially spending money on your work.  I haven’t even seen a single piece from you.  Or even part of a piece!  I just wanted to get to know you first and get a gauge on your personality.  Which, I will say, up until now has been very sweet.”

“I’m sorry.”

“And if you want the truth, no, I don’t think you could get a job doing that.  Not just out of art school.  Maybe intern for them, unpaid, if anything.  But no, with just an art degree, you are not anything distinguishable.  That’s why you need people like me.  Or a job in an office.”

“Okay, I’m sorry I snapped.  But if I work in a cube and make clay shapes as a hobby I will be dead.”

“Well that’s why I’m here dear.  To steer you away from that.  Care to show your sketches?  You do storyboard, right?”

“I do.”  Bernadette rooted through a leather messenger bag.  She wanted to ask more about her new potential benefactress, like if she knew anyone friendly enough to sponsor Bernadette’s friends.  But even without etiquette classes she could tell that this was a tacky move.  The folder she had placed the storyboards in was badly bent from the bus ride over.  “..There you are.”

Sylvia frowned thoughtfully.  “Oh… how interesting.”

“I came upon the idea yesterday, so the storyline may seem disjointed.  I haven’t had the time yet to smooth it out.  Maybe that will come after I graduate.”

“It will.” Sylvia turned a page.  “Trust me.  So the action all centers around this tree?”

“Yes.  It’s going to be a very short film, I’m thinking.  Without a protagonist that can talk it can’t really go that far.”

“Can you fill me in on the plot?  I think I have an idea of it but I want to hear it in your words.”

“Of course.”  Bernadette turned all the pages until the first storyboard.  A perfect tree with green leaves.  “This is, clearly, the first shot.”

“Clearly.”

“A lovely tree, right?  A perfect almost summer day with blue sky and birds chirping and all that shi… stuff.”

“Shistuff.  Got it.”

“Okay so one of the birds hops over-” She turned the page.  Small sparrow in front of the tree.  “And thinks oh my, what a perfect place to build my nest.  So he begins his jaunt up to the top. Hopping, flapping wings, et cetera, until he finds the perfect branch, and-”

“One question.”

“Yes?”

“You said he’s trying to build a nest.  Do male birds do that?”

“…Whether they do or not it doesn’t make much of a difference to the plot.”

“Well sure it does.  It gives your protagonist a motivation.”

“Okay scratch that then, his motivation is ‘wow, what a nice looking tree.  I bet it’s got some great bird-friendly berries to eat.’”

“More plausible.  But only slightly.”

“Okay.” She turned the page.  A little cloud passing.  “But just as he lands on the branch,” another page turn, this time the tree beginning to stretch and blacken, “the tree starts to change.  Starts to get sick.  Become evil, or maybe just get infected with something evil.  And thus begins the transformation.”

Bernadette continued to flip pages but she did not care to look at them, instead watched Sylvia’s face.  The dark of the walls and her dress made her look paler than healthy, but somehow lovelier.  

“Oh my.”   She said.  “Where did you get that idea?”

“Just thought it up.  I went outside and that’s what I came up with.”

“I really.. It’s good Miss Bernadette.  Can I call you something friendlier?  Like Bern or something like it?”

“Sure.  You can call me anything you like.”

“It will be Bern then.  I like the sound of it.”

“Me too.”

The waiter arrived with an all-too elegant bottle of pinot noir.  Sylvia scrunched her shoulders.  “I hope you don’t mind that I ordered our drinks before you arrived.  Do you like red wine?”

“I will drink anything short of lighter fluid.”

She laughed.  The garcon put forth his best non-disgusted smile.  “Have you ladies decided on an entrée yet?”

“Oh dearie,” Sylvia said, “We haven’t even looked at the menu yet.”

 

They finished the first bottle of pinot by the time the salmon and prime rib arrived.  Bern was not close to drunk, but already felt like she was in a different person’s body.  Sylvia was, not surprisingly, a giggly drunk, who demanded she be called Sylvie, but after a few bites of the rib her silliness subsided.  With another drink of wine Bern wondered how bold she was allowed to be.

“You never did tell me whether you wanted to become my sponsor.”

Sylvie raised an eyebrow.  “Well I’ll let you answer that.  Do you think I should sponsor you?”

“Yes.”

“Hah!  And why is that?”

“Because you know that I’m good and on some level my stuff has connected with you.”

“Your stuff was just a few drawings of a tree and a bird.  How was I going to connect with that?”

“But you did.  You had sadness on your face.  You said it was wonderful.  You.. you squinted at it.”

“I just said it was good.  And what was I going to do, look you in the eye and tell you it sucked?”

“No.  No because.. because you didn’t think it did.”

“You’re very sure of yourself Bern.  I’m sure that will come across as very appealing to whoever decides to be your patron.”

The drinks’ haze newly lost, Bern’s stomach dropped.  “Alright.  I’m sorry.  They really should teach a course on knowing when not to speak.  Even if it was the only one on their whole roster that had a real world use, it should be a general education requirement.”

“Yes it should.”

“I’m sorry to assume.  But what would we possibly have been doing here if you didn’t want to talk about being my sponsor?”

“I did.”

“Okay.  You just decided not to?”

“No.”

“But you said my work sucked.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Well what- oh I see.  You’re trying to be coy so the art girl will freak out and embarrass herself.”

“Not at all..”  She touched Bern’s hand.  “I just wanted to see how much more you would talk.”

“I.. I had something else I was going to say, I’m sure, but I’m a little distracted at the moment.”

“Very sorry to hear that..” she brushed her lips against Bern’s and her train of thought began to resemble white noise on television.

“Oh my gosh.  Sylvia, are you sure-”

“It’s Sylvie, Miss Bern.  And you should get more of that lip gloss.  It is very nice.”

“You’re drunk.”

“Of course not.  I’m a grown woman and you just happen to be lovely..”

Sylvie bent in for another kiss and it was warm and wet.  The restaurant was too quiet and sparsely populated for anyone to see.  Bern’s pulse reached a hummingbird rate.  The sliver of a tongue slipped past her lips.  In a few minutes this would go completely out of control.  

“Sylvie, I really think you’re drunk, I’m sorry, we don’t have to do this just because you have been-”

She groaned.  “I haven’t just been drinking.  I am attracted to you.  And I will be your sponsor, benefactress, patroness, organ donor, whatever, because you are actually talented.  Now please just shut up and come here.”

Even without etiquette classes, Bernadette knew never to leave a woman waiting.

Upon closer inspection it really had been a shallow inebriate kiss.  Not that this had any effect on whether or not it was enjoyable.  When she did not hear from Sylvia for days she became certain that this was the reason.  Drunken school girl experimentation.  Bern had been the recipient of this quite a few times, but then again she was an actual school girl.  Sylvia, significantly older, should presumably have known better.

Bern went about business as usual.  There was no other alternative.  Her friends were as swamped in work as she, only available for brief lunches in between.  She put the little blonde doll in the same closet that housed the twisted tree figure, and immersed herself in the binge of work.

One mid afternoon one day while Bern was poring over a textbook, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi Bern.”

“Hello stranger.”

“How have you been?”

“Alright.  Utterly swamped.”

“Aren’t those two very different things?”

“You’d be surprised how similar they are.”

“Not really.  My schedule’s been pretty hectic as well.  But it’s always been like that.”

Bern remembered having no idea what she did for a living.  “That’s too bad.”

“No, not really.  But your studies are going well?”

“I mean, they’re going.  Am sort of at the midway point.  I’ve only got a few finals left but they’re big ones.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah… uh… did you want something?  I mean uh do you need anything?”

“Well I did have one thing I wanted to address.  Are you busy right now?”

Bern looked at the textbook.  “No.”

“Well uh-” Sylvia laughed abruptly, too shrill, “I just wanted to talk about what happened the last time we saw each other.”

“Nothing happened.”

She could hear Sylvie’s smile over the phone.  “Yes.  Of course.  Nothing happened.  And I wanted to apologize to you, and tell you something that I should have said long before I did anything.”

She had convinced herself not to care about this but still her stomach tightened. “Tell me.”

“Well, I really want to be your sponsor.  Truly.”

“…Okay?”

“And….and also, I’m married.”

Bernadette nearly dropped the phone.  “Okay.  What?”

Sylvia laughed, weakly.  “I’m married.  And I should have told you sooner.  But I became, um, preoccupied, so to speak.”

“You should have told me immediately before or after you tried to kiss me.”  Her voice rang angrily through her ears but Bern was still too stunned to feel anything just yet.

“I know.  You’re right.  I should have.  But I was drunk and you were very persuasive.”

“It’s not like I told you to stick your tongue in my mouth.”  Bern would have remembered.  She had done that before.  “Actually, believe it or not, you were the one who told me to shut up and be kissed.”

“Be kissed.  You act like you were passive in this.”

“So do you.  We were both enormous predators and we should own up to it.”

“Bernie it was just a couple little kisses.”

“Why are you calling then?  I was very ready to dismiss it all as a drunk whim.”

Sylvia chuckled softly.  “I’m sure you were.  But you see, my husband and I are basically open.  We don’t date other people, but we do allow each other a flirt or a kiss if the feeling is right.  I know that sounds really bizarre.”

“Wha- No shit it does.  Who behaves like that in suburban Pennsylvania?”

“And what about you?  Who behaves like a lesbian in suburban Pennsylvania?”

“Well what else is there to do, really.  Anyway this is all very cute but it’s not going to make me forget that what you just told me isn’t completely strange and some would even say fucked up.”

“You have every right to feel it’s fucked up.  And I wanted to tell you that even though my relationship with my husband is like this, it does not mean I am going to force it on you.  If anything I’m afraid that you’re too young to handle it.”

“Am I?”

“Well yes Bernie.  You’re very young and you’re at a place right now where you’re barely thinking about what’s good for you.  After I had graduated I gave myself a good two years to just freak the hell out.  And it was great.  But I don’t think we would be a good experience for you while you’re freaking out.”

“I won’t freak out.  And you’re not that much older than me.”

“Do you even know how old I am?”

“No.  30?”

Her laugh was long and far away.  “No sweetie.  I’m not 30.”

“Well how old are you?”

“32.”

“Oh please.  So you’re a whole ten years older.  It’s really not an issue.”

“You’re not making this easy sweetie.  I’m saying that I’m going to put the brakes on this as far as anything physical goes.  But I do really like the work I’ve seen from you.  I hope you will still consider working with me in a professional sense.”

“You’re serious.  You’re not just saying this to spare my fragile young feelings.”

“I am very serious about this.  I would love to be a sponsor for you, and if you don’t mind I’d like to meet up at some point and discuss some of the technical matters surrounding it.”

“Okay.”

“Can I maybe drop by your apartment later on in the week?”

“Sure.  But it’s a dorm, not an apartment.”

“A dorm?” Sneer in her voice.

“Well, a nice dorm.  One for the senior kids.  It’s good since I don’t really have funds for an actual place.”

“And you keep your work there?”

“Yes.  It’s my studio.  It’s nicer than a college dorm room too, I promise.  I’m very neat except for the clays.”

But that’s all, do you understand miss?  Strictly professional.”

“Strictly professional.”

“Okay. Do you mind if I come by on Wednesday?”

“Sure.”

They hung up and soon it was Wednesday.  Sylvia came into the room, made a comment about the interior in an attempt to spare Bern’s feelings, and nodded with great enthusiasm at the figures and storyboards that Bernadette showed her.  

But then she suggested watching one of her short films and Sylvia said yes, and before the movie had even started Bernadette had pushed her against the bedroom wall and spread her legs and pushed up the satiny folds of her blouse, and Sylvia did not say no.   Bernadette pulled her hair and smeared her lipstick and made tiny bite marks on her neck and moved her from wall to desk to bed.  Even in the moment, Bernadette tried to remember how this softness felt, because she knew she may never feel it again.

The next morning she carved at the blonde doll with a tiny knife and the nose still looked hideous.  It probably always would.

 

Baldemar Is Made of Clay: 7

Baldemar awoke to a morning that felt just like the last one.  Except today the covers were twisted around him and he felt significantly less like standing up than he had yesterday.  His arms were sore, as if he had been fighting someone, but he could not remember any of his dreams.  Without standing he stretched his arm to the closet and threw the door open.  Grabbed an olive suit and pink button down and pulled them on while still in bed.  The clothes were odd but so were the days.

He did not feel well about this day, but someone had to be the source of positivism.  It would be so much harder today than it was before though.  Today there would be people he had never seen before, swarming with pamphlets and banter and using smarmy tactics to try and become a false friend.  He could not hide behind his coffee making skills or one word pleasantries.  He would now have to be amiable in extended conversation, and even while lying in bed the thought exhausted him.

Baldemar sat up.  This would not run him over.  There would certainly be something good that would happen.  He could go outside and disappear if he wanted and watch the birds wage further warfare on the power lines.  Perhaps in the craze she had created, Neela would continue to keep from speaking to him.  Maybe Pud would follow in her lead and find someone else to bother.  And perhaps Admus had overnight made the building into one big mirror image of the sky with cubicles as clouds and no rain anywhere.  

And maybe he would see Mayba today.  

These thoughts were enough to keep him from falling back to sleep, and to put his first foot on the floor.  This was often the hardest part of his day.  The buzzer sounded again.  Baldemar smacked it and went to the bathroom to make sense of his hair.  It looked as though someone had put him into a head lock, and his face was still so puffed that it almost seemed like he had the makings of two black eyes.  He put salve on his fingers and in his hair and adjusted a tie and went out the door.  It was warmer today than yesterday, if only by a few degrees.

Baldemar watched the pups take their owners for the morning walk.  They bobbed back and forth with a bit more energy than the day before, but they still made no noise, were still respectful of their owners requiring time to emerge among the living, so they floated, quiet pink and blue cotton balls drifting down the sidewalk.

Part of him hoped that something destructively insane would happen to the building that day.  That Admus would pull from the farthest corner of his strange imagination something that would destroy every foundation of normalcy by 5:00.  Anything was better than watching coworkers glare at each other for days on end.

Today there seemed to be something sparked in the dog walkers.  Some actually smiled and said hello to each other.  Was this unusual?  Or was he so entrenched in the negativity at work that simple greetings sounded like real kindness?  He was even sick of the word “negativity.”  Thought that when spoken it produced physical detriments to one’s health.  The situation at work simply was, not anything bad or good.  More people needed to realize this and stop feeling obligated to put labels on things.  To match nouns with adjectives.  Things just were and that was all.

Once again Baldemar was having a hard time thinking happily, but he reached the bright red house sooner than usual.  There was no Mayba and there was no dog, only the empty water pitcher beside her flowers.  Seeing he was a few minutes early, Baldemar rested his arms on the gate in front of her house.  He could have fallen asleep standing there, even in the cold.  Or maybe because of it.

Shadows passed in her window and he heard the yapping pup.  Just walk him already he’s begging you.  The red door opened.  Mayba wore sweat pants and her long hair down and when she saw him she yelped.  Baldemar did not move, did not know what to say.

“Have you been standing there all night?”

“No.” he spoke!  “Only for a few minutes.”

“Did.. did you get lost on the way to work?”

The full impact of his strangeness hit him.  She thought there was something wrong with him.

“Oh dear.  No.. I’m sorry.  Have a good day.”  He waved and went on his way.

Pain stung everywhere and would not go away.  Baldemar reached the bus stop and slumped his face into his hands.  He would request an innovation to Admus where, if you stepped into it, you could disappear forever, or at least until you stopped feeling like a creep.

The old woman had her nose turned to him.  “Good morning.  Something bite your face today?”

He sat up. “No.”

“Well you sure do look puffy.”

“It may help if I could remember my dreams.  I either got hit by a train in one of them or attempted to show down a sumo wrestler.”

“Dreadful that you would let a sumo wrestler win in your own dreams.”

“For all I know, I’m sore because I spent the entire night beating up sumo wrestlers.”

“Why the fascination with sumo wrestlers?  Does your family have Asian lineage?”

“Oh goodness no.  My name is Baldemar.  My family is very decidedly German.”

“Well you don’t look German.  You just look blue.”

“Are you referring to my mindset or my skin color?”

“Most days I mean your skin color.  But today you do look blue around the gills.”

“I don’t have gills.”

“It’s just an expression.  Tell me what the matter is.”

“I just made an idiot out of myself.”

“How did you make yourself into an idiot?”

“Because I acted extremely frighteningly around a girl.”

“Oh… that’s terrible.” She said.

The bus was turning the corner and he was sad to see it.  Perhaps since it was Tuesday there would be fewer people squeezed inside of it today.  He doubted it.

“Can I ask you a question?”  he said.

“Of course.”

“Would it be creepy of me to sit next to you on the bus today and talk more?”

She frowned for a long enough time that he regretted asking.  “Why no, I don’t think it is creepy.  Especially since you asked.”

“Alright then.”

“Just don’t go trying to sneak peeks of my face like you did yesterday.  I don’t like that.”

“Okay I won’t.  Certainly understandable.”

“Good.”

The bus was about three quarters as full as it had been yesterday, and no one sat in the first seats, so he and the old woman took them.  Watching her sit down was also a performance, but Baldemar tried to look at his hands instead.  

“So tell me about this girl you seem to have embarrassed yourself in front of.”

“I’m a bit afraid to, one of her friends could be riding this bus.”

“You don’t have to tell me her name.  Just tell me what you did.”

“It won’t take long to tell.  I stood in front of her house until she came out to walk her dog.  When she saw me she screamed and asked if I had been standing there all night.”

“Had you?”

“No!  But I did for a few minutes when I came home last night and she saw me there too.”

“Oh.. Oh dear.”

“What?”

“Well that is a little creepy dear, you have to admit.”

He slumped back over.  “I know.  But at least I spoke to her this time.”

She patted his back and her fingers were little bones.  “You should not beat yourself up though.  Many men have recovered from worse.”

“Like what?”

“Like being eaten by a whale.  I don’t know.  Point is it’s nothing to worry this much over.”

“Well what should I do then?”

“You shouldn’t be consulting batty old women like me, that’s for sure.  Maybe now that it feels dreadfully uncomfortable you could make a joke out of it with her.  Oh, haha!  You thought I was a serial murderer last time, hello again!  Left my pick axe at home this time, sadly.”

“You think this is a joke.”

“That’s because it is.  And you should laugh, because jokes are funny.  Isn’t this your office building?”

“Yes and you still haven’t told me what you think I should do.”

“Yes I have.  Goodbye.  I hope you have a good day at work.”

“Thank you.”

Admus was several yards ahead of Baldemar before he had ever stepped off the bus.  Why did the little man with the cane and the high ranking job title take the bus in to work every day?  If he needed a car why didn’t he just build one?  Whatever the case he walked like most people drove.  Furiously, even with a cane, zipping past people until disappearing into the front door.  Baldemar could understand Admus’s not wanting anyone to see him, but why then did he go to the effort of putting himself in places where he would surely be noticed?  

He walked through the door and almost smacked into one of Admus’s new changes for the day, a spike jutting from the wall, that would have impaled him had he not looked up.  After his heart had regained a steady pulse, he wondered what the explanation of this was going to be.  It did not seem likely to relieve any workplace stress.

As Baldemar stared at the spike it seemed to inflate, became more round than sharp until it was a bubble, and then retreated back into the wall.

“Do you like it?”  Admus was behind him.  His presence was almost scarier than the spike.

“I’ve got to level with you here Admus.  This is pretty twisted.”

“No it isn’t.”  He twitched excitedly.  “It’s perfectly pin stick straight!  And it will keep people alert or give them a nasty poke for their laziness.  Brilliant right?”

“..Certainly creative.”

“I’m glad you think so Baldemar.  I’m really hoping you can one day be one of my allies here.”

The first person to give him a pro-Constructioner sales pitch was the Constructioner himself.  Baldemar smiled through his unease.  “Thanks Mr. Admus.  I’ll definitely think about it.”

The elevator’s arrival saved him.  As he entered Admus called, “I hope you will!  I certainly hope you will!”  

Every pair of eyes lit up at Baldemar’s arrival, followed by a dozen twisted smiles (exactly six on one side, six on the other).  Baldemar gave another nervous smile and faced the door.  He heard whispers, hushed taunts at the opposing side.  He looked over his shoulder and saw the glares melt into false smiles at the sight of him.  Unnerved, he turned back around.  Halfway to his floor, a skinny girl with orange hair leaned forward and held out a muffin.

“Err.. umm.. oh, that looks lovely.”  He said. “I mean delicious.”

“Take it.  Please!”

He did so and stood with the muffined arm sticking straight out.

“Aren’t you going to eat it, silly?”

Soft hisses, Don’t call him silly!  Her smile faltered.

“Why yes, of course I am!”  Baldemar bit into the muffin’s head and sprayed crumbs everywhere, particularly his face.  The door to his floor opened and he rushed out, muttering “Havvagooday!”

He looked at his feet as he walked to his desk, not wanting to see any more artificially lit up faces.  Pud was waiting for him, and for the first time it was a relief to see him.

“Good morrrrrning it’s Tuuuuuesday!  And look at the pile of shit you’ve got on your desk buddy!”

“Oh my.  Pud, you are not exaggerating.” The pile of letters almost reached the ceiling.  “This is ridiculous.”

“You are the first person I ever knew who got fan mail.”

“It’s not fan mail.  It’s propaganda, all of it.  Do you have a ladder I could use to reach the top?”

As if it had heard him, the ceiling bubbled up and inflated, pushing the letters down and making them easier to reach.  Baldemar worriedly watched this, and grabbed one of the top papers.  

“So what’s it say?” Pud asked.

“Strengthen your peace of mind and step forward into the new millennium with Admus Innovations Inc.  Since when does he have an Inc?  Or a company name?”

“Are there any pictures?”

“Get a grip Pudley, you sound like a child.  There’s one.”  He flipped the pamphlet over to Pud and pointed to a serene woman being caressed by purple waves coming out of her office’s air conditioning vents.

“That’s a bit creepy.  Go get another one.”

He pulled another one from the top.  No words on the front, just a large image of a man running screaming from a building that had angry red eyes, fangs, and talons for arms and legs.  The flip side of the cover read This is how the world ends.  Not with a bang but with a building.  Baldemar handed it to Pud.  “This one’s pretty good.”

“Uh-ha!  That’s amazing!” he could not stop laughing.  “Topical and humorous!”

“Shut up.”

“If I were you, I’d go through that whole thing, only pick out the clever ones, and tally all of those up.  Then make your decision based on who amused you the most.  Which will clearly be my side, if it continues to deliver pieces like that.”

“Indeed.”

The bubble on the ceiling snapped into a spike and speared through the papers.  Pud and Baldemar jumped.

“Jesus Baldie!  What if that had been your face!”

“You think this is happening all over the building?”

“I’m sure it is and I’m sure he’s already got some excuse for it.  How can anyone have a positive opinion of this guy when this crap keeps happening?”

“Do you hear that?”

“Do I hear what?”

“That.  That whistling.”

“Is it coming from that thing?”

A small plume of steam shot from the skewered stack of sheets.  It whistled like a human and changed notes like a song.  The spike returned to bubble and retracted back to the ceiling.  Pud watched with gaping childish mouth.

“I guess it goes without saying that I need coffee before I can process this sort of thing.” Baldemar said.

“Um. Yeah.  I’ll get you some.”

“No don’t, I’ll go and get it.” It did not sit well that Pud might have been buttering him up with the rest of them.

“No Baldie I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Nah I insist.”

A mob of people threw out their hands, all waving pamphlets, when he walked into the kitchen.  Several scattered good mornings and yelps of stepped on toes.  Baldemar pivoted and ran in the other direction.  The annoyed groans were audible from the hallway.

“I see now why you didn’t want me to get it myself.”

“Thought I was just like them huh?  Nah Baldie, I’m just like you.  Only difference is I picked a side.  You like sugar in your coffee?”

“No.  Black.” He remembered he had brought an egg and butter sandwich.  This made him feel better until he realized he would need to go to the break room to microwave it.  “Pud can I ask you something else?”

He made a face at the question.  “Egg and butter.”

“What?  It’s really good.  Especially heated and with coffee.”

“Whatever you say. They’re your arteries.”

The stack of papers did not fall until Pud walked past it.  Baldemar did not try to pick them up.  They drifted around him like white rectangular leaves, each with a jagged hole at the center.   The spike had gored, straight in the mouth, the image of a newsboy shouting the evils of Pro-Constructioners. .  It was oddly fitting.

They were going to tear each other apart.  Picking a side would be choosing a weapon.  The more they pushed him the less he liked either view.  All he could do was dodge and duck until the end happened.  It was a bleak thought and it saddened him.  Baldemar hoped he could not predict the future.

Pud returned with a sandwich and cup, and put both on the desk.  Steam curled past the mug.  Baldemar sighed, happy again, however briefly.  

“Here you go boss.”

“Boss is a new one.”

“I figured you would like it.”

“But what if your real boss heard it?”

“He would just have to live with it.  But I doubt he would care much.  He knows already that you’re my bud so I’m sure he wouldn’t give a shit…. Uh, Baldie,” he began talking out of the side of his mouth, “Turn around?”

“What?”  His stomach sank.  He dreaded seeing whatever it was.  “..Is it something bad.”

“No, uh…. it’s just a little creepy, is all.”

“That’s not what I really want to hear Pud.”

“Let’s just say, you’ll thank me for warning you.”  

Taking a deep breath he turned around, and over the top of his desk were three leering pairs of eyes.  Even with Pud’s warning Baldemar jumped.  

“H-hello?”

“Hello Mr. Baldemar.”  One of them said.  Their heads never moved.  Each pupil was a different color and size. “Just wanted to pay a visit.”

“Don’t walk over there Baldie.” Pud whispered.  “Trust me on this one.”

“Your friend doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  Two of them spat, one with a higher octave voice.  “I work personally with Mr. Admus.  He is a marvelous member of society and he wants what is best for all of us.”

“..I am sure he does.  Who.. who are you?”

“Then you agree?!!” A third voice, even higher, spoke over the other two.  Their eyes brightened.  “You think his work is good too?”

“I think I still don’t know all the facts.”  Baldemar said.  “But I’m sure he means well.  At least it looks like he does.  And he’s certainly woken people up around here.”

All three of the heads appeared to shake, and Baldemar thought he saw steam rising off one.  

“That sounds like what they all say just before they start to agree with us.  And then it’s only a matter of time before everyone agrees with us.”

“Can I make a quick comment here?”  Pud asked.  Baldemar winced.  “I’ve got to say, you guys are very bad at trying to convince people to join you.  I mean, your tactics are all wrong.  No one’s going to join a group where the recruiters creep the ever living hell out of them.”

They shook even faster.  “Excuse us?”

“Pud shut up for God’s sake.  You are not helping.”

“I don’t care if I’m helping.  I’m just telling the truth.  And that truth is that these people are freaking me out and they haven’t even really said anything.”

“We’ve said plenty.  Baldemar is not scared of us.  We only frighten you because you are weak.”

“Weak!  Come over here and say that!”

“Pud, please.”

“Baldemar is not afraid.  He should talk to us.”

“I’ll just do it Pud,” he whispered, “and then they’ll leave faster.”

“It’s your damn funeral then.”

He approached his desk.  They made excited squeaks.  

“Thanks for your interest,” Baldemar said, “but I’m trying to accumulate as much information as I can about both sides before I decide to start speaking with anyone about them.  I uh.. definitely appreciate your enthusiasm though.”

“Oh we have literature.  We have literature indeed.”

A hand appeared and slammed a pamphlet into the inbox.  It left a green stain.

“Thanks.. and uh.  What are your names?”

“Igobert.”

“What?”

They shuffled from behind the desk and were not actually three at all, but one instead, a green dripping body with tentacles and fingers all at once.  “Igobert.”

“Oh.  Yes of course.  Well it’s certainly been memorable to meet you, Igobert.”

A tentacle extended towards him.  “Pleased to meet you as well, Baldemar.”

“Don’t touch it!”

“Don’t listen to him.”  Though a mouth was not visible the voices sounded like they were smiling.  “He does not know what he is saying.”

Igobert glared and a bubble began expanding on the floor underneath Pud.  Baldemar yanked him off of it.  It grew long and cylindrical, and sharpened.  

“I’m sorry but I have a cold and have been wiping my nose all day with my hands, otherwise I would shake yours.”  Baldemar said.  “In the meantime it is still very nice to meet you.”

Small frown and Igobert turned away.  “See you soon Mr. Baldemar.”

He slumped into his desk chair.  A long green stain was left on top of the desk.  He had never bought desk sanitizer but he had never needed to until today.  The spike popped and Pud screamed, crouching into a ball on the floor.

“How could anyone believe in something or someone like that,” Pud said, voice higher than usual, “and still sleep well every night!”