Retro

I was going through a box of things from my childhood my parents have collected throughout the years, and I came across some short stories I had written. I’d like to reproduce a couple of them here. These are selections from a book called, The Bubblegum Factory and Other Stories! Unfortunately, there is no year written on it, so I’m not sure how old I was when I wrote these, but if my faulty memory serves me correct (and the calculation in the first story), I was either in first or second grade. All spelling, grammatical, and punctuation mistakes have been faithfully transcribed. Here goes:

America

Once upon a time we were all british. Bunches of people wanted to be American. We had a war. All the people that wanted to be an American hoped they wold win. The flag had 13 stars and 13 stripes. America won the war. Right now America is 225 years old. The flag has 50 stars, but still only 13 stripes.

***

The Lonely Penguin
Chapter 1

Once opon a time there was a lonely penguin. It was sad. It wanted a friend. It looked all over the antartic. It caught a cold. Then one day the penguin fairy gave them a baby penguin. It grew fast. Then it wanted a friend too. Then one of them said do you want to be my friend? OK the other one said. They lived happily ever after.

By Joey Hall.

***

Bubba and the Bubble Gum Factory
Chapter 1

Once upon a time there was a bubble gum factory. It sold bubble gum. One day it didn’t work. Everyone was sad.

Mary tried to fix it with her pliers but it didn’t work. All the people cried

. Then one day Bubba made a machine that could fix everything. I found the problem he said. I found it Someone stuck a tool in it. Who did it?

By Joey Hall.

***

Bubba and the Bubble Gum Factory
Chapter 2

Once upon a time there was a mystery. It was from the bubble gum factory.

We were trying to figure out who put the tool in the factory. It seemed like we looked all around the world. Then we saw him. It was a robber. We sent him to jail.

By Joey Hall

***

I suppose we all have to start somewhere…

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Watermark (Part 2)

Author’s Note: I’m very humbled to have had a great response to part one of Watermark. I have had several people compliment me and ask me if there would be a continuation, which is a crazy feeling. I had no idea people were even reading my blurbs. But thanks to the power of a good cliffhanger, you’ve asked for more, so I present that here. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

***

“The doctor will see you now.”

I followed the nurse through the hallway to the room I was in last week. Every step was slower, matching the sense of doom growing in my heart. There was nothing to indicate on the surface that this place was anything less than what it pretended it was, but I had my suspicions. I needed answers.

I sat in the chair as the doctor came into the room.

“Ah, Mr. Delavigne! It’s good to see you again. In need of another fifty bucks?” He chuckled slightly.

It was here that I should have said something clever, or simply called him out. What’s the real motive of your experiment, you chuckling psychopath? But instead, I said something that surprised even myself.

“Yes sir. In need of another research volunteer?”

He smiled. “I certainly am. And it’s good to see that you’ve come back. I believe that we played a rock song for you last time. ‘Show Me How to Live’ by Audioslave, if I’m not mistaken. Does that sound right?”

I had no idea. I just nodded, not wanting to appear unfamiliar with popular culture. Also, I genuinely couldn’t remember.

“Well, I think we may switch things up for you this time. We’ll go with a classical piece. I’m thinking Beethoven.”

He kept waving his clipboard as he gestured in time with his words. I tried to catch a glimpse of something pertinent, but the only thing I could make out for sure was the largest word at the top: DELAVIGNE.

“That sounds alright,” I lied. I didn’t really care for classical music either.

He left to go to the observation room as several men came in, going through the usual song and dance of attaching electrodes from various instruments to different parts of my body. There was a part of me that thought if I wanted answers, I should have been more direct with the doctor, but another part of me liked the thrill of this sort of espionage. Certainly, I had no idea what I was doing, or even if I would be able to gather any information this way. However, the main answer I wanted was why my hand was twitching. When it was twitching, I sensed I was in danger. But I was safe in my apartment the whole time. If I got home after the experiment with another twitching hand, I surmised, then I could blame this so-called research facility and demand answers next time. But if I didn’t, then it could have just been anything really. A lack of certain chemicals in the brain can cause all sorts of strange behavior.

When the song ended, the electrodes were removed, the check was received, and I headed home to await my destiny.

And that’s the last thing I remember.

Watermark

I sat in the chair and put the headphones over my head. I’d taken hearing tests before and assumed this would be similar. The biggest difference between this and a hearing test was the electrode swarm the team had placed all over my body. Well that, and that I would be compensated fifty dollars for my time. I wondered if there was a way I could come back another time and collect another fifty, but the way the paper worded the experiment, it sounded like a one-time only offer. Still, I didn’t have any big plans for the day and figured this would be as good a use of my time as any.

The doctor spoke into a microphone in the room next to me, separated by a pane of glass. My headphones buzzed to life.

“In a moment, you are going to hear some music. The electrodes are going to record your body’s response to this stimulus. All you have to do is sit there and listen. Sound good?”

I gave him a thumbs up sign.

“Good. Here we go.”

I started hearing a rock song. It was probably some famous band, but I wouldn’t really know unless someone told me. I didn’t listen to rock very often. The sounds of jagged electric notes crashing against harsh thumps and gravel-dragged vocals did nothing to inspire. I preferred the dissonance of jazz or the slow simmer of blues. Still, I sat there as told, closed my eyes, and listened.

When the song ended, I blinked my eyes open and awaited further instruction. To my surprise, the doctor in the adjacent room had disappeared. Three men came into my room and started wordlessly peeling the electrodes off of me.

“So, am I done?”

No one responded. One of the men unceremoniously yanked the headphones off me, unplugged them from the box by my side, and walked out. The doctor who had spoken to me earlier muscled his way into the room as the remaining two men pushed their electrode-bundled selves through the doorway.

“Well, Mr. Delavigne, I sincerely thank you for your time. That’s all we need from you. Just see Cara at the front desk to get your money.”

I was shocked. “That’s seriously it?”

He nodded with a slight smile. “That is seriously it. Easy, right?”

“I… I suppose. Well, when will I get the results?”

The doctor tilted his head, quizzically. “The results?”

“Yeah. When will I know what you guys find out? This is for an experiment on how the human body reacts to certain stimuli, right?”

“Well, yes. But you are just one in several participants we’ll see today and throughout the rest of the month. It will be some time before we actually collect enough data and are able to decipher meaning from it. Besides, this isn’t a checkup, so you won’t be getting any results.”

I was a little disappointed, but I suppose that made sense.

“Can I come back?”

Something flashed in the doctor’s eyes. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but he surprised me. “You certainly can. It will be interesting to see how the same body reacts to a different stimulus.”

I thanked him and left. Cara had my check ready for me before I got to the front desk, so I grabbed it and walked out of the building.

 

Later that night, I was sitting in my chair, doing some crosswords. I do this nearly every night. There was nothing unordinary about it. And yet, there was this uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The hairs on the back of my neck started to bristle. I tensed my body and waited…

Nothing happened.

I cautiously stood to my feet, slightly hunched, waiting…

Nothing happened.

What was this feeling? I couldn’t shake it. Something was happening, and I had no idea what it was.

I tried to relax, but then I started sweating. It wasn’t even hot in the room. I scanned the room, looking for the source of my uneasiness. Still, nothing.

That’s when it happened.

Suddenly, my left hand started to twitch…

 

Greener Pastures

The subway door couldn’t open fast enough. Had I really seen him?

I bolted down the hall. Sure enough, there he was, ambling my way. We had not seen each other in years.

“Jon!” I shouted. His head snapped my way. “Hey, man!”

Jon stopped and let me catch up to him. “Chet? Is it really you?” He dropped his suitcase and grabbed me in a big bear hug. “Wow! It’s been too long. I was worried I’d never see you again!”

I nodded in agreement. “What have you been up to?”

Jon blushed. “It’s a little embarrassing to admit, buddy.” He stared at me, wondering how judgmental I’d be.

“Come on. It’s me. You know you can tell me anything.”

He looked around at the busy station. People were passing by on all sides, not staying long enough to hear a full conversation. Having sensed the passers-by were no threat to his confession, he pressed on. “Chet, I’ve been up to nothing.”

I stared at him, hoping for some elaboration. He provided none, so I prodded. “What do you mean?”

“I mean exactly that. I’ve done absolutely nothing. I’ve sat in a room watching the walls around me turn dimly grey, shade by miniscule shade. I’ve eaten the same burnt porridge-goo for every meal, every day since I’ve been gone. I slid every dollar I ever saved through that mystical slot in the wall until I had nothing left. Do you know what silence sounds like, Chet?”

I shook my head.

“It’s deafening. You can’t hear yourself think over how quiet it is.”

I had no idea what to say. My friend was making no sense.

“That is my embarrassing confession. I have been gone for so long, and I have nothing to show for it.”

I glanced down at his suitcase. “What’s in there?”

His eyes lit up. “You know, it’s crazy. Locked away in that room for years, there was nothing. But the train ride over here, there was everything! There was hope and fear, there was laughter and sadness, there were smells… Smells, Chet! Do you know that I had forgotten how to smell?”

“No, Jon. I sure didn’t.” I paused, waiting for more.

“So I captured it all.” He picked up his suitcase and patted the side. “Emotion, striving, yearning… The deepest reaches of what it means to be human. That’s what’s in here.”

Jon had always been a little eccentric, but this seemed different. Then again, it had been a while since I’d seen him. Maybe absence makes the heart grow odder.

“I’d love to share it with you.”

I glanced up at him, shocked. “Are you serious?”

He beamed. “If, of course, you’ll allow me to.”

I slowly smiled. “That would be amazing, Jon.” I then thought to the last time we spoke. “But you know, it can’t be like it was before.”

Jon nodded solemnly. “I know that, Chet. It’ll have to be better than before. Disciplined. Focused.”

I nodded in agreement.

We both let our words sink in as the crowd flowed around us. They seemed electric. Excited. They knew something special was happening.

“Hey, Chet.”

“Yes, Jon?”

Jon cleared his throat. “Could you promise me one thing?”

“What is it?”

“Don’t let me leave again. There is nothing where I went, and if I leave, that’s just where I’ll go again.”

I let the weight of his words rest on me for a while. I was equally at fault for his absence. There was no way around it. And wherever my friend went, it wasn’t a good place. Now if he left again, it would be as if I were sending him myself to this dreary existence.

I looked him in the eyes. “Alright, Jon.”

His face lit up. “Thank you, Chet. You always were a good friend.”

I smiled in return as we started walking down the hall toward the station exit. I had no way of knowing for sure, but this felt like the start of something better.

“So, what have you been up to?”

I shrugged. “Well, the same sort of stuff I’ve always been doing. Wake up, go to work, eat, sleep. That’s about it.”

He looked disappointed. “But you seem different.”

I looked up at him. “Really?”

He nodded. “I think you’re hiding something.”

“Well, not exactly hiding. It’s just that I don’t know if it’s worth bringing up. It’s just a feeling, you know? Nothing tangible.”

Jon lifted his suitcase. “Do you think I care?”

“Fair enough.” I looked around. We walked up the stairs among a throng of people. I had no way of knowing if they were listening, but I felt so foolish I didn’t really care. I wanted to share this new development in life with my friend. “I guess I don’t know how to describe it. I feel like I’m always searching for something, for someone. There’s a pull toward… something. But that doesn’t really make much sense. All I do is wake up, go to work, eat, sleep. That’s who I am.”

Jon lifted his suitcase again, agitated. He pointed at it with a menacing look. “Longing doesn’t make sense. Yet, it makes perfect sense. It’s one of these emotions.”

“Hm. Is that so?”

“Yes, it is. And all that stuff you do is not who you are. It’s what you do. So now I know what we will do.”

We stopped as we reached the city sidewalk in the radiant sunshine. “You do?”

“Yes, my friend. We’ll do what makes us human.” He paused, dramatically, before continuing. “We will chase that feeling!”

For the first time in a long time, I felt something real. I felt excited. I was ready to chase that feeling.

And that’s exactly what we did.

 

Is the American Dream Dead?

Is the American Dream dead?

That question floated into my consciousness recently, unlocked from a memory seven years old. My eleventh grade English class included a big project on the American Dream, and this was one of the questions our brains were tasked with answering.

Many people said it was dead. At the time, I did not. I reasoned that there are still people out there, looking for more, for better. The American Dream is not simply the acquisition of money. It’s a drive to become the best one can be. It’s a drive to achieve the most one can achieve. It’s a desire for a better life.

When that question floated into my mind recently, I thought more about it. What if I was wrong? Is the American Dream dead?

No. To this day, it persists.

The American Dream will last longer than my more pessimistic eleventh-grade colleagues can imagine. Is it harder to attain in the modern age? Probably. Does it look different than it did a hundred years ago? Almost certainly. But it persists deep in the souls of us all.

What person would not willingly exchange a lifetime of scrubbing tile floors for a nice retirement in a comfortable lifestyle? Who among us would not completely uproot their lives to something nicer if they won the lottery? Why would someone not sell their two-hundred year old Honda Civic when they have the ability to get a much nicer, maybe even more luxurious, form of transportation? What addict would not willingly give up his vice, if he could do it on his own? What parent would not pour all their resources into their children, in hopes of them living a better life than they did? What person, if opportunity presented itself to achieve one’s goals, would not immediately jump at the chance?

Wait a minute…

Truth be told, a lot of people would not do these things. Maybe you are one of them. Maybe I am too. Sure, everyone wants a better life. Everyone wants more.

The American Dream is not dead.

But maybe… drive is dead.