Surprise, still here. Busy as always. I’ll be even busier soon with work and summer classes. Just wanted to post my final project for my lit theory class. It’s a collection of five flash fiction stories, based off quotes from an essay by Nietzsche. They can stand alone by themselves, but there are also connections to each other that make the piece work as a whole. Ignore the spacing as best you can. I’m copying and pasting right from Word. Enjoy.
“Nature has thrown away the key, and woe betide fateful curiosity should it ever succeed in peering through a crack in the chamber of consciousness, out and down into the depths, and thus gain an intimation of the fact that humanity, in the indifference of its ignorance, rests on the pitiless, the greedy, the insatiable, the murderous—clinging in dreams, as it were, to the back of a tiger” (765).
People couldn’t help but comment on how the sun was close to finally coming out from behind the clouds. It had rained for over a week, heavy downpours that kept everyone inside. It was the first day where they could at least walk around. A young boy, six years old, was watching National Geographic with his father. On the television, a tiger waiting patiently in the tall grass saw an opportunity to ambush a deer and jumped on it.
“Do tigers live in New York?” the boy asks.
His father, embarrassed for his son, holding back a smile, replies, “No, only in jungles, and Zoos.”
“Can we go to the zoo?”
“We can,” he said eagerly.
The boy’s father loved the weather, he was obsessed with it. They couldn’t leave the house without checking. First the television, the weather channel and then the local news, and then online. It couldn’t be too hot or too cold. Anything over eighty-five made him sweaty and uncomfortable; anything under fifty would make him shiver. None of this mattered, though. Cabin fever had set in on him, he couldn’t stand the idea of another nature show, survival show gold mining show, or commercial for any of these shows. Neither he or his son barely had their jackets on before they were out the door.
The zoo was already on its way out. People simply don’t go as often as they used to, not when they can sit inside and watch television all day or Youtube videos and Netflix on their computers and tablets. That day, it seemed as if everyone had the same idea. The zoo was clearly understaffed that day. Everyone seemed to be scrambling back and forth, going from exhibit to exhibit. The crowds overwhelmed the boy, but the father was glad to see everyone out again.
The animals were kept below ground level, some going down almost fifteen feet, with rusted steel bars along the borders. Each zoo keeper had a set of keys to all the exhibits attached to their belts. The zoo couldn’t afford the more updated glass walls where one only needs to scan their I.D. card for access. Everyone was focused primarily on the primate exhibits towards the front of the zoo, closest to the parking lots, in case the sky opened up again. Towards the back, the lions, tigers, and leopards stayed in their dens, protected from the rain and wind, only coming out to eat. Only a few people, umbrellas in hand, ventured to the back of the zoo. It was close to lunch time, and the boy thought it would be like the shows, using live prey. But soon enough, the boy learned that the zookeepers use wheelbarrows to haul the meat.
He also saw that the zookeeper had dropped his keys outside while trying to fix the wheel that got caught in a crack on the footpath. His mother always lets him play with her keys when they’re out shopping at Target. The jingle and the way the fluorescent lighting hits the metal, plus all the store cards and the clicker for the car with the red button on the back that he’s not supposed to touch but does anyway, he couldn’t fight his instinct to pick them up. His curiosity also got the better of him. If the zoo keeper could go into the exhibit with a wheelbarrow full of food, why couldn’t he just look for a second? It would be just like on television where the keepers get close to the animals and sometimes pet them, or like the show on Netflix about the monks in China that keep the tigers on leashes, or the show about the man in New York City who kept a tiger in his apartment for years. The tiger wouldn’t even see the boy if he peeked only for a second. Signs all over the bars say not to climb over, that only staff can enter.
The boy’s father, distracted by a young mother and her child passing by, didn’t see the boy go right for the front gate. The zookeeper, already long gone, still hadn’t checked his pocket for his keys. The dark grey sky opened up for a moment and everyone seemed to stop and stare, not at the sun, but up to the sky, absorbing its warmth for the first time in days.
“When are you going to start drinking again?” the boy’s father asked his neighbor, who also got outside today, who’s finally starting to look like a normal person again.
The boy, confused and distracted by the question didn’t notice how close he was to the steep hill directly in front of him. He tumbled all the way down the hill, screaming the entire way. Only then did his father realize he was missing. When the boy got up, he was face to face with one of the tigers at the mouth of the cave. At first, the boy seemed excited, and even tried to pet the beast. Still unaware of the danger he was in, he looked up at his father. Only when his father’s screams reached the bottom of the hill, did the boy realize his fatal mistake, unable to decide whether to run or turn back around.
“Just as it is certain that no leaf is ever exactly the same as any other leaf, it is equally certain that the concept ‘leaf’ is formed by dropping these individual differences arbitrarily, by forgetting those features which differentiate one thing from another, so that the concept then gives rise to the notion that something other than leaves exists in nature, something which would be ‘leaf’, a primal form, say, from which all leaves were woven, drawn, delineated, dyed, curled, painted—but by a clumsy pair of hands, so that no single example turned out to be a faithful, correct, and reliable copy of the primal form” (767).
John couldn’t stand the idea of losing another job because of his anger. His mother used to tell him when he was little the needed to learn how to behave properly otherwise his anger would land him in prison or six feet under. His father skipped that lesson and let the belt do the talking. I’d like to be able to tell you that I didn’t see it coming, and that his job started off well, but it was bad right from the start and only grew worse.
John’s front yard was dark and covered in leaf litter. A tall red oak wouldn’t allow light to come down for flowers to grow in the spring. The thought of a green lawn was laughable. In the fall, acorns were attracted to the gutters like tiny magnets, clogging them almost entirely. If you look closely, you can see saplings peaking over the top, some with fully developed leaves. At almost 200 years old, the tree has become an important part of the neighborhood. It was the only landmark the town’s original settlers had when they moved from Northoak, a small farming village where the ground after so many years of being sown could no longer sustain them. They took the lonely red oak as a sign from God and descended from down the mountains to lay their claim. Every year, the block with the red oak tree holds a street fair in the tree’s honor, where fathers can bring their children and tell them about how their fathers brought them when they were little.
If you look even closer at the tree, you would see two holes in the trunk. Those holes, I found out, had hooks in them. When John acted out, his father would bind his hands with rope and attach the rope to the hooks in the tree. The holes were just a little too high up on the tree for John to stand normally. If he got off his tiptoes, he would fall and the weight of his body would go straight to his wrists, the rope cutting deeper and deeper, the scars getting worse and worse. Some nights his father would let him just hang there, for minor offenses: coming home late, failing a test, skipping school, getting into fights. Other nights, if his father heard he was talking back to his mother, he would use the belt.
It didn’t help that John was a small child growing up. He was constantly bullied in school for being so little. He walked through the halls as if he had a target on his back. He couldn’t relax for one second, even in the classrooms. Other students would throw things when the teacher turned her back. And our teacher would make a point of calling on John, because she knew he wasn’t paying attention. She would catch him sleeping in class at least twice a week.
One hot summer day, a record high, 102 degrees, everyone was making fun of the long sleeve shirt John was wearing to hide the scars on his wrists and back. A couple students got together and planned to follow him home. They wanted to throw him into the once pristine river, now filled with garbage and and sewage. John fought with all of his might to keep his shirt on, as if his life depended on it. He knew if they took it off and saw the scars they would hate him more. It took four of them to hold him down. He managed to hit two in the face, he could feel Eddie’s nose cave into his fist and the warm blood bursting like a geyser into his face, blinding him. Two more kids came from behind and tackled John to the ground. They spit in his face while Eddie kicked John in the ribs and chest, knocking the wind out of him. After nearly two minute of not being able to breathe, he finally caved in. They ripped John’s shirt off and immediately saw the dark purple scars around his wrists. John rolled on his back to protect himself from the blows still coming from Eddie, revealing the scars all over his back, like the stripes of a tiger. The unhealed cuts from two nights ago reopened.
I was watching from behind a tree a couple houses down. I didn’t want any of them to see me and ask me for help. I knew it would be bad when I saw them scream and run away. Curiosity got the better of me and went over to see what happened. John was on the floor crying hysterically, coughing up blood and holding his wrists as if he was possessed by them. When I sat him up, I gave him my shirt to use as a towel. I asked if he was okay and he smiled and vowed he would come back one day to kill the tree.
I didn’t know what he meant. It was too out of place at the time, so I forgot about it. Shortly after the fight down by the river, John ran away and never came back. No one missed him, but no one forgot about him either. The other day I was so shocked to see him at the diner, I couldn’t even go up to him and say hi. Time didn’t do him any favors. He looked and smelled like an alcoholic. He came up to me and thanked me for helping him that day at the river, not even a “hello.” I asked if he was working and he said he just got laid off. I asked what the bucket in his hand was for, and he half-smiled, looking straight through me, and walked out.
It turned out that the bucket had been filled with bleach and other harsh chemicals. The night before, he dug a hole close to the roots, hitting them with his shovel to further expose them and poured the chemicals into the ground. His whole life, he never saw the tree like everyone else did, a sign of hope. To him it was a sign of all the needless pain that his father put him through. When the thought of his father finally entered his head, he fell to his knees and cried.
“Truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions, metaphors which have become worn by frequent use and have lost all sensuous vigour, coins which, having lost their stamp, are now regarded as metal and no longer as coins” (768).
Tony was a slightly above average gardener with a wide open backyard. He started his garden when he first bought his house on Long Island. Growing up in Astoria, there was never any room to grow the fruits and vegetables his uncle grew in his garden in Quogue. There was never enough money either to buy a house with enough property to fulfill his dream. All or nothing, he’d say. In Queens, he worked two fulltime jobs for ten years, both well paid, seven days a week. One was for rent, the other he saved entirely for a future down payment. Four days a week, Tony worked in a garden supply warehouse, exporting high-quality, American-made tools, pots, fertilizer, dirt, gardening books and dvd’s, and seed packs to local nurseries all over the country.
Every day in the warehouse would bring Tony back to his uncle’s garden. There were giant tomato plants, string beans, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and herbs in pots all along the border. He remembered going there when he was little and playing in the dirt in the fall when everything died. After learning about composting, he regretted playing in the compost pile and using it to jump over the fence into the neighbor’s yard to get balls and toys that always flew over. When he did inventory, he would stop to look at all the books and find inspiration in all of them. When he got home late at night, around two in the morning, he would draw pictures of gardens that he hoped to one-day grow for himself. A farm upstate comes to mind with a lonely oak tree in the middle, field corn growing all around it, and sunflowers bordering the road and the river running next to it on the far side.
When Tony’s not at the warehouse, you could find him in the kitchen at his father’s restaurant. In the summer, he’d take trips upstate to buy fruits and vegetables right from the farm with the large oak tree in the middle. It was only a two-hour drive. To Tony, the four hours of freedom the highway provided him was enough to make it through his eighty hour weeks. And cooking with real ingredients makes all the difference in the restaurant industry. Places will say it’s cheaper to get the processed crap, shipped frozen from across the country, and that the cost isn’t worth it, but these places are wrong, their priorities are all wrong. They’re going in with a losing attitude. If you think you’re going to make it assuming you’re going to lose, you already lost. Tony worked for free for years at the restaurant and stood by his dishes. Now, with all the success as of recently, after that major food critic just happened to stop in on his way to another up-and-coming, big-name-executive-chef-leaving-Manhattan-for-an-inferior-borough’s restaurant, he fell in love with Tony’s favorite childhood meal: bowtie pasta with fresh ricotta, parmesan cheese, peas, and bacon. The critic forgot about the (un)original restaurant and left with a full stomach, coming again the next day to ensure Tony would never have to work again.
Humbled by his success, Tony stayed in Astoria for another year, still going to the warehouse, but no longer staying late working doubles. And he still took those trips upstate. That would never change, he promised.
In the middle of July, it was almost impossible to walk through Tony’s garden without hearing him yell at you for stepping on something. He grew everything, just like his uncle, plus zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, garlic, onion, everything he used to get at the farm upstate. They switched over to some kind of GMO seed that grew giant, ungodly produce that ripened in less than a quarter of the time. Tony didn’t trust it, and if anyone asked at his restaurant for further details on where the food comes from, he knew he would have to tell them. He couldn’t live up to that and decided then to buy his house on Long Island, and a huge backyard. His garden took up most of it, and he even paid the neighbors to cut their trees lining the fences, offering to let them take anything they wanted from the garden as well. Here, he would have total control over what grew, and the warehouse was good to him and gave him everything he needed when he finally quit.
Two years later, his restaurant’s success doubled—tripled. With a staff large enough to take care of themselves, Tony can focus entirely on his garden, only going in to drop off the produce. The years of hard work were finally catching up to him. Somedays, he had to call one of the guys in the kitchen to come to his house and pick it up. While pulling up a batch of onions, a dulled coin caught a little bit of sunlight and Tony’s attention. He couldn’t tell what it was, but he always hoped he would dig up some kind of treasure, not realizing he’s already been doing it.
Driven by fatigue, he proceeded to dig up more of the garlic, and went into some of the tomatoes and string beans and broccoli. Before he knew it, half the garden was missing. Tony took a break and called the local museum and asked for help. “Come down and drop it off and we’ll have an answer next week,” they said. Tony’s excitement took hold of him. He was so eager to find more of those coins. He figured if the museum was interested, it had to be something, even if there was just one.
Tony was slow to hang up the phone. The museum said there was a faded tiger on the front, but was essentially worthless—a novelty coin from Chinatown. He looked at what was his garden and wept. The coin looked so real. How would he break the bad news to the restaurant?
“That vast assembly of beams and boards to which needy man clings, thereby saving himself on his journey through life, is used by the liberated intellect as a mere climbing frame and plaything on which to perform its most reckless tricks; and when it smashes this framework, jumbles it up and ironically re-assembles it, pairing the most unlike things and dividing those things which are closest to one another, it reveals the fact that it does not require those makeshift aids of neediness, and that it is now guided, not by concepts but by intuitions” (773).
He tempted fate, thinking he could walk across the beam without a harness. On the ground, it wouldn’t be a problem, even if there was a sudden gust of wind. No one told him not to try it. Why would the thought even cross his mind? Who is he again? The brown guy? We shouldn’t have to tell him. Where is he from?
“You have to find a job.”
“Not hard enough. Look at your father. He works fourteen hour days at the factory.”
“And look at us,” said Hardik.
Wrong choice of words. His mother, known for her temper, was reading in the living room, a giant book, maybe the dictionary. Before he could even process what he said, he was already down on the ground, her face less than a foot away from mine. Hardik could see down her shirt, so he closed my eyes, but she yelled at him to look at her and he obeyed. She hit him relentlessly with her closed fists hard enough to make him cry, but not bleed.
“You’re sleeping outside!” she yelled. “And no dinner. You better get used to it. The streets will be the only home you ever know if you don’t shape up.”
“I know that guy?”
“Does he understand English?”
“Harry? No. Not even a little.”
He pointed to his toolbox he left on the scaffold and waved for me to go. We don’t need to speak to communicate. Hand signals suffice. I was hungry and didn’t think he would walk across without the harness. 500 feet in the air is enough to send a five-foot man flying if there’s a good enough gust. Harry’s a simple guy. I couldn’t imagine him doing this kind of work wherever he came from. I wonder how he even got this job. Look at him. Why did he have to go back in the first place? We were going back up anyways. Firefighters, police, and ambulances can all be heard in the distance. Their sirens growing louder, their lights flashing in the windows as they turn sharply around the corners.
“You need to leave your job.”
“I just got it. I got it for you, the family.”
“It’s not enough.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Your father’s been saving for you to go to America. You can find work there, send us some of what you make, and we will find a way to get to you.”
“Do I get a say in this?”
“No. Go to your job and quit. You’ll be leaving at the end of the week.”
How could he think straight when the boss was making him work doubles almost every night? He took advantage of Harry, the cheap labor. Anyone new to this country will be taken advantage of by someone at some point. Minimum wage is ten dollars an hour, but you could offer a guy like Harry five and he’d take it no questions asked. I wonder what he’s thinking about dangling there. Does he have family? What would they think?
“You need to be fierce, like the tiger. Try to see yourself as one. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. It’s easy where you’re going.”
“Why do I have to go? Why not father? And why by myself? Where am I staying?”
“You have an uncle just outside the city, in Queens. He lives near the train and said you can stay until you find work. But then you’re on your own.”
“But we’re fine here. Look at us. What more do we need?”
The boss told Harry to go back and grab his bag, so no one would trip over it. Harry didn’t understand and shrugged his shoulders. The boss thought this was some sort of insult, throwing his lunch at Harry and storming off while pointing to the toolbox. As Harry went over to the box, afraid to waste any more time, he walked across the beam as a giant gust of wind blew. Dangling high enough in the air for the fall to kill him instantly, he looks back at his life and wonders if this was worth it. He had no money saved, and realized he couldn’t live in this apartment building if he saved every penny he made for two full lifetimes. But at least he can say he built it from scratch. Can the rich families that live here appreciate it like Harry? The smile on his face and his fingertips slowly slip away say it’s worth the fall, to finally find a purpose.
“And he has need of protection, for there exist fearful powers which constantly press on him and which confront scientific truth with ‘truths’ of quite another kind, on shields emblazoned with the most multifarious emblems” (771).
Bullets fly over Andy’s head as he crouches in cover behind a rock wall, close enough to feel their breeze, ironically bringing him a moment of relief from the 120-degree desert air. It’s been so long that sweat no longer pours from his body. His waterlogged suit seems to be boiling rather than keeping him cool. No one knows how he ended up pinned down behind this wall, they haven’t even realized he’s missing yet. The rush of adrenaline numbs him; he sees nothing but endless sand and the rock wall in front of him; the drone of the machine gun deafens him; his mouth so dry from the lack of water, the only thing he can taste is fear; gunpowder and sand clog his nose. He knows this is where he will die.
He makes a break for it. It takes everything in him to peel himself off the wall. Is it likely he makes it out alive? No, but anything else would be a surprise. And off to the side, a building appears out of the cloud of dust surrounding him. The door is open, and it’s tough to tell if anyone’s inside, if he’s running right into the line of fire. His old commanding officer’s voice in his head tells him he will die if he doesn’t find better cover. As he runs to the building, a grenade goes off and there’s a small pause in the fire. He knows they’re reloading and runs faster. There’s a tiger painted on the door, and insurgents waiting inside. He hears them shuffling. With no time to spare he rushes in and clears them out. A family tucked away in their bedroom looks at Andy in horror. He rubs his hand across his face and through his hair. He notices a throb in his lower abdomen. The young boy points to the tiger on the door and cries.
A high level insurgent has been reported in the area. Anyone capable of operating a rifle will be going door-to-door terrorizing families in hopes of capturing their man alive. Each team has one member of the special forces taking charge, guiding us through each house, some taking point, others guiding from behind like alpha wolves, covering our every move, reminding us to check our corners, look for trip wires. The four teams in total are planning to search an entire block of apartments from both sides, snipers all along the border picking off Taliban spotters on rooftops. Ten men to a team, five take the bottom floor, five take the top. The trick is coordinating the breaches at the same time. Stateside, every man has trained to the point where these raids are instinct. Nice, on paper, but never a guarantee.
The routineness of the raids boosts confidence in the lower-ranked troops. In such foreign places, they look for normalcy around every corner. When they don’t have to think about the job at hand, they’re able to view the families less as people and more as an obstacle. They mean well, the guy they’re after deserves what’s coming to him. He runs a local Taliban militia that beheads first and asks later. If you look closely at the crowds of people going through the small, outdoor bazaar, you’re guaranteed to see at least three or four people with hands and legs cut off, acid burns still healing on women and children, scars across faces with missing eyes, limps from broken kneecaps. The door goes down, flashbang in; the family rushes to the corner, the translator is already at work while the team searches the house for weapons, stowaways, and any kind of enemy intel.
The intensity of the raids picks up as the teams get closer to their target. Andy chooses to lead from behind, spotting his team from the rear, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Already too late, he notices the stillness of the air, the overwhelming sound of silence. A machine gun opens fire from a neighboring ten-story window overlooking the entire block before they can breach. The team panics and charges inside. Rob, taking point, is taken down. I can still hear him spitting up blood. He dies in the hallway, drowning in his blood, unable to breathe after the bullet stays lodged in his throat. Knowing Andy’s behind me, I clear the first floor and pull Rob inside the house. I hear the team upstairs yelling at the terrified family upstairs. Someone else is asking for zip ties. Another finds a closet full of weapons.
As the team rushed into the house, Andy was looking for the machine gun. He knew the closer he got to the tall building, the harder it would be for the gunner to spot him. But he tripped and fell behind a fallen stone from a half crumbled wall. He pushes his entire body against it. If he moves an inch he’s done for. He peaks his head up for a second and feels a bullet ricochet off the top of his helmet.
Minutes pass like days behind the wall. Andy can’t stop thinking about why he signed up in the first place. What made him run away from his team? What would his old commanding officer say? Is it worth the trouble? Is he ready to die? Can he take a bullet? Two? It won’t be like the movies. Who, aside from his family and friends, will remember him? After careful consideration, he realized it didn’t matter. He felt like he was making a difference. If he can get to that building next to the tall one, they might have a chance. He could break through the wall and find the target in the taller one. Where else would he be? They must know we know. They want us to go in and get trapped in the building. Spotters probably have it covered, suicide bombers in the basement with their fingers on the trigger, ready to detonate themselves if it means killing all of us. Is either side really “right” or “wrong”? Who are we to judge?