The Unknown Quantity

“Penny!” Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Penny!” Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Penny!” Knock. Knock. Knock.

“What is it, Sheldon?”

“There was a rather persistent young man outside, asking to see you.”

“Well, where is he?”

“Oh, he’s not a tenant. I couldn’t let just anyone into the building.”

“God, Sheldon, did he say who he was?”

“He claimed to be a courier, but he didn’t have any identification. He said he’d left his wallet in the office! A likely story.”

“Did he have a van, or anything?”

“He wasn’t stupid, Penny! Of course he had a van. So would I, if I wanted to impersonate a courier.”

“And why, exactly, would anyone want to impersonate a courier?”

“Of course, that is the conundrum – I’m still working it out myself.”

“Sheldon! Did he leave a package?”

“Well he certainly tried to, after I questioned his credentials.”

“I don’t like where this is going…”

“Don’t worry, Penny: I refused to be party to his fraudulent machinations, or to sign his so-called documentation. He took the ‘delivery’ away again in his ‘courier van’!”

“Sheldon, has anyone ever asked you, in the nicest possible way, to leave before I kill you?”

“How could they possibly ask that nicely? But I’ll admit that the phrase is familiar to me.”

“Sheldon?”

“Penny?”

“Leave. Before I kill you.”

“Oh, you weren’t speaking hypothetically?”

“No.”

“Leonard.”

“What is it, Sheldon?”

“I need to ask you a question.”

“If this is about the birds and the bees again, it’s still a metaphor, and yes, your parents lied to you.”

“No, although we’ll return to that later. I need to ask you about Penny.”

“Okay Sheldon. Penny is a bird, according to your parents’ reimagining of biology…”

“No, no. Good Lord, Leonard! If I wanted to indulge in sordid discussions, I would read your chat logs.”

“So that was you!”

“Oh, don’t be so paranoid. It was Wolowitz.”

“What do you want, Sheldon?”

“I may not be reading our interaction correctly, but I believe that Penny might be annoyed at me.”

“That hardly seems likely.”

“That’s exactly what I thought. But she did threaten to kill me, which seemed a little hostile at the time.”

“What did you do, Sheldon?”

“And why would you assume that I did anything?”

“Because Penny doesn’t usually announce her desire to kill someone unless they’ve done something incredibly annoying.”

“Oh, and you’re suddenly our resident expert on all things Penny?”

“You did ask for my advice.”

“Please, Leonard. If you recall the beginning of our conversation, I said I needed to ask you a question. I did not specify that I would require or value a response. Hearing you fumbling around on the pseudoscientific periphery of female psychology is all the confirmation I need.”

“Always a pleasure, Sheldon. And what conclusions has your insightful experiment drawn?”

“I’m glad you asked. Penny is obviously not mad at me for some perceived slight. She is clearly angry at you, probably for some failure to perform adequately in the bedroom. I am your room-mate, so she has transferred her unconscious frustration at you to a more accessible target, namely me.”

“It must be dizzying, living in your head.”

“Well, it would be, for a lesser intellect.”

“Hey guys, did you catch the news?”

“Could you be a little more specific, Howard? Sheldon has alerts set up for any stories within a five mile radius of the apartment, so we’re fully conversant with cats versus trees for this week.

“There’s no need for sarcasm, Leonard! Mrs Whiskers was saved by a strapping young member of our fire department, and is recovering well.”

“No, this is a big story, and it happened just down the block! Some sleazoid was pretending to be a courier driver and seducing women with his package, if you know what I mean!”

“Well, I don’t know what you mean, Howard. I can’t see what’s so enticing about a package. Unless, I suppose, it’s the thrill of the unknown, the barely concealed bulges hinting at hitherto unknown delights…”

“Um, Sheldon?”

“Don’t tell him, Howard. Some things are better left unsaid.”

 

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #8. The challenge was fan fiction, with the prompts “failed delivery” and “inner demon.”

Touching

We can never truly touch. I know this, as I know the offset rotation of the earth, her drunken lurch through space and time.

Our skin can seem to touch, there’s that, and at one level, that’s enough. The intimate brush of flesh on flesh, friction that we counteract with passion’s warm wetness.

But our atoms remain,
apart.

Electrons may drift in common clouds,
may interact and influence,
But nuclei remain, mine and yours,
literal poles apart; forbidden by universal laws
from ever coexisting, or even
the faintest brush of contact.

We hover, then, enmeshed in human terms, but separated literally, alone in our skin.

Yet, even in this bleak realisation, a twist – we can’t touch ourselves either.

My finger-tips come infinitely close together, yet still a universe of space remains; for what is space if not insurmountable, eternal?

An emptiness between my fingers, an emptiness between our lips, an emptiness from here to there: if touch is but a lie of repulsion, it still compels, and I’ll be gladly, blissfully lied to, so long as I lie with you.

Fragments

Security is about dealing with worst-case scenarios. To take down one person, for example, two officers should suffice, according to simple odds. In security, though, the details matter. What if that one person is well-trained in combat, has a weapon, or is simply a bloody good runner?

That’s why they sent three for me: just in case. Three for her, too, so four masked agents burst single file through our front door, while another two guarded the rear. No knock first, no warrant required, just a controlled explosion of steel meeting wood, followed by the rapid thud of boots into the house and the soft hiss of gas.

As it happened, we were both into martial arts, although not to action-movie standards. No training, however, is likely to be of much help when armed soldiers interrupt the act of coitus. Where my mind should have been planning a way to isolate each attacker and improvise, it instead mourned my rapidly dwindling erection.

Through the unnecessary groping and the cold click of handcuffs, my treacherous thoughts mused on the gender balance of the invaders. As dictated by protocol, they had sent men for me, women for her. Who did they send for transgender, or ambiguously-gendered targets? Why did it matter, at this stage of things?

She looked pensive, too – a neat trick while stark naked – and neither of us made a sound as they escorted us outside and shoved us into the back of a truck. The door rolled swiftly closed behind us, and within seconds we both began to giggle helplessly. The Nitrous would do that to you, apparently, and cause dissociative thoug… Oh.

With that final consequence branded deep into my mind, I abandoned all hope of escape.

My ideals, my pride, had been torn from their pedestals and dragged through the dirt and grime until their lustre was worn away. And all for a voice I no longer wanted. Want itself was a fond memory, and I survived, if that’s what I did, on some primal level; eating what was given, doing as I was told, and carrying the dead to those beautifully engineered furnaces, all blood and shit, heavy limbs and gassy stench surreal against an antiseptic backdrop.

I wondered what had happened to her, usually in the dark of night, when the past swam almost into focus. I loved her, had promised her so many things. She was always stronger than me, so she was probably dead by now. I mourned without tears, without need, simply because I remembered that it was the thing to do, one last shred of my former life.

When she came, my mind refused to work.

Shouts, an explosion, gunfire. I am stone.

Air rushing past me. The guard’s head exploding quietly, like an egg hitting the kitchen floor.

I watch, I observe, but I do not yet see.

I am told to walk, so I walk. Or try to.

I am carried strangely, gently. Placed on a stretcher.

There are words I recognise, but do not comprehend.

Revolution? The rotation of an object around a central pivot point.

Freedom? A myth, a fantasy. A dream.

Her face pulses into view between each heartbeat, and I know that I am dying.

And yet I live.

 

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #7. The challenge was to write a beginning and an ending, without a middle, using the prompts “fragile desire” and “someone has to clean this up.”

The Hunt

And what’s this, then, you canny man –
To leave just one dead boot behind?
And with it, neither leg nor plan,
Still truth will out, we always find!

Release the hounds again, my boys,
And girls – we are are a modern team –
They won’t be bothered by his ploys,
We’ll have his head, but first he’ll scream!

What’s this, the trail falters here?
Well hurry back, retrace our steps!
Another boot? Another scare?
Recall the dogs, we’ll have him yet!

I smell him now, that crooked thief,
At least the boots he left for us,
Come out, you cur, from underneath,
The coward shadows that you clutch!

Your feet must be on fire now,
And all for what, that noble whore?
Some whispered wit, some vacant vow,
A torrid tumble on the floor?

We’ll have you yet, adulterous swine,
And on your bloody bones I’ll gnaw!

 

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #6. The challenge was iambic verse, with the prompts “a leather boot laying by a field” and “a choice.”

Seeing Double

The field lies abandoned, and her face
Is fouled with fragments of a former time:
A single sole of rubber, rotted lace,
and leather upper, under streaks of grime.

My sight may skip across this vacant view,
And leave the broken boot to settle by:
It’s just another path to travel through,
Another pointless journey for my eye.

Or should the boot my inattention irk,
To tug at tufts of tales yet untold,
And chase away the unacknowledged murk,
That cloys and keeps me captive in its hold?

Both views are mine, and both are there to see
To pass or to be present, the choice remains with me.

 

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #6. The challenge was iambic verse, with the prompts “a leather boot laying by a field” and “a choice.”