Posts from the ‘Fiction’ Category

The O Zone

Paradise on Paper is honored to have Ben Reinartz submit a guest post. Comments are welcome 🙂

The O Zone

He was tired; it felt like he had been running for hours. The pack he carried was cumbersome; its contents, vital. Winded, despite his near perfect conditioning, he dared not look back. The numbers chasing him could have grown for all he knew. He only focused on his destination. Fear gripped him, but made him more aware. Despite being a snowy, dark, winter night, he sensed all obstacles in front of him. He hurdled logs, ducked under branches that seemed to grab at him from the darkest depths. As he came to a clearing, he stopped to catch his breath. He set his pack on the ground, careful not to damage its contents. He panted heavily, tried to rest, and propped himself up against a tree.
He closed his eyes and remembered how different things had been just a few short months ago. He breathed in heavily, and released a long-drawn out sigh. With the short time he had, he had allowed himself to slip into memories. Memories of the brothers and sisters he had made, and the ones he had lost flooded his conscious.
“War is hell”, he thought. The faces of those he loved barged into his mind, especially those that he lost on his way.
As the sound of his assailants grew closer and closer, he forced the memories out of his mind, focusing on survival. After all, it was what he had done his whole life. He opened his eyes; the warm feeling of adrenaline rushing into his limbs was what allowed him to stand up. He quickly slung his pack over his left shoulder, then his right. He looked back to see the lights of his followers growing more abundant, and closer. Before thinking any more, he darted in the other direction.
As he was running, it seemed that the blizzard around him was picking up, making it much harder to dodge the branches and logs in his way. He continued to run, diving and rolling over logs and sidestepping trees that seemed to materialize right in front of him. He took his eyes off the area in front of him for just a second, to see how close his pursuers were, but that was a mistake. He turned his head in front, too late to see the branch. It felt as if his upper body had just ran into a brick wall. His lower body continued to move forward, and then up as the branch hit him square in the chest. As he fell, his head hit the ground first, hard.
He awoke to a bright light being shined in his face. Dazed and confused, he tried to stand, but found himself far to weak. The pain in his chest was throbbing, almost as if he had broken his sternum. He tried to breath, but every time he moved a muscle, he felt pain fill his chest cavity. He looked around to see that he was still in that damn forest. The light grew closer and he could make out a hooded figure behind it. It looked as if the hooded figure was wearing a coat as well.
“Finally got you. You were a slippery one weren’t you?” The man said in a deep, rather raspy voice. The man reached into his coat and pulled a pistol with the hand not carrying his flashlight. He pointed down.
The man lying on the ground closed his eyes, as if that would have any effect on the situation. Maybe he would see those he lost again, or maybe he would simple be cast into a more terrifying place than he could even imagine. Before he could think any more, the sound of a loud bang filled the forest.

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Rapid

By Christian Sopkowiak.

It was too late. The river had begun to fill my lungs and I swear I saw the darkness they talk about when you are dying. The unfathomable weight of my drenched clothes began to contribute to my drowning. The lack of oxygen in this prison was becoming unbearable. What sucked most of all, I could not even see the sun.

My entire body was submerged under the tortuous blue of the water. The rapids were destructive that day and of course, I decided to try the canoe today. It was stupid, in hindsight. But, I was drowning, dying, losing, and trying to…

My scalp felt the rays of the sun for a moment and I knew I would have a moment of air. That liberating moment occurred seconds after the sun graced my head. My head bobbed out of the water for about ten seconds.

The heat radiated across my face and I gulped all the air I could. I used all of my strength, my muscle, and my will power for those ten seconds. The rapids tore me back down and I tried to remember the taste of the air.

Immediately, my body jerked towards one side then it ripped towards the other. My head snapped to the left when my body went to the right. The water tore me without thought or reason. One moment I would be towards the shore and the next, I would be drowning in the brunt of the rapids. My head snapped to the left, this time. I knew I would be jerked somewhere next so I put my hands out to try to stop the water from pushing me but that was only my instinct, not my logic. I was under for, well, a few more minutes I suppose before the rapids gave me another moment of air.

I raised my hand out of the water and the rapids decided that meant I got my chance. They ripped me out of the water, for a moment, and I swallowed the air. I gasped, opened my eyes to see boulders everywhere. But, I heavily inhaled that unseen remedy as my head once again enjoyed the sun’s warming rays. I swear, air tastes so damn good when you need it.

Then, I went back. The rapids once again grabbed me and did not let go. This time, I opened my eyes under water to see the damage. The water was moving sideways then upside down then towards me. I also saw my feet, they were dangling, lifeless it seemed. The water had taken them too. The water began rushing towards my pupils so I closed my eyes. That was when I slammed into the boulder.

The rock was sitting the midst of the rapids and my body crashed into it. I grabbed onto the boulder, my ribs felt broken, my legs mangled. I struggled to gasp for air, let alone breath. The water wanted me for itself, it kept trying to tear me from the boulder. I needed air, somewhere, somehow. I swear, the boulder had crunched some of my ribs to bits and my feet were numb. Every breath began to feel like my last as my ribs attacked my skin and my lungs began to give up. So, I climbed up or at least I tried to. The rapids kept coming, trying to pull me down for more. My adrenaline must have been pumping because I did it. I was able to get my eyes above the water and I saw the sun again. In that moment, I wanted to wait there, forever, and look at the pale yellow light above me.

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Adventure Awaits

“You know you want to come along.”

I rolled over in my bed and glared at the window. I saw the Tim’s lean frame through the window and was pretty sure I could make out a grin on his face. I also knew that if he was here, I was going to leave with him. The thing to know about Tim is that he always wears the most beautiful jeans from Buckle and that he is quite manipulative.

“I’m sleeping, go away,” I said in a mock-sleepy voice. I had hardly slept the last few nights. If anything besides manipulative, Tim was predictable. I could see his restless heart probably better than he could and knew he was about done with this place.

See this here is how it happened. We got recruited right out of high school. They bring in kids from all over the U.S. They train us and then send us out into the world to do quests or some crap. They didn’t really give us much detail but we are trained in most of the same stuff that the army is trained in along with professional business-speak and such. I could work in an office or be an assassin. The missions vary but this is a private company owned by some crazy old man who seems to want to control the world. It is all a little odd but we get paid really well and right out of high school, I wasn’t ready for the ramen college life and so I took up their offer.

“Don’t make me come in there,” Tim said, starting to hoist himself up through the window.

I went the two steps it took to cross my cabin and opened the door in a resigned manner. Tim often came to visit me. He was my closest friend here and we were probably the closest friends out of the group. But we didn’t really hang out with the same people when we did group activities, didn’t quite attract the same person, I guess. My friends were lamer and I knew it.

He walked in and sat down at my reading chair. I hated when people sat in my reading chair but his jeans were pretty damn nice today and I could see that even through the darkness. I decided to let the chair thing slide, like I usually did with him.

“Why don’t you want to go?” He asked me, putting his “I’m all ears” face on.

I climbed back into my bed. No sense in wasting the warmth of my comforter.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked. He rolled his eyes. I always used that line when I really did want to talk about something but was being a pest about it.

“I’m waiting.” He told me, getting comfortable in his chair. I put the pillow over my head. He and a few of his friends had decided they wanted to go out and see the world and find a quest of their own because we had been here longer than any of the other training groups and we still hadn’t been assigned a place to go. We wondered why they hadn’t sent us out but all they would tell us was to be patient. It was odd that we hadn’t been sent away to a job and we were getting impatient.

He gave it about thirty seconds and then got up and I assumed started walking to the door. I heard his hand grab the knob and I peeked out from under the pillow.

“Wait.” I told him.

He came back and this time sat down on the bed next to me and looked down at me.

“So? Care to enlighten me?”

“Ugh. I’ve already close to killed my parents by going here versus being the good kid and going to college. If this falls through they’ll do that annoying parent thing where they are all disappointed.”

“That’s not the real issue though, is it?” He said, scrunching up his eyebrows.

“I mean…” I braced myself for this explanation. I was glad he wasn’t the type to laugh. “I think your friends are cool and whatnot. However, I just don’t think this will be a good fit. Like they think I’m cool ‘cause I’m friends with you but I’ll be the odd one out. I know this sounds lame but I feel like it’ll be uncomfortable.”

As usual he didn’t laugh. He pondered the room for a moment. I waited in my somewhat patient manner and tried not to move around too much. I was restless.

He looked back at me, “I see what you mean. But let me tell you, you don’t give yourself enough credit. People like you a lot more than you know.”

I couldn’t look at him. I had always been awful with compliments.

“Okay, lets go,” I said and then didn’t move. “Its just kinda warm here and out there, not so much.” I gestured to the outdoors.

Tim looked peered down at me and I felt like he was trying to decide something. I looked away for a moment and next thing I knew his face was inches from mine and he kissed me.

“I’m pretty warm, too. Grab your stuff.”

“Okay.” I smiled because I knew this would be my greatest adventure yet. He started to get up and I said, “Hold on.” I sat up and grabbed his shirt and kissed him again.

He pulled back and looked at me with a smile, “Quit distracting me and get your stuff. I’ve gotta wake the others.”

He walked out, his Buckle jeans still as nice as ever, and I started packing.

It was time to move.

 

 

 

Hair dye, who am I?

It mattered, I had tried telling myself that it didn’t and I could move on. But the the truth was, I couldn’t hide from the way I felt about my hair.

The blond dye just wasn’t working for me. I used to have a dark brown hair and I had decided to try out this new color one day. I studied myself in the mirror and then went to apply my mascara, thinking that if my makeup looked good maybe no one would notice my weird hair color.

Who was I kidding? I loved the attention I got for a new hair color. I absolutely soaked them up with cutsie little “thank you’s” and a giddy smile.

Of course, it wasn’t really the hair that I was concerned about. I was worried about who I was and who I wanted to be. I was concerned about my appearance and how I wanted to come across. Maybe I was too focused on what other people thought but I didn’t know how to evaluate myself a different way.

I supposed I did know. I knew that my self-approval needed to come from the inside. It needed to come from the fact that Jesus made me in his image and he loved me more than any person on earth could ever love me. Some days this seemed like an easy task. Jesus loved me and that was all I needed.

But other days I just wanted someone to approve of who I was. I wanted someone on earth to show me their love. I wanted to be successful and famous and yet humble and kind.

I wanted it all.

Yet all I had was a new “do” and some fresh shampoo and conditioner for dyed hair. I finished with my makeup and fluffed my hair.

I looked in the mirror and told myself “Jesus loves you” and then left the room. Maybe this dye would help out after all.

Because I Used to Like You

Today I took a hammer to the necklace you gave me. Also, the earrings, the shot glass and that dumb little mirror that I can barely see my face in.

I couldn’t yell at you. I couldn’t tell you how much I hate you right now (well, not so much after the hammering). I couldn’t tell you how I felt about everything you didn’t say.

I made my choices and you didn’t like them. You came up with the consequences for my actions. You decided to ignore me. Maybe a little part of me deserved that. Maybe since I pretty much left you without explaining why I was going. It wasn’t an actual boyfriend-girlfriend breakup where I’m like “Its over” and you’re like “Why” and I give you some cliche answer like “I must travel far far away to find my true self that has been lost.”

It was more like I just detached myself because it wasn’t right. I guess I didn’t leave you an explanation. I supposed I didn’t tell you why. But I think maybe you’re smart enough that you can figure out that we have different life paths. Maybe you should be able to JUST PUT IT TOGETHER that you created the divide between us by becoming someone who didn’t ever spend a casual Friday night in, someone who wouldn’t ever talk to me seriously like I need to be talked to, someone whose life revolved around a culture that we agreed didn’t have much to offer us in the end.

And so I ignored you and we became acquaintances again. Not angry acquaintances, or so I thought. But then your anger came out, months later, when I talked to your friends about the excessive smoking and doing nothing at all with your life. They talked to you and you pinned me as the instigator of your reform committee.

If only you knew it was only because I used to like you. I thought you were great! And then you changed on me. Or your mask fell off. It doesn’t really matter because, even though part of me was mad, most of it was because there is a part of my heart that is still soft for you. Not because I love you or am not over you, but because what we had, our relationship and those moments were more than just a little fling. More than just the average relationship. Or so I thought.

Today, I just had to let all my anger go at you. I know yelling at you won’t do anything because it isn’t the right way to approach you. See, I even know the right way to approach you. I also know that I want to be a good person and that this is my anger I need to deal with, not yours.

So I took a hammer to it all. I also broke that stupid glass your friend left at my apartment, the one with the elephant on the front, for good measure. I enjoyed breaking it and throwing it in the trash. Part of me wanted to put it in a card and send it your way but I know that I’m not that angry. That’s the hurt coming through. The pain of someone who left someone else for her own good but didn’t explain. The pain of someone who hates being hated for trying to do the right thing by talking to your friends. The pain of someone who has a history with you.

Maybe someday we will talk. But for today, I broke it all. Then I threw it away.

I feel a bit better, actually. I think I might be ready to blow on another dandelion and make a new wish because I can stop looking back at my old, bent up and squashed ones that didn’t work out.

 

 

 

Ignorance is Bliss

Sometimes I wonder why I’m here. What am I truly doing here, in this world all at once full of mystery and magic and malice? Why am I a part of it? Then I remember that I’m here because I have a gift. I have a gift that no one else does; one that will control my destiny and other’s. My gift is confusing for other people, or at least, it would be, if ever told anyone about it. But I haven’t told anyone. Not even my boyfriend. The pretend scenarios in my head with me coming out about my gift never end well. Who would believe me anyways, if I said that I can smell emotion?

I am homicide detective Ellie Hollins. I’m like the opposite of the fictional Shawn Spencer from Psych. Shawn pretends to be a psychic detective while working for the police department, but he relies not on psychic powers but on his own observational skills. At my police department, I work under the guise that I am keenly observant, but no one knows that I rely on my sense of smell. I suppose in some sense we’re both liars. Still, I always say there is a gray area when it comes to lies.

Emotion also leaves a lingering smell in the air, even after the person has left. Thus, by searching the suspect’s apartment or even finding a trace footprint will leave a strong enough whiff to hint to his or her state of mind. My co-worker’s suspect t killer struck out of jealously? His fruity smelling apartment, the odor of contentment, says otherwise. Happy people don’t kill their wives for revenge. My boss once ruled a death a suicide. But at the crime scene, I didn’t smell despair and loneliness as I would have expected. I smelled fear and pain.  I dug deeper and found that some crime scene details matched a string of murders done by a serial killer. The victim had been tortured by the killer, thus the lingering fear in the air.

So I am able to change people’s destiny, in a way. I can protect the dignity of an innocent person, and stop a murderer’s killing spree.

One thing I can’t seem to do is hold on to a steady relationship.

Tyler picked me up from work today. My boyfriend of six months, he’s the longest running relationship I’ve ever had. Usually I catch them in a lie before now. The smell of a lie is too distinct and too painful for me to ignore.

“So I was thinking,” I say as I climb into his car, “that instead of going to our usual place for dinner, we switch it up. Go to something more elaborate. We should celebrate.”

“Celebrate what?” He says, pulling out of the police department parking lot. I can smell anticipation emanating from him.

“Six months,” I say. He knows my tumultuous past about length of relationships. He should understand how big of a deal this is.

But now I smell hesitation in the car. “Six months, huh?”

I watch him squirm, but wait, knowing that there’s more he isn’t saying.

“You know, babe,” he starts, “that’s something we ought to talk about.”

“What’s that?”

“Six months. I just think it’s time to, you know…”

The words “move on” hang in the air. The car reeks of his restlessness and fear. Fear? “You’re scared of where this is going, of commitment, aren’t you?”

He stares at me. “What? How did you know that? I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t need to.” I shake my head. I knew this was coming.  “You can let me off at the corner. It reeks in here.”

“What?”

“Just let me off here.”

“I still want to be friends…”

I get out of the car and think of all the couples I see everyday.  A woman hanging on a man’s arm, giggling at something he said. Does she know that he smells of insincerity and lies? Does he know that the stench of disloyalty clings to her very clothing? I realize now that I don’t want that. I’ll never know if ignorance is truly bliss; and I want it that way.

Lonely girl

The blonde girl at the bar was pissing me off. There she went, flipping all that blonde hair everywhere like she was simply here for the fun of it. Flirting with the boys like she had nowhere else to be but here for everyone to adore her.

I looked at my measly wallet full of small change and knew that I didn’t give off that impression. I thought about my old brown flats, my old jeans and my blue sweatshirt that was getting faded in a bad way.

I wondered how I felt about who I was. I wondered if I was jealous, if part of me wanted to be her.

I turned to the blonde at the bar again. She leaned forward towards one of the guys and laughed sexily at whatever he said.

I’d had enough, I thought to myself and walked out. I knew no one was watching me leave because I didn’t dress my self up like she did.

* * *

The next week was a transformation week. I got a new coat of paint on my pickup truck that had previously been a bit spotty in the paint department.

 

I got layers on my hair and dyed it a copper red color. I got a pedicure. I went and found the heels I had in the back of my closet and set them out. Then, I went shopping with my credit card and got a few flashy clothes.

* * *

I called up one of my old friends named Angela whom I hadn’t seen in a while, “Lets hit the bars tonight. Nothing too crazy or whatever, just some showing off our young bodies.”

Angela agreed and I picked her up. I had a new shine on my pickup. I was in heels. I hadn’t died my hair blonde but my hair looked pretty dang good. I felt beautiful and confident and just a little bit like Marilyn Monroe.

“Here I go,” I told myself as I strutted into the bar with my friend, like I was just here until I found my beautiful people universe.

“Well my night just got better,” one of the old men said as I walked in. I gave him a smile as I went up to the barstool. And so that night I ran the town. I wondered if anyone was pissed at me for just being so confident and the center of attention. I wondered if no one cared.

Later on, I was talking to one of my friends named Andrew. “So what’s with the new look?”

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could be someone else. I wanted to be that girl,” I responded airily, like I did this everyday.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because now I know I can be someone different. Why do I need to explain myself to you?”

“I don’t get it, it seems kind of dumb. Just let everyone be who they are. Not everyone was born to be that girl,” he said. I knew they were wise words but didn’t want to hear anymore when he continued, “Maybe you don’t need to try being someone else. Maybe you should watch the it girls when no one is looking. See if they look happy then. Or see if you can see the loneliness in their eyes.

I rolled my eyes, “You just don’t get it.”

* * *

Years later, I was sitting in a restaurant where I was eating with my husband and longtime friend Andrew, and kids. I saw her across the room. The blonde girl who had made me so mad one day.

She was sitting there with her family, just like me. She was still the center of attention, I watched as the young guys looked at her across the bar. She threw her hair over her shoulder and so did her two young daughters. She wiped her face off with a napkin and then smiled and her son did the same, smiling back at her.

I saw her and then I turned my attention back to my family with a slight smile on my face. Andrew was looking at me with love in his eyes. “See?” he asked.

I did see. I saw that she was different than me and yet we both had families. I saw that she got so much attention and I saw her eyes when she thought no one was watching. I saw that she would always be the center of attention but she would also feel lonely inside.

I saw her and she no longer made me mad. I no longer wanted to be like her.

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