Tag: Fiction

Compulsion 1

In the not-so-distant future…

Chapter One

Monday

1

06:00. Get up. Get moving. Get up.

Carl flung back his covers. He swung his legs to the floor.

Get moving. Slippers on. 

His feet found them and he stood.

06:01. Go now. Get moving.

Into his master bath he went. Straight to the toilet to do his business. 

06:04. Shower. Shower time. Start shower.

He flushed his waste and started the shower. He disrobed as the water heated up.

06:05. Get in. Hurry. Get in.

Stepping into the shower, he went through his routine.

Hair. Shampoo for hair. Face. Wash face. Arms. Left and now right. 

And so on, working quickly from top to bottom, rinsing himself as he went.

06:10. Conserve water. Feet clean. Rinse. Out. Conserve water. Get out.

He shut the water off before the eleventh minute could tick. He could feel the clock in his head. He could feel the seconds pushing him forward, each task more important. Each moment as heavy as the last. 

Dry off. Dry off, head to feet. Dry off. Dry. 

Towel on rack. On rack. On rack.

06:12. Groom. Time to groom.

He stepped in front of his mirror. It did not have time to fog. He combed his hair and his short beard. His beard was such a time saver.

06: 15. Dress. Must get dressed. Must be dressed. Dress.

Comb down, he stepped into his closet. He donned his Monday suit, just as grey and bland as his Tuesday and Wednesday suits. His Monday tie in the Monday shade of blue.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard his wife, Jenny, moving about her routine. Hers was ten minutes behind his. No war for the bathroom space. 

06:23. Kids. Breakfast. Move now. Kids and Breakfast. Kids. Breakfast. 

He stepped into the hallway to find his children on schedule. Laura, seven, and Carl Jr., five. Prepared for the day. they were in their breakfast routine. They made it to the stairs in the correct order. Everything as scheduled. Laura first because her room was closest to the stairs. CJ second. Carl followed them down.

Breakfast was fortified cereal. Real-Cow brand milk. Infused orange juice. The chewing was methodical. Twenty chomps and swallow. Twenty and swallow. Drink. Jenny joined them. Twenty chomps and swallow. Twenty and swallow. Drink. 

06:43. Dishes in sink. In sink. The dishes in the sink. Put the dishes…

Laura moved first. Then CJ. And Carl. They stacked their dishes for the cleaning service. Jenny was finishing her meal when the family lined up to kiss her cheek before the day began. In order. Always in order. Carl, last in line, kissed his wife on the lips, timing it so that she had swallowed but had not yet begun drinking. This contact was important between spouses. It was built into the routine. 

06:45. Wave to kids. Tell them you love them. Tell them you love them. Wave and say-

“Bye guys. I love you,” Carl said and waved as they headed in the opposite direction. 

“Love you, too,” they replied in unison, Laura taking her little brother’s hand and leading him away.

2

06:56. Stop at crosswalk. Stop at red light of crosswalk. Look up at billboard.  Look up. 

Carl had plenty of seconds to take in the billboard’s message. The advertisement for Real-Cow brand milk assured him that no cows were used in the processing of this milk-like product. It was, however, packed with vitamins C and D.

06:57. Cross street. Watch step and cross street. Go.

Carl did not look at the people around him. He knew they were there, but had no reason to look. He could hear them. He could smell them. He could see them out of the corner of his eyes. No one more than glanced at anything save where their feet were taking them. These were Carl’s people, his neighbors. His routine did not include them. His routine excluded them, in fact, and theirs did the same to him. It was efficient. The world was more efficient now.

07:02. Enter tunnel. Down steps. Watch where you’re going. Down the steps.

07:03. Buy paper. Buy newspaper. Buy the newspaper from the machine.

Carl stopped and placed his thumb on the vending machine’s scanner. It dinged, and the door opened. Carl took a paper from the stack and closed the door just as someone else approached with their thumb ready.

The station was a silent flock of humanity. He merged with those awaiting the green train to downtown. He stood behind the same man he had stood behind for the last thirteen years. He did not wonder who stood behind him, but had it been in his routine to check, he would have noticed the same woman standing behind him every day for those same thirteen years. Their programs were synced, though they had never spoken. They would never speak. There was no cause for interaction.

The train pulled to a stop. Carl stepped onto the car and headed straight for his seat: 34B. It was not assigned, but this was routine. He sat just as his the person in 34A got comfortable. Timed just so. They did not get in each other’s way. 

07:12. Open the paper. Open it and look at the financial section. Straight to the financial section. Straight to the-

Something caught Carl’s eye as he flipped the pages.

A headline: CRIME SPREE DISRUPTS!

The big bold letters of the text indicated that he was not the only one disturbed by the news. He quickly scanned the article, noting the statistics first. He was a numbers man. There had been a ninety-nine percent decrease in reported crime since the app had been adopted so wholeheartedly by the population. This new spree of theft, vandalism, assault, and even murder was threatening to lower that percentage to ninety-eight.

FINANCIALS! READ THE FINANCIALS! TURN TO THE FINANCIALS!

He turned the page.

3

07:48. Get coffee. No sugar. Coffee, black. Say it. Coffee, black. Please.

“Coffee, black. Please,” he said to the clerk outside his office building. He took the cup and scanned his thumbprint on the cart’s reader. He stepped away as another thirsty patron to stepped up. 

He took a sip of that hot, bitter drink, and wished for sugar and for a nice elevator ride to his floor. He headed for the stairs. This was Jenny’s idea, the healthy routine. They had integrated it together. They would schedule their meals to provide exactly the correct nutrition for their daily needs, and they would take the stairs. No deviation. No chance for that. Carl found solace in the fact that he had lost nearly twenty-five pounds. But he did miss the sugar. 

07:56. Say hello to the staff. Say hello and smile. Smile. Smile.

As he made his way to his office, he greeted every face in the cubicle pool. It was the morale-building routine recommended by a consultancy some years back. His employees had each implemented their versions of it as well, and every face turned to his just as he was about to say hello. They smiled in return before settling into their workday.

He got to his desk just as Eveline, his assistant, stepped through his door with his to-do list ready on her tablet. Carl sat, flipped the power to his desktop monitor, and sighed. It was the one time of day that he did not have anything running through his mind. Scant seconds between sitting and booting up the app.

Just as the Compelr logo faded and the interface came into view, his internal clock synced.

08:00. Program day. Eveline has list. Program day as dictated. Program day.

4

“How many hours of the day do you waste?” the commercials asked, whispering through the bone conduction implants that were all the rage for the newer generations.  “How many minutes do you spend thinking about the inconsequential? How much further along in your life would you be if you had the wherewithal to focus, to do what needed doing and to learn what needed learning so that you could be the person you wanted to be? What if there was a way to set goals and make sure that you had no choice but to achieve them? What if you could look back and be proud of yourself, having no regrets, nothing left on the table because you’d done it all? 

“Now introducing Compelr. Manage your life down to the second. Harness your potential. Be smart. Be fast. Become the best version of yourself.”

5

The rest of the day goes just as scheduled. Every day goes just as scheduled. Carl worked his numbers, harnessing by-the-second data collected from billions of users around the globe. He met in person with the partners and explained his charts and graphs. He ate lunch at his desk: a spinach wrap with hummus and lab-farmed turkey. At 17:00, he stood, made his way out of the building – making sure to say his goodbyes, of course – and walked straight to the station. 

His seat on the evening green train was 19B, and his focus was on his foldaway tablet and the notes from his meetings. He took his time scanning them over and over again.

At home, he found the children doing their homework. Later, they would play cooperation and hand-eye coordination games on the simulator. Carl got to work cooking dinner because it was Monday. When Jenny got home, she gave him a kiss on the cheek, as per the instructions on his apron, and then she took a bath before dinner: her Monday night relaxation routine.

After dinner (twenty chomps, swallow, drink), Carl spent exactly thirty-one minutes and forty-one seconds in conversation with each child. They gave their reports on their day, listing exactly what they had learned and how they would apply it to their next day’s studies. Carl asked them about their hopes and plans for the future. Which routines did they think they would like to try next? Laura was dying to run the tomboy program and join the sporting league. CJ had his eye on becoming an astronaut.

Carl and Jenny put the children to bed as a unit. This was important. Cohesion was important. Tuck, kiss, leave the nightlight on for CJ, just the door cracked for Laura. And then Jenny went about her business as Carl got ready for bed: pjs, brush teeth, waste evacuated.

His head hit his pillow at precisely 21:00. 

(next)

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from Glass Walls (somewhere in the middle)

Sam wanted to know how he felt.

How he felt?

Martin had spent the last three days trying to explain it to her, telling her his life story, telling her everything no one else would ever know to look at him, but she still wasn’t satisfied. She could tell he was holding something back.

What did she want? What could he say?

How did he feel?

“You…” he began, but she was looking at him. She was looking through him. She’d said she didn’t hold it against him, that he wasn’t bound by anything. He didn’t have to say anything at all.

But her gaze tapped impatient fingers on the windows to his soul.

“Penny and I used to have this thing. We’d stay up late talking on the phone. We were teenagers before smartphones, and that’s what teenagers did.”

Sam nodded. She remembered.

“But when we saw one another in person… It was almost like we were strangers.”

He took a swig of his beer and motioned to the bartender for another round.

Martin sighed. “We’d tell each other everything. All of our fears and wishes and how we were making it in the world and how we’d never know exactly what to do next. All she wanted was to know that someone loved her, and all I wanted was to tell someone that I loved them and have them believe and accept it. We’d talk and we’d write and we’d tell one another that when we were actually in each other’s presence, it was ‘comfortable silence’ time.”

He drifted off, and they both thanked the bartender for their new beverages. After a time, Sam raised her brow as she sipped her vodka cranberry.

Martin squirmed and began talking again.

“In our early twenties, she was on her way to graduating, moving on to get her master’s, and already teaching at the college level. I was… I don’t know what I was. I was staring at a tree and trying to make it a forest.

“And I started thinking about how to categorize things. I started trying to categorize her and how I felt and the place she held in my psyche.”

Swig.

“I kept coming back to how everything in my life, I could label. I could put in in a box and shove it into a closet, and I wouldn’t have to think about it again. Sure, some things would get dragged out and I’d spill it all over the floor, rummaging through for something I’d forgotten, but everything had a box and a place on a shelf when I was done.

“I could put it away.”

Gulp.

“But she wasn’t like anything else. She was that tennis racket that always falls out on an overstuffed closet in the movies.”

Sam shivered. It was Martin’s turn to raise his brow, but she shook her head. “I’ll tell you why when you’re finished.”

Another swig. Was his beer really almost empty? Again?

“She was a ball of yarn with knots tied everywhere, and I had some sort of programming in the back of my head that kept telling me that I had to pick apart all those knots before I could do anything else. Before I could move on.

“But I eventually forgot about it. Years went by, and I forgot about it. I shoved it down deep and cut off all the dangly bits that kept getting caught on shit.”

Yes. That beer was definitely empty. He couldn’t read the look on Sam’s face now. There was a buzzing in his ears.

“You…” he tried again.

He looked around at all those people. He tunneled into a man laughing and a woman running a hand on his upper arm. He zeroed into a adamant story told by an expressive face to a table full of delighted listeners. He came to focus on Sam’s lips and her neck, her shoulders and the way her dress sank into her cleavage, and he wondered why he’d been keeping her such a secret.

“You feel like a new ball of yarn,” he said in lower tones. This was the heart of it. This was the truth. “Something knotted up inside me. Something I can’t figure out what to do with. Something I haven’t even tried to box up because I recognize the feeling, and I know you’ll just keep spilling out. I haven’t felt inspired by anyone or anything so intensely in so long, and I don’t want to question it.”

He took her hand. She let him.

“I don’t want to question it, even if my programming tells me to pick apart these knots. It isn’t that I don’t want to bring you into the rest of my life. I want to introduce you to my friends. I want to take you dinner with the folks. I do. I just… You’re so… So completely different. So new. I just don’t know how much more… If it gets real between us, so real that it blocks everything else out…” He trailed off, his eyes down to watch his thumb play across the ring on her finger.

Sam took her hand away.

On Fire | Script Conversion 2

INT. OFFICE BUILDING – DAY

Elevator doors open. Young Ryan’s tie is straight. His jacket is a bit too big. He steps into the lobby.

Uncomfortable seating, sleek design, open spaces and glass walled conference rooms. Young Ryan sees HARRISON TRAEGER (50s) through a wall. Traeger’s sleeves are rolled up, and he’s inspecting blueprints.

RECEPTIONIST (O.S.)

Can I help you, Sir?

Young Ryan turns and steels himself with a breath. He steps forward.

YOUNG RYAN

Hi. Yes. I’m here for an interview?

INT. WILMORE WELLNESS CENTER LOBBY – DAY

A wall poster reads HEALING BEGINS WITH JESUS over an image of open hands.

Another poster: WHOLENESS. EMPOWERMENT. FREEDOM WITH THE BODY OF CHRIST under an image of a distraught woman with beseeching arms in the air.

A door stenciled: DR. MORRIS LAHEY M.D., P.C., E.T.C.

Ryan sitting on a bench beside the door. Eyes glazed. Scratching his cast.

The door opens and DR. LAHEY (50s) appears.

DR. LAHEY

Ryan Dolan?

Ryan is slow to acknowledge. Dr. Lahey leaves the door open, disappearing into his office.

INT. TRAEGER’S OFFICE – DAY

A window overlooking the city. A desk with a pile of blueprints. A wall of photographs of old, grand buildings.

Traeger with a folder in his hands.

TRAEGER

This is good work, Ryan.

YOUNG RYAN

Thank you, Sir.

TRAEGER

You still have a lot to learn.

Are you willing to learn?

YOUNG RYAN

Absolutely. Yes, Sir.

TRAEGER

(with a smile)

Good. Welcome aboard.

A handshake.

INT. DR. LAHEY’S OFFICE – DAY

The doctor scribbles. He doesn’t look up as Ryan quietly enters and takes a seat.

A FOLDER on Lahey’s desk has Ryan’s PICTURE clipped to the inside cover. There are red slashes throughout the typed report below.

The doctor turns his attention to the folder and CIRCLES something before giving Ryan a glance.

DR. LAHEY

Mr. Dolan, I will not

beat around the bush.

Ryan is silent.

DR. LAHEY (CONT’D)

Yes, I see. They have you…

medicated.

Ryan is silent.

DR. LAHEY (CONT’D)

Yes. Well. As I said,

no beating around the bush.

Your attempted suicide.

(gestures toward cast)

Depression. Psychosis.

Ryan is silent.

DR. LAHEY (CONT’D)

These are the initial diagnoses.

Our goal here is to work through your…

(checks file. scowls.)

Issue.

Ryan smirks and scratches his cast.

The doctor takes notes.

DR. LAHEY (CONT’D)

We will reevaluate after three days.

Ryan is silent.

DR. LAHEY (CONT’D)

Protocol to include medication, group

therapy and observation.

Ryan is silent. Lahey jots more notes.

DR. LAHEY (CONT’D)

(exasperation)

Very well. Have a seat in the hall.

Someone will be along shortly.