A Tom Lin's next stories


I: Dare (Who)

             I’m scared. I’m always scared. No matter if I’m in a 20th floor hotel room in Washington DC, or high on the roof of a friend’s apartment building. I’m scared, every time I’m high above ground. Not because I’m afraid of heights, but because I’m afraid that I will suddenly obey my unconscious desires, and jump out into the empty space in front of me, not even caring if I died when I splattered onto the ground. I fear that a smile will form on my face as I fall down, as I enjoy the feeling of freedom, a few seconds before reality kills me again. I’m afraid. I’m always afraid.

            My subconsciousness urges me to jump off high places, to fall down into that darkness below us, where light can’t penetrate enough to show us an end to the fall, where you hope that the abyss would have no bottom, so that you can keep falling, free-falling, until the darkness engulfs you whole, until nothing more is seen in your life. Falling, until you can’t feel any more, until you can’t live anymore. The freedom, of leaving and letting go, of losing the glimmering chains that tie us down on the surface, that tie us down onto the schedule of everyday life. If I fell, I wouldn’t have to answer to that. If I fell, I wouldn’t have to answer to anything.

            “If we died right now, would anything we have done ever matter?” this came out of my mouth on that summer day, as I drove goallessly with my cousin Mike, trying to kill the time that unconsciously moved along.

            “If we died right now, would it be worth answering that question?” was his emotionless response, in a tone almost as dull as my own. The Sun was already hiding behind the blue roofs of the urban houses, the children running home to avoid the terrors that comes with the Moon’s rule. The time goes on, on, and on.

            I didn’t know how to answer that, so I just stepped on the gas pedal, and let go of the steering wheel. No car was behind, no car was in front, so an accident would only kill us. “I don’t really know.” I replied, as I lay back on the fake leather seat. “Do you wanna find out?”

            The car was going faster than 60 miles per hour then, as it moved unpiloted toward the center of the two-lane road, the yellow partial lines in the center now ripping under its rectangular body. I was sure we were going to be caught by cops or something like that, considering how bad my luck was, always. It did not happen. Nothing happened.

            I got bored of that after thirty seconds or so, and my right hand clamped back to the round, unfashioned wheel, my foot letting go of its press to rest on the dirty floor. The car regained sanity and went back to its rightful lane, and the boredom limit that it was supposed to break wasn’t even bent. “Ohio must be crazy to give a suicidal maniac like me a license.” I smiled a little as I said this, as if I was trying to convince myself that that was only a joke.

            “Just wait till they give me one, then we’ll know how crazy they are,” Mike answered in a bored tone, looking out the windows to the nothing world of the outside. He already knew that he was going to be in a car accident after he got his license. He already knew, for the Lin family curse dictates that every man in the family will be in at least one car accident, if he drives some kind of mechanical vehicle. This is true, my Dad got into an accident when he was riding his motorcycle. It took a bunch of his teeth out, reason why his teeth are now mixed with shining silver and gold. Both my cousins got sued after each crashed into another car. And I got into a crash last winter, even though I kept insisting that I wasn’t drunk when that happened, for a few beers can make no man drunk, or so my grandpas say.

            The radio murmured songs that weren’t important enough to register in my mind. The car went on without stop, only a few pauses in between. Damn traffic lights. I still didn’t know where we were going, or where we were, as the night blanketed the world as we know as. I think there were trees by our sides now, instead of low-roofed houses of the city. I didn’t really know, for it was just too dark to know. They might have been green giants from Mars for all I knew, or shimmering ghosts of the never-pasts. I don’t know, I didn’t see them.

            The car pushed on, going forth in a never-ending road, pulled by some invisible force that urged it to move on, move faster, reach the end. Why were we going forward on this road? I didn’t know. I just moved on. I was just an object moved on by time and car.

            When we finally stopped, I wasn’t sure anymore of who we were, or who we really were back then. We stopped at a gas station called Amoco, for the gas needle was almost on top of the “E”. I knew I should have filled it up before we started on this trip. My egg-creamy yellow Chevrolet seemed so old and depressed when I compared it to the other cars in the station. Every car seemed to shine and beautify itself with its pretty bright colors and black leather-coated seats. My car didn’t care. It was just ready to die.

            “Where are we?” Mike asked as he brushed his right hand tiredly over his short black hair. His black Nike shoes made a soft stepping sound as he got out of the car, sick already with the new world we were in.

            “If I really knew, I would tell you.” I said as I pulled out the gas pump from its resting altar, ready for the gas that was worshipped by the cars it gave life. A nice breeze migrated through as I pumped gas into the car, who swallowed the odorous liquid with anticipation. I felt the wind pass through every root of my hair, playing and dancing with the dark hair that composed parts of me. The wind claimed my hair its, just as it had with those tall grasses of the country fields, waving them like the waters of the oceans blue.

            I looked back at the dark void from where we came from, before I looked forth to the dark void that we were planning to go. It really made no difference in the dark, for everything was just a black void waiting to be lighted, waiting to be filled. “Shall we go back?” I asked with a soft-weak voice, doubtful again of who we were and where we were going.

            “There is no other choice, is there?” Mike replied, looking also into the void that spread in front of us. Our T-shirts now flapped in the wind like broken flags, waving unsurely in the course of life.

            “Let’s go.” I said simply, as I placed the pump back onto its hibernating stand, before starting for the temple the pump belonged to.

*   *   *   *   *   * 

            “I hate my job.” I said, as we moved back through the road we’ve been to before, looking once again for that invisible goal we’ve been set out to find.

I was working in a shit hole of a Chinese restaurant, in the kitchen with the rest of the kitchen crew (90% Mexican, 10% others). The restaurant, China Cottage, was the best Chinese restaurant in Kettering, that insignificant little city near Dayton, Ohio. Yet, even though it was a prestigious restaurant, it was nothing more than a sweatshop to the kitchen crew. We weren’t only underpaid ($50 for 11 hours of work), but we were also sweating like broken faucets, thanks to the heat and smoke that cooking generates. I was enslaved here because of the stupid promise. My parents had sold my life to them for fifty bucks a day. I didn’t know that my life was worth that little.

            “Quit then.” Mike replied, as he looked out once again to the world that surrounded and passed us by. Just like the wind that entered and left through our open windows, the world that I saw in front of us changed as each second went by, too fast for me to feel any remorse about the worlds that we’ve left behind.

            “I can’t, I can’t break the promise Dad made.”

            “Yes, you can. You control your own life.”

            A lonely car passed us by as we spoke, all that’s seen of it being only the headlights it owns and shines. “Maybe we don’t control our lives at all.” I said, as the headlights rushed us by. “Maybe we do get to that intersection in our lives, where many possibilities follow and many possibilities end, only to have Time guide and pull our arms towards the one possibility that he likes, even if that is the worst possibility that we can get.”

            “Or maybe you’re wrong and we don’t get guided at all.” Was Mike’s reply as he turned to look at me. “Maybe the possibilities we end on is nothing more but a random throw of a dice, in where our chances of getting a good ending are as good as the chances of getting the ones we hate.”

            I nodded once in agreement. The car went on without care. “Maybe we all are really only characters in a story, written by Gods,” I smiled a little as I said this. “And just like the characters in a story, we believe and think that we will be able to choose the future of our endings, yet we cannot in reality, for it is all already decided by the plots of our writer God.”

            “So why bother fighting forth, huh?” Mike asked in a strength-less voice, still looking out at the world that changed and passed us by, impatient to leave and look at the past behind.

            “Maybe because the plot demands us to struggle,” I replied, the road in front of us now slowly becoming brighter with the city lights. “For it would be a boring story to read if nobody struggled.”

            A minute of silence, nothing more heard but the dull noises of the running engine. “We think too much.” Mike said, a chuckle emerging from his smiling mouth.

            “Yeah, we do.” I had agreed then, a smile breaking into my face. “Being a writer totally sucks ass.”

            The car ignored the laughter, bored of the senseless talks that happened in it. It continued to hum its song, of a melody that captured its mood, moving, going forth in the often-curving road. It could only look forth, and not back, as the colors and lights changed in front of its eyes. The car could only move, directed by the ones who lead it. It had no other choice.




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