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Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress: A Group Writing Project

About the Authors

1 Courtney Sullivan, June 27, 2016

2 Daniel Graves, July 5, 2016

3 Christopher Notarnicola, July 11, 2016

4 L.N. Holmes, July 18, 2016

5 James Lawrence, July 25, 2016

6 Taylor Atkinson, August 01, 2016

7 Regan Clark, August 08, 2016

8 Rachel Greenberg, August 15, 2016

About Dually Noted

Dually Noted is TBL’s exciting group-writing project. New and established writers from around the world come together to create one ongoing story through weekly installments. If you would like to add the next section, shoot us your 500-word addition by Friday night. Our editor will publish the best submission at the beginning of each week.

Title

Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress

by the TBL Writing Community

Ask Questions Second

“Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress.”

The words shook in my head as I tried to comprehend them. Surely she meant to hand me a stress ball or a self-help book of sorts. Stress relief . . . a gun? I knew these people were bad people, but was my sister implying that we kill them?

Since we moved in, we had always been at odds with our neighbors. Our neighbors were bikers and their lifestyle couldn’t have been more different from ours. We never could tell just how many people lived there, but there were always at least eight Harleys parked in their driveway. They threw parties that usually ended in two guys fighting in the street, and I saw one of the women peeing in our yard once.

We’ve called the cops on them many times, realizing that maybe this wouldn’t be an easy fix. The morning after the last call, we heard a crash as a brick smashed through our living room window. On the brick were the words, “There are more of us than there are of you.” The police said they couldn’t do anything if they couldn’t prove who threw it.

“Well, will you help protect us?” my mom pleaded.

“They’re bikers, not terrorists,” the officer laughed.

Night came and everyone felt uneasy. The neighbors were blasting heavy metal while shrieking warrior calls to each other. We were all upstairs in our parents’ room. And we were all holding guns. My dad bought them after the brick incident.

We heard the front door click open. I gripped the foreign object in my hand.

“You didn’t lock the door?” Mom shot an angry look at my dad.

“I did. They must have jimmied it. Be quiet.”

We could hear the footsteps on our ground floor. There was a lump in my throat and every part of me was shaking. The footsteps began to travel upstairs.

“Get behind me,” my dad whispered to us.

We faced the door. We could see shoes inch towards us, but before they made it my dad fired off three shots through the door. I started crying at the sound.

All we heard was silence. My dad got up slowly and pulled the door knob.

On the ground was someone we didn’t recognize. He looked like someone who might have gone to my school.

Everything followed in slow motion, like in the movies. I felt like I couldn’t breathe when the ambulance showed up to take the body away.

We found out later that it was one of our neighbor’s nephews who had been visiting from Florida. He heard about the feud and thought it would be funny to steal one of my mom’s bras to hang from their flagpole. He was only fifteen.

And with one blind click he was gone. That night my neighbor was on his hands and knees crying, no vehemence in his eyes.1

 

A Pickle

He is standing in a small room and He is holding a microphone, which will allow him to say words at high decibel ranges, making what he says intrinsically more important than the opinions of anyone else listening in this small room.

Tonight he will teach a sermon on pickles with a Sennheiser​ wireless microphone. The microphone has a faded navy exterior with multiple scratches from years of wear. The fence patterned head: an orange hue from all the lipstick stains and rust, from the spit and moisture, that had come from all the important mouths of the important people and their important words.

He begins saying his important words in what, through conscious effort, might appear as a colloquial manner. He states that the word Baptism comes from the Greek word Baptìzõ,which was used by the Greek poet Nicander of Colophon to describe the process of chemical change in a cucumber after immersion in vinegar. He will claim that baptism should represent a composite transformation of the host. Like a pickle. The resulting new creature will share the important message of the good news. This appeal is made at 85 db.

He does not want to say the important things too loudly. Otherwise the excess of volume associated with the important words will damage the ears of the people who are listening. 90 db is a standard microphone level and once over 90 db hearing damage takes 2 hours. At 110 db it takes less than 2 minutes.

Cucumbers have a shelf life of about a week. When a cucumber does decompose, it becomes wrinkled and mushy and a white goo begins to ooze out of its skin. However, after 2 days immersed in vinegar a cucumber can begin life anew. There is no debate—pickles last longer.

He continues his appeal into the old rusty Sennheiser(currently producing 85 db) stating very loudly and very importantly that Christians should be like pickles.

He tries to focus on his words but. Cucumbers. Pickles. Microphones. All reminiscent of—

Important words, though his carefully cavalier manner now appears apparently stressed. And increasingly he is glancing down at the orange tinge of rust at the microphone’s head, the object in his hands feels foreign as the sweat in his palms causes it to slowly slide which brings to mind images of a firm—

Pickle, and he questions if his words warrant being heard at 94 db, but the volume only adds distortion, and he can’t not stare at the sullen face sitting sitting to the right telling him to eat a—

Sennheiser, as he brings the mic to his lip. And now he is just one of many who has spoken important truths through microphones protruding through a podium with a soft cover over the tip, and now top of his Sennheiser to his bottom lip, he thinks of the word Sennheiser, which in german loosely translates to sower, and he thinks that now he’ll finish.2

 

Her Day

Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress.

Stand here—it’s supposed to be good luck.

Marry him—it’s what’s meant to come next.

The photographer shouts your new surname above the din of the crowd.

You stand still as the camera flashes again, and you look out across the room, through the spots in your vision and the strings of low hanging, low wattage bulbs—just the ones you asked for—but you don’t see your husband. You haven’t seen your husband since the two of you danced. You feel like you haven’t danced in ages.

The photographer, a stranger like most everyone else, offers to check outside.

“People want dessert,” he says.

He takes two steps back, snaps a picture of you next to your three tier cake, checks the screen of his camera, then walks onto the crowded dance floor.

A child in a tuxedo slides across the train of your dress and under the table. Your glass rocks as he knocks into the legs. He pulls the table cloth aside and looks up at you, a finger raised to his lips, then recedes without a sound. His hiding marks him as a child, but his buttoned collar and black tie age him.

You put down the ridiculous knife you’ve been holding, one from the cutlery set with the pearl handles—the ones you asked for.

Two children run their hands along the wall behind you, their smiles wide, their dresses thin and shimmering like the clothes of angels or the bodies of ghosts. The table shudders. You grab your drink and bend to lift the edge of the table cloth, careful not to draw attention.

“I know who you’re hiding from,” you say.

“We’re playing a game,” the child responds, dragging his hands down his face. “Stand up straight or you’ll ruin it.”

You crawl under the table, your dress scrunched behind you and under your side. You lay with your elbow on the floor, your head in your hand. You kick the curtain flat.

“There,” you say. “Now we’re both hiding.”

The child drops his hands to the ground and crawls to the opposite side of the table. He lifts the cloth, peeks out, then turns to you with his brow knit.

“There’s only one person to a spot. That’s part of the game,” he says, and he leaves.

The DJ calls for the guests to meet the bride and groom for the cake cutting. You hear your new surname from a group of people standing nearby. You hear the clinking of silver against crystal. You look down at the flute in your hand and you wish for champagne instead of sparkling cider, for love instead of luck, for desire instead of supposition and sequence.

Surely someone saw you crawl beneath the table. The children must know, at least.

The crowd cheers your husband’s name. You drink the cider and pull your knees to your chest, hiding for just a moment longer.3


Spacefall

“Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress,” Ally says. She lifts the lunaite from the tabletop. In her palm it looks like a chocolate muffin, unevenly cooked and sprinkled with shaved almonds. I push her arm down, forcing her to put it back on the table. We weren’t supposed to touch it, let alone hold it.

When we’re done with our work at the museum, we travel to the countryside. I try not to think of the opening exhibit tomorrow. Ally drives the Elise Sport along the back roads like a professional in an advertisement.

We park the Lotus next to an abandoned field. The fireflies are starting to sync, their glows slowly pulsing. Above us, the sky is alight with stars, though the aureole of the moon dims some of their brilliance. The cloudy road of the Milky Way cuts overhead like a puffy scar.

Ally leads me out into the field and points out the Andromeda constellation. In November, we will return here with telescopes and try to view the elusive Andromedids. One night I will find a meteorite and, forsaking scientific advancement, will present it to Ally as a gift. She’ll do the same for me, but I intend to be the first to find and give.

We walk through the weeds at first, then Ally takes off running. I sprint to catch up. She burns across the field–a rocket in horizontal flight. My fuel is running low. Ally turns back, reenters my orbit. We nearly collide, and then laugh as if we’ve discovered an earth-like planet.

Tomorrow we will talk to kids, some with unearthly ambitions. We will be sealed inside the museum walls, speaking about the vastness of space. I will have a PowerPoint ready, where I will show distorted photos of the moon on a projector screen. A kid in the front row, probably a girl, will raise her hand at least three times during the presentation with questions. Somewhere in the middle row, another kid will fall asleep. Their teacher will make a joke about aliens. Everyone will want to look at the lunaite. A boy will remark about its resemblance to human feces. In groups, the kids will peel away to view the miniature model of Apollo 11 nearby. One kid, left behind, will press his fingertips to the glass surrounding the lunaite. Ally and I will watch him think.

But for tonight, neither one of us will return to our husbands. Instead, we will remove the top from the Lotus, lean back in the seats of the car, and stare up at the sky through the narrow opening, as if watching a silent film. Ally will stroke my hair and I will fall asleep, my skin glowing with the radiance of the stars. Our husbands, familiar with our fascinations, will sleep serenely under manmade ceilings. They won’t notice the moon’s glow caressing the window, nor the passionate blaze of the stars.4

 

A Moonrise Facing Window

I took binoculars to the beach last night to see the super moon. It rose in the east, and was less than spectacular. There’s something terrible about having to look through a lens to see the details of an object which you appreciated in its fullness before closer inspection. We, all of us, have a horrific curiosity for the minute.

My vision may be impaired, or the binoculars are broken—I’m not sure which—but I couldn’t shake the double vision. Two moons filled the frame. Two moons overlapped in immense clarity. One in each eye and, in my head, two. Two crowding, super moons. I gave it up after a try. I won’t put anything between myself and the sky again. The magnification of the binoculars isn’t worth the effort or the effect. They’re not a telescope, after all.

The furniture these people keep in their homes looks like it could be made from concrete. White is in fashion like I’ve never seen—or perhaps the condos that overlook the beach come fully furnished and, in the interest of neutrality, the interior designers do their best to leave the place a blank canvas. But then the owners must keep it that way! Ah, for the renters of course. But then the renters don’t decorate either. They must be afraid to make changes of that magnitude. I see now. They’re all afraid to make the big changes inside. I’ve worked it out for myself, as you must have worked out that I, in my aversion to lunacy, turned my spyglasses on the windows in the condos to the west.

People live such tiny lives overlooking the ocean. They move in, but everything remains boxed. From down here I can see that as clearly as if I were a god on the top of a mountain. They unpack their dishes, unbox their furniture, turn on their televisions, but they fail in their perspectives to notice the box they’ve moved into. A box with a moonrise facing window.

I have half a mind to buy a place like that for myself. I’d decorate it with beach sand, salt spray the walls, cover the ceiling with Hefty bags and glitter—no—silicon. There’s silicon on the moon. The place would be furnished with concave moon rocks, priceless, and piles of the finest grey dust, my savings over seven hundred lifetimes. The living room would be illuminated by a reflection of a reflection of the sun. You and I would hang beneath the darkest curtains in the universe, thinking and breathing in duplicate, amplifying our own glow, trying to keep our vision from drifting—an unfocussed cloud.

There’s nothing to see outside at night that you can’t see inside any time of day.5


History

Hold this – it’s supposed to relieve stress. This book can be used to help you better face your future. Here. Open it. No, not that way. Flip it around. There you go.

Go ahead; take a peek.

It can’t tell you your future; no one and nothing can. But this, this lets you better see your past. Or, more accurately, lets you better see those who helped shape your past. A unique mirror for each reader.

Haven’t you ever wondered what your dad was like at your age? What he feared about his own future or regretted about where he’d just been? And your mother. What about the compromises she made, the hopes she cashed in just to have you?

What about this: Do you remember scraping your knee as a child? The pain took up the full moment. No concept of future beyond seeking relief in the arms of a parent or older sibling. Or perhaps the pain of the scrape and knowing there was no one to offer relief. Regardless of how it healed, it did heal. Did you scrape your knee again, though? In the exact same way as before? My guess is probably not.

Take a look here. June 1959. Your mother had been bullied all day at school and the teacher never saw it. Her mother and father? Too busy tending to the littlest one in the family or not home from work yet. Doesn’t that give you something to think about?

Or here. Your dad, angry enough as a teen that he punched a hole in the wall. See how his mother cowered in the corner, realizing for the first time that she could no longer protect herself from her son, though she would never need to?

What about your grandfather? The one no one speaks of, now that he’s gone, but everyone knows he did things with your aunts that still keep them from sleeping; childhood, bastion of growth, realm of safety, shattered. But what about his abusive father? Did anyone mention him and the things he did in the dark of night?

Keep flipping. Here’s your father’s first kiss. Your mother’s first dance. Their first heartbreaks in college. Ah. Here’s an entry on your mother’s anguish trying to pick a major. How hard is it for you now, knowing that she was picking a major in a society that would never let her use it after marriage?

What about your parents’ first date together? Did they tell you how they couldn’t take their eyes off each other or how they were both so nervous their mouths were caked in cotton?

Or their first pregnancy? How afraid they were when they got the news they were expecting their first child, but their instant love for you?

Nothing you learn here can change what has been done. Always remember that. Now that you know, what will you do differently?6

Stressful Visitor

“Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress.” The Alchemist released a hemp bag above my lap, my hands catching it on instinct. The thing was warm. Its underside dark and sticky. The pressure in my head was driving me mad. The alchemist spoke.

“You’re no Madman, Lisbon, just suffering a common ailment.”

“Which is?” I said, bothered by the wiry specs hovering over the bridge of his nose.

“Stress.” He said, his head cocked to the side. A smile formed. “Very interesting.”

The alchemist flipped through a tome on the widest of his many desks. Beside him was a metal slab, as sterile as the one my nephew lay upon, dying, as the Priests pushed me out the door.

The clink of glass shook me back.

“Close, very close…” said the Alchemist. He sifted through the mess of jars and odd metal instruments. “Lisbon, you will find spectacles within that bag. Put them on.”

The specs were a thicker frame and of copper. They felt weightless, and did nothing to my vision.

“When did you begin suffering, again?” The pulse in my head stirred with The Alchemist’s question. He looked my way, a brow raised.

“Twentieth of last month.” I said.

“What occurred on the twentieth?”

“Fundraiser. I was at the church.”

“All day?”

“Yes.”

“And the previous day, what occurred?”

I was eager. My temples tingled with an itch beneath the skin.

“Alchemist, work your blasphemy so I may return and pray for stepping foot here!”

His eyes were alight, and unblinking. The corner of his lip quivered a smirk.  I dared him to let out the laugh.  He did.

“I am no alchemist.” He said, and looked aside with a chuckle.

“Warlock, necromancer, hag—”

“Hah! A hag?” He smiled. “This century is as misguided as the last.”

Throat burning with ready words, I nearly dismissed the subtle movement to my side until The Alchemist said: “He’s persistent on speaking with you.”

I turned my head to see what atrocious illusion my mind played, and saw fire and brimstone in the form of a man.

The hand of my nephew reached for me as he drew closer, and I leaped from my seat, the chair toppling over. “What is this!?”

“I skimmed the article on your nephew’s death. Tragic.” He said plainly, and set the chair upright. “You’re not entirely perceptive of him. Would you like to hear what James has to say?”

“If I don’t?”

A shrug. “Until he gets bored, he will linger.”

What I was about to commit was against all good graces. To communicate with that which is not from the living… I loved James like a brother, and would gamble with my soul to chance it being him. I sat in the chair once more and reached to remove the specs. The Alchemist’s hand stilled me.

“Wear them, so you can see him.” He said, and opened my right hand where he placed a round stone. It was freezing. “Hold this.” 7

 

Girlfriend in a Refrigerator

The Duke of Death lowered his cowl, and though Jessica knew she was probably just imposing her feelings on him, she couldn’t help but see the fracture lines that laced his eye sockets and jaw as crows feet, laugh lines, worry lines. He was like a tired old office manager. Sick of seeing her back again, no doubt.

“Hold this,” he said. He handed her a glass canister with a scroll inside. His breath smelled like tombstones and coffee. “You can use it to relieve the stress of dying.”

The paper inside was blank. “What do you mean, relieve the stress?” she said. “What’s it do?”

“It’s a way to get your point across on the other side. It’s just something to help. Everyone is worried about you. You have to stop dying. Or at least you have to stop getting revived. It can’t be good for you.”

“You think I’m doing it on purpose, Duke?” she said, her voice rising to a whine. But already she had started to shimmer away. Someone was pulling her back to the other side.

She woke in Thomas’s arms. He was wearing his stupid Green Cavern superhero costume. They sat in some kind of great pink bubble that wiggled with the lightning strike smell of broken timelines. Another genius go-back-in-time-and-save-her scheme. The third one this year.

Thomas/the Green Cavern held her to his chest, weeping. She pushed him away and sat up to examine her disgusting revived body. After the first few resuscitations it wasn’t so bad. But now she was falling apart. The tips of her fingers drooped to the side like broken flower stems. Her knees and elbows were permanently purple. She couldn’t get the taste of dead teeth out of her mouth. Thomas’s arch-nemesis, the Fringed Fury, peered in at them cackling, the bloody sockets of his black mask bubbling. He waved at her like they were old friends.

The first time it was all very exciting. The Fringed Fury had made first death particularly gruesome, and it was awful for Thomas to find her stuffed in the refrigerator like that. But it had made him a better superhero than ever before, and she was proud of him from beyond the grave. So when he traded the mysterious star crystals to the Witch of Pluto for a chance to bring her back, it had all been very romantic and her heart had soared as she woke in her casket with his arms around her.

But now it was just getting stupid. It’s true that every time she died, Thomas seemed to become even greater than he had been before, somehow stronger and more motivated. But it wasn’t fair. Dying was exhausting. Reanimation hurt. And she was starting to suspect that her death was becoming more of a backstory than a main plot point for Thomas anyway.

The Fringed Fury pounded on the wall of the pink bubble until it cracked. Thomas groaned and shouted something dramatic about love. Jessica pulled the scroll out from the canister and scribbled on the parchment: “Please, for the love of God, leave me alone!”

As space-time contracted around her, she pressed the canister into Thomas’s hands with an emphatic harumph. This reanimation was so short it was almost insulting. Hopefully this time he would get the message.8

We all deal with different kinds of stress. But what is the strangest, most unusual method of coping with it? Tell us your 500-word stories in this setting! Feel free to borrow characters and locations from other installments. Your section can stand alone or build on what came before. Send us your submissions by Friday for consideration!

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