When sin bursts into the party, who becomes the dirtiest?
Prompt: a summer day in the city
500 wds, according to Apple
Somewhere between Central Park and Times Square are eight tourist groups trekking from one monument to the next at any given time with an approximate half a million rats doing the same. Both sets of species are foreign and dirty according to the nine million people who heart NYC enough to live there, and I suspect it’s a mutual feeling from the tourists and rats. Nevertheless, 375,000 people insist on invading daily, and of these statistics, there’s only one with which we need concern ourselves: Kellen McCartney.
The crystalline droplets reflected the June sunlight while they gathered in the creases of his tightened face, the narrowed slits above his wrinkled nose shielding his sanity from the assault of the heat and amount of neon fanny packs on tourist-colored shorts, with white socks and Birkenstocks. Too many people causing too many movements, the symphony of a living city with an ever-evolving ecosystem. He looked to his Birkenstocks and rubbed his teeth against each other, a tension he would surely feel the next day.
“Soon we’ll enter the theatre district,” a tour guide said, but Kellen turned from the rest of the spiel. He’d abandoned his tour after two hours, pulled into the tranquility of the vastness of Central Park to watch the ducks swim around in the little ponds. He smiled until, while he was exploring his way out, he realized how thick and instant the dark loomed underneath the bridges. Scurrying past the oldest merry-go-round and through the zoo, he’d come out on Fifth Avenue and sauntered to St. Patrick’s Cathedral as agenda-fueled natives pushed past him on their way from their day-work.
The paradox of safety in numbers while alone in a crowd was something he’d argued internally (eternally?), but he smooshed himself through the crowd into the entrance of that iconic relic of faith. It was hardly cooler inside as the priest’s dusty, archaic voice coughed out the mass while onlookers and participants alike filled the auditorium. Sweat oozed, creeping down his back causing an itch inappropriate to relieve in this sacred setting. He bit his teeth.
“Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem,” the machine of a man prayed his mass as if this was the first time he’d ever read it. Kellen looked down at his watch. Ninety-three degrees. Shouldn’t he be accustomed to heat? He glanced around the room, but he didn’t see where the cooler air was blowing from before disappearing out into the streets. He backed up, pressing his back into a rough wooden pillar as he slid from side to side. He closed his eyes, the sermon melting into the background, but he pushed hard enough to tear his skin.
The multitude gasped. Kellen opened his eyes. Everyone was standing away from him, staring as the priest stumbled for anything to say. He stood and noticed the skin he had been wearing was replaced by his own pale skin darkly highlighted.
“I’m back.” He smiled.
Prompt: an apple orchard
500 wds as alleged by Apple
Across the street from the Marsha P. Johnson State Park and in between Kent and Wythe Avenues lie four lots bulldozed in the seventies and rebuilt in the eighties as an inner-city apple orchard, The Big Apple’s Big Apples. The city “lost” any records of ownership once Jerim Rosenblatt, realizing his fruit-bearers would bear him no financial fruit, vanished in a wisp of bankruptcy, and, since the city’d constructed a fence around the property, it’d been abandoned by everyone beyond the chain-link.
Isiqalo clacked her ladder against the hard bark of one of these apple trees and huffed while she climbed into the puffy verdancy. She clutched a fruit and ripped it from its branch, her nose wrinkling. The East River emitted its usual stench, and, of course the Jersey curse was touring in on the tickle of breeze, but something else reeked in the New York City air, something bloated and oppressive as it embossed her olfactory system. She squinted northeast toward the Empire State Building and beyond, but to where? What was enslaving her focus? And what was this rotten assault?!
Her grip eased, and the apple rolled from her fingertips onto the balding earth, out of sight, out of mind. No, this apple would not make it into her basket she left outside the fence nightly for anyone who needed to eat, and, this evening, hunger would be someone else’s problem to solve as she half-stepped, half-slid down the aluminum tool. She barreled toward the toolshed, her flowy, hippie dress wrapping around her sweaty ankles while she fought, each step a trench in the soil as she gripped and pushed off with her toes. Isiqalo hit the door of the small, dilapidated building with her shoulder, and as she opened the door, her head swiveled. Nobody gave her attention. Why would they? She made her own hats, for God’s sake, nobody cared about what she was doing. Ever.
She slammed the door behind her, beams of sunlight penetrating the sun-baked air within the shed. She made no move for tools; no, these wouldn’t help her. Isiqalo bent down, moved some floorboards around, then pulled back a large steel door, a ladder disappearing down the esophagus. Down she went, and when her feet slapped on the cold concrete below, she hurled herself into the circular room. The walls were decorated all the way around with books, but she pulled one from its nest. She opened the tome halfway and then flipped a few pages. She blinked twice, her head turning to the whistle-toned squeaks.
A rat. Pretty normal for down here. But then there were six snapping, biting, growing in numbers. They were a shrieking pack, and that wasn’t normal. The tones they screamed, their voices stabbed into her brain, and she dropped the book and held her forehead. Isiqalo looked at her hand, the skin tearing from itself as a pink glow emanated from the wounds.
“He’s back.” She frowned.
Prompt: cake or pie
500 wds says Apple
The explosion just north jammed tremors through The West Village, and the seventy-three-year-old legs of drag queen and tourist novelty Miz Cakey Pie vibrated before releasing, her face grating into the grime of the fried sidewalk. She rolled, her elbows shredded open, her wrists scraped, and she was without breath when she slammed into the facade of a cafe on Christopher Street.
“Get…down!” Cakey whisper-shouted at people passing her. She reached up, but nobody took her hand.
“Oh, honey, why don’t you find an alley and sleep it off?” some tan-and-blonde perfect twink said as he passed. He turned to his equally-stereotyped partner. “Jesus, if I wanted to be yelled at by day-drinking drag queens, we coulda just stayed in Jacksonville.” They walked on, laughing. Cars drove, people hurried and pointed at the city as they giggled, and the trees swayed in the breeze, not a shockwave.
Theyn’t seen this? Ain’t they know somethin’ just blowed up?
Cakey flattened her outstretched hand against her bony boy-chest while propping up against the building. She leaned against the cafe, her gasps and legs more controlled. She limped, and soon she was at the intersections of Christopher and Grove Streets and Sixth Avenue in the Wittenberg Triangle. An acrid smell wafted, and the noise familiar to those who slept in the street demanded her attention. She looked to the Ninth Street subway station as she passed and stopped.
They scampered from the terminal tunnel (escaping, Miz Cakey thought), into the streets as they dodged the stream of cars. They ran, flowed into the city, but nobody else seemed inconvenienced by the invasion; they just…didn’t notice. But then there were more vermin, and they were larger than the first refugees, their screeching squeaks growing, screaming to an unbearable crescendo of collective fear.
The antiquated performer slapped her hands to her ears while those around her reacted to her. They puzzled their faces, laughed at her, even, but how could they not at least see the rodents carpeting the city, let alone not hear them? And why were they laughing at her?
She stared toward Midtown, her mouth gaping.
Towering above the edifices, looming, lumbering as it swallowed the city hearted by the world, was a haboob, a cloud made not of mist nor dust. Gray and lit from within, the thing moved down the avenue, expanding as it hunted.
Another burst, from Brooklyn, muffled through distance, marched in, undulations through the ground as the rats somehow wailed louder. What was worse? The threat of the absorbing cloud coming at her or the desire to yell until the invasion in her ears, aggressive and threatening her sanity, silenced?
The dark cloud was closing in, and nobody seemed to care except for Miz Cakey and the rats. She dropped her head and waited for some unknown but necessary absolution, no matter the fear clawing and biting through her chest like a…a rat.
Prompt: a coffee shop
Apple claims 499
Cakey held her breath and braced her stance as what would surely be her end raced on. As it stormed, while it tumbled ahead rolling and eating the skyscrapers, devouring the streets and overtaking the populace, she watched it, noticed the rats and their howling, all the rodents roaring. They were going, and the cloud was coming, and it would all be…over…soon…
The force from the right side of her body was a surprise, but it wasn’t the blow of battle; no, this was different, more of a hug than an assault. New York City blurred, the green parks melting into the concrete and bricks. Her thoughts pivoted in her head as she’d never experienced this before, so what could it be?, and she blinked the dust and grit from her eyes, she realized she was once again sitting in front of the cafe on Christopher Street. Before her brain could settle, she was enveloped in a poof! of pink, and it was everywhere.
Wait a minute, Cakey thought, ain’t no one out here moving, no birds, no cars, no people. Time’s froze.
She was correct in this quick analysis. It was as if someone pressed “pause” on the world, and only she and these clouds existed.
In the distance, not far from where she had been standing, the darker mass continued, marching, and as Cakey Pie watched, the colors of pink and dark gray absorbed each other, but there was something happening in each cloud. Was it lightning? Gray and pink lightning striking near each other every time? How could that happen at the same time?
Rats clawed across her legs, and she screamed, scrambled to stand while she pulled herself up by the window ledge. Her vocal cords vibrated, but she either didn’t hear herself, or her cries were forgotten, but in any case, she yanked the door open, the stream of rats running around the aluminum frame. Cakey jumped into the coffee shop, pulling the door and decapitating a couple of rats, their entrails ripped out, eviscerated by the passers-by as they screamed and gnashed until they were just part of the sidewalk fodder.
Beyond the glass window, two beams of light, one gray and one pink, slammed together, bursting and exploding into each other. The bolts hit the street, chunks of asphalt scattering to the gutters. The flow of rats startled, and it was chaos as they panicked.
The electricity from the sky was gone, and there were two people out in the road, neither saying anything, just staring. The woman was surrounded by a pink bubble, an energy while the guy was pushing black energy out. The wisps of clouds danced, almost touching yet repelling, an orbital dance.
We done stalemated, Cakey thought.
The woman was gone, only a line where she was, and now she was….they were fighting, zapping around each other, but they didn’t strike.
Was it a dance, or was it a fight? What did it mean?
Prompt: a picnic basket
500 wds declareth Apple
Miz Cakey, who’d gone as far as PS 145’s third grade program, never learned the nuances of literary duality working toward a pinnacle, the natures of two sides battling for dominance, could never accurately tell the story she watched as the two streams of energy playing tag with one another, swooping and flying between the buildings while they put on a show for Cakey Pie. She stood in front of the window of the cafe, the smell of rich people coffee making her stomach growl and fold, and she glanced around for a cupcake. She rummaged around the counter, ran her ran through the display picnic basket just in case, and then she discovered what she would accept: a fruit pie.
The bell above the door chimed as the glass was opened from outside, and Cakey Pie was confronted with a man, gray and buzzing from the inside. When he smiled, fangs extended, his wings unfurled in the cramped little coffee shop. The queen screamed at threw the confection when the gray flames appeared in his eyes.
The fruit-hurled fruit pie hit him, but he seemed to absorb the pie pan. The electricity within him whirred, and his expression changed as the aluminum was struck repeatedly by his own energy, zapping and pulsating, throbbing as the air in the room sounded like a bug-zapper. He reached an arm into himself, but he couldn’t grab the pan.
Cakey watched while the pink energy struck in front of the cafe, and then there was a woman resembling the man, only she was pink. She slammed her fist into the plate-glass, crunching the glass and sending spider-web patterns through the window. She blew on it, and it shattered, large shards dropping to the ground before breaking down even further. The woman was in the building before rushing to the counter.
The explosion from the frustrated and over-worked energy fighting the pan should have killed the drag queen, should’ve been her final curtain call, but the woman, the pink energy had jumped on Miz Cakey and formed a protective shield.
The woman stood, and Cakey Pie did the same, looking up to see sky instead of the ceiling, and her mouth dropped.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Human nature,” Pinkie said. She waved her hand open-palmed above their heads. Cakey looked up.
The clouds, pink and gray, were moving into one another, swirling and tumbling, mixing to a dark-pink fog, falling, settling down to the streets.
“Do the right thing,” Pinkie said. She winked, and a smack of electricity made Cakey shut her eyes. She opened them.
She was in the cafe, restored as if nothing’d happened. The world was…okay?
“No, that’s not a tip!” a man said to an employee, and Cakey looked at him. “You can’t even read, apparently.”
Cakey reached down and removed her shoe. Faster than she would remember, her flat hit the man in the forehead.
“Tourist rat,” Cakey said.