Time Travel: “The Presidential Mansion”

This short piece was written in a class I had with the brilliant Professor John Weir @ Queens College. The theme of the semester was time travelling. Have I mentioned this one before? Well, there was a period last year where I was obsessed with the White House. It was because I was drawing up a floor plan for my ideal house, and I used the White House as a source of inspiration. I’m no architect, but I think what I drew up was decent. My research on the White House, its rooms and history, and knowing the floor plan led me to putting it in a short story as a setting. Is it obvious it’s also set in 1812? Not a detailed story, but I could update it more someday.

“The Presidential Mansion”

My stomach churned as I was frightened at the thought of the British soldiers marching over here. They were going to arrive soon, and that made me want to defecate all over the carpet somewhere in a corner. At the behest of the President who had already retreated, a few of us were tasked to remove as much valuables as we could out of the White House.

“This is the White House, right?” I asked the commander.

“What white house?!” The commander glared at me as if I wasn’t responsible.

The look he gave me made me not want to fight on his side any longer, so I waited for the perfect time to escape from his watch. I didn’t have a lot of time. We were in the middle of a fog of war and that was already an opportunity for me to escape. And so I did.

“My God! Where are you running off to?!” The commander yelled.

I didn’t say anything but I hoped to have given the impression that I was scrambling to retrieve items in another room. But I never returned to him. The layout of the mansion was different from what I’m used to, but this was the second floor. The different floor plan was an obstacle to my escape. I ran in the direction where the stairs were supposed to be only to find empty rooms. In one of them, distant gunfire drew me to the window. I could make out an orange glow and black smoke rising into the night sky in the distance. In the foreground, shadows were drawing nearer and nearer, some on horseback, many on foot.

I stepped away from the window, ran back out into the hallway, and managed to locate the oval-shaped room of the mansion. I broke through one of the south windows and jumped out. My foot landed and bent at an unnatural angle. It couldn’t take me far, but I found refuge somewhere in the back lawn. A bush resisted me trying to get in it and so I fell back into it, still in extraordinary pain. The shadows came in the night and stormed into the mansion.

After a few moments, fire blazed through the innards of the house. Glass shattering and loud booms could be heard as floors came crashing down. Every window of the mansion eventually spewed fire, and the black smoke rose up to the sky.

The great capital was in ruin.

The Rage-Inducing Story

After months of moral anxiety and weeks of ambivalence, Samuel had finally found his man. He’d been preparing himself for this moment. This moment, and more. The images of a haunting story – “the rage-inducing story” – became more vivid as a face could now be applied to it. Samuel had never met him before, but because of “the rage-inducing story”, it was as if he had gotten to know him on a deeper level. The months of anxiety this man had caused him made it personal. The instant Samuel saw him, his heart began to pound and his bowels wanted to explode out of his ass. He hated how he wasn’t in a place of control – power even. These feelings overwhelmed him. But seeing this man intensified the one thing that brought him to Brooklyn tonight: his rage. Samuel stood outside the glowing red restaurant on a dark and desolate street, and peered in past the neon lights and through the window. The restaurant was closed for cleaning and his man was mopping the floors quickly and haphazardly, as if he were in a hurry to get somewhere. The apron he wore made him appear pathetic and harmless.

Samuel glared at his man, contemplating every thought in his head as if each were a different voice. One told him, “Give him Hell.” Another, the reason for his ambivalence, told him, “You are a good man, Samuel. A better man. Don’t do this.” There were other voices. One reminded him that he’d never been in a real fight before in his life. He’d get his ass kicked. Another was worried about the police. All this anxiety triggered Samuel’s “fight or flight response”. He made his choice.

He chose to walk away. “I’m better than you.”

Down at the corner, outside a bar, Samuel took a pack of Newport out from his thick winter coat. With deliberation, as if he were choosing a victim, he picked one stick out by random, and held it up for a second, admiring it. He lit it up and inhaled, almost desperately, the equivalent of having the first bite of food in days. The anxiety was just too much. The cigarette gave a bad taste in his mouth, but still, it felt good and it relieved him.

Just when Samuel decided to go home, someone bumped past his shoulder, hard, like a car crash. He was going to say something, but he was startled that the wrongdoer was his man. They exchanged glares and they didn’t say anything to each other. Samuel only made observations. What he saw was the face of a psychopath: emotionless, unapologetic, with the nerve to continue walking on by. The dark street caused full dilation of his pupils, making him appear even more intimidating, like a beady eyed demon. At the same time, Samuel was irritated by his man’s arrogance and smirk. But why should he care? His man was wearing a jacket that was too thin for winter and he had on worn, disgusting sneakers. It occurred to Samuel that his man didn’t recognize him. If he were just like Samuel – someone who had stalked the other, and had found him – he probably would have recognized him. Besides, the two do have a mutual connection.

As Samuel watched his man walk away from the encounter, the rage returned. This man had walked away before, and he was going to walk away again. It wouldn’t be the right place and the right time for this guy to come around. “Remember ‘the rage-inducing story.'” He crashes into you. He corrupts. And he’d walk away as if nothing were ever going to catch up to him.

Samuel flicked away his unfinished cigarette and began following him. Without being noticed, he casually crossed to the other side of the street without looking back for a car, like a predator’s gaze fixed on prey. Like a cat. He kept his distance, positioning himself diagonally from him. Somewhere along the short journey, a light turned green for vehicles, and the man disobeyed a Don’t Walk sign, almost getting run over. The person behind the wheel was probably enraged, evidenced by the horn blaring. What a shame. A crash would’ve given him a taste of his own medicine. It also would’ve saved Samuel the trouble.

The man stopped abruptly outside a café as something inside caught his attention. His wide eyes peered in through the windows and then he stepped away from the glass, looking tentative, as if he were fighting his own inner conflicts. What’s going on? Will he go in? Will he continue? He eventually made up his mind and entered the café. Samuel cautiously closed in, curious to see what was the hold up. He looked in through the windows.

There were no customers inside. A young lady was all alone behind the front counter, wiping down with a white rag. His man appeared to have disturbed her because her body language seemed to shoosh him away. Samuel saw this as an opportunity to further observe his behavior. But really, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He wasn’t sure if he’d do anything at all. Every second he didn’t act, he lost motivation. He was just waiting. He wanted more… What’s the right word? Incentive. He was compelled to stay for the moment because maybe his presence would benefit the girl. Not a soul had walked on by on this street in Brooklyn. She wouldn’t be safe if she were alone with him. Samuel knew this. The man talked, and second by second, got closer and closer to this young lady, who was, no doubt, young and attractive. She seemed to loosen up, becoming relaxed and jovial. But does she not see the psycho Samuel saw earlier? Was this another one of his masks? How infuriating! He’s not interested in coffee. How could she be alone with him? That fucking “rage-inducing story”! How could that ever happen? How could this ever happen? “What am I talking about?!” Is something going to even happen? Watching him keep on living without consequence gave Samuel all the incentive he needed.

His man finally emerged from the café and he looked back at the girl, smirking, and walked on. Samuel followed him for a few more blocks, each one looking more dilapidated than the last, to a battered apartment building. There, he became hypervigilant for potential witnesses. But it was the dead of night. His man entered the building through glass doors. Samuel had been slowly closing in and was now close enough to pounce on him. His gloves protected him and meant that he never touched that handle, and never invaded the lobby. No doorman. No front desk. No security guard. No camera on the ceiling. A door to a narrow stairwell slammed shut. He thought nothing was ever going to catch up to him. By now, Samuel was intent on crashing into his life.

The stalker entered the dim stairwell which was resonating with the sound of heavy footsteps. He ascended in pursuit and, soon after, a door creaked open above and slammed shut. The footsteps became muffled and faded away. He started sprinting up steps two at a time, worried he might have lost his man. He arrived at the third floor, and quietly opened the door, peeked his head out into the hallway, and saw no one. He slammed the door shut and proceeded up to the fourth floor. In the nick of time, he saw his man disappear into an apartment at the end of a hallway. Samuel emerged from the stairwell, allowing the door to slam behind him, as if there was no more turning back. He took his time walking to the door at the end. This was it. His heart was pounding.

Knock, knock.

Nothing.

A pound on the door.

“Yeah?” A baritone voice asked behind the door. Samuel sensed the man was right behind the door, peeking through the peephole. All he wanted to do right now was to enter. But he said nothing.

“What do you want?”

He had been waiting a long time to say this. Anything to attack the insecurities of a narcissist. Anything for him to take the bait and open the door.

“I’m better than you.”

The door unlocked. Samuel forced himself in.

 

It was around 4 AM when Samuel entered in the front door of his apartment. It was dark so he reached for the light, took off his shoes with his feet, and kicked them to the side. His hands were damaged. He grimaced closing his fist and he struggled to take off his bloodstained jacket, which he threw into the hamper.

Samuel tiptoed to the bathroom where, in the mirror, he realized the extent of the damage his face had taken. There was a deep gash on his left cheek where blood was still spilling over. He grimaced at the sight of it. But for a second afterward, he smirked, having been reminded of his position. He had won somehow.

But then, guilt took over. It wasn’t like he was worried about the police. It was because he thought he was a better man, but now, not necessarily a good man.

He stripped down to his bare ass, analyzing every particle he took off. In particular, he threw his boxers into the garbage. Hell, he even threw out his pants. They had foreign fluids that were not his. He emptied his pants of his wallet and protection before doing so. He’d take out the trash afterwards. Steam from the hot shower filled the bathroom for over 30 minutes, much longer than usual. Samuel spent most of his time thinking and scrubbing his entire body, mostly below the waist. But he ultimately didn’t have to be concerned with himself. He was careful.

After treating the wound on his face and taking out the trash, Samuel sneaked into the bedroom, and stealthily slipped under the covers. He did all this without waking her up. As she laid on her side, he placed his bad hand around her, and he hugged her. If his guilt wasn’t washed away in the shower, it disappeared after being with her again. Because, in his mind, this was the end of “the rage-inducing story”.

His man got what he deserved. And it was for her.

10 May 2017: It is 12:05 AM…

It’s 12:05 AM on an early Wednesday morning and I’m lying down on the living room sofa with Seinfeld playing on the 60″ television in front of me. Moments before, I witnessed Manu Ginobili and the Spurs beat James Harden and the Rockets in OT in what was an exciting game to get a 3-2 series lead in the second round. My girlfriend is asleep on an adjacent sofa which could’ve held my entire body comfortably. Damn her! My feet rest over the soft armchair as the whole length of my body is too long for this piece of furniture. I’m not going to have a good night sleep perhaps as I’m unable to straighten out my legs, but it’s temporary as I continue to renovate my living space which is turning out to be… nice. Better than before. Because before, the walls were covered in this hideous popcorn paint that made the room appear smaller, and the laminate flooring had gaps in between as the previous installer (my father who doesn’t have attention to detail) failed to properly install them. And under the laminate floor was an entire sheet of this dirty and dusty foam that was rough and multi-colored, as if it were originally part of some cheap piece of furniture that was just thrown in under in a poor attempt to level out an extremely uneven concrete subfloor. And the mold! For nearly six months, I had been living on top of mold! Am I going to die?

It’s almost over, but man, all the physical work I’ve been doing in the past two and a half months has been too much. I learned a lot, mostly about fixing an uneven concrete subfloor. I learned the hard way though. The people in Home Depot led us to waste hundreds of dollars and days of work when I could’ve used a self-leveling compound! A self-leveling compound!

“Trust the professionals at the Home Depot!” My fat rear.

Instead, we were directed to use at least half a dozen bags of Portland cement, each weighing nearly 100 lbs, and bags of sand and gravel. My buddy and I then spent a week applying it all over a 20′ by 12′ concrete subfloor. Then, I had to borrow a tiny angle grinder from a neighbor to level it all out. What a waste of time and energy! And I was intensely sick with a fever doing all this hard work! Was it the mold?!

If there is going to be a next time, I will know about self-leveling compound. I’ll have the money to afford renting a 150 lb floor grinder if I need it. Or I could just hire a real contractor because my buddy isn’t a real one. And, like my father but not as much, he lacks meticulousness! The help he has provided, however, has been invaluable and much appreciated.

I did this all for my girlfriend, by the way. You’re welcome.

3 May 2017: 2:30 AM

It’s 2:30 AM on a Wednesday and I’m lying down on the sofa in my living room, wide awake, swyping this entry on my phone. I’ve been suffering from a cold since Sunday evening, and have had a fever since yesterday afternoon. My head, my eyes, and my jaw are in pain. My nose is runny and dry at the same time. And I’m burning up even while wearing only boxer briefs.

Can I please get back to sleep?

My body aches after working alone for the past two days, trying to finish my basement renovation. I’ve been living down there with my girlfriend since last November and we’ve been renovating since March 7th. It’s been a drawn out and exhausting process. All our belongings were covered in this white dust for nearly two months while working on the walls, and now they’ve all been scattered around upstairs for almost a week, needing to make room to fix up the floors.

I’m hopefully five days away from finishing.

It’s dark down here except for the dim light coming from the next room, and up the stairs to the hall light. A clock ticks. It’s 2:46 AM. It takes too long to create a post via phone. But I haven’t written since March 1st. I’ve been so busy. Time flew by. My nose is running and I irritatingly squeeze the mucus out with my dry, scaly fingers. An aquarium filter runs in the dining room and water splashes. Weird to have a smelly aquarium in the dining room. A cat sneaks on by after kicking around dust in a litter in the vestibule.

I think about all the problems I’ve had to deal with this spring. And now I realize my resume sucks, a few weeks before graduation.

I think about how inconsiderate people are, not staying home when they’re sick. It’s really irritating. I’ve been easily irritated the past couple of days.

I think about how much mistakes this swyping has been in the twenty minutes writing this post. “More efficient typing”. Yeah. No.

I think about my abilities to give advice, train, and teach. My cousin failed her road test a month ago, and yesterday, she passed. She’s the fifth person I’ve practiced with.

I think about suppressing my urge to urinate because I’m in so much pain.

Seriously, this swyping sucks!

From 8 March 2017: Productive Day

I never got the chance to finish and upload this entry from 8 March 2017…

It’s 4:53 PM and I’m sitting in a public library in Elmhurst, New York. It’s a new library and looks clean and modern. From across the street, you see an all-glass enclosure on the second floor. There was an Asian girl sitting on a chair, reading. I’ve never been to this place yet. It looks more like it could’ve been an art gallery with its modern, glassy design.

It’s been a productive day today. I had to mail out a guilty plea for two traffic tickets I received 15 days ago. Today was the deadline to send it out. I would’ve done it online, but it’s not in the records yet. Filling out the traffic ticket was frustrating and stressful. $190 for beating a red light. $50 for disobeying a U-turn sign. Yes, I admit it. I was wrong. But $88 each ticket for a “mandatory surcharge”? Where does this go, I’d like to know.

Got a haircut. A proper one. One that I like. It seems like that every time I get a haircut, it’s hit or miss…

1 March 2017 Entry: The Blair Witch Project / Character Development vs. Situational Storytelling

Last night, I rewatched one of my most favorite horror movies: The Blair Witch Project, a movie whose (Can I use “whose” when referring to inanimate objects? Always learning!) scariness is debatable, but has influenced other movies, such as Paranormal Activity and REC. Debatable, indeed! My girlfriend who had never seen it didn’t think it was scary. “These characters are stupid,” she said in the middle of the film, when one of the characters, Mike, revealed that he had kicked their map into a river the day before. I tried explaining to her, but I’m not good with words.

These were normal people who had lost their sanity, and most importantly, their trust in one another. The map that was supposed to guide them out of the woods was useless either way because they were never going to get out. Something supernatural was causing them to walk in circles, keeping them in the witch’s territory, even if they followed a compass going all the way south.

I was 9-years-old when the movie first came out in 1999. Imagination was still intact. Cellphones and the internet weren’t as accessible. The world was more closed and mysterious. Film documentaries were all too real. From what I remember, The Blair Witch Project did a great job fooling people that it was real through campaigning. Remember the missing posters? It was years later when I found out that it wasn’t real, thanks to the internet. Oh, and it made $250 million on a $60,000 budget. It’s considered a landmark film because of its success and influence.

But my girlfriend, like many, didn’t like it.

I understood while watching the movie in 2017 that it looked outdated. Scenes were choppy. But it was supposed to be a movie put together using “found footage”. The female protagonist, Heather, did too much screaming while I had the Bose sound on (so to hear the cackling in the night). But the “acting” seemed to be genuine. Heather was too proud and Mike was too stupid. But one wouldn’t think something was wrong at first, and the loss of sensibility was a progression. Loads of “buts” that could deem it a bad movie if the audience isn’t flexible enough.

So why do I like it?

Last semester in Creative Writing class, Professor John Weir, author of The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket and What I Did Wrong?, asked his class, during a practice workshop, if the piece of writing we were discussing had character development. “Did it have character development? Or was it more situational?” It was something he never expanded on, but it gave me ideas on what created effective storytelling. Throughout the semester, he touched on characters starting somewhere and ending up elsewhere. “Did the characters change someway?” He didn’t say explicitly, but, of course, he was talking about character arcs. Some of my fellow classmates whose stories were situational felt like their stories tried too hard to impress, to the point that they sounded contrived.

The Blair Witch Project gives us three normal people in the beginning. They experience supernatural events. As a result of those events, they deteriorate psychologically. Cause and effect. The film is so deliberate in this aspect. Every night, things get worse and worse. They first react with questions and confusion. Then, they become frustrated and angry. Then, they turn on each other. Then, there’s screaming and crying. Then, there’s surrender. Three people, the woods, and a hidden antagonist that makes it even more psychological. What was stalking them? In my mind was a floating woman wearing a black, tattered cloak, her eyes constantly watching them. Why did she leave rocks outside their tent? Even she has to have motives. Was it to taunt them?

My girlfriend likes the movie Hush better, a movie I find to be okay, but lacking character development. To me, like many lazy horror movies, it’s more situational storytelling. It’s about a woman who lives in the middle of the woods (cliché) and is attacked by an intruder, but with a twist: she’s deaf. It reminded me of Home Alone, a movie with an identifiable character arc (Kevin is a scared little boy in the beginning, but then becomes brave enough to protect his own home). Hush has a “cool” concept, but that’s just it, and I didn’t find myself caring too much for the protagonist.

So what’s up with character development? The characters become much more real. The story becomes a bit more personal. There’s a chance that you’ll care about these people – empathize – and you’ll put yourself in the story. And when you put yourself in a horror story, that will make it even more of a horror for you.

Speaking as a student of psychology, I think The Blair Witch Project is one of the best psychological horrors out there, considering the fact that they did so much with so little. And, at one point, it was real. All too real.