by Aleks Haecky

"Now I'll definitely never get promoted," thought Moyla, looking at the Wasteland before her.

Disappeared—her boss.

Gone—the payroll staff.

Evaporated—the promotions committee.

All of them.

Poof, dissipated into gray, fluttering dust while she was out to smooth her disappointment with a nice glass of hot sake and a generous helping of the "daily sashimi special."

She had come back to the building slightly tipsy, climbed up the stairs to the office suite of "Bridel & Soot," motto, "Screws for all Jobs," and instead of the five rows of desks, the middle of the floor was crowded with a floor-to-ceiling ball of sparkling glitter dust. The computers were shattered, smoking, the remaing phones ringing relentlessly.

She picked one up to hear rushing water; another, to be assaulted by cackling voices; yet another for music. She picked up all the phones until the last, which kept ringing even after she picked up the receiver.

"There you are," said a reproachful, full male voice through the receiver. "Now get your ass inside and let the show begin."

"What's going on?" she said.

"See that big, obvious contraption in the middle of the room? That's your clue."


Curiosity before practicalities—"I should get help." "I should call 911." "What the hell is going on?" "I'm supposed to be scared shitless…

Moyla stepped up to the moving particles. Seeing in her mind a key scene from "2001 Space Odyssey" combined with a dash of "ET," she put out her fingers and touched. There was a tingle and attraction, no better word for the mental, physical urge to allow herself to move forward. Against reason—"what do I have to lose?"—she let herself be drawn inside by her curiosity. Turns out she had plenty to lose —including consciousness and the whole of her life.

She came to hovering above a graveyard set on top of a sandy hill with 24 stones in neat rows. Her branch office had 24 employees. "Burn Oak Cemetery" was written in the sand in huge, sweeping letters.

If she was in a nightmare, maybe she could will herself down. She closed her eyes, imagined herself on the ground, and felt hot sand under her walking shoes. She opened her eyes and found herself standing in front of a headstone that read, "Alison Mando"—the secretary—excuse me—executive assistant to the boss. Right beside Alison was "John Parker," the head hardware designer. The last memory she had of him was asking him whether, after a year of designing new screws, she could get a promotion, a small raise, and a reassignment to hinges. His response had been, "Sorry, my dear, but you're going to be screwed forever." Then he cackled loudly at his own joke. When she glared at him, he apologized perfunctorily—he was well aware of the harassment thing—but stuck with, "No," adding, "we need you where you are, and I just don't see the commitment in you that I would expect from someone interested in moving up the ladder." That's when she'd rushed out for lunch.

The last stone in the last row was blank. She'd read enough fiction to figure out who and what it was for. No way. She shouted. "No way! I'm going to figure this out."

One step at a time. First, she sat down and had a good cry. She curled up in the warm sand, cried and sobbed, letting her body shake in stress and panic. Then she listened to the wind, feeling its warm caress on her shoulders. She took in a large stream of air and then counted her breaths to one hundred and eight, the number of moves in the tai chi long form. She would need water, food, and someone to talk to,in that order, before she could solve any of her big problems.

She got up. The sun was getting lower above a line of buildings a few hundred yards away. She saw neon lights glittering on one building. Otherwise, they all looked the same—gray, rusty looking brick, worn down and decrepit with corrugated roofs. Post-apocalyptic junkyard theme. Maybe she was on a movie set. She jogged lightly to the neon-sign building across hot, dry sand. The sun was comfortable, leaving her unworried about cancer on her pale arms. The creaky door under the neon sign opened at her sharp tug. Inside were some mostly empty shelves, a bar, dusty glasses, old metal and plastic furniture, and a donation jar with a large, yellow smiley face. Her steps kicked up blown-in dust. The faucet behind the bar offered no water. She followed winding stairs upstairs. The wind blew in through cracks between the corrugated sheet metal roof and the brick wall. The room was bare and showed no signs of having served a purpose before...before what?

She shrugged and went back outside and noticed a water tank on tall, strong scaffolding. It had a thick gash in its side and a construction sign attached.

Moyla decided to try flying. With her eyes open, she willed herself up until she was high enough to survey the whole desolate area. As she rose higher, details dissolved, as if the buildings were moving back in time as she put distance between them, until she saw only a huge sandy island dotted with deep ditches.

Willing herself down as she'd willed herself to fly, she touched the earth and walked towards the ocean at the edge of the island. One last step would take her into the water. She was stopped dead.

Below her stretched deep, blue water, but an invisible something was preventing her from taking that last step. She stretched out her hands, yet her feet refused to cross the line between land and sea.

A sharp wooshing sound startled her and she whirled around to see a dust devil forming above the sand. Whirling faster and faster, it quickly grew into a ball ten feet across. She thought she heard laughter. The dust ball moved towards her fast. She edged sideways along the invisible barrier, not expecting to actually escape. The wind sounds rose to a roar, sand clogged her nostrils. She clamped her mouth and eyes shut and let go of all thought.

A world built of green stone and the sound of bubbling water greeted her. She followed her ears, up and down marble stairs, to a fountain. Fresh smelling water ran out of a pipe into a large fountain. She did not hesitate to drink. The water tasted as sweet as it smelled.

This world, too, seemed devoid of life, and the only sound was of the water. She wandered, hoping to find food. She stepped on a small platform. A trapdoor opened into a multi-media lounge.

A projector responded to her touch and displayed whirls of color and sound. A blue package materialized in her hands. When she dropped it, it dissolved. She tried to work the projector, to get information, but all it did was produce another parcel, which she threw at the wall in frustration.

Wandering again she found another fountain. This one held yellow, bubbling liquid that smelled like oranges and peaches on a hot summer day. She dipped a finger into the liquid and the liquid coated it like honey. She tested it with the tip of her tongue. It tasted sweet and rich, and nourishing. She dipped her finger in again and licked a few more times, then sat down, waiting for peace or poison to act on her. All she felt was satiated and slightly sleepy.

After resting for a few minutes, she made herself get up and continue her explorations. Finally, she sat down on the rim of a balcony that overlooked the whole world. She counted her blessings.

She'd always wanted to travel to far away places. She had little to miss in Fremont, California. Her goldfish had died a week ago. Her bank account would pay the rent, at least for a while.

What she really wanted to know was what story she was in.

Seconds later she recognized a familiar whooshing sound behind her and turned around. This time, she did not wait to be devoured. As soon as the dust had formed into the whirling ball, she walked towards it. Maybe the next world would hold cues to an answer.

Moyla opened her eyes. In front of her face was—rock. She took a few steps back - —color-banded sandstone and a needle that reached to the sky. A narrow beach encircled the needle's base. Then the vast ocean. A faint trail hugged the spire. There was nowhere else to go. She started to climb. It didn't take long for her to feel dizzy, then uncomfortable. A few more steps and she was overwhelmed by the familiar terror of "I am going to fall and die." Hurriedly she descended. She circled the spire twice, stared out over the waters, sat and hoped for an exit to materialize in front of her. The sun didn't move in the sky while she waited.

Finally she sighed and started on the trail again. This time, she faced the rock, touching it with both hands, her chest brushing its rough solidity. With each sideways step up she breathed in the dry, comforting scent of warm stone.

She didn't count her steps or breaths. The shadow of her face changed position, moving from her left to her right. The trail opened onto a wide ledge and a cave entrance. A tall, muscular man in a loincloth was scraping the ground with a hoe. Sweat glistened on his sun-darkened back. He was the first living being she'd seen on this journey. She cleared her throat, preparing to speak. He looked up.

"You have completed the hardest part," he said. "Please, sit."

He pointed at a pillow on a frayed blanket near the edge of the ledge. She hesitated.

"It's quite safe. I will make tea. I will answer your questions."

With three short sentences he had addressed all her immediate needs. She went and sat down. She watched him make tea on a tiny stove at the cave entrance, outside but protected by the overhang. A few minutes later he returned with a tray, sat down opposite her on the bare ground, poured tea, and handed her a tiny cup. She sipped the liquid, which drove away her thirst and filled her with comfortable warmth to the tips of her fingers and toes.

He handed her a drawing pad and a pencil. "Draw a screw," he said.

"Excuse me?"

He refilled her cup. "Draw a screw."

She shrugged and quickly sketched a screw. She looked up. He wasnt' smiling or frowning. He just sat, a quiet calm presence with eyes that were deep and alive. She could do better. She transformed her sketch into a drawing of her idea for a universal screw.

"Now draw a hinge." She drew a hinge to go with her screw.

"A door." She drew a light, carved door, just the kind to match her hinge.

"A room."

That was a bit more challenging. She forgot everything else and drew an airy room. She added a low table, cushions, and a tea set to give it ambiance.

"A house."

She completed the room with a shingled roof, it's beams curved upwards at the ends like outstretched arms. She drew a tree for the house to rest on, and an island for the tree to anchor its roots. She looked up.

"What did you learn?" he said.

She looked at her drawing. She had not drawn like this in a long time. She liked it

Copyright © 2017 Aleks Haecky

All rights reserved. You cannot copy, change, or republish my stories without my prior written permission, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.

For permission requests, write to lettherainfallpublishing@gmail.com. "It's good."

He nodded, inviting more.

"I can draw." She shook her head. No good. There was something she was supposed to figure out here. The set-up was obvious. Whoever was pulling the strings expected something.

"No expectations," he said. "I gave you parts, you drew the story. You had forgotten about that, the part that you always write your own story."

He refilled her cup.

"Sit and find the heart of your story."

He stood up and went back to his patch of dirt.

She closed her eyes. What did she need to figure out? She dug around her mind for wisdom and insight. It all seemed flat. Her legs fell asleep. She opened her eyes. The sun had not moved. The teacher was picking up pebbles from his patch of earth and tossing them over the edge of the cliff.

She closed her eyes again. She counted a hundred and eight breaths. She thought about the beginning. Her job, her boss, her loss of enthusiasm, her desire to move up and become more important. She wanted to make a difference, do something relevant; something to change the world before her life was over.

The pain in her knees became unbearable. She shifted her weight around but did not dare to get up. Maybe she fell asleep.

She woke to a rhythmic scraping sound. The hermit was hoeing again. The sound stopped and he swore. His hoe had come apart. He put the three pieces down in front of her: the handle, the hoe, the screw.

"Just screw it back into place," she said. "The screw holds it all together."

He looked at her, as if he did not understand. She repeated her instructions, louder.

The words started to dance inside her head. They whirled until every atom in her body was resonating with them.

The hermit smiled for the first time and she recognized simplicity.

She looked at him and repeated slowly, "The screw holds it all together."

He picked up the rusty screw and pressed it into her hand.

"Remember that," he said.

The resonance spread from her body to encompass the world, blurring and dissolving everything around her until she was standing at the center of a huge ball of gray, sparkling dust.

She closed her eyes, breathed out, and let go.

"Welcome back," said a nurse with a round, brown smiling face.

They answered her questions as soon as she was able to focus. Apparently, it had been the fish. She had collapsed in the bathroom. Her cellphone had dialed Emergency.

"This was in your pocket," said the nurse as she opened her hand, revealing a large, silver screw.

Copyright © 2017 Aleks Haecky

All rights reserved. You cannot copy, change, or republish my stories without my prior written permission, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.

For permission requests, write to lettherainfallpublishing@gmail.com.