He just sat in his desk, wicked smile plastered on his face, silently laughing at the rest of the people in his class. They'd realized they'd been had. His grade would surely suffer for this, but he kept right on smiling.

Man, These Stories Write Themselves.

Ideas pop into Steven's head and he never knows why or how or when they will come. This time, he was at home. He does not visit Tacoma very often anymore; most of his friends now live in Seattle. It had been three weeks since he last went home to visit his family. As usual, his mother was out of town for the weekend, visiting her boyfriend in Kennewick. In the last month, he had seen her a total of five times. Once on Christmas, twice the week before, twice the week after. It would probably be another two or three weeks before he would see her again. His father was asleep. Never much for the night, his father always went to bed early, even on nights before his days off. His brother was downstairs, techno music blazing on the stereo. His dad didn't seem to mind, even though thumping bass could be heard from every room in the house. Alone, in his room, with nothing but boxers, a tank top, and five days' worth of fingernail growth, Steven sat in his broken leather chair watching his favorite television show on a videocassette that his father had taped for him. That's what he does at home, whenever he's not at his computer writing. That's where he was when he got his brilliant idea.

He couldn't wait to get this idea onto paper. Problem: "when the shit goes down, you better be ready." He quickly fled into the bathroom, grabbing a copy of a student's story that he had to read. Pen in mouth, he sat and let loose. In moments, he had written the first three lines seen at the beginning of this story, on the back of this poor student's paper. This made him as giddy as a car-crash survivor. He couldn't wait to wipe, finish his television show, play a game of minesweeper, and start typing what you see here.

Suddenly, a knock at his door swept Steven away from the story.

"What?" Irritated, loud, heard over the thumping bass.

Continued knocking.

"Wha - " mumbled faintly.

The knocking grew louder, turning into fist pounding.


"Get up. Time for school. It's eleven," James from two rooms over. Steven never used an alarm clock anymore when he was at school. Especially when he was too tired or drunk to figure out that he had to wake up in the AM. He always depended on his friends to wake him up for his 11:30 English class.

Wednesday morning. Shaken from a great dream, Steven couldn't remember what it was about, but he knew it was great. It always irritated him after waking up. He believed that he lost many a wonderful idea because of a premature wake-up call. After printing out his stories the night before, he had tipped back a few and was not in the mood to go to class. This was the day, though. This was the day that he gave his story to his English class for work-shopping.

James stood outside of Steven's door. "You gonna shower?" He was already in his leather jacket, with his backpack around his shoulder. Steven stood at the door, jack-o-lantern boxers and a white T-shirt all that covered his pasty-white skin. He rubbed his eyes and scratched his back all at the same time - not bad for a guy who got four hours of sleep. Very coordinated.

"Naw. Fuck 'em. I'm so God-damned tired right now. I'll tell ya what. I'll do them all a favor; I'll just leave class early. They won't have to smell me for long."

"Well, all right. Hurry up, though. I've got to get to my classroom before it fills up; I got a midterm today." James took a seat on Steven's bed, flipping through the stack of papers sitting by his pillow. "Did you sleep on top of these?"

"I guess so. Did I spill any alcohol on them?"

"No, but they're all wrinkled. You sure you want to turn these in like this?"

"Why not? Not getting graded on appearance - I hope." Steven stood in his closet, contemplating which shirt to wear. "You think I should go to school with my Chilly Willy pajama bottoms today?"

James laughed at the thought. "Sure, man. Go for it."

"Oh shit! It's raining. Well, fuck that. Just a second, James. I'm just gonna throw some jeans on and I'll be ready to go."

"Come on, now! At least brush your teeth! Make a respectable showing. What would your mother say?"

"All right. Jeez. You don't have to flip out. I was gonna chew some gum, but fine!"

Steven and James left the building at 11:10. "Did you finish your story?"

"Oh yeah."

"So, what's it about?"

"Well, in the nutshell, it's about a famous author who documents his downward spiral. He's gonna commit suicide as his great final act. He records his thoughts, day by day. He takes down the reactions of the people he tells. These are obviously people he can trust. Then, he gives out these cryptic vibes to his family and writes down their reactions. The last couple of pages are just his thoughts in general. In the end, he's all ready to kill himself. He's got the knife, and he's got the time. He's got the solitude, but he can't think of a suicide note to write. That's how it ends, with this famous author going crazy from a mental block."

"It just ends? We don't get to know what happened to him?"

"Nope. Anyway, it's only a rough draft. I'm sure I'll get some ideas from the people in my class." They crossed the street, onto campus, when Steven exclaimed, "Shit, I wish I had a few more hours of sleep!"

"Tired, huh?"

"No! I had this dream. It was about my class, my English class I'm going to right now. I was sitting down at my computer, and evidently I had this brilliant idea for my short story. It was gonna be something that would totally piss everybody off! You know how I'm always up for irritating people; I'm just at the point where I've stopped giving a damn. Now it's gone, and I'm stuck with the story I have in the bag."

"Well, look at it this way: whatever it was, you wouldn't have had any time to finish it anyway. You have to turn them in this morning."

"I guess, but I could have just turned it in next Monday. I don't get work-shopped for a month, I doubt they would have cared that much."

"Yeah, you're probably right. Well, I've got to go. I'll talk to you later. Tell me how class went."

"Sho-nuff. Good luck on your test."

Steven walked along, alone, to his first class of the day, lost in thought. A group of people called out his name, but he barely noticed. He gave a paltry nod in their direction, with a meaningless smile backing it up.

"Damn, why didn't I say anything to her yesterday?" Steven obsessed about his missed opportunity the day before in History class. He knew very little about this woman, except that her name was Jeanette and she absolutely loved the band Interpol. She talked about them with the girl next to her before every class. Steven happened to buy two tickets to their upcoming concert and had planned on asking her if she wanted to go. "But, who am I, really? I never talk to anyone all quarter; hell, I never even speak in class period, and I'm gonna bounce this off her in week five? She'd probably laugh in my face."

Steven made his way through the rabble, past the cafeteria, across the street, and into his building, with five minutes to spare. Into his seat, back slumped down as far as it will go, eyes bloodshot. Before anyone can make eye contact with him, he grabbed his notebook out of his backpack and started writing his thoughts down, thereby ridding himself of any awkward pre-game conversation with any of the other nervous, exhausted students around him.

OK, so I have to write a response paper about the Romeo and Juliet movie for tomorrow in my other English class. Since I did my last one on the play, I figure I need a new angle, right? So, here's what I do. I borrow a zigzag from my friend, I roll myself a nice, fat J, and I smoke the hell out of that by the old volleyball court outside of the dorm. Then, I sit around for, like a half hour, let myself get nice and stoned, and tear through that response! It'll be so whacked out; they won't know what to do with it. I can call it the "High Response to R & J." Because, really, they had to have been high when they made that movie. Come on, now. Leonardo Di Caprio? Please.

I wonder how much weed I have now. I'd check, but . . . I don't know about these people around me. Either, they'd get all uptight and weird, or else they'd want to go smoke with me. I could really see it going both ways with this group. I think I'll just check on my way out of class. How long am I staying here? Fifteen, twenty minutes? I really can't stand these fucking seats anyway. GAZE UPON MY ASS AS IT FALLS ASLEEP AGAINST THE STIFF, FLAT SURFACE OF THIS BUTT-UNFRIENDLY CHAIR. Uh oh, the teach is here. Time to start passing out papers.

After twenty minutes of disorganized frenzy, each student had 18 different stories, with the one straggler unable to make it to class. Steven immediately packed away the stories into his backpack and resumed looking at the white board directly above the head of the professor. He marveled at the math equations. Of course, after not understanding one fucking letter or number on that board, his marvel turned into a daze. His eyes glazed over, his palm held up his right cheek, his legs jutted out, unbent.

"All right class. Now, we have a couple of stories to workshop today."

Steven's eyes regained focus. "Oh crap," he thought. "I knew I forgot to read something last night." He decided to fake his way through it, trying to gain those attendance points. Then, the teacher declared that the class would take turns, going around the room, saying what they liked about the first story. "Fuck me! I've got to get out of here." By some divine will, the professor started with the person at the other end of the room. This bought Steven some ten, fifteen minutes to think up a good excuse, just in case she decided to ask where he was going.

Um, OK. So, I guess "doctor's appointment" is too . . . overused. As is "dentist," "family emergency," and "I forgot to feed my fish." What if I just slipped my coat on, real cool like, place everything in my backpack while her head's turned, and RUN LIKE HELL OUT THIS GOD-DAMN CLASSROOM AND NEVER LOOK BACK? I could fake a seizure, but then they might want to call the paramedics. Job interview! She has to respect that. I mean, I'm gonna need a job after college, right? I could say that this is the only time I've got.

What if you don't get the job?

What fucking job??? There is no interview! OK, if she asks, I'll just say that I got it and I appreciate the opportunity to leave. Jesus! She probably won't even say anything anyway.

Well, then, what are you being such a pussy for? Don't even give an explanation. Just leave. Say you didn't do the work. What's she gonna do? Dock you a few percentage points? You're gonna graduate regardless.

With that, Steven snapped out of his daze. He was all prepared to leave the room, then he heard someone say, "You know, I think it's interesting that - "

"Uh oh," Steven thought. "'Interesting.' I heard that. Time to count." In the span of five minutes, he counted seven uses of the word, each time, giving himself a silent chuckle. As the red second hand on the clock rounded 9 and headed for home, thirty minutes into the class, Steven dangled his arm over the side of his desk. In the middle of the professor's sentence on "language, theme, and structure," Steven walked coolly out of the classroom, with a bounce in his step, always a bounce in his step when he was happy. A few people watched as he left, but the professor was not surprised, even though Steven never left early before.

Out of the room; out of the hall; down the stairs; exit the building; past the wall of smokers, smokers in long black jackets, with dripping umbrellas dangling from their wrists; spit out the gum, into the bushes for the squirrels to pick at; onto the brick path headed for the cafeteria; approach the street; approach the crosswalk, the white lines welcoming feet in Nike basketball shoes, even though he played terribly at the sport; into the street, one foot, then the next; car on his left stops, waits for him to pass; he doesn't look up; he doesn't look left at the car; he doesn't look right; eyes focused on that crosswalk, on the white lines with the gray background; bus on his right doesn't stop; bus never stops; bus driver on the street; driver checks the body for signs.


Spiraling Outward

A small crack. Big enough to kill, to cause brain damage. But small. A thin, delicate trail of blood billows down his forehead, ominously weaving its way towards the inevitable concrete pool of red. Head twisted backwards, look of contempt for life forever cemented for the onlookers to mourn. Body: a lump, stomach down, crushed; legs twisted, under the wheels. Female bus driver: sobs. Sobs for the death. Sobs for her negligence. Sobs for her imminent lay-off. Sobs for her two children; they won't see the Grand Canyon this year. Lining the sidewalk on the other side of the street: school children visiting from the local elementary school. They run over to see the madness while their teachers and parents rush to shield innocent eyes from the real world. Scattered college students - milling around the sidewalk areas on both sides of the street, getting head starts on their next classes, going to meet friends for lunch, walking alone to be alone - all stop. All turn towards the place where they heard the screeching tires, honking horns, three-car pile up. Time to crowd around the scene. Some of the cynical among them, those who do not join the fracas, believe this happens so they'll be more likely to make the newspaper photographs, not because they actually want to help the fallen. "I was there. So tragic. So gruesome."

People waiting for the bus. Twenty feet from the scene. People now going to be late for work. People needing to get home. People not leaving the scene. Some walk off. Hysterical. Hysterical people running into the cafeteria. "Call 911! There's been an accident!" Hysterical people not realizing that three people on-scene have cellular phones and have already called the paramedics. Hysterical people causing a major rush towards the windows, towards the door. Curious people gawking at the dead lump. Word spreading. Spreading upward, outward. People in all reaches of the cafeteria hear the news within minutes. All conversation turns on this one subject.

Steven's friend James: walking to the cafeteria after a successful examination. Planning on meeting his friend after his English class, knowing he'd be skipping out early. Hearing the news of someone dead on the other side of the building. Walking over. Submitting to his curious nature. Seeing not but a pile of people in his way. A large crowd, now dispersing. Angry citizens calling for "room" "space" "air." Quiet gawkers backing away. James: seeing the white T-shirt, now stained red. Seeing the dark blue beanie in the middle of the road. James: realizing who's been hit. James: running down the stairs, to his friend. James: riding with the paramedics to the hospital. James: making the call to Steven's parents. James: breaking the news to friends in the dorm. James: handing over duties to Steven's parents an hour later.

Pronounced dead by the time the parents reach him. People cry. Funeral three days later. People cry. Memorial service that weekend. People hold candles. New quarter begins six weeks later. Friends saddened by the re-filling of Steven's dorm room. School year over. Sun still rises. People forget. It's natural.