The Crucible



by Akiya Shirk

“I want doughnuts. I can smell them, and I wanna

doughnut so badly, B.”

“I don’t care if you want doughnuts. The cash register

needs to be tended, and if I could, I would turn off my

olfactory sense so that I don’t have to listen to your whining

anymore. Please shut up.”

Will sighed and made a point to push the desire to look at

the doughnut rack, and B involuntarily shifted the eyes towards

the glorious stand five feet and two lanes over and up.

“That’s not helping, Will.”

“But can’t I just get one doughnut?”

“We have one hour left of work and then we can le-”

“Oh look! It’s that handsome fellow! Can we go talk

to him? What’s his name?”

B held back the zings of aggravation, tugging at

his frontal lobe, even as he felt her speed up a little down

below. Will was always so flighty, it was like dealing with

a hummingbird — his movement was dizzyingly fast. Keeping

in tight control was a challenge, and B failed sometimes,

much to his discontent; failure chiseled away at the already

receding self-confidence. Those were the times he couldn’t

remember who she was down there, that lovely drummer,

even if he could feel her working at his command.

Will continued to babble away while B attempted to

help push the correct buttons on the cash register. He was

all but unneeded for such a simple task, but he tried anyway.

Only 45 minutes left. Will was still babbling as she silently

hummed below. ~

I snagged the strings to my apron and yanked it off,

chucking it in my bag. The automatic doors swished gently

shut, but it would have been more satisfying to hear them

slam. Eight hours of scanning wilting vegetables and mindlessly

pushing cash register buttons make it hard not to

hate a supermarket job. The desert sky probably glittered

with unseen stars, but the smog, parking lot lamps, and

every bloody TV under the moon were blocking them out. I

stopped looking for them years ago.

The drive home wasn’t really satisfying either, but

that’s not really news. Neither was the fact that every light

in the house was off when I got home except for that eerie

flickering glow from the TV that contributed to the starless

sky. Even the suburbs lived in a light dome. I shuffled up

the concrete steps and opened the door, which gave a loud,

uncooperative squeak, announcing my arrival. The enormous

lump on the couch shifted in the shuddering light, and a

beer bottle nearly fell out of a fleshy hand. I couldn’t hold the

grimace off my face when I quietly padded past and the stench of

booze snuck up my nostrils.

Sometimes I was grateful for the late shift at the supermarket.

It meant he was already asleep by the time I got home, and I could go to

my room without having to explain, yet again, that I get paid bi-weekly

and that I didn’t have money for him. My arms and sides were also

starting to go back to their normal pale color, thanks to the new schedule.

As long as I wasn’t around, his hatred for life only aimed at himself.

I snuck past the kitchen, not bothering with dinner.

There probably wouldn’t be any food there worth speaking

of anyway. Once in my room, I breathed a sigh of relief and

flopped — quietly — face down on to my bed without changing

out of my jeans and t-shirt. I knew I should set my alarm

before I zonked out but my arms felt like lead, as did my

chest and shoulders. I breathed in my own scent through

my pillow and held it for as long as I could before exhaling,

flipping onto my back and staring at the cracked plaster

ceiling. My eyes drifted shut without my noticing. What

wouldn’t I give for a chance to change this? ~

B felt the shift in perspectives. He felt the body set

its rhythm at his command when he sensed the darkness

from the eyes. He pensively allowed the images to spark

through his lines, keeping himself at a bit of a distance

to ensure everything ran according to…well, the way he

knew it should. Will did nothing to help, as usual, except

keep up his banter. He was as random as always; the only

difference was in the speed at which Will desired things.

It was a slow wave, like a deep sound through the air, with

peaks and dips at regular intervals: much more tolerable.

Will and the drummer from below were very close

like this, and she liked to follow his suggestions a lot of

the time. B was not very fond of this close relationship. It

created more chaos for him to fail at controlling, but he tried

not to let it get to him for the moment. When the body

caved into his rhythm, he controlled everything. Will was

encouraging her to pump pseudo-adrenaline through the

veins with an image of a secret escape through a window,

the sharp feeling of keys in a pocket, cold midnight air unnoticed

by cautious, tensed-up shoulders.

That gentle beating vibrated down below. ~

Morning came all too quickly, in my opinion, but that’s

been my opinion since Mom died suddenly of stroke three years

ago. Life has been steadily becoming unbearable since then.

The bathroom was grimy as I painted a face on for

work, following the familiar motions without a thought. Last

night had not provided a very restful sleep, causing me to

wake up early without the help of my alarm, and I would feel

it later today. My boss would probably notice it too, and that

was never good. That tiger-lady didn’t have the patience to

breathe at a normal rate and always seemed to huff her way

around the employees, badgering them about efficiency.

It was going to be a very long day at work later. Too bad I

couldn’t fully hate the idea of not having to be at home.

I smelled the burning pancakes before I entered the

kitchen. It made my eyes water a bit, and I started wishing I

had woken up even earlier and fled to the library before work

like usual so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. I don’t know

how he had gotten up so early from last night’s booze fest,

but there he was, standing at the stove burning some pancake

batter into submission. He looked up when I entered

the room and gave a rather disfigured grin, bloodshot eyes all

puffy from lack of sleep. Skirting edgily around him, I made

for the tiny table and sat down.

“Daddy made pancakes!” he said. I stared at him.

“I don’t like pancakes.”

“Well you better eat some goddamn pancakes and get

your fucking ass to your job.”

He slammed a plate of blackish slabs on the table

in front me and I tried so hard not to flinch away from his

proximity, though my insides were immediately turned to

stone. I could still smell the alcohol layering his unshowered

skin. There was no way I could eat anything this morning.

“I’m really…not all that hungry. I think I’ll just go to work.”

Two steps away, he stopped, spatula in one hand,

gritty nails on the other. He scratched his scraggly chin

without turning around to look at me. I froze.

He whirled around, and a clenched fist nearly broke my jaw.

I fell out of my seat to the floor. ~

Will was silent. Or at least, that’s what B thought at

first. He had been chattering away about something like going

to work, if a little nervously, but with no less speed than normal

when he simply stopped talking, and B was left alone.

Before he realized what Will was actually doing, there

were sparks radiating from everywhere. Real adrenaline

coursed through every vein, and all nerve endings were

making it hard to control anything. He simply couldn’t move

any of the muscles, even the eyes. There was a stillness that

created so much chaos, he got stuck in one spot.

B tried to find Will, searching every axon, but specific

spots yielded nothing until he broadened his focus and

realized…Will was everywhere. In fact, he had never shut

up in the first place; he had simply started screaming at the

top of his ability, long and without stopping. It was so highpitched,

it could hardly be heard, but B was pretty sure even

the outside ears were picking it up. It wasn’t even a word,

but the very essence of something B didn’t like. It was the

one thing that always made him lose control of something

or another: Fear. Will didn’t know it, but when he felt

fear, he could do whatever he wanted without B to hinder

him. And so he did. The high keen of flight was getting

louder and sharper.

“Will! Hey, it’s okay, buddy. Relax - just try to calm

down. Maybe we can talk through this situation, and we

won’t have to be afraid or get hurt,” B said, but the keening

got dramatically louder.

B winced. All control snapped: Will took over. ~

I bolted. My anger, fear, and pain screamed in my

ears as I crashed through the screen door and flew down

the concrete steps, digging the car key out of my jeans

pocket while my legs pumped as hard as my heart. I could

feel him yelling at my back, and suddenly my heart was

racing my legs. I’ve never been able to start that clunky

heap of metal we call an SUV on the first try, but by some

merciful grant from above, the key cranked the engine

into life and I threw it in gear, burning rubber on my way

down the road. I didn’t look back. My arms were aching,

my jaw was throbbing, and my chest was heaving so badly

it took me a minute of weaving through busy street lights to

notice the tears streaming down my face. I must have driven

for hours, but I don’t remember stopping at any gas stations,

nor do I remember actually leaving the city. I drove

until I could see the columns of dusty red rock rising out of

the dusty Utah earth, and I kept driving until I was passing

the desert’s giant gravestones. I didn’t look back even once. ~

B was worried beyond normal. It was like something

was missing, but he couldn’t figure out what. Was it the

chatter? Was it the constant, annoying desire? That was

certainly gone, but B still couldn’t figure out why it was

missing, or if it was supposed to be missing. Will’s terrible

scream had finally started dying away when the eyes saw

a vast, empty purity of blue and ruddy brown, but B could

not quite place when Will had disappeared exactly. He had

been a little busy trying to manipulate far too much at once.

Nerves had been firing at a rapid pace, the muscles fighting

his every command with a truly worrisome tenseness, and

the eyes would not stop leaking. He was trying in vain to

restore everything to homeostasis, but his attempts hadn’t

started working until Will calmed down. Now all he had to

do was give off the necessary sparks that kept everything

running smoothly.

The drum below was exceedingly audible now. It

wasn’t distracting, but in fact, familiar. She was much more

relaxed now than she was before. When Will had let out that

shriek, she had beat so hard, B had to work specifically on

not letting it get out of control, even if everything else was

running rampant, like those damn legs. It’s like they had

a mind of their own or something. Now, however, she was

humming along as usual, but with a strange likeness to…Will!

B finally had found him: he was hiding in the humming, and

singing the same tune. In fact, B couldn’t tell the difference

between the two anymore.

He made the face twitch into the tiniest of smiles, and

he hadn’t a single clue as to why he did it. ~

The car needed gas, presumably again, and I pulled

over at a gas station the color of the arid earth. I had enough

to fill the tank, purchase a small map of Utah and a bottle of

cold soda, and still have some left over. The minimart was

pleasantly chilled, but I rather liked the feel of hot wind on

my neck as I rolled down the car windows, stacked my feet

on the dashboard and gingerly pressed the soda bottle to my

sore jaw bone. I breathed in deeply for what felt like the first

time in years. I breathed freedom. Anxious freedom, but a

freedom nonetheless, and it made me smile just a little. The

lead was off my chest and shoulders, and I felt a peaceful

little jump inside. I had finally had enough, and now that the

dry land stretched before me, I wondered why it had taken

so long to do what I wanted. I opened the map and traced a

road to a new life with my fingertip.