The very beginnings of my short story The Feels

So this morning, I decided to do a little fiction writing. I took a writing prompt from pinterest and ran with it. (The prompt: You live in a world in which you can buy bottled emotions.) This is, as the title suggests, a rough beginning to the story. It is the product of a latte, half a pecan roll, and 2.5 hours of pouring ideas onto the page. I have yet to edit for content or clarity. I’m also still thinking about how the story will end. I have ideas, but I am still thinking of how to tie the various ends together cohesively. So therefore, I am submitting my vulnerabilities to the many writers I have met on here. Give me your HONEST feedback! This is still an early version of the story, but what do you think about it’s bones? I will gladly take any and all constructive feedback you offer me. It’s been a decade since I sat down and wrote anything creative like this! So without further ado, I give you The Feels.

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“I need that vial of tranquility! Now!” Kate wrestled the man for a small glass vial of amber colored liquid, sending them both crashing to the scorching asphalt.

It was mid-August, the hottest summer on record since the Earth’s climate had shifted back around 2020. Scientists had screamed global warming and politicians had ignored them, citizens had been too self absorbed to care about the changes they could make to preserve their planet. The Earth had spun into a frenzy of heat waves and hurricanes. Not to mention the sea levels wiped out most of the costal cities. Millions of people had been trapped in their homes when the flooding began, many too poor to have anywhere to run. Huge populations from countries all around the world washed from their beds before morning dawned. But today felt different, hotter. The news outlets were calling for temperatures of 145 degrees by mid-afternoon. No human had ever survived temperatures this high, but somehow here they were. Kate often chuckled grimly to herself, thinking how lucky she was that she had evolved and adapted to outlive what should have been the end of the world.

This new Earth was enough to kill the weaker of the species. The children, elderly, and the sick died off quickly between the costal flooding and the rising heat. The poor, homeless, and junkies didn’t fare much better. The governments of the world jumped into action to mobilize citizens into camps located in major cities across every country. Though, the government wasn’t prepared for an end of the world crisis, so food and medical supplies began running out only days after the Apocalypse set in. One thing that managed not only to survive, but thrive, were the Feels. The Feels were tiny vials of liquid that could temporarily affect the brain and give the taker an artificial emotion. Each Feel had a different length of time it was effective, and that time frame was slightly different based on the person’s brain chemistry. The good Feels, like tranquility and joy, never lasted nearly as long as things like desolation and isolation. When Kate first heard of the Feels, back before the Apocalypse, she never understood why someone would purposely take a drug that would make them feel worse. She understood now. Since the world had ended, so many people began seeking out Feels that would help them commit suicide. They were too weak to survive on this new Earth and they knew it. So they set out in search of the liquid encouragement that would help them cling to the last scrap of autonomy they had. They were going to die, but they were going to die on their own terms.

Kate hadn’t hit that low point. She had always been a fighter, but not the strong woman you might think. Kate had struggled her entire life to find her place in the world. She still hadn’t quite found it, but then again, nobody had a place after the Apocalypse. She had made a point to secure items to guarantee her survival, even if only for a little while longer. Shortly after the flooding began, she began the impossible trek from her rural town in Pennsylvania towards the center of the United States. Already, people from the costal states of New Jersey, New York, and Delaware were making their way into Pennsylvania, seeking refuge. Kate knew that the influx of sick and homeless would only strain the resources available, so off she went. She began the journey in her rusted out Toyota, packing only a duffel of clothes and as much food and trade items as she could fit in the trunk. Kate had spent many years, depressed and laying on her sofa watching movies. She knew that in a doomsday scenario, money would fail. She needed practical things, though she grabbed her wallet on her way out too. With a fortuitous full tank of gas, she headed towards Ohio. She managed to make it to the far side of West Virginia before she had to stop for gas. The roads were eerily quiet in the night, was no one else fleeing the coast? Kate made good time and was in Cincinnati by noon the next day. She had hardly eaten any of her food stores, only some perishable fruit she had grabbed from the counter. Cincinnati welcomed her like a stranger, cool disinterest.

It was there that Kate realized the rest of the world had yet to realize how bad things were. She sat in a diner eating a greasy burger and fries, watching the news, and absorbing what she saw. Entire cities underwater, death toll rising by the hour, yet there was no widespread panic. The media was reporting on the “freak weather incident,” downplaying the mass exodus she had seen in her home state. What was happening? Why weren’t they reporting what was really going on? She began to feel dizzy and couldn’t breathe. Kate had never had a panic attack before. As she sat there, gripping the diner’s grimy counter to keep from falling, a man sitting a few seats down from her slowly got up from his seat. He sauntered over, reached into his shirt and pulled out a small vial on a chain. He unscrewed the vial lid and handed it to Kate.

“Drink this. It will help. Trust me.”

Kate had no idea who this man was or what he was offering her, but she blindly gulped the contents of the vial. Immediately, her muscles relaxed and her mind focused. What did she just take?

“Better?”

“Yeah. I….thank you. What was that stuff?”

“I’m Declan. Why don’t we go talk?”

Kate hesitantly threw a few bills onto the counter, nodded to the waitress, and made her way out onto the street behind Declan. Who was this guy? And more importantly, what was in that vial?

“So where are you from? Because clearly you aren’t from here,” Declan said as he turned on his heels to face her.

“I just got in this morning. I’m from out east. With all of the…” she faltered. “I just had to leave. And here I am.”

“You know what’s going on, don’t you? That this isn’t just a freak accident? That it isn’t just weird flooding. Tell me.”

Kate just stared at him, at a loss for words. She didn’t know what was going on, but at least she knew she wasn’t totally crazy. Someone else knew things were very wrong.
“Let’s get out of here. Do you have somewhere we can go?”

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Kate followed Declan to his small studio apartment across town. What was she doing? Some random man at a diner gave her a vial of a mysterious drug and now she was going to his home? Alone? She had never done something like this before, and rather than coming to her senses at the craziness of it all, she felt a thrilling rush. Whoever this Declan was, he knew there was something bigger happening. She needed to talk to him. And she needed to know what was in that vial.

“So what do you know?” Declan asked her, no sooner than the door had shut behind them. Well he’s persistent, Kate thought. How much should she give up? She suddenly realized she didn’t know as much as he thought she did.

“First I need to know who you are. And what was in that vial?”

Declan sighed. “Well I already told you my name. That’s more than I can say for you, by the way. But that was a vial of tranquility.”

“Tranquility? What do you mean? Tranquility is a feeling, it’s not an actual thing.”

“Yeah, you’re clearly not from around here. The vials are called Feels. They have liquids that allow you to immediately feel a certain emotion.”

Kate just stared at him. That was the most ludicrous thing she had ever heard. Yet she had felt the immediate calm wash over her the minute that slightly sweet liquid touched her tongue. How could they bottle emotions?

Declan could see the confusion in her face. With another sigh, he explained “Okay, so here’s the thing. The drugs started to get pretty bad in some parts of Cincinnati. Cops weren’t even trying to bust the dealers anymore. They just couldn’t keep up. So one day, a guy shows up with this little vial. Nobody knew what it was, or who he was for that matter. Said he was a scientist who worked up at OSU. Said he had discovered a way to bottle emotions, but he needed to test it out. Couldn’t get the approval from the school. So he drove out here, where nobody would know who he was or what he was doing. He found a bunch of junkies and of course they were suspicious, but they’d try anything once you know? He gave two of them a vial of rage each and they fought each other, right there in the middle of the street. The one junkie strangled the other to death. Didn’t care about the other people standing around, just squeezed the life right out of the guy. Apparently it was crazy. From there, he started bringing down different emotions to try. Lust had people humping in the streets, envy was to blame for quite a few robberies. Every time he brought a new batch of Feels, people were fighting each other to play guinea pig. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Soon, all the dealers in the area started noticing their clients were ditching them, trying to get some Feels. The dealers all wanted to be the exclusive place to get Feels, but the scientist turned them all away. He said his product was too unique to be sold off like a gram of crack. It was special.”

“So how did people get their Feels? Straight from the scientist guy? Or did he eventually find a partner to work with? How did you get your vial?”

“One day, I get a letter in the mail. No return address, no signature. It just says come to this old warehouse at 9pm one night, come alone, all the super suspicious shit you see in a movie. So I went. How could I not? There were about ten of us. The scientist was there, and he asked us a bunch of questions. He narrowed us down. One thing was clear, this guy was tin foil hat material. Was convinced the government was up to some crazy stuff. Let’s just say, the three of us that remained two hours later? We’re all slightly distrustful by nature. So I guess he wanted people with just the right combination of smart and paranoid. He started supplying us with the vials. We sell them discreetly to choice customers across the city, and send off 60 percent to an off shore account, sending it through a few dummy accounts in the process.”

“You said you sell the Feels to choice customers. How do you determine who gets them?” Kate asked.

“I don’t. We change our drop spots constantly. Never eat or shop in the same places for too long. The scientist chooses who gets the vials, and then he tells them where we’ll be. We’ve only had a few people turn up looking for Feels that weren’t sent to us. And they never came back a second time.”

Kate felt a chill run through her. Was the scientist killing people who knew too much? He was selecting the perfect recipients of the drug, controlling it all, so what would happen when he found out Declan gave her a vial of tranquility? What would he do to her? To him?

A phone rang shrilly, cutting the silence of the apartment. Declan glanced down and swore. “Gimme a minute, okay?” He turned around, but didn’t leave the room. A few one word responses, mostly yes or no, and he put the phone back down. He turned and looked at her, sweat suddenly formed on his brow.

“We’ve gotta go. Now.”

**************************

Declan was a flurry of motion, racing through the apartment, grabbing small wooden boxes and shoving them into duffles. Kate was stuffing cans and boxes from the kitchen cabinets into bags. On an impulse, she grabbed the block of kitchen knives and added them to their stash. A few minutes later, they ran down the back staircase with arms loaded with bags.

“Here, throw your stuff in my car,” Kate called out, slightly breathless. “I already have some food and things in there.”

They pushed her bags to the side and added his into the trunk. Kate pulled the kitchen knives from a bag and stowed them under the front seat. Their eyes met.

“Hey, you never know, right?” She mumbled.

They climbed into the old car and the engine coughed to life. Declan gave her a look of disbelief. She ignored him.

“Where are we going?” Kate asked as she eased the car onto the road, picking up speed.

“Out of the city. I don’t know where. Just get us the hell out of here. He had someone in the diner watching me. They know I gave out an unauthorized vial of Feels. He’s coming.”

Silence took over the car, as Kate followed signs exiting the city to the west. One thing was for sure, this exodus from her home was becoming more dangerous that she had anticipated. And as they merged onto the interstate, Kate found herself wishing she had something more lethal than a few steak knives.

Who is God?

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When you think of God, who are you thinking of? Who is he in your mind?

This was the question the preacher posed this morning. My mother’s congregation was holding a fall kick off, so we sat in folding chairs lined up in the park across from the brick and mortar building that was my place of worship for twenty years. The singing was accompanied by sunshine playing hide and go seek through the clouds, a cool breeze providing an autumnal relief after the suffocating humidity of the summer. As the music transitioned into prayer and reflection of who God is, the skies slowly opened into a cold drizzle. Who do I see when I picture God? Probably not the gentle, loving father and creator that those around me were dwelling on.

So who did I envision when prompted into silent reflection? Let me preface it with the fact that I don’t subscribe to the fairy tale perfection of God and Jesus. Nor to the notion that this entire world exists because an all powerful being was bored and created us like a science fair project. When I think of God as many Christians describe him, my perspective is clearly different. I envision a cold, distant figure, sitting back watching us self destruct. I see him as cruelly refusing to intervene as wars break out across the globe and diseases slowly strip good people of their lives.

I have heard religious people comfortingly utter the phrase “God never gives us more than we can handle” whenever someone is in the midst of a trying situation. But we have more than 40 thousand suicides reported each year. If God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, how do you explain all of those people who were so overwhelmed they saw no other way out? Some may argue free will, mental illness, etc. but where was God when they were at the end of their rope? If he is all-powerful, he could intervene. He could save his people if he loved us so much.

But he doesn’t. With more than 7 billion people currently living on this earth, are we truly so vain as to think our individual life matters? Sure, maybe we have some friends and family members who love us and whom we influence. But in the big picture, we are so incredibly insignificant. We have the audacity to believe there is a mystical being who not only knows us apart from the other 7 billion people, but loves us specifically. God isn’t a loving creator, he’s a figment of our dreams, imagined by our narcissistic need to be important in a grander scheme. The concept of living 70 or 80 years, then dying from heart disease or cancer and leaving behind nothing but a few loved ones and a job we held for 40 years is utterly depressing. We want to matter, so we tell ourselves our journey continues after death. We give ourselves a false sense of importance: that there’s a deity who loves us so much he wants to spend all eternity with us.

If I picture God as a bigger version of his followers, the image is still grim. Many people I know through religious connections are incredibly disingenuous. Obviously this is a radical generalization, as I know many wonderful Christians, as well as many terrible people with no religious affiliation. But it has been my experience nonetheless. They smile and sing, bow their heads and give their tithes on Sunday morning. Yet by lunchtime on Sunday, their lives are evidence of a complete switch. Only a few years ago, I felt rejected from church. See, I had been one of them. I sang in the choir, never missed a service or volunteer opportunity. Meanwhile, in my life outside of church, I was a different person. I did the things we were instructed against on Sunday mornings. I was that person that I hate, and I could see the double life in the others around me too. If we were all created in God’s image (as we’re told in Genesis 1:27), what does that say about God? Again, I know the canned answer, as I was once taught to answer these kinds of retorts. Sin. Free will. God wanted us to be free to choose our own paths. But if we’re the living incarnations of a holy and perfect deity, does he also have the urge to sin? Because either he does and thus becomes imperfect, or we aren’t as godlike as we believe. Is God the perfect being people build him up to be or is he just another hypocrit like us?

If God is real, he must be equally as flawed as us. He must be just as selfish and narcissistic as all of humanity.  Who wouldn’t prefer nothingness to that?

An Open Letter to the Walmart Misogynist

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This morning, while at Walmart, I encountered a ridiculous display of sexism and misogyny. And in that experience, I found my voice. What follows is my open letter to him. I encourage you to click over to the original Facebook post here to share your thoughts and comments. I want to spark a conversation! This is why we need feminism.

An Open Letter to the Walmart Misogynist

I want to sincerely thank you for your verbal tirade against me this morning. Truly, it was eye opening. This morning, you called me baby and I politely corrected you that I am, in fact, not your baby. Maybe you were confusing me with another woman, but one who likes the pet names.

See, here’s the problem: names like baby, sweetheart, and doll are perfectly fine when used with a girlfriend or a female friend you are close with. But when you use these names with a woman you’ve never met, the connotation becomes demeaning. It says to that woman that all women are interchangeable, that we are just your playthings and we exist solely to be the sexual objects for a man’s enjoyment.

When I corrected you, politely I might add, you immediately got an attitude. I guess you don’t like inferior women telling you that you’re wrong. I wasn’t trying to embarrass you, but you certainly managed to embarrass yourself. It wasn’t necessary to shout “fuck you” or call me a bitch repeatedly. Oh, and remember the demeaning nature of pet names we just discussed? Let’s take a moment to understand the meanings of being a bitch. When women express their opinions that are the opposite of a man’s, they are called a bitch. You invalidate our feelings and opinions because they aren’t yours. You belittle us if we don’t agree.

Our little encounter left me a bit shaken up. I have one of the very lucky women that has encountered little sexism and misogyny throughout my life. Certainly never as blatantly as with you this morning. But despite me feeling apprehensive about walking to my car alone, wondering if you would approach me to continue our chat, it’s you who I feel sorry for. You don’t even know that you’re a misogynist! You see nothing wrong with your actions. And even worse than that, the women in your group defended you. I feel so bad for them, that they’re so beaten and brainwashed into blindly accepting this sort of demeaning behavior. I hope some day they find their voice and their strength.

As I said in the beginning of this letter, I am glad for our little encounter. You have helped turn sexism and misogyny from an abstract concept into a concrete cause. I have never felt that deeply personal connection to feminism like my sisters around the world, who are persecuted daily for their gender. So thank you for strengthening my voice, for showing me what some women deal with day in and out. Today, I stand in solidarity with womankind, refusing to apologize to you, and hoping to educate men about male privilege. I hope this morning left you as enlightened as it left me.

Sincerely,
An Empowered Woman