One Quirk Later #10–a sandwich to make any janitor weep

Hello, friends!

Today I’m once again inflicting angst on unsuspecting fictional characters joining Jem Jones’ One Quirk Later series! What fun!

How it works: Observe prompt. Write words. Read words. General pterodactyl screaming.

Be sure to check out Jem’s blog if you don’t already follow her, because REALLY now.

Here’s the prompt:

A few things you don’t need to know before you read what I wrote:

  • This prompt is so me. It’s the aesthetic of half my stories.
  • So I instantly knew what to write about, right?
  • No
  • But then I had IDEAS.
  • I used to DESPISE present tense and now….it just happens sometimes. Who am I.


I’ve been encouraging it. Stupid. After spending the last five years trying to ignore it, hoping it will go away, I’m actually listening to the stuff. Could I be more counterproductive.

            It’s a proper broadcast today. The DJs are chatting about some kind of hot air balloon festival happening somewhere in Florida. Who knew that was a thing?

            Actually, it’s probably not a thing.

            By the time I finish the last window on this wall, the DJs have stopped talking and a song is playing. Also, a child has left greasy fingerprints all over the first window I cleaned. Oh the joys of being a daylight janitor. I spritz the window with way too much Windex and wipe away the smudges. Except they don’t wipe away because they’re not just greasy: they’re sticky. Like the child in question decided to touch the window right in the middle of eating a jam and honey sandwich.

            This is why I used to work swing shift.

            No, that’s a lie. I worked swing shift because I was too scared to go out during the day where people might see me, recognize me, send me back. After the first few years, I stopped being so paranoid. Also, I’ve got some scruff now, so it’s all good. Facial hair is the best disguise.

            The song playing is pretty catchy. It’s a shame I’ll never hear it again. I’ve tried Googling the lyrics to the songs, but nothing ever comes up. The DJs don’t exist either. I’ve looked up their names, but there’s nothing there.

            I readjust my headphones. I’ve been wearing them since my shift started and my ears are going numb, but whatever. Investing in nicer headphones seems ridiculous under the circumstances. These do their job.

            I’m on my way back to my closet to put my supplies away at the end of my shift, bobbing my head in time to the music, when a voice stops me.

            “Did you drop your phone?”

            I look up to see a skinny teen loaded down with a backpack that looks heavy enough to be holding half a butchered cow. (I don’t know who would be carrying around a backpack full of meat, but who am I to judge.)

            I shove my headphones off one ear in a practiced charade and say, “Hm?”

            The kid looks confused. “Your phone. I just thought maybe you had dropped it…”

            What a weird thing to say. I shake my head. “Nope. I didn’t drop anything.”

            The kid is still looking at me oddly. Which is when I look down and realize the headphones cord has worked its way out of my pocket and is dangling freely, plugged in to absolutely nothing.

            Right. Hence the weird look.

            “Oh, actually I think I left it in my closet. Thanks.”

            I continue down the hall, avoiding eye contact with the kid, yanking off my headphones with one hand. I only wear them so people don’t think I’m crazy when I laugh suddenly at a dumb DJ joke or start nodding my head in time with the music. So yeah. The headphones are not doing their job right now.


            I tell myself I’m not going to check the car when I get home.

            When I get home, I check the car anyway. I lie down on my back in the gravel and shimmy under it, a flashlight clenched in my teeth. Because maybe I’m still a little paranoid.

            I had a dream once that they came to take me back. I jumped in the car to drive away, but before I even got to the end of the block, the engine fell out. Just fell right out onto the asphalt. I think it was something about rust.

            I mean, it was ridiculous of course, but hey, you never know.

            I stare up at the underside of the car for about five minutes. I have no idea what a car would look like if the engine was about to fall out, but at least I don’t see any rust.

            It’s quiet. I realize it suddenly. There was some Smooth Jazz when I first got home, but I don’t know when it faded out.

            “Is your car broken?”

            The voice startles me so much I almost hit my head on the underside of the car. It takes me a moment to realize where it came from. I shimmy out from under the car to find Marcy waiting.

            “No. I don’t think so.”

            “That’s good,” Marcy says. But she stares at me expectantly, her fingers knotting impatiently in the hem of her jacket and I know what she means is Did you hear anything today?

            Marcy follows me inside. I leave the front door wide open because Marcy is twelve and shouldn’t be in an apartment alone with a crazy, scruffy, runaway lab rat.

            She watches while I write Hot air balloons (Florida) on a piece of paper and tack it to the wall with all the others. I write as many song lyrics as I can remember and a few DJ names. I add these to the wall and step back, shoving my hands into my pockets.

            Marcy stands there for a long time, studying the wall. The mess of thumbtacks, post-it notes, tape, and paper scraps scrawled over with my handwriting.

            I got sit on the floor of the kitchen. Because I’ve listened all day, I’ve done what I can, and now I don’t want to think about it anymore. I don’t want to look at the wall.

            The wall is for Marcy. Because there are posters all over town with her brother’s face on them. Because the posters are getting old and water damaged, and still no one knows where her brother is.

            Because one day Marcy knocked on my apartment door and told me she had a dream that I heard something that helped her find her brother.

            I don’t tell Marcy that she dreamed that just because we’re neighbors and she sees me leave for work every day, and every time she sees me I’m wearing headphones, so of course she would dream I heard something. Of course she would dream it helped her find her brother, because who doesn’t want that?

            Marcy says “Thank you” from the other room before she leaves. I hear the door shut behind her, but I don’t move from the kitchen floor.

            I hear ambient pre-recorded forest sounds.

            My hands still smell like Windex.


            A late night broadcast. Not a proper broadcast like earlier, with chatting DJs and catchy tunes. It’s mostly static and whispers I can’t make out. Occasionally screaming. I can make that out just fine.

            I roll over in bed and try to pretend it’s quiet. I promised Marcy I would listen, try to help her find a clue about her brother, but not right now. The whole things is crazy anyway. How in the world could any of this help her find her brother?

            Someone is shouting now. Maybe more than one someone. Maybe shouting at me. I press my hands to my ears out of instinct, though I know it won’t do anything. The sound only gets louder.

            “Get out of my head,” I whisper. “I’m trying to sleep.”

            But it doesn’t.            

Deranged lab rat that I am, I curl up in a nest of blankets and pretend that I’m sane and capable of sleeping through the night.


There it be.

What is actually happening? Is he insane? A dysfunctional superhero? Why does he use so much Windex? Where is Marcy’s bro? Who can say??

It’s called artistic ambiguity *waves hands mysteriously*

Many thanks to Jem Jones for the prompt!

(In other news, Sarah Seele was terribly convincing in this post about The Silver Eye, so I thought I’d try it out. And now I’VE READ IT ALL. And I adore it. I might have to write a post about it. I keep showing all my friends pictures of pigeondove in an effort to get them to read it. Please scream with me in the comments.)

Is there a better disguise than facial hair? Who needs a hug more: Marcy or the narrator? (Or the kid with the super heavy backpack, honestly. He’s probably a stressed college student, poor dear.) What do YOU think is happening? What are your fan theories? Do tell!


24 responses to “One Quirk Later #10–a sandwich to make any janitor weep”

    The part about the backpack that is heavy enough to contain half a butchered cow is comedic GOLD. And the peculiar janitor with the peculiar hearing is PRECIOUS and I love him and how is he angsty and chill at the same time?? How is this such genius?? I want more of this. It’s beautiful. It’s all beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m confused, but also delighted. I need a whole book about this janitor and his magical-ish hearing abilities (where did he get them? why? what other kinds of things does he hear?), and him in general (why was he afraid that someone would recognize him? where would they send him back to?). I think it’s safe to say that this left me with far too many questions, but I enjoyed it immensely!

    (Also. That teen with a backpack holding half a butchered cow. I have personally worked on butchering cows, and I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, but it is an EXCELLENT metaphor/simile/whatever, and it made me smile. :))

    (I want to know about Marcy’s dream, too.)

    (So many questions. So many questions.)

    Liked by 1 person

    I just came directly from reading the Story Sponge’s quirk, and it was also about a man underneath a car, and a weirdly heavy backpack, and papers stuck to a wall, and lost persons, and it’s all sounding suspiciously familiar and I am now VERY SCARED because what alternate universe have I stumbled into what is happening AAAAAGGGGHHHHHhhhhhhhh.
    (legitimately did a double-take when i read that janitor guy checked beneath his car. I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. oh no I love it too much and I think I have a Feeling

    (something about the way this particular story blends the elements of the prompt is really good too, it’s very seamless and delightful and clever and I just liked it a LOT)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. He has… an alternate universe radio station in his head?? Not being able to find a good song again is awful so he has my sympathies. xD

    THIS IS SO INTRIGUING, WHAT IS HAPPENING, ERIK, I NEED TO KNOW. Then again, artistic ambiguity is such an excellent attraction of writing flash fiction, for me, so. *crazed laughter*

    OooOOooOh you read The Silver Eye?? they’re so soft and sad and Apen needs a hug or twenty and so does Avidan and Noah would probably stab me but he does too and Velvs is both sad and a poor decision-maker and Pigeondove is aDORABLE (if slightly dopey, I mean, apparently she can’t actually identify Noah xD)

    (Ooh also if you have Discord, there is a server? its activity level depends on what’s happening in the comic [definitely not increasing dramatically when someone is injured or otherwise angsty, no, nope… xD ] )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not being able to find the catchy song again is the worst thing this character suffers BY FAR.
      I AM ALSO INTRIGUED. I would love to know what’s happening myself, but…will I ever find out? Who can say??
      THEY ALL NEED ALL THE HUGS. ALL OF THEM. [I would 100% try to hug Noah and probably get stabbed, but he NEEDS IT (the hugs not the stabbing, dear goodness).]
      I don’t have Discord, BUT I know what to do when someone is injured or otherwise angsty: run screaming to Grandma Jem 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, Grandma Jem is willing to scream over many angsty characters if you need screaming company!

        (Idony should coordinate a group hug with Noah at the centre. Hopefully he wouldn’t get violent if she’s there… xD)

        Author: will I ever find out what’s happening myself? 😔
        Reader!me: *internal screaming*
        Writer!me: that’s very valid have a good day

        Liked by 1 person

      • Screaming in good company is always the best 🙂
        (This is a wonderful idea. We must make it happen […I don’t know how, because these people are all fictional, but there must be SOME way to coordinate with them])
        Ah, ’tis a most marvelously accurate portrait of my own reader/writer interactions XD


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