This Morning

Editor's note: This is the winner of our writing competition.

For a moment I'm forced to wonder why our new alien masters have a fire alarm. You'd think it'd be a bit of a hindrance, considering that he was already on fire, though he seemed to be somewhat unaware of this detail. The fact that he was also dressed in a tutu and speaking Mandarin probably had something to do with it.

The noise doesn't go away, our dread alien masters begin to look annoyed, and the time for reflection passes as I'm dragged kicking and screaming back into consciousness.

"Mmmrph," I say articulately.

I grope out blindly; blind, because it's o-dark-fuckin'-thirty, and because malevolent gnomes have once again spirited my glasses away. My hateful alarm continues its complacent bleating unabated, the smug little shit.

I wouldn't hate it so much if it didn't take such obvious joy in my suffering.

After a lunar cycle or so, during which my questing hand locates my watch, my ring, my other hand, no fewer than four unidentified books, and one of the stragglers from the gnome hoard earlier in the evening; I find the damned thing: a palm-sized, battery-operated little square of horror.

And I have no idea how to turn it off.

"Mmmrph," I threaten direly.

The smug beeping continues without pause, even when I begin to gnaw upon the thing's carapace.

I can't say how effective this is, though it does stop beeping, eventually, out of sheer perversity, I think, rather than anything I did. This morning's bite marks get added to the collection its been accumulating - but I don't think I've managed to reach its innards yet.

One day I shall feast upon gears, I swear it.

Now completely, irrevocably awake - sorta. I slide out of bed and onto the gritty floor. I pause a moment in my rediscovery of the "balance" concept to shoot a look of searing, bleary hatred at my roommate. My roommate who will have another three hours of sweet, sweet slumber before being driven from his bed.

I go through my morning rituals without a light; after all, that would disturb my roommate, and then he would realize that I've been harvesting his plasma. With my keen night vision and zombie-like efficiency, I set about finding my keys and whatever articles of clothing deemed necessary by public decency ordinances, stumbling into walls and tripping over phantom shoes as I go. After searching every other conceivable inch of my room, I retrieve my watch from underneath my pillow, where it seemingly spent the night. Rubbing the watch-shaped dent in my cheek, I begin a second search of every conceivable surface, which eventually yields my glasses - hanging from the light fixture, of all things - and a pair of socks that match, at least texturally. I pull on my shoes, then I'm out the door.

Then I'm back in the door, pulling on some pants.

That resolved, I'm back out the door, ready to face a new day - of course, it would help if it were a new day. According to Ursa Major and the little Goth children composing free verse down on the quad, it counts as day only in the technical sense. So I'll just have to deal with being weakly braced to deal with the ass-end of the previous day, rather than a new one. Partiers coming in late give me dirty looks, maybe because I can walk in a straight line.

Regardless, I'm up now, and bearing depressants of a powerful and illegal variety, I'm going to stay that way for a while. So I might as well do something about it. Self-inflicted torment - also known as exercise - seems as good an option as any, or at least better than staring at the ceiling waiting for the roomie to go dry, so I decide to head down to the gym for some healthy pain. Getting there, though, is a bit of a task.

Escape from the building is the first priority, and not as easy as it sounds. The more interesting elements come out to frolic and maraud after 4 A.M., when your kindler, gentler cultists go to bed, dreaming of the next dark rite. Escaping unscathed is a dance, more art than science, though with very formal and specific steps. Across the balcony, down the stairs, over the drunks, pirouette, down more stairs, avoid the feces, more stairs, hide from the people hosing down a skinned animal, attempt to open the outer door with the notoriously unreliable electronic key, fail to open outer door with said key, break off the lock with fire axe bought by RHA for that purpose, and then I'm out.

Easy as that.

One of the little-known advantages of going to college is the free fitness centers. Forget the bad food, the scary cults, and obscure political movements; gaining the right to abuse yourself free of charge is simply extraordinary. Considering how ridiculous prices can get in college towns - merchants compete over who can gouge the most from money-fat parents (I understand that there's a pool, and bookstores are currently in the lead) - you'd think that they would charge membership fees to make a Rockefeller blanch. They don't, though; maybe they decided that they were taking enough cash-laden plasma from each family, and that no more was needed.

Or they maybe the realized that they made them pay, no one but the die-hards would ever go, and the entire swathes of the student populace would die from malnutrition in their atrophying, arthritis-wracked bodies. Thus truncating the University's oh-so-pitiful supply of income.

Or maybe it just gives their neophyte sports medicine majors a place to hang out.

And flex.

Most likely it fulfils all of these functions, and more - questionable medical experiments are always in vogue. It helps that our own little locale of self-abuse looks like it belongs to a weapons. subcontractor for the Pentagon. The Student Recreation Center is one of those glass and brick buildings that gives you the ineffable impression that you'll be under constant video surveillance at all times. That they know that you are guilty of something, they know you're going to try to deny it, and they know you're lying.

And that they intend to make you admit your guilt before you leave.

This impression persists all through the entry process, as they first buzz you in through security, then check your student ID, then demand another ID, declare them both to be false, compare your fingerprints to their files, and finally subject you to a full body cavity search as your fingerprints come up belonging to one Achmed Abdul Jamal. Finally, reluctantly convinced that a) you are who you claimed to be and b) you aren't carrying any weapons of mass destruction and c) everyone comes up as good ol' Achmed, who visited the campus once as a guest speaker in 1964, they allow you into the work area.

This morning the cavity search is less enthusiastic than usual - maybe they'd been busy in the last week. They get a little lax during the peak season.

As I redress and try to recover the tattered shreds of my dignity, I notice that the attendant has been staring at me for some time. "Um ... is there a problem?" I ask, fully expecting to strip-searched again.

He shook his head vigorously. "Oh, no," he said. "It's just ..."

"Just what?"

He gestured up and down my body. I looked down.

With the keen fashion sense reserved for those who dressed total darkness, I had managed to get into a pair of black gym shorts, black socks, and a black long-sleeved t-shirt. While I suppose that it's statistically possible for a non-black shirt to come to my hand while dressing, it's highly unlikely. The gym shorts were a bit more of a coincidence, as I only own one pair that can honestly be called black. The socks, though, defied all reason - until this moment, I could've sworn that I owned nothing other than dingy white.

They must have spent too much time with my shirts. I thought that they were fading.

Maybe that's my detergent.

Glancing first at the tanned young person in school colors in front of me, and then at my pale, hairy legs glaring at me from between the socks and all-too-short shorts, I realize that I had to come up with a plausible reason to explain both my obvious antipathy for color and my pale, pale flesh.

"I am a student of the secret and ancient art of ninja," I tell him.

He blinks. "Ninja?"

"Ninja," I confirm.

He cocks his head and squints. "You don't look like a ninja."


I make my exit before his confusion reaches critical mass and his head explodes.
Thankfully, the place is almost empty, except for a few die-hard crazy types. That means that I get in some quality self-abuse on the exercise machines without having to fight anyone; as they stretch, pull, and rip things that were really better off just left the hell alone. I repeat this process on every muscle I can think of, and add a few others just for shits and giggles. All the while I ponder life, love, and Gatorade to the sounds of my popping joints. Mostly Gatorade.

"Pain is weakness leaving the body," my ass.

After a particularly fun few moments spent trying to move the weight somebody left behind on the shoulder press machine, I spend a few quiet moments whimpering to myself and listening to a pair of PhDs argue over the Freudian symbolism of the Thundercats. Just as they get to the phallic overtones of the Lion-O's sword, a gym-drone in school colors saunters over to me.

"Jim said that you were a ninja," he says without preamble.

"Did his head explode?" I ask, intrigued.

"No, but he has this really odd look on his face."

"Oh," I say, disappointed.

"Stuff's leaking out of his ears, though."

"Really? Cool," I say, fascinated.

He grins briefly, lost in the memory. "Yeah." He shakes his head, returning to his first question like a terrier. "Anyway, you a ninja?"

Why the hell not. "Yeah, I'm a ninja."



The expression of politely contemptuous disbelief on his face tells me that wheels are turning, and that he doesn't particularly enjoy the sensation.

He points to my battered Nikes. "If you're a ninja, then where are your sandals and footie-socks?"

I look down at flaking shoes. "I don't get those until I can decapitate a cow with my nunchuks."

"Okay then, where are your nunchuks?"

"The RA confiscated them."


"Not until I can take a belt from a running car and not have it stop."

"What about your mask?"

"My glasses tore it."

In exasperation, he demands "Why in hell are you wearing shorts?"

"I am unworthy of pants."

"Unworthy of pants?"

"I have yet to impale three flies simultaneously with a single paperclip. It's really quite a sensitive subject, and I wish you wouldn't bring it up."

He stalks away in disgust, and I watch him go, hoping against hope that maybe his head will explode. A moment later, disappointed, I too hobble away. Jim is sitting where I left him, and his ears are indeed leaking, though only a little. Just for fun, I put his socks over his ears. Just for fun, mind you.

I walk out through the bank-style glass doors, thankfully able to get in on my own, rather than having to be buzzed in. The sun is just beginning to rise over the skyline, turning the sky in the east rose and gold, and the sky in the west to shades of grey and dusky blue. It's pretty, no denying that. As always, it's almost enough to make me glad that I was up this early.

Now if only my legs would straighten out, maybe today will be pretty good.

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