Susan B.

Susan B.

A Chapter by Keaton S. Ziem

Counting change.


The world spins as it wobbles while it circles the sun. Everything a human is comes as a direct result of these simultaneous planetary and celestial motions, plus one other universal phenomenon: water.


Because the world spins and wobbles while it circles the sun, the human race has taken on according physical and psychological characteristics.

Because it holds water, there is life at all.



At 2:00 AM, the city is turned away from the sun. The sun doesn’t cast the earth’s shadow upon the walls, the floors, or the ceilings of the solar system as the sun casts the shadows of all things on earth. The earth’s shadow falls upon half of its own self, like how a snake’s tail might somehow find its way into the snake’s own mouth. Or instead, the shadow lies in the depths of space itself; the shadow is throughout. The sun is little more than a tiny candle’s flame in all that immeasurable shadow. Yet, it should not be understated how important that single glow of candlelight can be to the person who lights it when it’s the only light they have; no matter how small it’s flame may be. Likewise it should not be ignored how important our sun’s light is to us. Even when the sun has set, we still cling to the small amount of light that exists beyond it in our own night sky, gawking at the stars that dot the darkness; naming them after our dearest, most ancient heroes. The darkness doesn’t share the name of any hero, ancient or otherwise. The darkness is only darkness. If it is anything else aside from that, it is empty.



At 2:00 AM, the city accommodates for its darkened position in relation to the sun by illuminating itself from within. It is not the light of a single candle’s flame, though candles may be lit somewhere within the many walls inside the city. It is a forgery of light; a fabrication of light. And not from a single source like the sun, but from billions of mockery suns: light bulbs, street lamps, florescent panels, flashlights, glow-sticks, neon tubes, traffic lights, high beams. These are no longer the days where man struggles against his fear of the darkness alongside struggles with his fear of lions or wolves; darkness, like the predators that inhabit it so contentedly, has long been conquered. Man’s struggles against disease, struggles against poverty, struggles against itself have since been allowed to continue uninterrupted, in plain sight, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with only the rarest lion or wolf attack for diversion.


At 2:00 AM, the city is dark where the city is not lit. The city is full where it is not empty. The city is loud where it is not sleeping; though sometimes it’s loud there, too.

At 2:00 AM, the Man is crouched in the dark. The Man is hidden. The Man is silent.



He was staring blindly ahead of him into the darkness; his eyes totally open, fully dilated, drinking deeply of the darkness that surrounds him. Though he cannot see it, his eyes stared emptily at a penny. He was wondering if the head or the tail of the penny was staring emptily back up at his face. He wondered how he looked, and suddenly his expression changed. Stiffened. His jaw clenched. He had a distinct vision of his own face in the darkness, staring blindly past the penny in his hand; slack and emotionless, complacent and stupid. Mouth open. Lost.


He would frequently catch himself whenever he imagined himself looking this way, though there was something else about the way his face felt that struck him as alarming. He had been noticing it with increasing regularity how his face seemed to hang off the front of his skull whenever he wasn’t thinking about it, or sag down the edge of his chin and droop down his neck before disappearing down the collar of his shirt. He never thought age would feel that physically real when he was younger. He thought age would feel like stiff joints or blurry vision, difficulty moving your bowels. He was incapable of imagining the physical weight of jowls or wrinkles. He was a far cry from elderly, but to say that he was getting ‘older’ was a shirk. Merely another way of saying he was no longer young. This made him old, regardless of his literal age, which he didn’t know with any absolute certainty anyhow.


He was slouched inside a closed industrial garbage dumpster; the trash it had previously housed now long-gone though not forgotten, according to the smell. If he held his breath long enough he could hear the maggots writhing about him. The dumpster he was in was one among many; a veritable graveyard of dumpsters, lined one next to the other in single-file over a stretch that could fit four football fields. He didn’t know where or what this place was, exactly; only that it was safe, at least for now. Safe enough to give him his daily count of change, and at his leisure.


A heavy metallic clang rang out from somewhere outside; not close but not far, either. His hair quickly stood on end and he gripped the change he still held in his hand tightly, feeling the skin on his hand turn from fleshy pink to white, glancing up at the fine trickle of orange light that was thrown down by some towering lamp outside and traced the lid of the dumpster above him as he waited and listened.


After a moment, he let go of the breath he held, thanking the heat of the desert even at night (though he was more apt to curse it, depending on the situation). If it were colder, anyone who would have been looking could have easily seen his breath seeping out from the cracks in the dumpster’s ceiling in billowing, steamy clouds. If it had been that cold at that moment, he wouldn’t have waited or listened for further sign; he would have ran immediately. Never hesitate. Never question the body’s instinct to run. There was only one instinct stronger than the instinct to run, and he wasn’t sure that instinct would call upon him ever again.

He turned back to the seven neatly stacked columns of change he had splayed out in the darkness before him, in the darkness this dumpster afforded. Two stacks of four quarters each. One stack of three quarters, a nickel and two dimes. One stack of four nickels and six dimes.


He had placed each stack out at equal distance from the one next to it without trying to.


“Three eighty…”, quieter than a whisper.


One stack of ten pennies. Another stack of eight pennies.


“Three ninety eight…”, quieter than a whisper; speaking only to the tips of his fingers as he counted on them.


He picked up the seventh stack of coins and held them loosely in his palm before plucking at each coin in turn, feeling them one-by-one. These would be the Canadian coins he had found, and the game token from that kid’s pizza place off Monroe Street.


But just as he was setting these back down onto the dumpster floor (as softly as he could; nothing draws attention from competition like the jingle of change), he paused. He thumbed one coin away from the others.


His lip curled until it became a smile.


“Sue…”, he crooned with the familiarity of an old lover.


He set the Susan B. Anthony coin off to the side, into an 8th pile.


He clawed the stacks of U.S. denomination off the floor, placing each stack into a different pocket (he had dozens), eyes still staring blindly ahead at nothing, but instinctually blinking in erratic bursts and flurries; waking them up, readying them for the light of night outside.


If he had counted his change in the light, which he never did, he would have seen that he had stacked each coin heads-up, without trying to.

© 2011 Keaton S. Ziem

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Thanks Kaity!

To answer your question, water is an ongoing theme throughout the rest of the novel-- which, at this juncture, has yet to be written. At the beginning of this chapter, that snippit acts as a brief Prologue; introducing water as an integral component for life. It doesn't resonate much for this specific chapter, but it will have significance later.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


Thanks Kaity!

To answer your question, water is an ongoing theme throughout the rest of the novel-- which, at this juncture, has yet to be written. At the beginning of this chapter, that snippit acts as a brief Prologue; introducing water as an integral component for life. It doesn't resonate much for this specific chapter, but it will have significance later.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Absolutely fantastic and flawlessly delivered, Keaton! I loved this!

What a unique individual, this man whose (intuition? coincidence? mechanical diligence?) transcends "blindness" to such an uncanny degree!! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting this strange creature who happens to be a human, yet chooses darkness in which to tend his affairs rather than light.

My reaction after reading this is mostly exclamation points but just one question mark: Why the emphasis on water in the beginning? Any further allusion is lost on me.

Posted 10 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on October 1, 2011
Last Updated on October 5, 2011
Tags: Susan B. Anthony, hobo, hobos, dumpsters, change, coins, collecting, paranoia, fear, phobia, entropy, evolution, solar system, sun, moon, sky, stars, earth, cult, living, life, survival


Keaton S. Ziem
Keaton S. Ziem

Los Angeles, CA

I was raised in a cabin in one of the largest Ponderosa Pine forests in the continental United States. I had nothing to do with the amount of trees that grew there. I am an only child with two brot.. more..