The red Button
This week, the writers create interesting, intruiging, and creative pieces based on the prompt "The Red Button," chosen by Austina Xu.
By: Ava Arasan
She wished she had chosen the red button.
Under her soft, manicured finger, a neon green button glared angrily under her touch. Brendina huffed impatiently as the elevator began its descent, and she kicked a polished metal wall in her annoyance. The coffee in her hand spilled onto her favorite dusty rose blouse, and the previously pointed tip of her black heels dented by the impact, making her feeling of inadequacy triple in a moment. The Ehtitor had demanded her swift arrival at her office precisely 4.0987 seconds ago. Instead of going up to the 97.8th floor like she was supposed to, she found herself making her way back down to the Writing Dock where she slaved away at her 10-10 desk job as an intern writer for the Northern News Network. A few minutes later, she finally arrived at the Ehtitor’s level. Bracing herself against the wall that had wrecked her favorite shoes, she took a deep breath to calm her anxiety and brushed the beads of sweat rolling down her forehead away. The fires outside were especially rampant this week. Pushing her thoughts aside, she made a point to focus; it wasn’t every day a mere intern like herself got called up to meet the Ehtitor.
She had been sitting in her cubicle hurriedly typing out her newest article, “12 Ways to Induce Nail Growth,” waving her hand over the screen every so often in hopes to blow away stray trindles of smoke from outside. Disrupting her concentration, her primary manager, Robot 7650 (more well known as Mr. Langal) asked to come in. He quickly communicated the news, sentences short and choppy.
“You-are-expected-to-meet-the-Ehtitor. A-S-A-P. Bye.”
“I’ll head up in a few minutes. Inspiration finally struck, and I’m totally on a roll!”
“Go-NOW! Pick-up-coffee.” The bulbs in Langal’s eyes flashed blood-red for a quick moment. He rolled away without another word.
Brendina was quite shocked by Langal’s programming. On any other day, she could have expected a response like “Yas, Queen!” or “Work It!!,” but she didn’t have too much time to waste lamenting. She rushed to the elevator to grab the coffee she assumed was for the Ehtitor.
Now, the elevator doors opened. Brendina was startled as the floor slid out in front of her, propelling her to a set of clean, magnificent metal doors. It was difficult to stare at them too long without the shine burning her eyes. She couldn’t help but grimace as an acrid, thick curl of smoke tangled itself up in her nostrils. Blowing it away, she noticed that a sleek black box had been nailed into one door, riddled with buttons to achieve hundreds of functions she doubted she would ever understand.
“How may I help you?” came a fluent voice from the black box.
“I’ve been called in for a visit with the Ehtitor,” Brendina replied, attempting to match the box's strong tone. Instead, her voice rose and faltered, communicating her age as well as her nerves.
“Very well, repeat the given access code.”
“Um, oh, well, I was never given an access code. Oopsie, I guess right? Can I go back now?” she giggled nervously, her teeth chattering involuntarily.
“Repeat the given access code.”
“Repeat the given access code.”
It was then Brendina rediscovered the coffee cup in her hand. Examining its exterior, she discovered a garbled line of letters and numbers on its side.
The doors opened.
Brendina walked inside heels clicking harshly against the cement floor. A thick wave of smoke enveloped her as she pressed on, filling her lungs with toxic fumes. She stumbled for a minute to gag, face going white and green.
“Ah, yes, Brandy”
A single desk stood in the middle of the room, carved from a fusion of obsidian and jet. A skinny figure stood up from a thick, dark oak chair and strode over to her. A being, more comparable to a stick than a woman, appeared from the smoke. Her black hair had been pinned to her scalp, her body swathed in thick layers of black leather, and her paper white skin adorned with some kind of silvery metallic powder. The Ehtitor was elegant, poised, and calculating, a formidable combination.
“You are the beauty columnist, yes?” The Ehtitor’s dark eyes scanned Brendina’s face before dragging down the rest of her body, eyes lingering on the dark brown splotch by the base of her neck. Suddenly, a twig of an arm shot out and grabbed Brendina’s chin with surprising strength, black acrylics burrowing into her flesh.
“I heard you were working on an article about Global Warming,” she said, practically spitting out her words with disgust, “You know that is a banned topic on the Northern News Networks’ Publishable Criteria, yes?” The Ehtitor’s claws dug deeper into Brendina’s skin.
“Yes,” Brendina whispered softly, choking on the foul air.
“Then why, Brandy, why did you write an article about it!” The Ehtitor’s voice rose to an exceptionally awful pitch and the smoke in the room seemed to triple in her fury.
“I-I just thought that, well, maybe I could shed some light on it as a v-valid issue, Ehtitor. I thought it was a valid concern with new fires almost every week. I mean the air indoors and outdoors is so bad that it’s barely breathable. This situation ought to get some recognition. And I also heard the fire is bad for one’s complexion...” Brendina found strength in her words, for she knew in her heart that the state of the world needed to be addressed. If no one did anything about it, tomorrow would crumble with yesterday’s ash.
“Global. Warming. Is. Not. Real. Get that into your thick head as you pack up and leave. I need interns who can accept and follow. Not some delusional nitwit!”
“Oh please, Ehtitor, no! I love this job, give me another chance, please, ple-”
Brendina ran out of the room, tears slipping from her stinging eyes. Throwing a glance of her shoulder, she could just make out the Ehtitor take a seat again in her room of ashes and smoke. The doors slammed in her face, and she fell into a blubbering heap of chokes, sobs, and gags, her body struggling to choose which should take precedence. Once, she finally collected herself, she peeled herself off the floor and made her way to the elevator, coffee cup still in hand.
She pressed the green button and allowed herself to be escorted to the ground floor.
The Cold Foam
By: Sawyer Lai
Rebecca Anderson was a self-professed coffee connoisseur. She had dedicated days, weeks, years to perfecting her craft and had consumed enough caffeine for three lifetimes. Even her friends, first Charles, then Andrew, then Trinity had all deserted her for ‘not hanging out with them enough.’ But who needs friends when you have coffee?
It was a brisk winter day. Walking downstairs and opening her coffee-only fridge, stocked to the max with different cold brews, Rebecca excitedly poured herself a cup of her new favorite flavor: cinnamon x lemon. It was an acquired taste, to be sure, but Rebecca considered the umami flavor of the cinnamon to perfectly balance out the sweet-sour lemon extract. For her backup cup, she grabbed another favorite from the fridge: pumpkin spice x strawberry acai. To an aficionado such as Rebecca herself, the flavors were immaculate, the other commoners just wouldn’t understand.
Riding the 3-minute subway to her office downtown, Rebecca casually sipped her coffee, trying to ration it out but still nearly finishing an entire cup before even leaving the station. At work, the prospect of trying new coffee flavors consumed her thoughts, leading her to have trouble focusing on her tasks. How excited she was to escape her boring desk job and go home to brew yet another fifteen batches of cold brew! Suddenly, a flash of inspiration struck. Pulling out a coffee-scented notebook from her drawer, Rebecca flipped to the next blank page and grabbed her coffee-colored pen. Quickly, as not to forget her genius idea, Rebecca jotted down “peach-butterscotch macchiato with foam!!!” before lifting the notebook to her nose, excitedly sniffing the sweet scent of french vanilla coffee. Though it was only two hours to five o’clock, Rebecca spent the rest of the workday belabored with the excruciating pain of anticipation. As soon as the clock hit 4:58, Rebecca began packing up so fast, even a middle-schooler about to be dismissed from class to go to lunch would have been shocked. She ran out of the office towards the subway, drawing strange stares from her co-workers, but she couldn’t care less. She just had to make this coffee.
Fumbling with her keys, Rebecca anxiously raced into her apartment. From her not-for-coffee fridge, she grabbed her jar of peach jam and her butterscotch syrup. As she waited for those ingredients to reach room temperature, Rebecca began brewing a fresh pot of coffee. The delicious smell of fresh espresso permeated her nostrils as she leaned in to take a strong inhale, filling Rebecca with ecstasy. She ladled in a tablespoon of peach jam and poured in a healthy helping of butterscotch syrup before filling the cup three-fourths of the way with her new espresso and distressedly stirring the mixture as she debated her next step. The next step in question was to add some milk foam. But would the coffee taste better with cold or hot foam?? Devastated and torn by the life-changing decision, Rebecca nearly started tearing up. She collected herself and started pouring milk into her foaming machine; she figured she would just go with her gut decision. She checked her custom coffee watch. 5:25. Shoot. Pretty soon, she had to attend her night shift at her local bar and serve those horrendous alcoholics their nightly beers. Rebecca really didn’t understand why people would drink anything but coffee. Still conflicted about the temperature of her foam, Rebecca stared at the blue and red buttons on her machine and with a deep breath, daringly decided to go with cold foam. Pressing the blue button, she decided to go all-in towards making the drink cold, quickly added a plentiful amount of coffee cubes to her coffee. As soon as her foam was ready, she haphazardly added it to the top of her drink before rushing to leave. Unfortunately for Rebecca, she had miscalculated how cold it was outside. Stepping out of her apartment, the wind slapped her in the face and she immediately began shivering. The bar was only a block away. She would be fine. Rebecca cracked open her coffee lid, practically wiggling with the anticipation of trying her new drink. She took a sip. The cold drink rushed through her insides, making her shiver even more. The realization hit. She should’ve used hot foam. How could she be so stupid? How could she have forgotten how cold it could be in the wintertime?? Regretting her mistake more than anything in her coffee-addicted life, Rebecca wished she had chosen the red button. Ignoring the bitter-cold weather, she sank to the ground in defeat, buried her face in her hands, and began to cry.
The Immaculate Chad Burlington
By: Laurie Jin
“Alright so you’ll have to come in for a check-up in two weeks, but so far the surgery looks successful!”
Jenny couldn’t take her eyes off her finished body in the mirror. Amazing. The buttocks region sagged a bit, her cheekbones raised up, and everything matched Becky to a T.
“Finally…” she breathed, dreaming of tomorrow, “I’m perfect for him.” Chad, the utterly flawless male specimen with his honey-like bass voice would see Jenny as his lover. Jenny took her first step out of the life-saving hospital into the dark night, ready to get her one true love: Chad Burlington.
The door hit the wall with a large bang as Jenny proudly marched into her home. “I! Am! Amazing!” She exclaimed to no one in particular. She turned to the window facing her lovely neighbor Tina to show off her hot new body. Right as she began to undress, Tina swiped the curtains close and glared, ushering away her gawking son. Jenny sighed; she knew her body would be too stunning. No one but Chad would be able to handle the beauty… and Becky.
Jenny scoffed at the mere thought of Becky- that evil witch. But alas, Becky clearly brainwashed Chad into thinking that he loved her. Dozing off to thoughts of her beautiful Chad, she assured herself that everything was going to change.
“Chad! Chad! Chad!” Groaning, Jenny rolled over to her custom-made Chad alarm clock and carefully pressed the off button under his belly button. "Good morning my handsome hunk," she thought, staring at her bedroom's Chad wallpaper. Rolling out of bed, the floorboards creaked, and Jenny walked into the bathroom. After brushing her teeth with custom Chad toothpaste, it was time to choose her clothes.
The Chad clock read eight forty-five. She was going to be late. Rushing to put on a set of old Chad-covered pajamas, Jenny ran down the street over to Becky’s house, climbed over the white fence, and ran behind Becky’s house to hide in the garden. The simple daily routine was memorized in Jenny’s head. There, Becky stood in her not-Chad pajamas looking into her closet. As Jenny watched Becky, she quietly applauded her plastic surgeon; She and Becky were basically identical. After picking up numerous outfits and discarding them onto her bedroom floor, Becky seemed to finally be satisfied with a simple red dress with white frills. "Of course she’d pick red," Jenny jeered, "Chad’s favorite color is red. Imagine being that thirsty."
Rushing back to her own house, Jenny kept in mind the day’s outfit: red dress with frills. She always made sure that Becky and she had the exact same clothes, so finding this red dress shouldn’t be a problem. After hurriedly flipping through her clothes, Jenny finally found the dress and put it on.
“Chad is going to looveee me!” she sang, dancing in the mirror. Right as she checked herself one last time in the mirror, grief and panic engulfed her. The top button was missing. Tears welled up in Jenny’s eyes as she lost all hope and began to sob. “Chad is never gonna love me,” she wailed as she opened her kitchen fridge with Chad stickers plastered all over it. She stood next to the dirty kitchen sink, crying and shoving handfuls of ice cream into her mouth. The Chad clock struck nine, letting out nine “Chad!” shouts and all thoughts of being forever alone erased themselves from Jenny’s mind. She and Chad would get married- Jenny promised herself this in third grade and she was determined to keep it.
Looking in her sewing kit, mainly for her Chad body pillows, Jenny found a white and red button, but only one button would go on the dress. Jenny paced back and forth in her kitchen, the floorboards creaking with her. Which to choose… red or white? The two buttons sat on the kitchen table and Jenny decided to just close her eyes and grab one. She trusted fate to give her the correct color, to bring her to Chad. Peeking through her right hand, the button in her palm shined a blinding white.
Black suede boots, just like Becky’s, clicked and clacked on the marble floor as Jenny walked across the main lecture hall to the university courtyard, where Becky and Chad normally met up. The bell struck ten and students began to flock the courtyard, but Jenny managed to find Chad amongst them. After marveling at his figure for some time, Jenny began to walk towards him, confident that Chad would fall in love with her at first sight. She had dyed her hair black, had surgery done on her body, and worn the exact same outfit; Jenny would be the new Becky. Six feet away from Chad, Becky stopped to adjust the button on her dress… that was red… Horror struck Jenny when she realized this unforgivable mistake. Devastated by her failure, she sank to her knees and tears fell from her eyes, the black mascara she had carefully put on just for Chad began seeping down as well.
“Are you ok?” Chad called out. Through Jenny’s tear-filled eyes, she could just make out Chad’s blurry figure. His chestnut-colored hair glistening in the sunlight, his addictive axe body spray, his God worthy face coming closer, his veiny hands reaching out to her—
“No!” Jenny shrieked, covering her face with her lemon-scented hands (Chad’s favorite smell), “Don’t look at me! I love you too much, so just don’t look at me!” Students parted in confusion as the sobbing Jenny sprinted away from the immaculate Chad.
Devastated by her ruined chance to be with Chad, Jenny aguishly shouted, “Screw you Becky!” and was never heard from again…
By: Austina Xu
Everyone has that one moment in their lives- that single chance that’s just too good to pass by, and you happen to be fate’s lucky choice. Perhaps it was the time you snatched that bag of tangerines that were 30% off. Or when you told your teacher that your “six” was actually a zero, winning you two extra points on your exam. For me, it was last week. I remember the day very clearly, and I remember the moment when Ava announced that I was the second place winner of our Outlet team party. Now although second may not seem like much, my reward (and the look of disgust on Laurie’s face upon hearing that she was fourth) more than satisfied my fantasies: the ability to choose both the writers’ and composers’ topics. At that point, I was basically Thanos armed with all the infinity stones- with just one snap I could either make this week a living hell for my friends, or I could be showered with sighs of relief and comments like “Dang Austina, you're really good at choosing topics; I’m so happy I don’t hafta write about birthdays or exercise again.” Both options were equally appealing.
And so, my quest began. What topics would be fun and creative yet pose as a reasonable challenge for my peers? Ultimately, I went with the following options: composers would write about the one universal language we all know and understand, food, and writers would have their own take on a sentence I would provide, including it in a work centralized around a genre of their choosing. I know what you’re thinking, Austina- you’re a goddamn genius, to which I applaud your sound logic. To speed up the process, I opted for a random sentence generator; the first sentence was the following: She wished she had chosen the red button. Now maybe it was the strange tug on my heart upon reading those fated words, or perhaps it was the fact that our weekly meeting would be starting in two minutes and I had let myself tumble into the deep abyss of procrastination yet again and was desperate for something. Either way, I had finalized my decision, and my peers were satisfied with my work to say the least. I could imagine the flurry of ideas racing through Ava’s mind as her eyes lit up at the topic. Sawyer and Laurie seemed equally excited, tossing around concepts to one another and both eventually beginning their compositions on the same day. Triumph washed over me at the overwhelmingly positive response. I had done it: this was my carpe diem moment.
It’s currently 2am. I am typing this with bloodshot eyes, One Direction blasting through my headphones, and a slowly waning will to live with only one thought in my head: what. have. I. done. Folks, you are currently witnessing the horrid power of my good friend and compatriot, writer’s block. And oh boy- what a monster she is.
Red buttons, I think to myself, Who even talks about that? When was the last time I’ve seen one? There is the classic “red button of doom,” but where can I go with that? Perhaps a more trial- and- error method needs to be implemented. Where are there buttons? Elevators! Perhaps a psychological horror about a man being trapped in an elevator with a new resident and… I have no idea where this is going. Hmmm… stereos and car radios have buttons- maybe something more nostalgic, but I have already written pieces about childhood. The situation is looking hopeless, and my ortho-k contacts are beginning to feel like plastic discs resting on my severely dehydrated eyeballs. As my fingers fidget unsurely across my keyboard, I can’t help but notice the irony of the situation; how is it that the one opportunity I have to take the wheel for our group’s creative liberties, suddenly feels like the worst decision I’ve ever made? This is far from what I had in mind, far from what my carpe diem moment should feel like. I open a new tab and hesitate. What if? I ponder and find myself at the random sentence generator, cursor hovering over the small red button that reads “generate.” What if I had chosen something else? What would be the new words that decide my fate? I press my keypad, send a silent prayer, and read: He took one look at what was under the table and noped the hell out of there. Silence. As I stare at my dully lit screen, I can’t help but think, if only I had chosen the red button.