wormwood, pt. 13

The storm hit the city while Rosalind and Nicole were still in the alley. The sky went black and the rain started with only a sudden howling wind as warning that it had arrived. They were soaked within moments.

"We should find some sort of shelter," said Rosalind. She had to shout over the sound of the wind.

Nicole just nodded and rose to her feet. She pulled Rosalind up by the hand, and kept it held tight in hers as she hurried out the alley, then stopped when lightning struck a building two blocks away. She screamed something Rosalind couldn't understand, and started running.

The hail started a few seconds later. At first the hailstones were harmless and small, but they kept getting bigger--stinging at first, then bruising, then dangerously large hailstones--breaking car windows and badly injuring anyone still caught out in the open.

Rosalind let go of Nicole's hand and ran for a chained-off storefront and took shelter there, leaving Nicole a few paces behind, bleeding from where one of the hailstones hit her on the forehead. They huddled together, shivering, bleeding, and waiting for the storm to pass.

The building that got hit was on fire, now. People inside were running out the front doors. Some of them ran out into the streets and tried the impossible task of dodging hailstones--some got lucky, and some just fell in the street and were pummeled as they crawled back for shelter. Others stayed in the shelter provided by the burning building, hoping the fire would burn out before it got so far, or perhaps that the storm would outpace the flames.

And the lightning continued to flash overhead. With every strike another building seemed to get hit. Despite the wind, the storm seemed never to move--the thunder was always right there, impossibly close and impossibly deafening. And the sky was completely black. The streetlights flickered on, then flickered off with all the lights in the city.

Nicole had her eyes held shut and her arms wrapped tight around her chest. The blood was still trickling down her face--Rosalind brushed it off and leaned against her, but they were both cold and Nicole didn't move at all, except to shiver.


wormwood, pt. 12

Winston frequently wondered why he put up with Rosalind. She had no right to tell him to just shut up and stay put. The news was trickling in and it was not good--he could be helping. He could do something. Of course, on the other hand, the roads were closed. He thought that maybe it had something to do with assessing damage, but if that's what was going on, it seemed off. There were no road crews, as such--or rather, they had come and left.

These were blockades manned by some police and some officials who didn't say much. And the police weren't being too friendly to questioning.

But Winston always had a plan, and when he didn't he always did his research. In this particular situation he had a plan to get back to the city--that much, he was certain, would be easy. He did not know what was going on with the roads, though, and that was more important. Rosalind didn't do research. She could get herself in serious trouble.

He took up shelter in the library and started doing research--it seemed to be the place where a lot of the townsfolk whose homes had been damaged were sheltering, as well. He didn't notice the storm outside, because he had more important things to worry about. Then the lights started flickering and the wind started howling, and he started trying to hurry. By the time he heard the first thunder, he made sure his laptop was plugged in and started trying to save everything.

Then the lights went out and, despite being early afternoon, it went pitch black in the library. There was a moment of silence, then someone screamed, and the panic began.


wormwood, pt. 11

Nicole walked around the block, and saw a house that cut through the police blockade. She pointed it out to Rosalind, who smiled and said that would do nicely. The cops paid them no mind as they approached the house's front door and rang the doorbell. When, after several moments, no one answered, they ducked into the backyard, which was enclosed in a high wooden fence. The gate was unlocked.

The backyard was a fairly well-tended garden with cobblestones and a picnic table. It was empty, and a sliding glass door led into the house. The fence had no obvious spots to make climbing easier, but that never stopped either of them.

Rosalind jumped up and peered over the fence, then dropped back down. "It's mostly clear. Some cops looking the wrong way. We just have to be quick and quiet. Get around the corner to the right and then act casual."

She helped Nicole get a leg up over the fence, waited until she heard her footsteps running off, and climbed over herself. She rolled as she landed, and caught the road rash on her shoulder as she did so, and bit back a curse as she did so. She poked it with a finger. It had started oozing again.

Then she ran for it. As she did, she thought she heard someone shouting "Hey!" off to her left, but she rounded the corner without seeing them, and waved frantically at Nicole to get moving. They ducked into a back alley and hid behind the dumpster, while Rosalind got some salt from her bag and rubbed it on the wound to stop the bleeding.


wormwood, pt. 10

"Winston? Shouldn't you be in the middle of the woods or something?"

"I drove back into town after the quake. Thought I'd see if you died on my carpet or something. Nicole with you? Is she all right?"

"Yeah, we're fine. Listen, the city is kind of a mess right now. Do you have all your supplies with you?"

"I think so, I--"

"Good. Stay there. Nicole and I are going to try to get some supplies and get out of the city. Text me the name of the town you're in and we'll try to meet you there. It, uh, may be some time."

"I don't have time to wait until--"

"Good bye, Winston." She hung up.

Nicole flicked her cigarette to the ground. "We heading out of town?"

"Probably. We might even meet Winston there. We've got better things to worry about right now, though. We need to find out where FEMA's made camp." Her phone rang again. She ignored it and watched the barricades for a while. "We may need to do some climbing. And some running."

"Always with the running." Nicole smiled and cracked her knuckles. "It's my favorite part."

"Good. But first, I need you to walk around the block and tell me what you see. Odds are pretty good there's a way out of here."


wormwood, pt. 9

The sun had been up for several hours when they woke up. Or rather, when Nicole woke up, stretched, and looked out the window to see damaged buildings, emergency vehicles, and a police blockade holding back a crowd. She poked Rosalind in the ribs. "Wake up, the world's still ending."

Rosalind didn't move. "What's it look like out there?"

"Looks like the cops don't want anyone leaving the neighborhood. No rioting yet." She looked up at the sky. "Oh, and there's a storm on the horizon. A literal storm, I mean. Looks pretty nasty."

"Good, I like storms. I could do without, you know, the earthquake and the food shortage." Rosalind sighed and sat up. "Okay, okay. We need to pack up. You've still got a medkit in your bag, right?"

"Yeah. I think I still got everything you gave me." Nicole opened up her bag and fished around in it. "Yeah. Flashlights, tape, knife, multitool, radio, binoculars, medkit, batteries."

"Okay, good." Rosalind grabbed a backpack from the closet. "I've got some of the bigger stuff in here. Spotlights, rope. I think I've got--yeah--I've got a crowbar and hammer in here too. And some other tools. Screwdrivers and wrenches are the big ones. And we can still fit some clothes in here." She stood up and looked around. "I think that's everything."

They loaded their things into Nicole's car--including, at Nicole's insistence, the guitars--and locked it and covered up the windows. They would move it if and when they could, but until then, it would make for a good shelter that wouldn't collapse on them in an aftershock.

Nicole sat on the hood and smoked a cigarette. "So now what?"

"Now we--" Her phone started ringing. "Um, hang on. Hello?"

"Rosalind! It's Winston. Are you both okay?"


wormwood, pt. 8

Rosalind ran for something a little more stable than her catwalk and waited for the shaking to stop. The catwalk fell to the theatre floor with a loud crash and the tinkling of glass. When everything was still once again, she sprinted outside into the street. It was too dark to see if there was any obvious damage, and she had more important things on her mind: she had to get home.

She stopped to try calling Nicole, but she'd forgotten her phone. So she ran, instead. There were fires and damaged buildings along her path, and off in the distance, the sound of sirens. She kept running, clearing her mind of anything except the rhythm of her footsteps and her breathing, vaulting fences and cutting through back alleys to shave off distance. She fell once, tripping on a milk crate in an alley and picking up a few fresh scrapes on her forearms and some new bruises on her knees, but the time saved was worth it.

She got home, sprinted up the stairs to their studio, and threw open the door. As she stood there, gasping for breath, Nicole set the guitar down very deliberately, then rose to her feet and kissed her, hard, on the lips.

"Good to see you too," said Rosalind weakly, and collapsed onto the bed. Nicole lay down next to her.

"You're supposed to have your fucking phone on you when there's an earthquake, Rose."

"Yeah, yeah." Rosalind closed her eyes for a long moment. "I'm glad you're okay. I, uh, think I picked a bad time to run off."

"A little bit."

Another long moment of silence followed. Then, "We should probably pack up now. It's going to be a lot worse, and I don't know if I trust--"

"Shh." Nicole put a finger to Rosalind's lips. "No disaster planning tonight. That is what mornings are for. I don't care if the fucking building collapses on us. No planning, no worrying, no preparations. Just us."

The ground rumbled again and the lights flickered out. Eventually they fell asleep to the endless sound of sirens in the distance.


wormwood, pt. 7

Did you ever find your mainland? I suspect you did.

A few hours earlier, Nicole was still awake, playing her guitar and smoking cigarettes. The music came out brooding and apocalyptic, though only partly by design. She was trying not to worry, and she was very good at not worrying. She often told Rosalind she could be happy so long as she could make music, and she mostly meant it. The world was a lot simpler when you described it with music.

In her head she always imagined saying she only needed two things to be happy. She was saying this while walking home at night, in her imagination. "Just two things. My guitar, and you." She wanted to save that for a perfect moment, but Rosalind didn't like perfect moments. She liked to be alone in dark places, and the thing is you really can't be alone with someone else there. So Nicole settled for their guitars and their studio apartment and she put up with Rosalind and her weird moods, and hoped that one day she'd let a perfect moment happen.

She didn't notice the earthquake until the bookshelf came crashing down. She stopped playing and tried Rosalind's cell phone, which rang from under a pile of clothes near the bed.

Nicole sighed and hung up. "Come home soon, love." And she started playing again, with the world shaking around her, hoping it might make everything all right.


collecting seashells

A little break. Don't worry, you will have all the wormwood you want soon enough.

When I was a kid I always wanted a collection, but every time I picked up something it felt kind of meaningless--this was supposed to be fun, but what did they do? They just sat there. I didn't realize until much later that what I needed was to form an emotional connection with them. It didn't matter what the objects were or why the connection was there, just that it existed. So last month, while I was walking along the beach, I picked up a seashell, because it was pretty, and I decided that I'd keep it. I decided to have a seashell for each of my regrets.

I had a lot to catch up on.

I spent my evenings doing that over the next couple weeks. There were seashells for all the old girlfriends I wish I hadn't broken up with, and seashells for the ones I wish I'd never dated. A few for the girls I wished I had. There were seashells for the stupid things I'd said in high school, for all the things I thought were cool that I changed my mind about, and vice-versa.

The important thing was, these couldn't just be any old seashells. They had to fit. If it was a big regret, it couldn't just be an everyday seashell. It had to be spectacular. I had a lot of very beautiful seashells by the end.

I caught up on all the regrets I could think of last week, so I've stopped walking the beach as much, but I'm still collecting. I pretty routinely make terrible decisions, and I'm going to chronicle it in seashells. At least this way I'll finally make something beautiful out of a lifetime of regret.

wormwood, pt. 6

I think I saw you in an ice cream parlor, drinking milkshakes cold and long, smiling and waving and looking so fine--don't think you knew you were in this song.

The evening took its time in passing. Rosalind spent most of it lying on the bed, sometimes staring and sometimes with her eyes closed, despite Nicole's efforts to actually get her to do something. But eventually the evening passed into nighttime, and Rosalind sat up abruptly. "What time is it?"

"I dunno. One-ish?"

Rosalind nodded and got up, looking around the room.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm going out." She slung her bag across her chest and checked to make sure her camera was in it. "I'll be back soon."

"Want me to come with you?"

"Nah, I'll be fine. Get some sleep." Rosalind smiled unconvincingly. "I just need to go for a walk or something."

Nicole frowned. "If that's what you want. Have fun, I guess."


It had started raining lightly since the afternoon, but Rosalind didn't mind. The streets were empty and she knew them enough that she didn't have to think about where she was going, or pay attention, in order to be able to find her way back. She was just starting to shiver when she found herself in front of a building she'd been to many times before. It wasn't exactly a surprise, but she hadn't exactly planned it, either.

It used to be a theatre. Then it went through a series of short-lived businesses, and was converted to a theatre once again, which housed a talented but chronically underfunded theatre company until it was shut down when the manager was caught embezzling. It was mostly locked off, and the outside was surprisingly free from graffiti, as the property's owner still hoped to sell it off, despite the rumors it was cursed or haunted or both.

The locks were easy enough to pick. The electricity had long been cut off, and there were no windows, so it was pitch black inside, and it tended to feel unnecessarily musty. A lot of the lighting equipment was gone or broken, and the seats were never in the best of shape to begin with--they had only gotten dusty and were frequently broken since the place shut down.

The old dressing rooms still carried a lot of remnants from the theatre company's days--the place shut down suddenly, and even with a few occasional explorers looking for a memento, most of the old props and pictures and scribblings on the walls were still there, forever capturing a moment that nobody who ever saw them again would remember or understand.

Rosalind took a few pictures of these, then made her way up to the catwalks. After getting a few shots of the stage and lighting equipment, she turned off her flashlight and sat down. It was perfectly dark and quiet and still. She sat quietly and emptied her mind and stared into the darkness for as long as she could stand it.

Or at least, that was the plan.

At exactly seven minutes past three o'clock in the morning on the Thursday five days before the end of the world--or, depending on your perspective, very late on Wednesday--the ground started shaking.


wormwood, pt. 5

There was no one on the streets on their way back home. When they arrived, Nicole built a little pyramid out of their stolen cigarette packs, and finished off the last of the absinthe while Rosalind read the news on the internet. The locusts were moving faster than anticipated, but workers still anticipated being able to save a good portion of crops. The riots were intensifying, with reports appearing from more and more cities now. The rationing programs weren't working too well, and they regularly ran short. There were reports of thriving black markets for food and other necessities, but these were sketchy at best.

Eventually she closed the laptop and lay down on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "We'll probably be getting riots tomorrow."

"It'll be better than the creepy-ass empty streets. City streets aren't meant to be that quiet."

"Still. This won't be fun." Rosalind closed her eyes. "We're probably fine here but we'd better be ready for anything. Pack up a bag. Hopefully once it all goes to hell we'll at least have cigarettes to barter with. Though I'm afraid that means we'll have to destroy your cigarette-pyramid."

"It'll be fine. You know, I always wanted to be in a riot. Could be fun."

"Maybe some other time, Nicole. You need to stay with me."

"Why's that?"

"You're pretty. I need pretty things to keep me inspired."

Nicole punched her in the arm. "Ass. Whatever, I guess we can hang out while the whole rioting thing's going on. You're not too bad."

"Anyway, we can go looting after it's over. It'll help."

Nicole lay down next to her on the bed and kissed her on the cheek. "You always know just the right things to say," she whispered.


wormwood, pt. 4

Winston left the following morning, after sending Rosalind an email saying where he'd be, and that she should come looking for him if he wasn't back by Saturday night. She read it and said, "That boy has no sense of adventure even when he's going on adventures." Nicole was asleep and didn't respond, so Rosalind soon forgot about the email entirely.

When Nicole woke up that afternoon, they went out for a walk while the weather was still nice. The streets were mostly empty, which seemed weird, but neither of them commented on it until they went to the store. It had been picked clean.

They both paused in the doorway. Nicole said, "Well, fuck."

A thin, pale boy at one of the checkout aisles laughed--or cackled, really--when he noticed them. "Can I help you ladies find anything?"

Nicole said, "Yeah, actually. What the hell happened here?"

"You partied pretty hard last night, huh? Big ol' emergency broadcast, on the TV and the radio. They even had government cars driving down the streets telling everyone about it. You heard about the whole poison water thing in the Midwest, right?" As he talked, Rosalind started pacing around the edge of the store looking for something that was missed. She stopped at the cigarette cases and got the lockpicks out from her bag.


"Well, they figured maybe that would poison the crops, you know? So they mobilized everyone for this big recall of all the poisoned food. And then after they announced that there's this megaswarm of locusts or something on the east coast. It's heading west. They had experts on the TV saying that it was going to reach here in a few days, maybe. Eating everything in sight. They reckoned they could save some of the crops, but there's just not enough people, especially if they're trying to recall all the poison foods." Rosalind had the lock open now, and was shoveling packs of cigarettes into her bag.


"You're looking at a genuine food crisis. We're talking government rations, the wonderful management of FEMA. So everyone's stocking up. Or was. That's capitalism, that is. Emergency measures don't go in until tomorrow morning."

"Jesus. I just wanted some fucking ice cream."

"Tell you what. Working at the store's got its advantages. Couple of lovely ladies like you, I'll let you check out my stash. I salvaged some ramen, some coffee. Anything suits your fancy and I'm sure we could work something out."

"Yeah, no thanks." Nicole took out a cigarette and started lighting it.

"Hey, you can't smoke that in here!"

"Why not? Am I going to upset the customers?" She gestured around the store theatrically finished lighting up. "Come on, Rose."

"Coming." Rosalind buttoned up her bag and waved at the cashier. "See you next plague of locusts!"


wormwood, pt. 3

Based on a true story.

Rosalind's roommate was called Nicole. They met when they were still in high school, when Nicole's father was looking for someone to give his daughter some cheap guitar lessons. Rose was the only person to offer something he thought was reasonable, in the form of fifteen dollars for a session.

They smoked some pot Nicole had and spent most of the two hours she was there kissing on the floor. Rosalind went home without having taught Nicole a single chord--but she went home with fifteen dollars and a phone number.

They were older now. These days they smoked less and actually played guitar sometimes. They had shared a shitty studio apartment for over a year now. Today they spent most of the day listening to some of Rose's vinyl records and drinking absinthe. After one of the more apocalyptic post-rock albums in her collection, Nicole got restless and they started jamming.

It wasn't until fairly late that evening that Winston did come over. "I cleaned up your blood, Rose. Just thought I'd let you know, you don't need to worry about it anymore. Think nothing of it."

"Good to see you too, Winston."

"Actually, I got distracted watching the news. Did you watch it today? It's crazy out there. Like, the water in the Midwest just went bad. Killed off lots of people. Now they're rationing out the water and everyone's rioting. They don't know what caused it, but they think it was terrorists."

"They think everything was terrorists," Nicole said, and prepared Winston a glass of absinthe. "They didn't say anything about the water here being poisoned, did they?"

"No, but--"

"Then drink up. I'm so fucking tired of the news these days. I already know the world's going to hell. I don't need to be reminded every day."

By the end of the evening, the conversation had long since moved on, and Nicole had fallen asleep on Rosalind's shoulder. Rosalind was mostly sober and playing a bleak melody on the guitar.

Winston sat deep in thought against the wall, trying to force his eyes to focus. "You ever feel like . . . like something's wrong?"


"I dunno, I feel like I've been in the city too long. You know? Like, I need to get out, enjoy the fresh air. You want to go camping?"

"If Nicole can go."

"What if she can't?"

She stopped playing. "Then I'll stay here. You should go, though. You'll like it. It'll be good for you. Finish up that book you keep swearing you're writing. Just you and the stars."

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right. I think I will. Thanks, Rose!" He staggered to his feet and pulled his jacket on.

"You heading off?"

"Yeah, it's nice out, got a lot to think about."

"Try not to do anything stupid. I'd hate to see you get hurt."

He hesitated at the door, then smiled drunkenly. "Not even going to touch that one, Rosie."

"Good. That would probably qualify as doing something stupid. And Winston?"


"Never call me Rosie again."

"You got it, Rosie." He winked and ducked out the door. She opted against giving chase.


wormwood, pt. 2

It was the best hot shower she'd had in a long time. The bruises, she decided, would probably heal in a few days, though even after cleaning up the blood, the road rash would probably leave a scar. The blood would probably come out of her clothes eventually. Meanwhile she always kept a change of clothes in her bag--a long black shirt and some black jeans.

She dried off and got dressed and sat down on the couch next to her blood stain.

"Hey, you still look like shit."

"Yeah, thanks, Winston. Did you make breakfast?"

"I did. It's on the coffee table. Can I get you anything else while you're at it?"

"Nah, I'm good." She closed her eyes and lay down on the couch. "Oh, hey, I got a bottle of absinthe this weekend. You should come by after work. My roommate and I were going to jam."

"Is that what you're calling her now?"

"Apparently. You coming?"

"I guess I'll swing by. I guess we'll call this whole 'ruining my couch again' thing even. See you tonight, then?"


wormwood, pt. 1

[Working title. This one will be a long one. I'll try to do at least one a week. Sorry for being straightforward. It won't happen again. -Ed.]

Exactly one week before the end of the world, Rosalind Byrne was wondering where her bruises had come from. She worried sometimes that she drank too much, mostly on mornings like these where she was hungover and injured in ways she'd probably never figure out. Most of the time she didn't think she really drank that often.

She was not wondering how she ended up on her friend Winston's couch. It was easier to break into when she was drunk. He kept around something to clean up the blood. There had been a lot over the years. He always threatened to kick her out or call the cops or make her clean it up but he was always there in the end. And one week before the end of the world, Winston Stewart was late for work because he woke up to find an unexpected guest. He was berating her, though she wasn't really listening, because she'd just discovered the road rash on her upper arm.

And then he said, "You aren't listening to a word I'm saying, are you?"

"No, sorry. Aren't you late?"

"I am, because I'm making coffee for you, and I suppose you'll want breakfast, too."

"Since you're offering. Can I use your shower?"

"I hate you so much. There's clean towels in the laundry room. Try not to get them too bloody."

"Thanks, Winston."


of hell and hallucinations

Ever since the meteor fell, I've started seeing weird things. As far as I can tell it's not real, but where there used to be grass and trees there are just blasted gaping pits and burning hellfire. And there's that whole burning sulfur smell. The fires retreat before my footsteps like I'm some sort of prince of hell--or maybe an avenging angel.

I've probably been more distracted than normal, but at least I've been careful not to tell anyone. I get enough weird looks as it is.

Mostly the people look about the same. Some of them are red-skinned and have horns or whatever, and a few have the whole cloven hooves thing going on. Some are horrible slavering hell beasts. Mostly it doesn't matter even when they are, though, except I try to get away faster than I normally would.

And then this girl came into the shop today and she was all shining and white and perfect, and she looked at me like I was the worst thing I'd ever seen. And the hellscape bowed before her and the smoke and the flames crowned her like she was the master of this realm, and I just wondered which one of us was which.


all good things

I was ordering coffee from a sidewalk espresso bar when the world ended. We didn't know it was coming, of course. I always thought the movies that acted like we'd have time to prepare got it wrong.

Neither of us was really sure what to say. "So, the world just ended. Do I still have to pay?"

"Do you still care?"

We both figured that maybe there would still be some time before my cards stopped working, so I paid with that and we were both more or less satisfied. Then she started robbing the till. "It's not like I'm going to work tomorrow."

We decided to see if there were any other shops that survived, so we went around. We were going to buy things on our credit cards until they stopped working, but by the time we got to the shops they were being looted and there wasn't much we could do but try to join in.

There wasn't really anything either of us wanted. We managed to grab some food and a case of beer before it was all gone and tried going back to her place, but it was destroyed, so we went back to mine. The TV wasn't working and the internet was down and I didn't have a radio. We watched movies.

"All I can think about," she said, after a few movies and a few drinks, "is how all that money I took isn't going to be any good anymore."


We kept it anyway. Maybe someone at the end of the world would take it. But there were a lot of DVDs to watch and neither of us really wanted to venture out.


memory restoration

I lost most of my memory in the accident. The doctors told me they could give it back, though, with this new experimental drug they were working on. I couldn't stand the looks of pain on the faces of people I was supposed to know when I just gave them a blank expression, so of course I said I'd do it.

At first it seemed to work fine. I knew everyone I was supposed to, even if I wasn't really sure how I knew them. They seemed comforted. I was coming back. It was good.

Then the memories started getting weird. I remembered things that people kept telling me never happened, and eventually things that on some level I knew couldn't possibly have happened. People doing terrible things to me, or me doing something terrible to someone I loved. I could never do that, could I? But they felt so real.

The further back the memories went, the weirder they were. None of it made sense anymore. The emotions associated with them were all wrong--I felt happy thinking of deaths and disasters. Falling in love was characterized more by fear than any sort of nostalgia. But I kept going. It made no sense but it gave me some sort of connections to go by. It was better than living in a vacuum.


dark languages

We shared a secret language, she and I. We'd talk in lines at the grocery store and get weird and dirty looks from the locals--What language is that? What are they saying about us? Why can't they speak English? Which we did, of course, but we seldom used it. Why use it when you've already got a language to speak? And one far more beautiful and eloquent, too.

There are concepts that just don't have direct translations to English in a lot of languages--we had concepts that didn't have translations from ours. Nobody but the two of us could even express them as ideas. It was beautiful in its own little way. It was how we shared secrets, how everything happened.

I wish I could say we had a falling out, but mostly we just drifted apart. She moved to Chicago, I went back west. At first we called every day, then we just emailed, then one or the other of us got busy and the correspondences dropped off. Emails we meant to write never got sent.

And we wrote less and less in our secret language. I tried to keep in practice but it was hard getting a hold of her for it. Neither of us had time for much of a conversation. I could feel it slipping. Ideas that we once shared exclusively seemed to fade--or, worse, I'd keep the word but lose the ability to describe it or use it.

After a few years she sent me a letter in English. "I don't understand anymore. It's gone. Maybe we can try to get it back?"

But she was right. It's gone. A secret that wouldn't even die with us.


the tourist

Hey man, slow down.

Where I'm from, in the future, we finally invented time travel. At first everyone talked about it as being a great thing. We could go back and stop all of these terrible disasters from happening. Humanity would be a better place. Scientists argued that wouldn't work, it would be dangerous, it would change history, and every time they said that I thought to myself, isn't that kind of the point?

I'm not a scientist or a moralist though. What I am is someone with time and money on my hands. Eventually one of the inventors settled on a use for it: tourism. We could go back in time to anywhere we wanted. It was a world of adventure. Most people went back to famous eras, important events--some era they fancied.

I just went back to all the disasters of the world. There's so many of them to choose from, and I've got all the time in the world. And there's nowhere people are more human than when the world's being destroyed, when they're faced with the unknown, or something they don't understand--that's humanity.

After the last trip, I just decided to stay here for a while, because what is life but a disaster? I know everything that happens, now there's watching it unfold--not so I can be there at the events, but so I can hear people talking about it on the bus or at coffee shops--giving opinions about events they'll forget about soon, that pretty much always turn out to be wrong.

What is history but the story of people getting it wrong?



The only reason I ever hesitated about escaping was worrying about whether I could return. I didn't really like it there, but there was a girl there I liked, and sometimes when I was about to run away I'd find myself thinking that maybe I was just going somewhere worse. I was terrified that I'd want to return and find that door closed.

I told her about it the night before I finally left. She told me there's always a way back, and that's the sort of thing you just believe when you hear. The next day I packed up and hit the road.

It was only a few days before I got completely lost somewhere, and at first I panicked. I almost called and said I was lost and didn't know how to get home, but as I sat on the grass and watched the cars go by I realized that I was doing something I could never have done at home. I was lost and alone and had nowhere to be, nowhere I even knew how to find. It should have frightened me but instead I just felt like I'd finally made good choices.