We got hit with one last wave of summer, before autumn really truly fell and covered everything. And not just a warm day, a real heat wave. It took everyone off-guard. The first day people were still in their fall clothes and very uncomfortable, but they figured it would go away soon. By the second day everyone was back in summer clothes and treating it like the first day of spring.

By the third day the streets were deserted. This was weird. This was unpleasant.

Unfortunately, hiding inside couldn't make it go away. People tried to act like it was summer, but something felt off. These barbecues had too many fallen leaves around. Something about the picnics at the park felt a minute away from a cool breeze and a sudden rain, though neither breeze nor rain ever came.

The worst part was not preparing for it. In the summer I always carried water around because I knew it would be hot, but I was used to fall, where forgetting wasn't such a big deal. And I'd go out for long rides in the afternoons, wandering through trails and losing myself. On the longest of them I forgot my water, and too many miles from home I started feeling it. I decided to press on, but I couldn't even make it to the next park.

I sat down off the trail with my bike next to me, ertain this would finally kill me.

Then there was a gust of wind and the rains came and ruined a hundred barbecues and finally managed to cool me down enough to get somewhere I could recover properly.


more apologies

I always used to say I hated apologies. Like so many things I'd say it was carefully crafted in the hopes that someone would ask about it--"why do you hate them?"--and then I could explain. It would have been clever. It never happened. Sometimes I'd say I hated apologies right after apologizing, even. I was lucky if someone gave me a funny look.

Like so many things I say I stopped saying it after a while, but it wasn't because I got tired of it. As time wore it just started feeling more and more disingenuous. I didn't hate apologies, I was afraid of them, and was I just saying that so I'd have an excuse never to apologize? And Lord knows I had plenty of opportunities to.

I hated apologies that were sincere. I hated apologies that weren't full of qualifiers, apologies that didn't so much apologize as excuse. I hated the ones that didn't leave any weasel room, that admitted fault--that were, in short, the opposite of everything I ever said. Most of all, though, I hated the ones that were short. No eloquent speeches or careful wording, just "I'm sorry."

Fortunately I never had to do any of that, because I hated apologies, and that was a thing--if it ever wore on the patience of friends far nobler than I ever aspired to be, they could comfort themselves. It's just a thing. It's not important. Or it wasn't until something finally happened that time, a wry smile, a roll of the eyes, and a dismissive joke couldn't fix.

And for the longest time I hoped I could just wait it out longer, to do anything but the things I always said that I hated. But it didn't make anything better, and after far too long I finally stopped fooling myself--and I was the only person left I still was.

All of which to say: I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.


when optimism fails

I've been going to these rallies lately--not political rallies or anything like that. The people there are all dreamers, and they talk about how to make the world a more beautiful place. All their ideas are wonderful, and their projects really clean things up where they are. And it's not political. They had to convince me of that before I'd start coming. Sometimes people really do just want to make the world better, and sometimes all it takes is a smile.

I contributed a lot more when I first started going. Now I sit there quietly and cheer and applaud at the appropriate moments, and when asked how I'm doing I smile and say I'm doing all right, and sometimes it's not a lie.

It's not that I don't believe in what we're doing here. This is not the best possible world and there's no reason we shouldn't be trying to make it better. But rallies end and everyone here is so perfect--and even if they're not they're better at pretending than me. So much of the things we're fighting to fix are the sorts of things that I've done, things I've caused in the first place.

And no amount of making things right can make it okay.


wormwood, pt. 24

Nicole slept easily, but Rosalind found herself staring at the broken skyline and listening to the sounds of the city as it tore itself to bits. Eventually the sirens and the gunshots seemed to die out into a fitful silence, only broken by the occasional sigh of the wind. There was no traffic noise. Her phone rang once, but she only barely registered that it was hers, and ignored it.

Eventually she fell asleep against the windowpane. She awoke some hours later when the position had become too uncomfortable to bear. The morning did not bring any new light, but the eastern sky had turned a bloody shade of red--the sort that illuminated nothing, and not just the red glow of the fires.

She waked Nicole after several minutes of hesitation, and showed her the sky. "I think," she said after a while, "we might be in trouble."


"The city's quiet now, though. No more sirens, no more shooting. I don't know if that means that they won or gave up." She paused. "Or if there's a difference between the two."

"So what do you want to do?"

"I wish I knew. Stay here, I guess."

Rosalind sat down, her back to the window, and stared into the dark of the shop. Nicole settled in next to her. After a while, she said, "I don't like when you don't know what to do."

"Me neither." She smiled wryly. "Guess I'd better think of something."


morning ghosts

The weird dreams I have in the mornings before I really wake up have been mostly ghosts lately, all intricate conversations and this inescapable feeling of sadness before the cheerful tone on my cell phone's alarm clock goes off again, and I hit the snooze alarm again, but that ghost is gone. It's another one now. There's other problems, and I can't remember the tone of the sadness before, except that it was nothing like the new one. Everyone's problems are unique, I guess.

When I finally do wake up I'm surrounded by these shifting ghostly images, at the corner of my vision, lurking and flitting in the shadows of the morning. I can't avoid them as I eat my cereal at the kitchen table and try not to look at my girlfriend, who is always reading the paper and drinking coffee and is definitely not a ghost. There are no ghosts anywhere near her. They need me. I don't want to frighten them away.

The bright light and the heat of my morning shower drives them away for the day, but they come back for the morning. I often go the whole day without even thinking about it. I don't know what they want, or what I can do for them, but knowing me, I probably can't do much.

When we both get home my girlfriend and I drink expensive spirits and talk about our days. The ghosts never come up, even though we both know about them, and we both said we should talk more later on. There's so much going on with our lives. Why should we worry about some ghosts that keep haunting my mornings? They don't worry me, except like a friend worries me when she's going through rough times and I can't do anything to help.

And then we go to bed, much earlier than when we were young, and I don't think of the ghosts until I inevitably wake up in the morning, too early, too early. And every morning I think to myself: I'm going to be unbearably sad until my shower washes away the last memories of sleep.

I told my girlfriend, when we first talked about the ghosts, I didn't want to wash away their memories. And she said that was fair, I wanted to understand. We decided we'd make the most of those mornings. Neither of us mentioned that I could just skip the shower.


ghosts and seasons

I guess there's a season for ghosts. You never hear about them in the spring, when it's bright and green and cheerful and everything is excited to be alive and has no time for ghosts, or the summer, when it's warm and lazy and the world is content and unconcerned about the things which haunt forgotten places. They come out in the autumn, when the air takes on a chill that you tell yourself doesn't need a coat, but outside waiting for the light to change you shiver and wish you'd grabbed that black hoodie hanging by the stairs. And they are quiet, announcing their presence in the rattling of the leaves and the howl of the wind and the steady beat of the rain--and autumn rain is so much more spectral than a summer rain, so much colder. There's an energy in an autumn rain that the summer doesn't have, because the summer is content just to be. It's an energy that reminds you you are not alone, because there are ghosts here.

They linger for winter, when the leaves have fallen and the harvest is gathered and there is no more time for forgetting coats, no more need for reminders that there are ghosts when they lurk in every wispy breath, but the winter is not their season--it's a season for fires and blankets and hot chocolate. Winter is a time for winter festivals, the little ceremonies and celebrations we've built so that we can forget the ghosts that haunt us when the leaves are red and yellow, but the ghosts are still there, in the snow and the frost and the endless grey. And sometimes when the embers are dying and the sky is dark even those cheery bone-fires become something haunted--not just now, but even in retrospect. What are the dancing flames if not ghostly?

But you are warm and dry and there is more hot chocolate, and sometimes even ghosts make good company.


where no one dared to go

When you were young, you were the king of carrot flowers.

I am reminded of a summer where I dated an athlete. She was many other things besides, of course--an artist, a paralegal--but what made me think of her is that she would run, every day, rain or shine. She was not driven to perform because of fitness or even for her enjoyment. She wanted to win.

This was a few years back, I think. I never saw much of her because I had less respectable things to be doing than training for whatever race she was competing in. She didn't particularly care about seeing ruined buildings and dark tunnels. I tried getting her interested by telling her that she could be the first person to ever see something down there. She said something about nobody caring about a victory that takes place underground.

It was true: her races were spectator sports, to a degree. There was a community that cared who won and who lost, even if it wasn't the world at large. She could wear her trophies with pride, just like she showed off her art with pride and talked about her work with pride.

She didn't understand my quiet victories, I don't think. I'd go out late at night on long bike rides to places I'd never been before and get into places I wasn't supposed to be, and tell her the story in the morning. She gave me a blank expression--but to her credit she never once asked if I got something out of it. She tried to be happy for me.

She didn't understand that the only person I really cared about proving myself against was me. She didn't see the intensity with which I tried to best myself. She was never there to hear me sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the sleeping city as I accomplished the impossible. No, my only companions were the occasional dwellers in buildings with open windows, shouting "Shut the fuck up!" as I let my victory be known to the night.

Because I wanted to win, too. I just didn't need to prove it to anyone but me.


my old haunts

And some new ones.

When I died, I thought I'd spend my time haunting all the places that were significant to me in life. My old house, the place I died, things like that. And I did for a while, I guess, but it felt empty. Maybe that's how it's supposed to feel--I've never been a ghost before, I don't know--but I wasn't happy with it. I felt invisible. When my old loved ones called out my name at night, it wasn't because they wanted to talk to me. It was because they were afraid I was still there. They didn't whisper my name at night in hope but in dread. I was unwelcome in my own home. I guess being a ghost will do that to you.

I moved on. I started haunting other places, places I'd never been to. I'd find the biggest creepiest mansions and I'd haunt them until they'd start calling in paranormal experts of some variety or other. Some would come with their equipment and try to see if I was real, some would come with beads and candles and try to commune with me.

They wanted to see me. They wanted me to be real. They wanted to talk to me and know what I wanted. I'd try to play it up a little, give them a show where I could, and then they'd tell the residents what they thought. Sometimes they stayed and I moved on. Sometimes they'd flee and someone else would move in. I'd move on after that.

I started haunting abandoned places eventually, because I'd always felt at home there when I was alive--you're always at home in the places everyone forgot. Soon some of them became known as haunted, and they attracted some ghost hunters, trying to get a glimpse. One of them was a girl I'd seen before--she was with one of the paranormal teams that had found me a couple of times. She'd come to every place I was haunting.

At one of them--an old school--she said something to me. "We've met before, haven't we?" is what she said, and she smiled when she said it. "You really get around, don't you?"

It's hard to talk to the living, when you're a ghost. But she seemed content with my answer, and took some pictures and some readings and headed home. She went to the abandoned theatre I was haunting next and said "I wish I knew your story."

You and me both, kid.


wormwood, pt. 23

Does anyone really know what time it is?

It was a lot longer than Winston would have liked before they started getting close to the city. It was about there that he stopped the car. "So, I'd bet my car the roads in are being watched."

The man in the front seat laughed. "I knew I liked you, kid. You think you can get us there on foot?"

"I'll try. I've got a friend in the city who'll be able to help if I can't figure it out." He fumbled for his phone before pausing. "But, knowing Rose, she'll want passage for herself and one other person or she won't help. Is that possible? She's, uh, pretty handy."

"I don't see why not, kid. Give her a call."

He did. She didn't answer. He managed to refrain from throwing the phone out the window, but only just. "She's not answering," he said.

"Probably asleep. It's probably pretty late by now, isn't it?"

"Asleep, dead, or ignoring the phone. Whatever. I guess we could sleep before trying to head into the city. Maybe the darkness will have lifted by morning."

"You're an optimist, kid. I like that. But while we're all fucked, I could use some sleep."

The car made for a poor shelter, but they tried to sleep as well as they could. It was very early on Friday morning.


with the rain coming down

And you were shrugging it off like a feather.

I probably should have loved the way you could ignore things with a smirk and a shrug and a wry glint in your eye. You had perfected that uncaring, ironic cynicism that I'd spent my whole life trying to achieve--I always thought maybe it's because I had to try, and you never did. And usually I did love it. All the times except for when I cared about something, because even then--especially then--you never did.

Remember when we had to walk all the way home because your car wouldn't start? Miles and miles in the pouring rain, and neither of us had coats. We were dressed pretty nice, actually. And I was talking and laughing because what else can you do when you've got miles of walking in the rain left? And then you turned and you told me to shut the fuck up, this wasn't funny, what the fuck was wrong with me, and we walked on in silence.

At your doorstep I kissed you and said I bet you're glad to get out of the rain. You smiled that wry little smile and said "Oh, is it raining?"

I should have loved you for that. I never saw you upset or concerned ever again, and that makes you something I've always dreamed of. I never asked why it happened. You never offered. I declined your offer to come inside and dry off, because the smile was back and nothing I could ever say could make you care again.

And that night I took a shower and tried not to think of how I hated that about you, how the one thing I wanted to see you do was care.


being a brief note of apology

More wormwood soon. Trying to get back into the right cadence.

I've started receiving letters in the mail. They're handwritten and they're all in the same hand, though the paper and envelopes are always different. They look like they've been scrounged up somewhere. I have no idea who sent them, but they're always apologies.

At first I tried ignoring them, but they kept coming and they weren't petty things. They were touching and sincere and personal--whoever this was, she knew me. Each one described in exacting intimate detail something that she had done to me, some wrong she'd committed--and each would have been the most beautiful apology ever written if any of them were true stories. But every single one was an event which never happened.

But how can you ignore something so beautiful?

I started dreaming about them. The face of my secret supplicant was blank at first, unseeable, unmemorable, but soon she was everyone I had known, everyone I had wronged and who had wronged me--a beautiful and ever-shifting image. I'd wake up feeling drained, thinking of past wrongs, trying to remind myself that none of this ever happened.

Eventually I started getting confused, telling people about the events in the letters as if they were real, or using them as reference points for the passage of time. After a while I stopped trying to leave the world of the letters--everything is so beautiful there. In the real world there are no apologies, and certainly no forgiveness. There's just moving on.

And if my friends think I've gone mad, what of it? They never did anything for me so excellent as these elegant little apologetic notes.



It has been busy lately.

I met an inventor at the bar last night and he had an idea that he said would change the world. It worked on a small scale, he said. All he needed was funding and he could implement it everywhere. It was a generator that worked on human power. All you needed was to wear this little bracelet on your wrist and you, along with everyone you met, became a massive power grid. It made you a little more tired at the end of the day, a little hungrier, in need of a little more sleep--but it would solve all our energy problems forever. Only about three-quarters of the population would need to wear them in order to generate enough, too. What is going to bed exhausted at night, he asked me, if it means we have real progress?

I was skeptical. I asked him about his business model. Would the bracelets be free? Why would anyone want to wear one, when he could just take his off and let the rest of the world shoulder the burden? And with each question he just kept saying it would work, it would fix everything. I grew agitated and told him that's not how people work. People only care about themselves. They'll drag the rest of us down with them if it means they can go to bed a little later. Eventually he paid his tab and left, looking despondent, telling me I was probably right.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the world does work right sometimes. Maybe I'm just afraid to dream.



One day she came to me with a bag packed and said she was going away for a while--to London or something like that--and I just said "Okay," and "have a good trip." For what it's worth, I was being sincere. She smiled and said "thanks" but it wasn't a sincere smile, and I knew I'd said the wrong thing.

I didn't always used to try to stay out of the way. I used to have rules and a strong elaborate moral code. I'd talk about it for hours and hours if provoked. This was back when I thought I knew anything.

She wrote letters while she was away, and called sometimes. I asked how she was doing and I never once asked her to come home, or even when she was coming home. And I knew I wasn't saying the right things. I hadn't been for a while by now, I guess, but she was still testing, hoping that somehow I'd start getting the answers right.

I got over it, I guess. The only rule I recognize now is this one: take nothing but photographs. leave nothing but footprints. It's a common one for explorers of all stripes. I just take it to mean that the most important thing you can do is not fuck it up for everyone else. You mind your own space.

When she came back we went out drinking, just she and I, and she got too drunk and started demanding that I tell her why I was so calm about her being gone. Why I just accepted it, no questions, no pleas, not even subtle suggestions. It wasn't like when I was young and passionate about everything--when I'd do whatever it took to make the world look like I wanted. She just wanted me to act like I cared about something. Anything at all. Even if it wasn't her.

I used to have grand ideas and perfect visions for the world. The idea of just trying to keep a low profile and stay out of the way probably would have made me furious or upset or sad. These days it's all I can ask for.

She kept asking why. Eventually I just said "I like you too much. I don't want to get in the way." That wasn't the right thing to say either, but I think maybe she sort of understood.


bought and paid for

When I discovered I could buy things with my blood, I was ecstatic. I could go about my normal life and every so often go to the store and have them draw blood and take whatever I wanted. The blood would even grow back or whatever the term is for that. It was an amazing deal. My friend told me he didn't like the woozy feeling after from getting blood drawn, but I put up with it. I even started to like it after a while--it was euphoric, and I didn't believe them when they said what was just because of the blood loss.

It was fine until I started overextending.

I used to want less--that old Buddhist spell that old man taught me one day that he said would give me everything I wanted. But then I had access to more, and I'd spend the nights massaging the spot where the needle had gone in and thinking of what else I could get. I started wanting more instead of less.

Easy access to things made me start coming to expect them instead of think of them as nice luxuries, and soon I got impatient. I'd go in before I'd fully recovered and ask for more, and of course they'd take another vial and send me on my way, pale and shaky, but feeling so much more alive for it. I ignored sincere expressions of concern--what did they know anyway?--and went to bed early, thinking of how much happier I'd be when I had the next purchase, and the next, and the next.

Then one day I collapsed on the way home, and my purchase was gone when I came to. There were paramedics there, asking what happened, and I just kept asking about whatever it was--I don't even remember now. They took me in. They looked after me. I told them the story and they said I couldn't do it anymore, and I just cried until I was asleep again.

The next morning a nice man in scrubs said, "You'll be all right," and they sent me home to a house that felt so empty.