city snow

Everyone told me that winter would take some time to arrive. It was still warm enough, with the winds cool but not cold and the skies full of rain but not snow. There would be warning. That's what everyone said. Then in one night the temperatures plummeted and the water froze and by morning the city was covered in snow and completely paralyzed. And already it was like the winter had been there forever.

That's when everyone started telling me that it wouldn't warm up soon. It would keep snowing, the temperatures wouldn't rise. Everything from this point on would be snow and ice. The roads would remain impassible until the end of time. Then in one night the temperature rose and the snow turned to rain and all the ice started melting, leaving the grimy yellow and grey slush in its wake, and by the next day even that was gone.

The trouble is, I believed them both times--that winter wasn't just around the corner, that winter would never leave. And I'm pretty sure I'll keep believing them.


wormwood, pt. 31

They had finally got into the city limits when Winston's car died. "We can walk the rest of the way. It'll be several hours but maybe it's for the best."

His efforts at optimism were, unfortunately, short-lived. His passenger said, "And what happens if we run into trouble on the road? Do we carry all your survival equipment or just hope your friend's got enough for us? What happens when we decide the car is a better shelter than the open road?"

"I guess we'd better be careful," conceded Winston. He wasn't as good at this as Rosalind. The best he could do was stick to the plan, and that was seeming more and more dubious. The idea of the boat, which once sounded like a ticket out of chaos for a while, sounded more like a ticket to becoming one of those shipwreck survival stories--without, he thought with a wry smirk, the survival part.

But waiting here wasn't going to work, and his passengers knew it. They each shouldered some of his gear and started walking through the broken city. But tempers were tight by now, and everyone was on edge. Winston tried to pick a route that would keep them away from other people, but he wasn't sure of the wisdom of this idea. What if they needed help?

But the more they walked, the more Winston found himself flinching at any sound. Stepping over piles of rubble or walking through dry grass seemed unbearably loud. On the rare occasion anyone spoke, he felt like the whole city could hear them. Maybe it could. Maybe the reason they hadn't seen anyone since leaving the car was because they were being watched, and a perfect ambush was being planned.

What felt like forever into the walk, they ran across a diner. The open sign was still blinking, and the door was unlocked. Inside, a waitress waved at them. Just outside the door sat a chalkboard bearing the legend: Special: A reprieve from the apocalypse!

As one does in strange dreams, they didn't stop to discuss or think about entering. They merely walked through the door.


worst case scenario

What could possibly happen?

I can see into the future that never was. Every time I see an event I see how it could go wrong, how it could end in a disaster--even just buying groceries, I see a future where the clerk decided that the last customer was one customer too many. I see riots, murder, fires. The whole chain of events. Lengthy courtroom scenes, jail time, death tolls, media circus.

Except in the past week, every single one of them ends exactly the same way: with the world ending. And not in different ways. Everything that could go wrong goes wrong in the exact same way. It sets off a chain of events--the same chain--that turns into the apocalypse. It doesn't matter what it is I'm looking at. Waiting for the light to change, ordering a pizza, writing a letter to my sister. It all ends with the world ending.

When it started I was a little worried that I was one mistake away from an apocalypse, but after a few days it didn't bother me anymore. With the end at hand I just can't be bothered with the senseless minutiae that make up day-to-day existence. There's so much more to the world, and so little time left to enjoy it. And so what if this newfound hedonism brings about the end? It's time I stopped being haunted by potential catastrophes and just fucking embraced one.



I dated a girl once who saw the world how it really is. That's what she always told me, anyway. What I know is that I have never known anyone who seemed quite so sad, and that was enough to make me believe her. I never thought that the happiest people in the world were the ones who were paying attention to it.

When we met, she told me who I was, and from that point on she was right. Even now, when everything else has changed, what she said right then has stuck with me, defined me, given me something to hold on to. That's what she did for people. Sometimes she'd tell them who they were, sometimes she'd tell them how things worked, and then that became more real than anything else--a little glimpse at how the world really was.

It's possible that's not how it worked. I still don't know why she started dating me, or why she stayed with me for as long as she did. Not really. She said that people helped make the world more bearable, but that doesn't explain the specifics--she never would. Any time I'd let her down she'd give me the most heartbreaking look, like she knew it was coming but she hoped that, just this once, I'd prove her wrong.

I never did prove her wrong, and one day I finally lost the chance. I hope she's found someone who could.


wormwood, pt. 30

Winston stood a few feet from the thick red sludge that moved through the riverbed, his companions a few paces further back. "Well," he said, "that certainly looks like blood."

"You think it is, though?"

"I don't know. I mean, I've read things about, like, the canonical ten plagues of Egypt and how the rivers-to-blood scenario could have been some kind of toxic algae bloom--"

"Do you really believe that, kid?"

Winston hesitated. He certainly didn't believe that the waters had actually changed to blood. And yet, he didn't believe the world was going to end this week, but--well, the evidence wasn't holding up that theory very well. "It doesn't matter. If the water here's gone bad, we need to get the hell out of here and hope it's only localized."

"And if it's not?"

"Get in the car. We'll figure it out when we get there."

They headed into the city. Rosalind had been right--there were no patrols left. But after a while they started noticing some signs of life on the road--and even passed a moving car or two. Mostly they were on foot though, sometimes in small groups and sometimes alone, and often waving for them to stop. If Winston didn't already have a reason to drive as fast as he could, he had it now.


daylight savings

It never seems like the days actually get shorter gradually, so much as one day you find yourself going out at five o'clock and it's dark, and you realize it will be that way for a long time. The afternoons are short and the harsh angles of an autumn sun make everything look more ephemeral than the leaves ever could, which sometimes seem like they never actually go away.

I am reminded of a time in the summer--on the shortest night of the year, actually. It had been raining but the sun had just come out, but we went out to the park, she and I, and climbed trees and read to each other from our favorite books. The light seemed softer than it does now--the angles, and the temperature, and everything. It's a light that feels like it will last forever, as summer so often does.

But the summer faded and so did we, and I'm left here with it getting dark at five every night and no one to go home to, no one to climb trees with or to read to. And though they always tell me autumn's short, I've never really understood why. The dark and the cold and the rain are going to be here for months. We haven't even reached the longest night yet.



But that's not why I'm lonely.

I have planted an orchard that provides an unlimited quantity of beautiful, ripe, delicious fruit. It's never out of season and it grows back as soon as someone picks it, so there's no harm in letting people wander the fields and pick and pick until they can't eat or carry any more. It's good enough to sell to the markets, and it never spoils and it doesn't cost anything more than time to gather, so I can sell it at incredibly low prices and still make a fortune. I've been the subject of considerable media attention and am seen as something of a hero, both locally and nationally. I've set up volunteer programs to gather fruit to send to the poor and the homeless.

At night I close the fields. Sometimes there will be parties in the orchard--some of the more picturesque areas of it, anyway--and they are always a success. When the merrymakers have gone, I walk alone among the trees, or sit among the remains of the evening's revelries. There is no one there to hear me or see me or watch me. Here, there is no one to tell me once again how brilliant I am, how grateful they are for what I've done, how glad that it was me and not someone else.

Maybe that should be enough. Maybe I should be happy to have some time to myself. But sometimes as the evenings wear on at the parties I find myself watching some couples talking quietly and excitedly, laughing at each other's jokes not because they are heroes but because they actually think they are funny. Some of them escape for what I'm sure they think are secret trysts among the endless rows of trees. And as I watch, I realize that I want that, too. But the only smiles and laughs I get are polite, because I am, as they always tell me, a great man. And every time I get another compliment about my work I distance myself from everyone else a little more, and I long for the loneliness of the trees just a little bit more.



I have cast off all unnecessary contact with others in order to finish my work--my masterpiece, my magnum opus. When I run out of food I shuffle out of the home--almost invariably late at night--and make purchases from the self-check-out. But I eat less and less these days. There is so much to think about, and there's no time for distractions.

My work is ever-expanding as I write and think more. New possibilities unfold before me as I ponder them and review what I already have--a turn of phrase that I hadn't paid thought to before suddenly contains the core of a beautiful idea. I often wonder if my subconscious is creating these wonderful thoughts for me, or if it is the stroke of luck. Can luck make a masterpiece? Such things keep me awake during the bare hours I allow for myself to sleep.

People still tried to call me, and I kept my phone on in case something vitally important happened, but mostly it was friends and family trying to see if I was okay. I learned to ignore their calls, which grew more frequent as time wore on. More frequent, that is, until tonight.

I have not received any phone calls to ignore. Not a single soul has tried to find out where I am, how I'm doing. I should have been glad of the chance to work without interruption, but here I am sitting here, staring at the phone, begging it to ring. There is no one out there who still wonders.


wormwood, pt. 29

After they had finished doing recon, Rosalind let Nicole drive--or at least, that's the version of events she was planning to tell anyone who challenged her on finding her curled up in the back. Originally she was taking inventory, making sure she had everything while Nicole wove her way on side streets and detours towards the waterfront. After a while she simply passed out.

She awoke, as sleeping passengers always seem to, when the car finally came to a halt, but chose to lay still for the moment, her eyes still closed. She could hear Nicole rummaging around for something. Then she opened the trunk and got out of the car. A few moments later the trunk slammed shut and she sat down on the hood. Not long after, the air smelled of cigarettes.

"Where are we?" Rosalind asked eventually.

"The waterfront. I hid the car pretty well, as far as that goes. You all right?"


"Give me your phone and I'll tell Winston where to go if he calls again. You should get some sleep."

"Right, sleep. What's it look like out there?"

"Still dark. The skyline's almost all gone, but some of it's still burning. And it looks like there's some life out there--survivors moving around. We might not be alone out there."

"That's probably a bad thing."

"Get some sleep. I've got your back."

Rosalind nodded and pulled a coat over herself and curled up tighter in the backseat. After a while the cigarette smell went away, replaced by the sound of a lonely guitar coming from not far away. And for the first time in what felt like forever, she slept easily.


who will love my ironies?

A wild ode mentioned at New West hotel over wine infusions, light, lit, lofted on very eventertaining moods, yawning in return, open nights, inviting everyone's song . . . .

There's a girl I used to know, who I guess you'd call whimsical, if anyone really used that word anymore--which they don't, which is a shame, because it's a good word. But that's what she was, and she was innocent and alive in a way that I'm not, and she liked me because I wasn't these things. I was jaded--or maybe, since we're using words nobody uses, world-weary. Like a detective in a noir film. I appreciated her joie de vivre because I did not have any, and I smiled to remember a time when I still saw poetry in the world. That's what drew me to her. She was poetry. She was something beautiful. I was just someone who'd been around too long, someone who had long ago killed and buried the young idealist I used to be.

I knew I'd only end up hurting her, but I let her in anyway. I keep saying maybe it was unavoidable, but no. I know just where I could have said no, could have changed everything. I don't think about that part of it anymore. I try not to think about her at all, but sometimes when the guests are filing out and I'm regretting opening that last beer, or when I'm getting ready for bed after a long day of distractions, I remember.

I let her in. I wish the worst I did was taint something beautiful with my cynicism, but it's always more than that. No, I ruined her. I took everything she hoped for away from her. I turned her out on the street with nothing. I heard she went home. She has her whole life ahead of her, but she has some scars to deal with first.

When I think of her at all, I wish I'd think of her more. I wish I could do something more. But if there's one thing I'm good at--one thing humans are good at--it's forgetting, until the day is over and there's no one left to help you forget. And that would be unbearable, but the morning always comes, bright and wonderful and full of opportunity to pretend nothing ever happened, especially not the things that define us.


the impossible

My colleagues are men of science. They are men who know how the world works, who have an intuitive grasp of all of its laws and impossibilities. Me, I don't believe in the impossible. I just believe in irony.

A girl brought a device in today that was impossible. She was there when I arrived, and my colleagues were trying to figure it out. Some insisted it must have been some sort of a trick. Some were, more generously, attempting to explain away the impossibility--which is to say: it wasn't a trick, we were merely deceived. She seemed to find their explanations unsatisfactory. It wasn't a trick. We weren't wrong about it. It was just a thing that couldn't be.

Eventually I asked if I could have a look. My colleagues do not respect me because I do not see the world as they believe that it is--I see it as poetry and beauty and magic, as stupid events and senseless narratives all run together. But they had quite given up. I inspected it for a while, then set it down on the table. I told them it wasn't impossible.

My colleagues demanded clarification. I turned the device on, and it worked. "You see? It's working. Clearly they did something right."


wormwood, pt. 28

The day still hadn't come some hours after Winston finally heard from Rosalind, but he was feeling in better spirits anyway. His companions had left the car and joined him on the roadside. They made a fire, and things almost felt normal for a while. He stopped worrying that everything would get even worse. He had a way out, companions, and he was reasonably certain Rosalind would actually come through. She usually did in the end.

They'd discovered a river running nearby, and Winston's companion had gone to investigate--their water supplies weren't running low, but it was never a bad thing to have more. It was at this moment that Rosalind finally called.

"Hey, it's about time."

"Yeah, okay. Did you stay put like I asked?"

"Where else would I go?"

"Well, good news. I did some recon. The freeway into town from your direction's collapsed, so even if there were patrols left they wouldn't be watching that way."

"Good news?"

"Drive on the surface streets. Go slow. There's no patrols left out there--you might even be able to loot some of their old checkpoints. Meet us at the docks. If your friend is actually trustworthy we should be able to get out of here as soon as he's ready."

Winston's companion returned at that point, holding a cup of some thick red liquid. He sat down opposite the fire and poured it out on the ground. His wife said, "What is it?"

"The river seems to have turned to blood."

Rosalind was saying, "Hello? Are you still there? Winston?"

Winston said, "I'm going to have to call you back." He hung up. "Let's drive. We've got to get out of here," he said, and he wished he believed that driving would help them accomplish that goal.