waking life

I had a dream tonight.

My dreams have been disturbing of late. Everything is on edge, a few minutes away from violence breaking out. Everyone is tense and the one thing that's clear is that nothing will be okay. By day I try to put on a smile, but I can feel the tension around me. Something is going to snap, and everything will fall apart when it does.

The worst part is I know I'm going to cause it, and I'm going to lose everything when it happens. That's not how it plays out in my dreams, but everyone else is so calm and collected. I'm the only one at the point of breaking. And that's when it all comes crashing down.

But for all that, I'm not afraid. I have this strange singularity of purpose, like nothing my fractured mind has ever felt. I know just what to do in every situation, and I'm not afraid of the fallout. This bothers me. I know I should be afraid. I should be trying to save face, to preserve my life, but I'm not. That's something that happens to other people.


lost and found

I've started calling the numbers on posters looking for missing pets and objects. Oh, I haven't found your cat, but I'd like to take you out to dinner tonight. I used to have a wallet that sounds kind of like your missing one. It might be I still have it somewhere. When I used to lose my keys, I got a carabiner and fidgeted with them all the time. I'd know as soon as I couldn't find them, then.

And so on. I had a small cache of lost things, but nobody ever seemed to be looking for them.

Mostly, they wouldn't respond. Some would just hang up, others would swear at me. But some would talk and listen. Once or twice they even agreed to meet me. I think they wondered what I wanted at first, whether I had some ulterior motive, but soon they forgot about that. We would talk about lost things.

It started, of course, with what they had lost. I'd tell them about things I'd lost in my time. My cat ran away when I was very young. I misplaced many of my favorite toys. One time, I put a magnet in a thing of silly putty, and I swear by all flowers, it vanished inside there. I looked for it for hours, though it was just a little round magnet, and there was no trace. And when I was older there have been still other things I've lost. We talked about them, too. Sometimes we thought we knew what happened. Sometimes they vanished to the whims of fate.

But that's not what we're really here to talk about. After a while, very casually, as if I'm not changing the subject at all, I'll say that a few years ago I lost a part of me that I've never got back. I talk about things that have scarred me--lost love, past mistreatment, mistakes, realizations that I can't take back. And they look at me, wondering if I'm joking. Most of them left, and I don't blame them.

One stayed behind. We came here to talk about things we've lost, she figured, didn't we? For every kitten who's run away, there's a past self we wish we still were. Once I was a boy who had never bled for someone who would not bleed back. Once she was a girl who had never spent six months in a lie. And we lost that.

The thing about lost things, she tells me, is that we're always still looking for them. They're frozen in time, just like they were before they left. Even twenty years on you still wonder if that's your kitten who just ran across the road.

I've forgotten what her poster was looking for. A wallet, some keys, a leather-bound notebook--I just know I haven't seen it. Some kid probably picked it up and wondered about it until he'd lost interest, the way I always do when I find lost things in the street. They remind me of the time when I was a boy who didn't find lost things in the street. A girl I knew took that from me, along with many other things.

I tell her I think I'm hoping that finding lost things might be the key to bringing something of mine back, and then she smiles. It's a warm smile and it encourages me, but it also fills me with the certainty that I'm entirely wrong about that. But for a little while, anyway, that's okay.


the stranger

On the bus today I realized that the world has become a completely alien place. Where before I would pass the time with people-watching, making up stories for each person I saw, today I saw a sea of empty faces. I had no idea what any of them meant, what they were like, what they should have been like. I fled the bus early and took back streets home, and found that the rows of what used to be very beautiful houses now just felt like imposing monoliths, telling me I don't belong here.

When I got home, I turned on the television and watched the evening news. I've always been a man of strong opinions on the news, but I felt only confusion as I watched. I was vaguely aware that something about the evening's events should have stirred my emotions, but I didn't actually feel anything. All I got out of it was the basic facts, bereft of feeling and context. Puzzled, I retired to my bedroom, only to find that it was no more familiar to me than a room at the Motel 6.

It's stranger still because I know I remember a time when I understood the world, when it made some sort of sense, and when I didn't retire at the end of the day feeling frightened and confused. But here I am, laying in bed, watching the lights from traffic play across the walls, and I don't remember what it was like.

I have no faith that it will get better tomorrow, but I have every confidence that I'll put on a smile and act like things are normal.



The darkest evening of the year.

When I was a kid--no older than five or six, I suppose--I cut my finger while we had a babysitter over. There was quite a lot of blood, and I was quite inconsolable. The babysitter asked me if she could kiss it and make it better, even though she knew that it wouldn't stop the bleeding. I let her, and it didn't, but I realized then--do you ever wonder about how perfect and clear some things are in childhood memories?--that she was, for lack of a better word, drinking my blood. I didn't understand, and that just made it worse.

Eventually, electrical tape and what used to be a clean rag solved the problem kissing wouldn't. I don't remember much after that. It was a singularly strange moment and it stuck with me, though. I know we had dozens of babysitters, and I don't remember most of them, but I always wondered about her as I was getting older. Raised as I was in a house with neither a mother nor sisters, she became an iconic female figure in my life, someone who would one day come in and make everything okay.

Of course, I never met her again, but I liked to imagine that the girl I dated through college looked just like her. Maybe she was a cousin or something. I never told her, of course, but I would come to her with my injuries, and she would tend to them. They were seldom bad, but after a particularly nasty accident on my bike, she was covered in my blood and insisting that I go to the hospital.

Instead I put a bloody finger to her lips, and she, understanding, kissed the blood off it, then the rest of my hand, then the oozing road rash on my legs and shoulders. Later I showered, the water flowing pink from my body, and she helped put salt on the wounds so they'd scab, and I never did get to the hospital. Some time a few months later we broke up in a quiet sort of way--no fights or official declarations, we just both realized that we hadn't seen each other in a while and didn't really want to. She never understood why, she told me years later as we met again at a class reunion.

I said that some people just drift apart, but that was a lie, like so many other things.


wormwood, pt. 33

The inside of the diner was dark, and so empty that Winston assumed at first that it had actually been deserted. But a girl who couldn't have been older than twenty greeted them cheerfully, and as his eyes adjusted to the gloom he noticed a handful of other patrons, lurking in dark corners, watching the newcomers with a detached suspicion.

For a moment it was possible to imagine that the world was not ending outside, that this was just a normal diner, that everything was going to be okay. Winston smiled at the waitress and said "three, please," and she showed them to a table and told them the day's specials like it was the most normal thing in the world.

"Of course," she said, "those have been the daily specials since the world started ending, but business has been slow so we aren't running out. You guys need a few minutes?"

They did, so she left them to reading over the menus. Winston tried not to look at his companions, afraid that one of them might comment on how strange this was. That would ruin the dream. Right now he wanted nothing more than some cheap coffee and some hideously greasy egg-based monstrosity. Worrying about safety or plausibility could come later.

As he eventually set the menu down, he noticed that the background was not music, but a news reporter talking about the situation in the world at large. Apart from the widespread rioting and natural disasters, things were bad abroad: militaries were arming and preparing to march, fueled by rumors that their neighbors had stockpiles of supplies that might help them through the worst of it.

The anchorman was starting to talk about water supplies when the waitress returned. "Have you guys decided what you want yet?"

The silence was shattered. Winston ordered his coffee and his greasy egg monstrosity and chatted with his companions and the waitress. News about the apocalypse would wait.



I've started seeing the lights flicker when they aren't. It took me a while to notice, since it happens most when it's quiet and there's nothing to distract me--no one there to tell me that the lights have been burning bright and strong this whole time. But then I asked someone if she saw the lights flickering and she said no, and since then I've had my eye out for it.

Time and again, the lights go dim--just for a fraction of a second--and time and again I ask if anyone saw that, and none of them did. I've had friends of mine who know more about electronics than I do monitor the lights and the circuits. Nothing. It's all in my head.

I notice it now without trying. For a while I tried to ignore it--it was nothing, after all--but it didn't work. I kept thinking. I kept seeing. So I started keeping track. Times, dates, what I was doing. I developed a shorthand for it, so I didn't need to waste any time to make note of it. I knew there was a pattern there, somewhere. The faltering lights were trying to tell me something. But what? I could see shapes in the data but I couldn't see how it pieced together.

I obsessed for a while, keeping all the lights on and doing nothing but keep track, until someone reminded me that perhaps the pattern had something to do with other activities. I tried to return to my daily tasks, but it was no use. The flickering distracted me too much.

In the end I settled for the one thing I knew: the lights can't flicker when it's dark. And so I surrendered to the dark, and finally knew peace again.



In the late spring of this year there was a storm. This is not altogether unusual, but as it is late autumn now--some might argue that it is already winter--and there was a storm tonight as well. Tonight, as then, there was hail, which is rare, and thunder and lightning, which is less so. But unlike tonight, in the late spring I was enjoying the company of a girl who, despite our differences, I rather liked--and envied, of course. She was my superior in many ways.

That night, just as tonight, the storm came on suddenly. It had been raining on and off all day, of course, but it came on suddenly. First we could hear the rain starting up again outside, softly at first but within a minute far more intense than any normal rain. And the winds howled and the lights flickered.

I did not lose power tonight, but we did that evening in the late spring. She had a large house. We had been enjoying some wine I remember very little about, and talking a great deal. I don't really remember about what, but I remember that my throat had been dry before she had poured us each a glass. There was a silence as the storm started. I was excited, but I did not know her well enough to interpret her expression.

Then, as now, I loved storms, and I assumed that perhaps she would be like me in that respect. I was going to kiss her then, with the sound of rain and hail pounding down around us. It would have been the first time. But the lights went out just then, and she got up, alarmed, and asked me for my flashlight.

And of course I gave it to her, and of course the moment had passed. I excused myself to my own home to see if I still had power. I didn't. I never found out if her power had returned before mine, but mine took a week. It was a cold week, but it seems to me as winter encroaches that most weeks are cold. I used to wonder why I remembered such days, but these days, I begin to understand.


rainy days

The rains had been falling for a few days, and weren't showing any signs of letting up. The radio was saying we hadn't seen the worst of it yet, and the grocery stores had already been picked clean. Anyone who wanted to leave town already had, and everyone else was holing up at home, preparing for what I'm sure they thought was the end of days. The streets were deserted. Anyone who was still out was hurrying to shelter or hiding under raincoats and umbrellas. I went out in a light windbreaker and no hat, smiling up into the falling rain like an idiot. The streets may have been filling with water, but they were mine.

I walked to my girlfriend's house instead of driving, and by the time I got there I was soaked clear through, and she asked what the hell happened. I tried to tell her--in the rain everything is beautiful and I am king, but I couldn't shape the words right, she didn't understand. She told me I was an idiot, instead.

I told her it was freeing, cleansing, and she just asked me what was I going to do with this freedom? If I was king, what was the point of it? what could I rule? and of course I didn't have any answer, because there was none. So I said it made me smile, and she said it made me cold. And she was right there, too. I spent the night shivering and wrapped in blankets, trying to imagine some good that might have come of my brief reign over the city streets.


wormwood, pt. 32

Rosalind woke feeling refreshed, and for a while wouldn't open her eyes so she could pretend she still lived in a world that wasn't ending. For that moment, she was still in their apartment, Nicole playing guitar, and everything was right with the world.

It wasn't a particularly compelling fantasy. She opened her eyes, stretched, and sat up. Nicole was on the hood of the guitar, picking at the strings with a screwdriver, lost in a world that was probably a lot more pleasant than the one everyone else currently occupied. She glanced up and smiled when she heard the car door open, but didn't stop playing. Rosalind decided to take a look around.

The car was parked pretty well out of sight, hidden in a dark place but without anything likely to collapse on top of it. This was probably ideal, as the city had picked up a fair amount of foot traffic--she could dimly see shapes moving around, and fending off looters wasn't exactly her idea of a good time.

Then again, neither was waiting. This new world was full of unpleasant things. Too many variables, not enough control over any of them.

She kicked at a pile of rubble irritably and turned back to the car. Winston had probably got lost or killed, but she was still waiting for him for some reason--because he had some harebrained plan to get out of the city on some guy's boat. A plan she was sure would fail, but which had the advantage of being a definite way out of the city and away from the rest of civilization.

If it worked. It galled her that the only alternative she could think of was "drive out of the city" more than the fact that every scenario she envisioned ended in disaster. She had to have better ideas than this. Something which might end positively for all involved.

So she paced, never straying too far from the car, and thought. So much for the benefits of a restful sleep.


the winds have changed

Desert winds are strong, but they're not strong enough.

The winds here blow us temperate weather from the sea. Sometimes it's cold and stiff, but even in the biggest windstorms it's not enough to sweep away my regrets or cover up the past. I often worry about that. I've tried all sorts of rituals to give the winds the power to carry memories away--most of them turned out to be nothing more than old wives' tales and meaningless folklore.

I think I kept trying mostly just out of habit. So when the winds shifted from the west to the north, I was surprised, but not hopeful. And then I noticed that the winds were really working as I'd wanted. They were powerful gusts, and bitter cold. They drove everyone from the streets.

They made me forget. Finally, I was at peace. I smiled at night as the winds howled and the lights flickered, while others boarded up their windows and prepared for the worst.

But the winds blew something else with them. People started wandering north, and they couldn't even tell you why, following the whistle of the wind, going ever farther until they found themselves in lands which the summer doesn't touch. They'd settle down there, having forgotten everything but their desire to live here in the taiga.

They would be mourned, but briefly. Those left behind would forget about them soon, too.



I've been working on a new project. It doesn't really fit here, so updates have been slow. I'd apologize but I'm sure you could use a break.

The rain shouldn't be this warm, but there's not a lot you can do about reality when it happens. I go outside without a coat on and let the rain soak me and instead of shivering in the cold, it's warm like rain in the summer is warm. And the temperatures are still in the 40s outside and it should feel colder than this. But it doesn't.

Nobody else seems to believe me. They only go out when they have to, and they're still protected from it, they're still carrying umbrellas and wearing coats. They hurry like it's still cold, and when I ask if they can feel how warm it is, they say they try not to feel it at all.

People look at me like I'm a crazy person, or, sometimes, with pity. They say things like "I'd hate to be dressed like that in this weather." And I wish I could tell them how warm it is, but they wouldn't believe me. They need to go out there and experience it for themselves. Then they'd know.

But as it stands, the winter came and it brought an impossible warmth, and I'm the only one who knows about it.



The coldest night I've ever experienced happened in the winter several years ago. There were record low temperatures across the state, and I'd been spending the evening with a girl who I'd been friends with for many years, and hadn't seen for a year or two. Neither of us knew about the pending cold snap that night, so we both had light coats.

We were eating at a nice Italian place a few blocks from her place, and we both had more wine than was probably wise. The sun set quickly, as it does in the winter. It was a few blocks from her place. It was ridiculously cold, and we hurried back to her place to warm up. She made hot chocolate with coffee liqueur. We drank and laughed and looked up weather reports which kept calling the cold here "historic." I told her I wondered what that meant.

We started kissing on the couch then--we never had before--and then at some point I mumbled something about needing to go home. She told me I could stay if I wanted, with all the subtext that implied. I made up some excuse about needing to tend to something at home, like making sure the pipes hadn't frozen or something like that. And I put my coat on and left.

It was a long walk home and I was ill-prepared for the temperatures. My hands and feet were frostbitten by the time I got to my house, and I spent the evening wrapped in blankets and shivering, wondering what I was running away from.