I thought I was getting something to hold on to, right until I had to let go.
There were actual monsters under my bed when I was a kid. That's always been the official story, as it were. They were really there. If I stopped believing, that meant I'd lost something. It's not even that I liked my childhood much, but I refused to let go of it. I couldn't tell anyone, but I still believed in monsters coming out of the dark. I shut the door quickly and I hid under the covers when the lights were out.
My girlfriend finally cured me of this childhood fear of monsters, and I couldn't forgive her for it. She didn't know she was doing it, of course, because some things are meant to be secrets, but she liked waking me up in the mornings by jumping on the bed, and eventually I got used to it. I'd laugh instead of wake up in a panic, sure that they'd finally got me.
And I stopped jumping at sudden noises in movies, or even loud noises in general. I always used to startle so easy. It's gone now. Another little trait I couldn't hold on to. She's changed me. There are no monsters anymore. The darkness holds no mysteries. Some nights I don't even bother turning off the lights, because where's the fear? What's the point?
I used to love being alone, because of that fear. That was where I was most alive. She's gone now, though, and now instead of being afraid I just feel lonely. I've tried to pretend there are still monsters, but instead of terrifying hell beasts they're just like me: sad things in the dark that really just want to not be alone anymore.
I thought I was getting something to hold on to, right until I had to let go.
She liked to walk the city alone at night, hidden in the shadows, finding things no one had ever found--or at least that most people never did. Noticing things no one ever noticed. That was her. And when she saw something beautiful she would call me or text me. Nothing more than three words each time--a location, and three words:
Come and see.
I'd always try to. She'd always show me things worth seeing--sometimes more beautiful than anything, sometimes horrible things that no one was ever meant to see. We never kissed, but she'd take my hand and say, "Do you see?" And sometimes I'd nod. Sometimes I wouldn't know what to do.
She stopped calling eventually. I never had the nerve to ask if she was okay, if she'd moved on, if she'd lost interest. I assumed the silence meant something, or, possibly, that it meant nothing at all. I changed phones. I lost her number. I forgot about her, or very nearly.
Then, one night after I'd been drinking and watching bad movies at home, I got another text message. It contained, as ever, a location and three words:
Come and see.
I mumbled an excuse and wandered off, grabbing my bike and riding through the empty streets until I reached the docks, where there was a girl standing at the edge of one of them. I joined her and said something like "Hey."
And she said, "Come and see," and she pointed.
The water held some sort of creature, something with a massive gaping maw, like some sort of creature from the deepest blackest parts of the sea. It was crying. It had come here to die. And she took my hand like she always used to and we just watched as it stopped struggling.
It would wash onto the shore a week or so later. I was there when it did, all horrible and rotten and bloated. I wasn't sure if I should feel sad, but I knew I had to tell someone else to come and see.
There is some sort of monster living in my basement. It's a horrible, slimy thing that looks like it's never seen the light of day--and maybe it hasn't--with a huge gaping maw and terrible grasping claws. I saw it when I was going down to put all my winter coats away for the season, dropped the box and slammed the door and sat there in the stairwell for what felt like hours, just breathing.
I opened the door and shone my flashlight in. It was just sitting there, watching me with horrible eyes that were never meant to be seen by human eyes. I turned the light on and it started howling like it was in pain, so I turned it back off. "It's okay," I said, and immediately felt stupid for saying it. It's just a monster. It doesn't even speak English, even if I was concerned about its well-being.
Still, eventually I went from being afraid of it to getting used to it and eventually valuing its company. It was like a pet, except I apparently didn't need to feed it or take care of it. Sometimes it would just be gone when I'd go down there. Mostly though, it would be there, and I'd sit down nearby and turn off my flashlight and just talk to it. It never made a sound but I felt like it liked having me down there.
I didn't tell my girlfriend about it. She never went down there anyway and she would probably just be upset. I didn't want to upset anything.
I came home one day to the sound of screaming from the basement--nothing human could make that noise. I ran down to see what was going on. Some kid in a hazmat suit was there, wielding a rake over the enormous carcass of the beast. He was splattered in something that was probably blood, but black and smoking.
"Looks like you had something living in the basement. Your ladyfriend called me in and I took care of it."
"It's . . . dead?"
"Yeah. We'd been looking for this one for a long time! He seemed to like it here for some reason. Good thing your lady needed something from down here, huh?"
"Yeah. Good thing."
He drove off in his little truck, hauling off the body. Only some little smoking patches of blood remained in the basement now.
For J___, who dealt with me when I was being a little odd.
Someone has been living in my house.
At first I thought my mind was just going--my food was emptying faster than I thought it should have, some of the other things I had were going away. But I started keeping track and found that someone was definitely taking it, and set up cameras. She lives in the attic and comes down when I'm out or when I've gone to sleep at night.
I asked my friends about it and they said I should call the cops or go up into the attic and do something about it, but that felt wrong. She was living just the same as I was, wasn't she?
Instead I left her a note when I went out. "Hi. I'm going to the store tomorrow. Do you want anything? -RM."
I came home to a note saying "Thanks for asking, but I'm happy with whatever."
We exchanged notes for a while. I never asked what she was doing in my attic, and she never offered to answer, so it worked out okay. We talked about lots of things. It gave me something to look forward to when I got home, since she'd always answer, and she was nice. She felt trustworthy.
I hinted that maybe we should actually meet in person one time, and she just ignored that comment, so I dropped the subject. I'd seen her on camera enough times, but I figured there was probably a reason. There's always a reason.
The notes stopped one day. I checked everywhere and there wasn't anything there. There was nothing on the cameras. No one had touched any of my food. I even went up to the attic and there was nobody there. She was gone, just like she'd never existed.
That was a terrible idea.
I'd been dreaming about her for weeks. I don't even know why--she was never anyone special to me. I didn't really even know her. We'd had coffee once or twice, sort of on accident, and for a while I couldn't stop thinking about her.
Then I moved on, because obsessions always end, and mostly forgot for months and months. Then the dreams started again and I couldn't figure out why. They were never nice dreams. She was crying and there was nothing I could do, or I'd say hello and she'd start swearing at me, telling me to go away. Sometimes they were long, intricate dreams where everything was falling apart, slowly but faster than I'd like.
I didn't expect to run into her the other day. I was outside with a cigarette and she came out to smoke, and she looked at me like she maybe recognized me but wasn't actually sure. I wasn't sure if it was real--I'm still not--but I started talking to her anyway.
It didn't go like it did in the dreams. The sense of everything collapsing was still there, but nothing actually did. It was a completely normal, unremarkable conversation, and it made me terrified. So when I said "hey, we should go get coffee sometime," and she actually gave me her number, I could think of nothing else to do but flee.
Now I've still got this scrap of paper with ten numbers written on it, and her name. It's in handwriting that looks like mine.
We walked along the desolate fields under the light of the moon. The town had never looked so dead as it did then, nor had the field been so quiet during the wind. She didn't say anything for the entire walk, except to occasionally point out landmarks--which farmer used to own which field.
Eventually we made our way to a church and sat on its steps. After several minutes of silence, she said, "I don't think I can take this. I always hated this place. Now it's dead and it's even worse."
"So you want to leave?"
"I guess. Can we go in the morning? I want to say goodbye to my folks."
We walked back to her house and went to sleep. In the morning her parents woke us to let us know breakfast was ready. She talked to them for a while--not about the locusts at all, but just about little things going on in her life, their plans for the summer, and so on. It wasn't my conversation, so I spent most of breakfast reading.
Eventually I heard, "We've got to get back home today. I wish I could stay longer, but--"
"Oh, we understand. Come back soon, okay? You'll be missed."
I helped her pack her things and we drove home in silence.
My girlfriend kept turning over in her sleep that night, so I went down to the living room to finish my book instead. Her mother was there, just staring out the window. She smiled at me automatically and I set my book on the coffee table and said "Hello."
"How is she doing?"
"She's okay, I think. I'm trying not to pry."
I felt something more was expected, so I said something like "How are you?"
"Well, we've always had a fair bit tidied away for a rainy day, so I guess we'll manage without the farm." She sighed. "It's so unexpected though. I think that's the worst part of it. You can't get used to it. I keep thinking we've got work to do, but no, that's all gone now."
We talked for a while about trivial things then, and she decided to go to bed. I tried to read but by then I was too tired, so I went back upstairs. As I lay down my girlfriend said, "Hey."
"Hi. Couldn't sleep?"
"Did you decide if you wanted to go home?"
"Want to go for a walk?"
She didn't answer for what felt like forever. Then, "Yeah, okay."
I was visiting my girlfriend's hometown the other day and it was attacked by locusts. They were huge. The swarm was huge. I couldn't see an end to it.
They ate everything. It was just a little farming village with a population of maybe a few hundred. Everyone was out trying to help, trying to seal off their houses and their silos and trying to make sure that something survived, that this wouldn't ruin their town forever. The noise of the insects was terrible, but the worst was the sound of the farmers. This was what human despair sounds like.
I stayed in my girlfriend's second story bedroom, trying to read. I couldn't shut out the noise. She asked me to come help, and I said "What can I do?" and she didn't even respond. Just ran out the door and said "Then stay there."
She came back in some hours later, looking like she'd just fought the world and the world won. She collapsed on the bed next to me and stared up at the ceiling. I don't think she even looked at me. I walked over to the window. "Still no end in sight," I said.
"Want to go home when they're gone?"
"What if my family needs me?"
We didn't say anything until it was all gone--faster than we'd expected--and she turned on her TV to the news. The attack got a mention in the little ticker bar at the bottom, but nothing else. She turned it off after a while. "They don't even care. My home just got destroyed and they don't even care."
"You know how the news gets."
"I honestly don't know if I even care."
"Do you want to go home?"
"I need some time to think about it, I guess."
I shrugged and picked my book up again. Now the noise had died down I could finally get some peace and finish reading.
From something Erika Broad wrote.
Last night was the sort of night where I wandered so far and to so many places I didn't really know where I was anymore. My friends took their cabs back to their respective homes before I could think to ask where we actually were. It was late and I'd had a few drinks too many and the world was spinning so I just walked away from the bar until I found a bus stop with a bench, and sat down and closed my eyes and let the world spin.
Eventually it was later and I must have fallen asleep because I was laying down on the bench and then there was someone saying something like "Hey, do you know where Broad Street is?"
"No idea, sorry."
"Come on, you can't get rid of me that easy."
"I really don't know." I still didn't know where I was. The bus stop said it was the 26. It wouldn't be running for hours. I almost knew where that one went, even. He kept hassling me, accusing me of lying to him, threatening me. Eventually I gave him bad directions--or maybe they worked, who knows?--and fled before he could come back and punish me for lying.
I should have been scared or a little bit worried, but instead I just felt less alone. This guy's in the same boat I am, and somehow that makes it all right.
I had a dream tonight.
I dreamt she was still here, but part of me knew she was already gone. It was the sort of "gone" that became a physical distance. If she was out of town I had to drive to that town. If she was in the tower I had to climb the tower. And I'd get there and then, as dreams do, things would move on and she'd be gone again. I had no choice but to continue to chase after her, and she could be nothing besides remote, distant, unattainable, gone.
I dreamt we were on a roller coaster in some hellish theme park, and I wanted her to be there, next to me, but there was this metal barrier between us, cold and uncomfortable. She smiled at me as if she knew that this was the way it would always have to be. The roller coaster went into a dark tunnel and I started awake.
I dreamt I was driving on the freeway, and I kept trying to take her exit but there was traffic in the way or the exit would be closed, there would be nothing but a big orange "detour" sign. And I'd just keep driving around, looking for a way. I got lost and the streets turned into a labyrinth.
The dream shifted, as dreams do, and I was walking in the labyrinth of streets and impossibly tall buildings. It was familiar. It was home. But she was here somewhere and I didn't know where. I was looking for her. I called her name--a name I won't repeat here, have sworn not to repeat again--and the sound of my voice echoed in the twisting streets, and made it into some terrible howl. When I found her at last, she fled from me. What could I do but follow?
She fled right into the arms of a man I don't remember, finishing a tape arrow, a spool of fishing line trailing behind him. "Help me," she said. "Help me." He was carrying a rifle and opened fire at me. The first shot missed, so I charged. The second shot hit my shoulder, but I kept coming. I was stronger than that, I realized then. I was stronger than anything. I ripped the rifle from his hands and jumped on him and punched him in the head over and over, effortlessly, like he was a doll, like he wasn't even that. I beat him until he was senseless and bleeding, and then I got up and started kicking him in the skull and in the stomach, just howling with incoherent rage.
Then I heard the rifle again, a split-second before there was agonizing pain all over, and everything turned red, and I was on the ground, and there she was, quivering, still aiming at me. She fired again, and the ensuing dark became the dim red numerals of my alarm clock, flashing midnight over and over.
I'm trying to make sense of things lately, but it's hard to do when everything's all neat and orderly. How do you make sense of something that already makes sense? I think there's just no place for me in a rational and structured universe.
It's not anyone else's fault, really. I just can't tell the difference between moments, since everything is so perfectly orderly and so utterly the same. It's like reading binary. I can't do it. It's just a blur of symbols that convey no information to me, though I'm sure there are others who make perfect sense of it. There's no poetry to a rational universe and poetry's the only way I can think.
But the world keeps happening even if I can't understand any of it or tell the difference between tomorrow and yesterday. It's all too much, and none of it is beautiful or colorful or poetic. Or not in any way I could possibly understand.
The city has been perfectly silent recently. At night the constant sound of cars driving by has just stopped--that's where it all really started. I used to go to sleep to the white noise from the city, but now there's just the occasional rustling of the breeze. No cars, nothing. And it's not just the night. Out walking during the day, the cars don't make any sound at all. A busy street and there's not even the occasional sound of engines and tires--just the breeze, and that's it.
I've been asking around. If they hadn't noticed it already anyone I talk to says it has been quiet, now that I mention it. The sounds have just stopped. It's as peaceful as anything out there now, and it feels weird. Like it's four in the morning all the time, like the streets are completely empty even when they're not--so long as you've got your eyes shut or you aren't looking, you could convince yourself this is all there is.
And maybe it is. Maybe it's all there's ever been. Maybe everyone I'm talking to about it is just crazy--it wouldn't be the first time.
I read somewhere that the thing with insects and lights has something to do with the moon. Something like they think that the bright lights in the sky are the moon and they fly towards it, then they just get there and buzz around it forever, because what the hell is an insect going to do once it's got to the moon?
It's dark and there's a little bug on my monitor, who probably thinks he's found some forgotten paradise but isn't sure how to turn it on. Or maybe that's just me reading too much into it? I just want to know there's someone else out there, even if it's just a bug.
I've got this ticket to Chicago to see the girl I left there. Ostensibly we're going to see a concert--and that's all we have planned. I just can't help hoping something more will happen. Or not even hoping. I'll catch myself thinking that it's somehow possible, or even likely. It's not, of course. There's a reason she's there and I'm not. We've both moved on.
And here's me with a ticket. I guess I'll just get there and hang around until I've overstayed my welcome, because what the hell is a moth going to do once it's got to the moon?
She always dreamed of a life on the run. Not because it was exciting or glamorous, but because on the run was the only place she felt she could ever be free--all she knew at home was restriction and judgment. One day she finally did. It was frequently exciting, though never glamorous.
She took a bus across state lines and found work at a restaurant that wasn't really worried about asking questions like how old she was. She stayed with other people on the run, the sorts of people her parents told her not to associate with, or would have if they'd known it was a possibility.
The idea of "home" never really came back to her until she ran into her picture on the internet. It was a school photo, one she hadn't seen but instantly hated when she did. And there was something about that: the only picture they had of her that was recent enough to merit showing was this one. For all the time she spent at home there were no other pictures of her. No real record she'd ever even been there.
Maybe she could go back one day. For now, she snapped a few pictures of herself in the bathroom mirror and emailed them to her family, with the text: "I like these better."
As I slept last night, I transformed into some sort of grotesque--still human, but warped and deformed and weird and terrifying. But nobody understands what I'm saying when I ask them about it. "You look fine," they say. Even my sister--the one person I thought I could still trust. But I saw the looks they were giving me. I've become a monster and no one wants to tell me about it.
I'm left to conclude that they want me around for some reason--they don't want me to run off and hide, to retreat into the dark where monsters like me belong. They're willing to endure the terror that looking at me brings to keep me around. But to what end? What could a creature like me have to offer?
I've decided to leave before I can find out. I can sleep on the rooftops at night and find a place to hide by day. I can haunt the streets like a ghost, until I finally become one.
My girlfriend left the window open last night and a spider got in.
I've always been afraid of spiders. She was out working all day; I spent most of the day watching old episodes of The Prisoner and occasionally glancing at the spider, which had taken up residence just above the door. I was going to go out, but the spider had other plans for me. I could have gone through the window or something, I guess, but it never occurred to me. I was trapped--at least until she got home.
Which she did at about six. The spider didn't move when she opened the door. I told her about it as she walked in and she got rid of it--got him on a postcard from her parents and let him go out the window she'd left open before. Then she said, "All settled, I guess."
The end of the world looks something like this:
It's not the disasters that spell out the end. That's just a coincidence, or maybe it's just someone having fun. Someone trying to distract me from the real problem. Actually, it's the little things. I should have noticed it months ago, but I'm only just figuring it out.
Nothing has gone right, and I thought it was just bad luck. There was a girl I really, truly, should have loved, but instead I let her go, and convinced myself not to cry when I watched her get on the last train home. There were little coincidences--not always disastrous or even bad, but never good. Always something that at least leaves me a little sad or a little wistful or a little nostalgic--and that always leaves me with a little less hope.
They've all been signs that everything is coming to an end. I was too busy worrying about earthquakes and oil spills and volcanoes and storms to notice--the end really is here. I can do anything I want, and it will end in disaster, because the whole world is going to end in disaster soon. I may as well make the best of it.
There's a spider bite on the back of my hand. It was there when I woke up a few days ago and it's just slowly getting worse. For the most part I just keep it out of sight--people tend to freak out when they see it. I've heard some variation on "you should get that looked at" far too many times in the past couple days. I'd wear gloves but it itches like hell.
I know it won't kill me, though. Not like that, anyway. But sometimes when I'm having conversations there will just be this sound like a sudden downpour, and it'll drown out everything else, and my hand starts throbbing and it's all I can do to keep from screaming until it passes, after what feels like an eternity. And then they'll ask something like "what's wrong?" and I'll just smile and say "nothing" and we act as if nothing happened. But the fear is still there. One day I won't be strong enough.
My girlfriend asked me this morning why I've been cleaning so much lately, and I almost told her--but the rain came back and when it was gone she'd forgotten the question. I just want to find the spider. Not even to kill it, but maybe to understand.
My best friend in elementary school had a junkyard. All these old tractors and cars just sitting there, all rusty-edged and rotten. We played on them, imagining them to be fortresses, military vessels of all sorts. We imagined a lot in those days, and it was this weird shared vision, based on the stupidest things--even on Asteroids, once, long ago. I never worried about the rusty edges, though my parents warned me time and time again to be careful.
I went back this weekend. I don't know where he's gone--we lost touch and to be honest I'm not even sure I want to get back in touch. The junk is still there, though, just like I remembered it. Maybe a little older, but I guess that's the way everything goes eventually. I climbed onto one of the bigger machines--still don't know what it was--and stood at the wheel, looking out over my little empire of sagebrush and junk. The memories came back like little jagged shards of broken rusty metal. There was a time that I could stand here and feel something besides nostalgia, but it was forever ago. I've lost that now. All I've got left are words.
There's a spider crawling under the steering wheel. She's made a little web there. A whole life. There was probably one there when we were kids, too. I wouldn't have paid it any mind then, but this weekend I just knelt there and stared as she just sat there, completely motionless, waiting for insects that, for all I'd ever know, would never come.
Every time I've been happy in the past several weeks I've blacked out. I couldn't remember a second of it until it was gone, and there's nothing to show for it but the ache of the muscles in my face from smiling, the vague memory of laughter, the glint in the eyes of others.
But I'm not the sort of man who would live in ignorance in exchange for happiness. Once I figured it out, once I was sure of the cause, I decided to stop being happy. It was hard--it took alienating my love, at least for now, avoiding the things that I enjoy doing. But what am I if I don't have my memories? Was I ever even conscious if I don't remember what I did?
It has been--will continue to be--problematic. Isolation doesn't work. I can amuse myself with my own thoughts, and the temptation to find something to pass the time is too great when I bore myself. So I pick fights, I encourage the worst in my love. It's so depressingly easy to do with someone who trusts you. And that even worked for a while. The guilt, the anger, the depression--who could smile like that?
But first I learned to ignore it, to laugh in spite of myself, and I'd black out again--and it was like all my work was wasted. It kept her faith in me alive, which made it even easier to manipulate, to make her make me angry.
Then I came to enjoy it. The pain I caused, the pain she caused me--I liked it. I wanted it to continue. And I didn't know how to stop that, and more and more of my time I'd find had utterly slipped my mind. I was conscious of less and less.
When she left I thought maybe I'd regain control, but that wasn't true, either. In my forced isolation days would go by when I would remember nothing at all--wallowing in my own misery, my fantasies getting away with me. Nothing to mark the passage of time but the growth of spiderwebs in my closet. And then one day I started dusting those, and I even lost track of that.