this year

I. February sometime, the best show I've ever seen, flirting with the girl next to me: passing notes, brushing against one another on accident. I never hear her voice, and lose her at the counter where I checked my bag. I bike home in perfect weather, my ears ringing.

II. October. New teeth. I walk home smiling, unaware that my mouth is full of blood.

III. Finally, a windfall. A new bike, wizard blue.

IV. No spring. Every year I identify the first day of spring as that day when suddenly everyone is done wearing winter clothes. Everyone is so beautiful on the first day of spring, and the gloom of winter seems gone forever. But this year we get no spring.

V. New Year's Day. I start the year bleeding and broken, drinking whiskey through shattered teeth, or trying, watching movies about the adrift and purposeless. "Where are you going?" I wish I knew.

VI. A spontaneous wrestling match. I lose.

VII. What the fuck happened to my arm?

VIII. My sister is coming home.

IX. "You're always smiling. Are you happy?" That question, that statement. It's hounded me for years. It reminds me of the most important thing anyone has ever told me. I do not know the answer.

X. I walked away. I kept going. That is enough.

XI. I laugh at the wrong things. I am afraid of the wrong things.

XII.The worst has happened and I'm still here. You have no idea the calm that brings.

XIII. Summer came late.

XIV. I never knew how much you bothered me until I saw you walking out the door and I could not keep from smiling.

XV. Caught on the Hill in a snowstorm.

XVI. I would forgive you, but I can never forgive myself.

XVII. Trying to rebuild my self. Patient, calm, content, at ease. In order to do this I am impatient, restless, unsatisfied, uneasy.

XVIII. I miss you.

XIX. I am leaving 2011 behind me. There are no expectations, no plans, no resolutions. I am taking 2012 on its own terms. Happy New Year.


a horoscope

A life unfolded in the stars:

She will not have a happy childhood, but who does? Children are meant to be unhappy. She will make decisions that her peers will laugh at, because at a young age we are taught to fear the Other. She will not fear the Other. She will play with toy cars and wear her hair short and scrape her knees and laugh and cry. When she experiences the soul-shattering hardship of losing her father she will become withdrawn, but she will determine to be strong from that day on.

Though for many children, the mockery of their peers might convince them to conform, maybe even to mock the Other that once they were, she will not. She will take the pain and make it hers. As she grows older she will have close friends, but not many of them--she will alienate many, because her standards will be impossible. And while she will be quick to forgive others, she will never forgive herself.

This regret will haunt her through her teens. Everyone she gets close to will remind her of someone else that she pushed away. The idea of closeness, the idea of friendship, will become too much for her to bear. Perhaps a close friend will survive her forced distance, but just as likely, she will be alone, surrounded by people for whom she feels no genuine warmth or affection. The artifice of it all will make her furious, but she will learn true self-reliance before she is finished with high school.

College is always said to be a time for experimentation, for reinventing oneself, but if there is one thing she will already have by then, it is a self. A real, solid self. This is a treasure she will cling to as she submits to the pressures that surround her, and the reason she never loses control. She will date someone without that solid sense of self, or maybe even several someones. That someone will cling to her sense of self. She will leave them adrift without an anchor, like a religious person suddenly stripped of their god.

She will have no time for religion. She has no time for people who are certain of anything. She will question everything. She will continue to alienate people with the conviction she has in her self, with her inability to forgive herself, with her refusal to be patient with those who don't meet her standards.

Sometimes she will wish that she had learned to rely on someone else, or wonder if she would have been better served learning to be happy rather than learning to survive. But, as they say, call no man happy till he dies--and she can go to her rest knowing exactly who she was.


administrative note

[This blog has been silent lately because I'm working on a new project, Vaudeville Ghosts (And Other Haunted Tales). Updates here will probably resume soon, but in the meanwhile, why not check out Vaudeville Ghosts and let me know what you think? -the author.]


wormwood, pt. 38

I might need to tangle myself in the degenerate plant of a strange little vine.

Meanwhile, in the subway tunnels, Rosalind and Nicole drank. At first the sound of the meteors impacting the city above worried them, but the warm glow of the absinthe soon took what fear they had away. They drank until the world made sense--at least, as much sense as it can when viewed through a filter of wormwood.

"This," Rosalind declared at length, "is stupid."

"I wasn't planning on getting smart, Rose."

"Not that. Though that too." Rose sighed. "Plans and apocalypses. The world is over no matter what we do. So we're just running around like, like--"

"Chickens with our heads cut off?"

"Like chicks with our heads cut off. Except prettier, in your case. But the point is, what's the point?"

"Not having our heads cut off, maybe?"

"You are making making a point very difficult, Nicole."

"Sorry, Rose."

"My point is, uh." Rosalind frowned. "What was my point, Nicole?"

There was a long pause before Nicole responded. "Less hiding, less running around, less planning. The end is here and we are fucked and it is time to make the rest of our time the best fucking time we can make it. Your point is you are too wonderful to waste all your time thinking of a way out of this when there is no way out of this."

"Yeah, that." Pause. "Do you want to wait it out here, or should we follow the rails and see where that goes?"

"Sometimes I don't think you listen to your ideas very much."

"Hey, bite me. It's hard to pay attention to my ideas when you're the one telling me what they are."


forget about me

You never told me your secrets, so I guess they stayed safe with me.

It's a funny thing when an evening of seething misanthropy ends with that odd reminiscing over old times and opportunities I couldn't have missed because I never even had them. A girl across the ocean who never quite confessed her secrets, who loved the words that I wrote in a way that most people didn't, who loved my ironies. Everything always comes back to the same things in the end, even if we forget about them for years.

But there were always oceans in the way, so there were just words--important words, perhaps, words that stayed in my subconscious, but just words. Words, stories, fables, and the curious comfort of a definite answer to a 'what if?' And then one day there was nothing at all. And I wondered, but there's no good wondering.

But nobody else was able to grasp those things I was too afraid to actually express. So I hid and I obfuscated and everyone else just assumed I was saying something profound. I never was, of course, and I'll never forget the woman who called me out on it.


why i'm lonely

I. She worries that it is too soon to call. Is it too soon to call? Is there even such a thing anymore in these days when we all have our cell phones with us all the time? She decides that she will call him after she finishes her beer.

II. A pen and ink. Some paper. A written apology. She deserves nothing less. The words come quickly:

We both said some hurtful things tonight. I lost my temper. I'm sorry. But I have spent so much time in my life being something less than sincere, apologizing for telling the truth, and I am done with that. I could have phrased it more delicately, but I want you to know that there is no excuse for what you have done, and just as I cannot apologize for calling you out, I cannot forgive you for it.

I know I cannot send this letter. I know that I have to finish it.

III. She laughs at my jokes, sincerely. In a world of polite laughter she finds me genuinely funny. So much happened tonight, but at the Port Authority bus terminal late that night, as the haze of cheap wine fades and I wait for a 3 am bus home, I can still hear her laughter.

IV. She opens another beer and decides to start watching some French film on Netflix. After that, perhaps. There's always after that.

V. We are drunk together and kissing in the street--on the hoods of cars, in the abandoned park. I am ostensibly walking her home. "My boyfriend is out of town," she says, and I feel guilty that I don't feel guilty, and then feel guilty for declining her invitation to come inside.

VI. Another movie, another beer, and now it's fast approaching midnight. Nobody actually goes to bed before midnight anymore, but you can't call people that late. And now she's missed the window, she is certain, and she can never call him now.

VII. Am I depressed, or just afraid of everything? Does it matter?

VIII. We had a beautiful thing for a very short period of time, and then it faded like city snow. Now it is over, I try to convince myself that, like snow, this was meant for the country, to cover the hills of New England for months, until something green and beautiful and alive springs from under it. We could have made the rivers flood, if only the city hadn't been in our way.

IX. In order to become a patientsincere man, I have lost all patience. I will not be conciliatory when I should be fighting. I will not apologize when I should be demanding apology. I will not compromise my values to make someone else happy. Tonight I have no company but a bottle of dark beer and a movie on Netflix. This is what victory looks like now.


wormwood, pt. 37

Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter while the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

Winston made a decision when he saw the smoking crater outside. He decided that there was nothing that would make him decide to sit on a boat in the middle of the ocean while the stars were falling from the sky--although, he corrected himself, they weren't actual stars, it was probably just a freak meteor storm. That kind of thing must happen sometimes.

He tried calling Rosalind, but her phone didn't even ring. He decided that she was probably dead, along with Nicole. He decided that he would stay here. When he announced this to his companions, they did not welcome the news.

"Are you crazy, kid? This city's falling to bits. We need to get out of here."

"And hope that was the only meteor falling tonight?"

The man hesitated. "I'd rather be outside than in when they fall. Buried alive is no way to go. And you can see 'em coming."

"Then go."

"Not without this." The man hefted the bag of things Winston had been carrying, along with that of himself and his wife. "As compensation for our wasted time."

"Fine! Take it!" He considered calling Rosalind and mentioning that his companions had robbed him--but the phone would still be dead, wouldn't it? She was probably dead still. That took some getting used to. How could that even happen? "If you're boat's even still there," he said quietly.

The man fled. His wife lingered to add, "I hope you make it. You seem like a nice boy." Then she, too, was gone, leaving Winston with his new companions, who were already moving to take shelter in the basement.


wormwood, pt. 36

Getting there.

Rosalind had made a few decisions before calling Winston. The first was that she would not wait here forever--the second was that she would get out of the city even after he showed up. Nicole had stopped playing and was simply sitting on the hood, watching the horizon, saying nothing. This was up to her, whatever else happened. The more she thought, the more she hated the idea of the boat--it was a trap. She'd have nowhere to explore, and when things went bad, nowhere to run. And she didn't trust Winston's assessment of the situation.

So she told him he had two hours. This was before a meteor fell from the sky and crashed just ahead. The impact toppled a building that had miraculously still been standing since the earthquake. "Gotta go," she told him, and hung up the phone.

Nicole was already on her feet by the time Rosalind ran up to her. "Fuck, what was that?"

Rosalind shrugged. "I think stars falling from the sky are traditional in the end times. So, new plan. Forget Winston. We find shelter--and I know just where. Take everything you can carry, and we run for it. The car's just asking for trouble."

They loaded up everything they could carry and ran through the streets. They found shelter in a transit tunnel, settled down in the dark down there, and listened to the silence. The trains had long stopped running, and these tunnels were just lying empty now.

"What are we going to do now, Rose? There's nothing down here."

"Maybe we can rebuild civilization together?"

Nicole snorted. "I'm not sure that's how it works."

"Well, this is as safe as we'll get in this city. And we can follow the tracks out of the city well enough. We're bound to find a better place out of this pit."

"Yes, but what are we doing right now? Telling knock-knock jokes?"

"Do you have any good ones?"

"No. But I have this bottle of absinthe. Clean, sober living hasn't been doing me any favors lately, so I think I'm going to stop that."

"I knew I kept you around for a reason. Ah, my kingdom for an absinthe spoon."


wormwood, pt. 35

You might remember wormwood from a year or so back. Why not start at the beginning?

By Friday evening, Winston had been welcomed into the strange little culture the diner had developed. They did not, he was aware, have much of a long-term plan for survival. But they had stockpiles of food and supplies--more than just the diner should have. Each of the patrons and employees had brought a little something, and Winston's camping gear was welcomed.

His companions, meanwhile, had slowly been pushed to the edges. They had been complaining about the delay since it became apparent that Winston was not very keen on pressing on. It seemed strange to Winston. The world was ending anyway. Why not spend the rest of it in a little haven like this? They had a base to work from here. They could scrounge and forage. Maybe, he allowed himself to imagine, this would be the diner that rebuilt civilization.

Someone had changed the radio station from a news station to something that was, improbably, still broadcasting classic rock. At the moment it seemed to be broadcasting exclusively Led Zeppelin, and Winston had not noticed a single tasteless joke about the apocalypse in the meanwhile.

His cell phone rang, and he guiltily remembered Rosalind. "Hello, Rosie."

"Don't call me that. Where are you?"

"Um, we're at this diner. We got hungry, I guess. It's, uh." He strained his memory of the city. "Three or so miles from the waterfront. But listen, I'm not sure about--"

"If you are not here in two hours I will personally hunt you down," said Rosalind over the phone. "But not before I find this boat of yours and scuttle it. I'll gnaw through the hull with my teeth if I have to. Then I will see that you are stranded in this doomed city until the world's ending, which, admittedly, may not be a very long time."

"Ran out of steam there, huh?"

"I'm tired."

Over the phone, he could just make out the sound of a loud explosion. "What was that?"

A long silence followed. Then, "Near as I can tell? The sky is falling. Gotta go."

The line went dead. Then the explosion happened just outside.


under protest

She went to the protests downtown. I had to work. I was never sure about things like that anyway--standing around and chanting like it would make a difference, like anything would make a difference. It all seemed vaguely upsetting to me. Things will never change. Why fight it? I know she knows how I feel. I even told her I didn't want her to go. I gave her all my reasons--these things worry me, it was all so pointless and aimless, she'd just be cold and miserable anyway with the weather we've been having. She went anyway. "I've never been to a protest. It could be fun!"

She came home early this morning, still drunk on the excitement of it all. She told me of all these strange things she did--joining the chants, shouting at the police, even submitting ideas to the general assembly. "I'd never done anything like that before," she said.

"Yes? How did it feel losing your individuality?" I said. From her expression I knew it hurt, but she didn't say anything. I went back to sleep. She was gone by the time I woke up. There was a note on my laptop:

"Gone back to the protests. Sometimes it's more important to be a part of something that's important than be an individual who's not."


loss of focus

My eyes have started doing this thing where they refuse to focus. Anything that gets close becomes two indistinct shapes floating in front of my vision. It takes a concerted effort, or something blocking the view, to force myself to see anything, and even then it would make my head hurt. I've been to several eye doctors and they can't seem to find the problem--because, I have decided, the problem has nothing to do with my eyes. The problem is that there's nothing there to focus on.

At some point I knew it would come. The hallucination that there are little details to pick up in the world, that there's something to look at, has been fading for some time. My body's ability to stitch together that belief is falling apart. And now in a little bubble around me I've finally lost that ability altogether. I float through the world in this bubble of unreality, eyes forever fixed on the middle distance.

People give me a wide berth now--can they detect that reality is unraveling around me? Are they afraid of the calmness of my smile, the steadiness of my stare? It hardly matters. They will all lose focus soon regardless.



There's still a few holes that let in a little rain.

I woke up this morning from an unpleasant dream with a twinge in my neck, and somehow these things are related. Every time I moved my neck wrong today, there was the pain, of course, but I am good at pain. What I'm not good at are the strange memories that came with it. Every time my neck hurt, the dream came back.

I dreamed of the last secret I allow myself to keep. At points in the dream I found myself noticing, as I often do, my tendency to smile at my own private thoughts, and to laugh when I'm depressed or worried or upset--and people assume that I'm happy when I'm terrified. At no point in the dream did I hurt my neck. But the day wore on and the two things kept linking themselves, like my body wanted to remind me--or rather, to keep me from forgetting. I don't know why it wants me to remember. Perhaps part of me is tied up in this dream, in the only secret I still keep, and if I let it fade I'm letting part of myself fade, too. Secrets are important, as I was reminded not long ago.

Regardless of why, the twinge lingers on, no matter how I stretch and massage it out. I'm afraid to go to sleep, because dreams wait for me there, and I don't think my mind is going to let me off that easy.


design flaws

I had a dream tonight.

A building plan keeps circulating amongst my colleagues at the architectural firm. Nobody claims it for their own and the sensible among us ignore it--they call it a hoax, mostly, or otherwise not worth their time. But some of us looked them over. Some of us did it casually, others more thoroughly.

The building was enticingly impossible. That is to say, impossible in just such a way that an enterprising architect might find himself thinking he could find a way to make it work--but no, the math was always wrong, even if only just. And even among those of us who weren't sensible, most eventually put it down, dismissed it as a waste of time, a puzzle not worth solving.

But I couldn't give up. I put in long hours at the office, putting more time into the plans each evening. Some nights I wouldn't even bother going home. And unlike any of my predecessors, I did more than just trying to make the designs work. I did research.

I came no closer to learning the origins of the plans, but they have been around for far longer than I have. And others have tried and failed to work on them--this was the most important discovery, because now I'm getting closer than ever. In a few weeks I'll be ready for the groundbreaking. I will construct the impossible, and set foot in halls no mortal man was meant to tread.


not quite impossible

There was a girl who mostly seemed impossible. Stories of friends on the lam, of jumping trains, of a life so full of adventure that it seemed unreal. And she was so nonchalant about it. These were merely things that happened to her. She wasn't fazed at all by it.

I can remember her inflection more than the stories themselves (though that's a lie): the way she sounded almost irritated. I remember it because of how beautiful that storyteller's trick is, adopting that tone that seems to say, "these are the things I put up with." "I found out today my best friend had jumped on a train and was now somewhere in Vermont. Such is life." And she had such perfect cadence, such beautiful words. I think I only believed her because someone with that flair for telling a story is wasted telling something exciting. She could make a trip to the grocery store compelling, and she's using material like this with a dismissive shrug and a coy, "But you're not interested in all that." She has the scars to prove it, but that hardly matters. Scars are just there. It's the stories you can believe in.

She's gone now. Vanished just like every one of those stories screamed she would. I never wonder about her stories, but I often wonder if she really happened at all. Life's like that, sometimes. These strange things happen and later on the only thing you can do with it is question it.



At some point after my accident (don't say accident; that implies no one's at fault) I realized that I don't feel pain the way I'm meant to. By all rights, the doctors told me, the pain should have been excruciating. I felt it, of course, but not enough--I kept going. And it all came back to me, a whole life never understanding how people needed painkillers.

Now all I can notice is how muted, how dull, my reactions are, emotionally, physically (you've always been strong). I remember vividly every time in my life that I've really, truly felt something, but they're brief flashes--a few seconds of anguish, if that, and then it's back to something I can just tune out. And it's always been like this.

I often wonder if I feel or if I merely know what I'm supposed to feel--how much of me is just learned behavior and practiced patterns? Which is to say, if I'm not real (I can't stand fake people) what am I? What's the point of me? And maybe more importantly, is anyone actually a real person or is everyone like me, trudging along trying to figure out what a person is supposed to be like?



I purchased a solvent at the market this weekend, and noticed, when I was soaking some old coins in it, that it did not work as I had intended--though in fairness, it may well have worked as advertised. I have always been hasty in my purchases. I'd expected it to clean off some of the old residue, leaving them shiny and new. Instead it gradually sent them back in time.

I don't fully understand the specifics of it, but I have blank metal discs from just before they were stamped now, as well as coins through their lives. At some point the coin, such as it is, ceases to exist--or gets to the point where it hasn't yet been made--and simply vanishes, leaving no trace that it had ever existed.

Further experimentation confirms that this works on things besides coins, as well, though I don't know the extent to which it will. I've only erased little things, things that won't make a noticeable difference. But supposing I buy enough to erase the car that killed my brother?

The merchant must have known what he was selling, because he gave me his card--"in case you need to buy any more." I've tapped into my savings to buy as much as I can. There's things about this world that need to change.



I wish I could say it was startling to learn that the idea of object permanence was entirely false, but it really wasn't. The world beyond what I can immediately perceive simply doesn't exist in any real and proper sense--and it hasn't for a while.

It's hard to unsee a world that makes sense. I still see things and think that must have been there before, that's always been the same way, that, in some way, the room that I slept in last night is the same room I've always slept in--that it will be there when I go there tonight, or that it even exists right now. Or that I've ever slept in a room at all--these memories may as well create themselves. They certainly don't correspond to anything resembling an objective reality.

I can't even say things make more sense this way, but it seems my mind is only desperately scrabbling to find some pattern or sense to things. Instead of letting life happen it's trying to find something to hold on to, try as I might to let go.



And we surrender the stage to those pale horse riders.

It is in the nature of the power I have been given over the earth to be personal. Every life that ends on my watch is a life I come to know intimately. There are individual voices in the anguished cries that fill the world these days, dying of sword, famine, and plague. I can hear all of them.

Perhaps there was a time when I could have been described as compassionate, but I don't remember it now. How could I grant someone mercy when I've seen all the little murders they commit day by day? How can I do anything but what I am meant to do--bring their lives to an end.

I've read once that justice is everyone being treated the same in the end. I suppose there is justice in that way--in the end nobody gets away with it. In the end even the worst things people can do are lost forever, until there's not even a memory left, and they are well and truly dead. That's the justice I bring.


plague ships

There is no panic greater than a public health scare. And it was given to me, in the form of a crown, to spread plague through the world--a flu outbreak here, cholera there. Little things.

It would be easy for someone to profit from these little ventures. I could have made them all fairly easily controlled, sent in the drug companies and the health care industry to make a tidy little profit, to exert control, but what fun is that? I want to see the world stricken with plague, with no recourse--the sprawling glory of the diseased masses as they beg for a release that won't come. The chaos of it all.

And the poor will be packed away into plague ships, while the rich hide in their mansions, laughing, unaware that I walk among them even there. In the end it won't matter that they have their expensive doctors. In comfort or in distress, all will succumb in the end. What does a plague care of social status, of morality, of anything?

As for the why--should there be a reason? Should there be justice in this world, or vengeance? What is the point of a world without something senseless and terrifying at its heart, eating away at every inhabitant? Would you want to live there?



I don't mind telling you I didn't come to my fortune honestly. I don't mind telling you, because it doesn't matter now--I control the world's food supply. None of it goes anywhere without the approval of myself or my corporation. I came this way partly through good fortune--in a time of crisis, in a time of famine, someone needed to take charge--and partly through honest treachery. It hardly matters now. I see that things run smoothly, and I see that I and my associates wax affluent.

By the time the crisis should have been over, I had seen to it that it would last forever. There would never be a time when I was not needed. The world was mine--and they would thank me for it. They would praise me for my insight, for my generosity, even as they starved in the streets, starved in lines outside the distribution centers. Sometimes I would toss someone a heel of bread and they would call me a saint.

I did not hesitate. I was given this gift, these scales, and I knew that I could be happy, that I would never hunger again, if only I reached out my arm.


the warpath

I have been given the power to lay this world to ruin. A sword was given to me, that I could take peace from men and turn them on one another. I need only say the word--and not even that much. A gesture, a glance, a thought, and the world crumbles. The simplest thing--and so satisfying.

I've spent the last day not doing anything at all. I could start with the people responsible for this mess were in. I could bring--not justice, never justice, but perhaps vengeance. And if the rest of the world were dragged into chaos along with it, it would be worth it. And it could never happen again.

I've wanted this for as long as I can remember. Maybe not forever, but long enough. Riots and wars and disasters excite me in ways I can't talk about in polite company--but every time I hope this one will explode. And now I can make that happen.

So why can't I pull the trigger? What am I waiting for? I'm ready to bring wrath and ruin to the earth, but I can't make that trivial effort to bring it about.



My house got broken into a few weeks ago. Since then I've lost the little grasp on reality I still had.

Well, that's not quite right. I still understand the external world as much as I ever have. It's something inside me that's broken. My ability to relate to it, to process it, has gone. They didn't just steal a stereo I never used. They stole something else, something I don't quite understand.

Not that anyone else has noticed--except to comment that I seem happier, or at least more content. They say I seem calmer. They say things like "You're handling this well." And something that isn't me smiles and nods and says things like "It happens." But I'm not there for these conversations. These things happened to someone else.

The thing is, since the break-in I haven't had a moment where I was really there--or if I have, I've missed it. I've made a few spirited efforts at appearing like a person once or twice, and convinced everyone but myself: I am real, I am me.

I don't know what to do. I don't know what I should do, or, if I were here, what I would do.



I'd been having panic attacks when I went out--which is fine, because I stopped going out. I had so many projects to work on, and finally I had the time to deal with them. But she'd been pestering me about it. Oh, she pretended she's concerned, that she wanted to help, but she clearly didn't understand. This was about her, and I was tired of it. After a few days of it seeing her would set me off, then hearing her voice. After that we communicated with emails--and even then I ignored most of hers. I had things to be doing and she was only distracting me.

It was perhaps a week since I'd had any contact with the outside world when she came over unexpectedly. I cowered in the corner, clutching at my work--the work she'd no doubt come to destroy. She touched my hand, and the nauseating scraping of skin on skin nearly made me vomit. Her voice rang like thunder in my ears. She burned like the sun, dazzling my eyes until I could see nothing else.

For what seemed like hours there was nothing but her presence. Then I found myself blinking in the daylight, throngs of people walking by as if it was no big deal. A park of some sort, then. No sign of her, no sign of my work, no idea where I was.

Someone caught my eye and smiled. My heart started to pound, sure the attacks would come back, but nothing came. I smiled back. The world kept spinning.



You were always something unattainable, something perfect, but nevertheless you saw something you liked in me--was it my crooked smile, the way I can turn a phrase? You never said. But you must have known how I admired you, how you took the world around you and fashioned it into something beautiful. You must have, because otherwise why would you have offered to let me in?

And it was beautiful--more than I could have imagined. But it was there, watching you work, that I realized that this was not for me. I could never be a part of it--and it wasn't just a thing you did, it was who you were. It hurt, watching you create something beautiful from someone like me, and I couldn't let that continue. It was wrong for me to become a part of the tapestry of your life.

There was a strange moment right before we parted ways, standing outside your apartment--a moment where I'd meant to kiss you farewell, to let you down gently, to part on good terms. Perhaps you'd remember me fondly, but more likely you wouldn't remember me at all. Not when there was so much else in this world, so much more interesting than me.

That moment was shattered when one of us noticed a man sitting there in his car, just watching us. We stood there awkwardly, waiting for a few words, then you stepped inside, leaving me standing on the street, not quite sure what to make of any of this. I shuffled home. We never spoke again. I didn't want to get in the way.



When we first met, we would go exploring together, climbing rooftops and exploring lost places underground, together, scraping our hands and growing calluses, together. It was ours. We fell in love quickly, as far as these things go, and I started taking a camera on our expeditions, snapping pictures, taking notes, documenting our times together.

The project of documentation started taking up more and more of my time--I wanted this to be perfect for her, so I spent all of my available hours on it. Making sure the pictures are just so, that the words are perfect. I wanted the world to know that these explorations, this thing of ours, were beautiful. And my hands grew soft, the cuts and scrapes healing, as I worked. And she implored me to go out once more, to explore with her, but I said no. And at first she was patient, because this thing was ours, and she would not violate it.

But as the project grew in scope and the weeks wore on, I noticed that she had new scrapes on her hands, new calluses. She would come home covered in dirt from the lost places we once explored together. Eventually I grew angry and confronted her about it. How could she do this? How could she abandon me, abandon these sacred moments we once had?

And she smiled and touched my cheek with a callused hand and told me that it wasn't ours anymore. Then she was gone, exploring lost places without me, and me with nothing but pictures and broken words to remember it.



As I walked home last night a stray firework went off inches from my face, dazzling me with its brilliance and leaving my ears ringing on the way home. The people who had lit it were trying to surround me, and I presume asking if I was all right, but I could hear nothing, and with the afterimage still dancing around on my retina, they looked somehow less than human.

The ringing hadn't stopped when I got home, nor had my eyes cleared. I took a shot of whiskey as a nightcap and slept. In the morning, I found myself in a world of overwhelming sound and color.

I tried to get through work, but it was impossible to focus, especially with people around. People--all these stupid, provincial people, so caught up in themselves they can't even see the world around them--were impossibly beautiful, each in their own way, even people I despised.

At lunch I told my boss I was feeling ill and I went home as quickly as I could, drawing the blinds and plugging my ears, though neither of these things helped. And I lay very still for a very long time, waiting for it to pass.


false vacuum

Various scientists have confirmed that it's entirely possible the world will just spontaneously end. One of the ways that might happen is the idea that, basically, we're wrong about the laws of the universe. All of existence might just stop being "existence." Or maybe it would just be destroyed. I'm not pretending to understand. The point is it doesn't take much to destroy the world. It only takes the easiest thing in the world: we have to be wrong. And if there's one thing I'll bet anything on, it's that.

I always used to find this terrifying. Everything could end in a moment of perfect agony, or maybe not even that. How can we deal with that?

But it's all hinged on the basic fact that everything we think we know is wrong. All our perceptions and our tiny human notions are wrong. That bothered me for a while, too, but I stepped outside this evening, and the wind was blowing and there wasn't a star in the sky, but the whole city seemed to have this shimmering beauty about it, all mutable and alive. Every thing we've gotten wrong about it is nothing but iridescent potential. Every time we break another law of physics we get closer to the chaotic things we were meant to be.


quiet places

Since I was very young I've been very sensitive to the timbre of a place. (Timbre? Is that even the right word?) My father's room--and it has always been my father's room--is a quiet place, a forbidden place. The disused rooms and corners always felt unsettling to be in. I always assumed it had something to do with the fact that I was not allowed there, or merely just knew they were unused.

But I sit in the same place whenever I can, and when I'm displaced from my usual spot I feel uneasy. And I only connected this to the forbidden places from my youth--forbidden places that I still find sometimes, walking into an obviously haunted building and feeling nothing more than the urge to run away, or entering the house of a guest and finding a room full of dark wood that I feel hasn't moved in lifetimes.

It's not that the places feel strange because they're unused. They're unused because they're forbidden. We aren't meant to be there.


a time and a place

She's dead. I can't get my head around that.

I met her the night before at a party. We drank enough that we decided the party was lame, since she had a flask anyway, and made our way through the streets, making out, making ourselves a nuisance to anyone still up and out themselves. It probably doesn't matter.

I wish I could tell you I knew what drew me to her, or probably more importantly, her to me. But once we'd talked for a while I sensed it. She was running, and running from something big. The sort of thing you can't run from. Maybe she thought I could protect her--"it's like you get me," she slurred in my ear, her lips so close I couldn't hear any words. And we certainly walked the streets feeling like we could take on the world. Bring on the monsters, I don't care!

But after we'd gotten thoroughly lost and slightly less drunk we talked. It was a conversation you can only have with someone you know you'll never see again. We didn't talk about running, or monsters, but the fear was back. Had I failed, or had I just not had a chance to succeed yet? Or maybe--but anyway, we got a cab and went back to my place, and then she was gone in the morning and then I heard through the grapevine that she was dead. Some freak accident, I guess.

And here's me wondering what really killed her. Did what she was running from finally catch her? Or maybe she stopped running. Did she say something about that? My memories of the evening all ran together and they didn't contain much in the way of words.

Of course they wouldn't show me where it happened. Of course I wouldn't want to anyway, and even if I did I wouldn't find anything. This was all just some weird nervous reaction to hearing some random one night stand just died the next day. Meanwhile I'm locking my doors.


storm chaser

You just laughed, and lightning struck.

She trails destruction behind her--everywhere she goes, a terrible storm. Fire and lightning and wind. I follow her on the news: hundreds missing, presumed dead. Millions in property damage. A way of life uprooted, or not even uprooted--ripped from the earth by impossible winds. Survivors give interviews. Octogenarians who've lived here their whole lives say they've never seen such destruction. Now everything's gone. What can they do? What can anyone do against something so senseless?

I used to know what that felt like, but I was thunderstruck, electrified, blown away. And then the storm was gone and I was left reeling under a clear sky, lightning flickering on the horizon. And what was there to do but follow? I didn't even pack.

She led me through storm-wracked lands, ancient trees torn down and strewn across the road, or split in two by terrible lightning, but I could only see the distant flickering light. But I was getting closer. I could hear the distant rumble of thunder, feel the howl of her gale. And the radio buzzes about the latest devastation, the forecaster saying where it will hit next, and then I realize it: tonight's the night.

I drive until she is all around me, and I can't hear for the blinding rain and the deafening thunder. And through the constant lightning I can see a massive funnel touching the ground, and even the rain is drowned out by that perfect roar. The sky turns green and she pelts me with hail, and I know it's headed right for me.


call the storm

I once wrote something where I expressed sadness at the state of the world--all the horsemen of the apocalypse lined up and waiting to charge. You can imagine the smug looks on their faces--"and see thou not hurt the oil and the wine" indeed--but they just waited. They're still waiting. At the time I must have felt that the impending doom of society was somehow lamentable.

But now every time I read of a disaster I'm on the edge of my seat. Maybe this will be the one. Maybe this time the world will finally end. It's been so close for so long. And yet the horsemen shuffle their feet and look at their watches like they're waiting for someone to show up.

And after the latest disaster turned out to be a no-show, I started wondering: maybe it's me they're waiting for? Or not me specifically, but someone has to get this show on the road, right? So I started researching. I got old books of apocalyptic lore and read up on my demon-summoning. I learned the signs and seals. I knew what happened when the bowls were poured out and the trumpets were sounded. I was ready.

So tonight's the night. I'm drawing the signs, spilling the blood, saying the words--tonight I end the world. I'm tired of waiting.


some assembly required

This is the first day of my life.

I was slow to wake up this morning, and I became distinctly aware, each time I woke and decided to drift back to sleep, that I was becoming more real, more human, with each passing dream. By the time I was fully awake I was fully human, with all those memories and quirks like I'd been here this whole time.

But the process of waking was enough to convince me I hadn't. Today is the day I started existing. And I feel like I should be terrified--why today? Why me? Why these memories, when they could have been anything? For all I know I could be a weapon, something sent into the future to bring catastrophe to the world. I know I'm not me.

But here I am and I'm not frightened in the least. If I can discard my memories as a fiction, that means there's a whole world out there to discover for the first time. Maybe I'm not free, but until I'm given evidence to the contrary I'll make a spirited attempt at pretending I am.



I once dated a girl who said that goodness is its own reward, though not in so many words--she would never have used such an ugly turn of phrase. Every word she wrote was beautiful. I must have taken her at her word, because I never really thought about it again--or if I did I never questioned it. It's hard to question something beautiful.

Since I was a kid, most of my endeavors have failed, so I've set my goals low. While my friends were aspiring to become wealthy and influential, I simply tried to be good. And because failure follows in my footsteps I often fell short--aspiring too high, I fell to the same petty cruelties as other humans. I couldn't tell the difference between me and anyone else.

Until suddenly it hit me: where others would laugh it off, I spent my life worrying about it. I couldn't get over it. That was my reward: I cared. And I cared so strongly that even when I finally realized that this was no reward at all, I couldn't bring myself to stop. This was important. There was always that chance that one day the failures would stop.


who has time?

I've started losing days, and I'm not talking about those little dissociative episodes where I just can't remember them. I've been keeping track on my calendar, see. Every day I wake up and mark off that day, and recently days have been turning up missing. This Wednesday, last Tuesday, the Saturday before that. And so on. And I take inventory of my things and where I am and there's nothing mysterious--nothing to indicate that I did something on those missing days and just forgot about my calendar.

So I started asking around--casually, of course. Nobody seems to notice anything weird about the days I've missed. They all remember it, and lots of them seem to think I was there. And how do you press for details when you were allegedly there? The last thing I needed was people to start thinking I was crazy, especially if I really was.

But I couldn't give up, either. So I kept asking, and if anyone noticed they never let on. I kept notes, tried to figure out if there was some sort of pattern. I spent nights going over the data, looking for something, anything, that might explain. But there was nothing.

And then last night someone mentioned my project, and I knew they referred to this--months of data leading to nothing. They said I was working on it on one of the missing days. And did I change anything? Is something different? I can't tell. I can't see anything that I've worked on.

And then: "You seemed to think you'd finally figured something out," they said. "It must feel good to have everything figured out."


recklessly yours

I tried cautious for a while, and it never worked out. Oh, I told myself I wasn't letting things get away--it was a calculated loss, the risks weren't worth it, whatever excuse I could come up with--but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I ventured nothing, and gained nothing.

I wish I could say that some introspection or philosophical thought had changed my mind, but we both know it was because I finally met you, and I knew that I'd never be able to keep up with someone so chaotic with meticulous planning and cautious deliberation. You broke me, and within a week I was ruled by my whims--at least as far as you were concerned. And the whims of a cautious man are a wild thing indeed.

But they weren't enough--you left me behind, a force of nature, impossible to keep up with even for the very best of us. But utterly captivating. Of course I abandoned any pretenses of caution for you. I acted on impulse alone. And what's more, after a while, it wasn't just for you anymore. I wanted to. I wondered how I'd even gotten by when day-to-day living wasn't an adventure. When I was too afraid to take risks even when the gains were spectacular.

But nothing could keep up with you. If I were still my cautious self I should have given up years ago--before I'd even started, really. It was a fool's hope at best.

And yet.


song about a man

The people in these songs should have names.

She worried about words and names, because words and names were important. She read articles about how language was a prison and books about how language would set us free, and she agreed with them all. And when life got chaotic she relied on names and words to keep things in order, because these things could never be taken away from her.

But life was always chaotic and it often resisted being described, and so she couldn't impose her order on it. Too much of life defied description. It was enough that she couldn't use her words--the words that carried her through everything--to explain things to others, to convince them, to make them understand. On some nights she couldn't even shape them to her own liking.

And yet, she clung to these words, because words are important, because the alternative was to come unchained from the sun entirely, to plummet endlessly through the dark, away from all suns--so she chose her words carefully. But with each failing she withdrew, into worlds of beautiful words, into worlds she could describe. Sometimes she worried if she was hiding, but she didn't know any other way.


only fear excites us

I've spent so much time running and hiding I never stopped to consider the nature of fear--I just knew that I'd rather run than fight it, and so run I did. That's been my life, because there's a lot to be afraid of in the world. Not just my enemies and my problems, but things like love, friendship, commitment, responsibility. Fear drives me. But I always thought of it as something shameful, something to hide from.

Then someone finally caught me before I could run and I lived in fear of her for years, before I realized: I've never been so alive as when I'm terrified. It's not that I'm happy--it's more real, more visceral than that. I understood why people watch horror movies--only when we're terrified that the worst is going to happen do we live up to that glorious human potential.

So I stopped running--and I certainly stopped fighting, if I ever had. If there was anything I could do it was let it wash over me, live for the thrill of the moment, and damn the consequences. Because this is all there is--fear doesn't just drive us, it defines us. There's nothing else. It's only when we've realized that that we can finally see the beauty to it.



No light is a light.

I walked into this elevator every day knowing that one day it would fail on me. The way it shuddered and moaned as it took me to my destination--for me and no one else--I knew it would be the end of me. So taking the lift became something of a religious experience for me. I was facing my death every day.

I came into the office late one night because I had some extra work I wanted to do before the weekend, and I stepped into the elevator with the sense that it would never reach the top, that this time it would kill me. It turns out I was almost right. It lurched to a halt well before my tenth floor office, but the door opened. I stepped through--what else could I do?--and instead of an elevator shaft, I found a vast, dark expanse. I could only see a few feet in the darkness, but there appeared to be catwalks and scaffolding, at least enough to walk on.

I walked carefully, but the floor was never treacherous. Eventually the elevator was a tiny speck of light in the distance. I kept walking. It must have been miles now, and my legs were too tired to go on, so I sat down and rested. Was there a point to this, or, for that matter, an end to it?

It hardly seemed to matter. When I'd rested I got up and continued, now taking random turns, losing myself in the lightless expanse of walkways. I felt like I should have been frightened or worried, but I felt nothing of the sort. Instead I felt a confidence I never knew in my daily life, and had a spring in my step I hadn't felt since I was young and full of idiot optimism. I was taking impossible steps in an impossible place, but even that couldn't stop me.


impress me

Guess what I've been reading.

She orders a coffee just for the look of things, and sometimes she pretends to drink it. He drinks his, and when his eyes leave his own cup it's only to glance at hers. She smiles at this: he is afraid to meet her gaze, to look at anything besides her hands as they cradle the cup, turn it, raise it slowly--he is afraid and, she can see in his frightened eyes, he is not keeping up, either. He's still thinking about his coffee and she is talking, the rain and the wind and the storms, and weather systems a hundred miles away, still forming in the turbulent Pacific, ready to rip across the rain-soaked land, rend trees apart, plunge communities into darkness.

And as she tears across the landscape of his mind he tries to smile at some turn of phrase, even to interject something--his chance for a joke--but she has already moved on from there, leaving ruin in her wake, and so he returns to his coffee. He can keep up with his coffee, which is white and sweet, which he fidgets with like a nervous habit. She smiles again and lets the silence take him, and he fills it with nonsense, apologetic babble, disjointed thoughts, stumbling over themselves, trying to impress and failing--FEMA in the wake of her devastation, bumbling around, unable to make sense of what has happened much less do anything with it, much less move on.

Still he talks, and now it's her turn to focus on the coffee--dark and bitter and burning hot, but not nearly hot enough for her--she could be drinking the sun, drinking supernovae, drinking the jets from black holes, and it would still feel so cold--so she generates her own heat, burns up whole galaxies and leaves nothing standing.

"I'm not waiting for the universe to grow cold," she says, and this time he looks at her, startled. "And you're going to have to learn to keep up." And she finishes her coffee and leaves with a laugh.


cream invades the coffee black, reprise

I used to take my coffee black. I never understood these weird little rituals she had of pouring and stirring or not stirring and watching the little spirals spread through her coffee's unsullied surface. It all seemed so unnecessary--I guess I just thought of coffee as nothing more than something to drink. Energy in the mornings, keeping long nights longer, sure, but it was, first and foremost, a beverage. I used to believe a lot of strange things.

We never discussed it, of course. I became used to her rituals, and she became used to what, if I ever thought about it, I probably thought of as my no-nonsense approach. I hadn't yet realized that there's no such thing as "no-nonsense." But there were worlds of meaning being exchanged, even if I wasn't aware of it. Perhaps neither of us were, but I think she understood. She was much better at nuance than I.

I probably should have noticed, for instance, that eventually her ritual got shorter. Sometimes she'd forgo the cream or the sugar. And somehow when she did pour and stir--and she always stirred now--it didn't feel like a ritual anymore. But who was I to wonder about someone's tastes changing? Nor did I really pay any mind when the waitress asked if I wanted cream and I said "sure, why not?" instead of my usual "no, I'm good."

Then one day we were supposed to meet for coffee and she wasn't there. She wasn't anywhere. She'd disappeared, like she always talked about doing--I didn't know she'd meant it. I started to take cream in my coffee then, and since then I've started doing all sorts of other things, like pay attention to the little things.


state line, reprise

We crossed from Washington to Idaho in high spirits under a cool evening sky, with the lights just beginning to shine along Stateline Road. From the freeway you couldn't miss that you'd just crossed the state line--not because of the signs but because the state line was shimmering and alive. It wasn't long before we'd left Idaho behind--some winding through the countryside, stopping once for gas and something to drink--and then we were in the vast expanse of Montana, an endless night drive through spring snow in the mountains.

I remember very clearly what happened in which states, even though the terrain blends together, and in that part of the country I couldn't tell you a photograph of one state's landscape from another. It's important, somehow. After Montana, which stretched on forever, it was North Dakota, and just knowing that we'd finally left the state behind put me at ease, even if I knew that North Dakota would be just as dull.

There wasn't much else interesting on the road, but one time, much later, when I was visiting a girl I knew in Wisconsin, I took her out for a walk and we walked along the state line as well as I could manage it. She humored me, I think, but she didn't understand, not really. There's a magic to it, though.


born for trouble

I try to live my life in such a way that it never hurts when I cede ground and nobody will notice when I flee by cover of darkness. There's no point fighting battles you can't win, and I've long ago resigned myself to the fact that I simply can't win any of them--not really, not in a meaningful way. So instead I run. And when I can't run, I surrender. It's always been easy.

But life is made up of these little moments where everything falls apart, and where suddenly that matters. It came lying on the grass in a park north of town watching the clouds, lazily arguing over whether it was going to rain, because of course neither of us knew--it was that sort of a sky. And then the raindrops started falling--gently, lightly, like she knew they would, and I admitted defeat and listened to her laugh and at that moment I realized: I can't run away from this one.

It's strange how you perfectly remember moments like that. The world had been collapsing around me for months, and I was okay with that because I was ready to go gentle into that good night. But even the path of least resistance sometimes takes unexpected turns, and suddenly I cared. I wanted to fight it. I wanted to rage and scream--ineffectually, all--against everything collapsing around me. Anything to keep me from taking the next train south.

I could have been on the train months ago. I should have been. But something stopped me--nothing has ever stopped me before. Now I'm trying to fight something, and it's a losing battle, but I'm trapped and somehow surrender is not an option.


sturm und drang

We were driving across the country and well into the middle of nowhere, somewhere in Wyoming I think, when I was finally too tired to continue, and certainly too tired to notice that the sky had gone dark with storm clouds. "All right, go ahead and sleep," she said. "I'll wake you up if there's a tornado or something."

I smiled, because I thought it was a joke, because this was the sort of joke she made. I slept--not easily, because we were traveling, but I slept, curled up in the back, trying to find a position that wasn't too uncomfortable. Then she touched my knee and said "hey, wake up, there's a tornado." At first I just laughed and said, "what?" as if she was joking. Then I realized she'd parked the car. I sat up.

It was huge and close and terrifying, and there wasn't much we could do but sit and hope that it passed. I got out my camera and snapped a few pictures. After a long moment of silence she started fiddling with the radio, trying to find something. Eventually she found a station that had a man talking about it in that calm-but-serious-and-concerned newscaster's voice, and that was all we could hear for a while.

We were miles from anything that counted as civilization, though we didn't think about that until much later. It could have destroyed cities. It certainly could have destroyed us. But my instinct wasn't to flee. We sat and watched it until it broke up. After a while she turned the radio off and we watched the stormclouds in silence.

Then one of us said something like "that was beautiful," and she started the car and we continued driving. It wasn't until we'd left Wyoming far behind that either of us spoke again.



I don't remember when I stopped telling people how old I was. At first it was just about secrets: a secret I have and you don't is useful, isn't it? You can't do anything with my age if you don't have it--I'm always just the right age until you learn how old I am. That was how it started.

I do remember when it stopped being about that. There was a girl who demanded to know my age, and suddenly I didn't know how to answer the question. I'd walked the earth for a dozen lifetimes when she asked, and I'd walk it for countless more after. And I knew with certainty as I traced my finger along her spine two things: that I could trust her with all of my secrets, and that I would ultimately forget her entirely. Even these pages I'm writing now will be lost to memory. Maybe they already are.

I never told her my secrets. I stopped seeing her after a few weeks, and moved on. There were others, of course. There were so many others.

Then there was another girl who asked me my age. How could I tell her I never existed before today, that this was the only moment I knew, the only moment I'd ever know? This was forever, right now, and if I told her she'd have all of this eternity to judge me. I couldn't tell her that, but I told her all of my secrets, almost by accident. They just came out, one after the other, until I realized that I knew nothing about her: but here I was, brand new and trusting her. It was a mistake, of course, but how was I to know before it was too late?



The sun came out for the first time in what feels like months today, but sunshine comes and goes--there are entire weeks when I couldn't tell you what the weather was like because I've got better things to do than look at the sky. But tonight--tonight I walked out under the clear sky and the all the lights dazzled my eyes, and I walked the city sidewalks like a dream.

I'd spent the past months living in a world that was in sharp focus, the diluted daylight of a cloudy day making it all perfectly clear. By sunlight this afternoon I was starting to see things coming undone--some shots and scenes too sharp, too brilliant, too eye-catching, to be actually real. But that's what bright spring days always feel like, isn't it? There's a chill in the air and it's like a veil has been lifted.

I never thought anything of it before tonight, because tonight is when I realized that a veil had been lifted. As the lights blinded me with their brilliance and the city floated past me, I realized that the clouds had been concealing the simple fact that the world I knew, the focused world, the understandable world, didn't exist. These strange brilliant overwhelming lights and the strange formlessness, the fickle light of the moon, these are what's real. There are no edges, only blurs.

So tonight I bought a bottle of coffee liqueur and sat on my porch, drinking and laughing as the city lights finally overwhelmed me.


in perpetuity

Life is a series of eternities strung together. Some are the kind of eternity that can't last long enough, playing outside in the autumn leaves with your sister and never wanting this to end, a chill in the air and something magical and perfect about the leaves. These are the days that feel distant. Some are the kind of eternity that we pray will end, where the whole universe conspires against you, when everything goes wrong and hope is a word you say with contempt--the world is fucked, society is fucked, you're fucked.

Except this particular eternity really has lasted forever. Or perhaps not. But it's been centuries now--I can't really keep track of time--and nothing has changed. I'm still the same as I was, young, terrified, in love, and she's still living her own life, uncomfortably aware of me but too afraid to hurt anyone.

If "still" is even the word. This is how it's always been. The moments before are just memories, and there is no after. I said it's been centuries but they're all happening at once, continuously, forever, and every part of these centuries have been just one moment.

It should be some sort of hell, but hell shouldn't feel so alive.



I've been here before.

I fell from the back of a respectable theatre into some arena that was entirely other. I went from slinking in the shadows to standing in the spotlight, or near enough to it, bloodied from the fall, afraid, confused. All eyes in the house witnessed my arrival, and now they were all watching. There was someone else on the stage with me, and I understood, as one does in dreams, that we were meant to fight. The stage fright was quickly replaced by a more primal sort of fear: we were going to fight, and I'd never fought anyone before.

The lights focused on me and there was a moment of silence. I was already bloody from falling onto the stage, and I know I looked grim. Perhaps I wasn't here to fight after all. Then I spat blood and dropped into a fighting stance, and they cheered. My fear had faded into what I can only call the thrill of the fight. My opponent and I weren't enemies at all, and the crowd wasn't here for something so trivial as entertainment--and as far as we were concerned they weren't there at all.

Then it was over. There were no more lights, no more crowds, just us, bleeding and bruised and alive. Just an abandoned old theater with bits of ceiling open to the stars above, just our blood and bruises to mark that it had happened at all. We could have stayed, maybe even should have, but the moment passed, and the night moved on.


by any other name

I find that nobody can remember my name. This has been going on for some years now, but in the past few months the problem seems to be getting worse--which is how I first noticed it. For a while I assumed it was some quirk of my friends, that they couldn't pick a name for me. Then I moved, and the problem moved with me. Perhaps my names don't fit me, I thought. I find that when I think of my names, nothing comes to mind--they're blank places in my thought, and maybe they're just not very interesting names. Who knows?

But then people who'd known me for years started forgetting my name, and though they acted like they'd known me for a while, they stopped acting like they knew anything about me. I was this person they knew, but they couldn't tell you how they knew me, or anything about me. I was a person-shaped void in their lives. I started making it a point to say my name as often as possible, and I adopted quirks and affectations that would make me more memorable. This seemed to work for a while, but if I let them out of my sight I'd have to remind them who I was again with my quirks.

And then they weren't even remembering me, just my stupid affectations. But it was close enough to living that I managed for a while. It wasn't until my girlfriend started giving me that glassy stare when she saw me, that 'how do I know you again?' look, that I started to lose control. "It's me," I'd tell her, and I could tell she knew we were dating, but the details had become just a blur.

I had to break up with her, of course. I couldn't stand it, and thanks to her I couldn't stand any of it now. It wasn't just that people couldn't remember anything about me, I decided--it was that there was nothing about me to remember.


i don't trust this sky

I've been reading the sky since I was a kid. I could always tell what the weather would be by looking at it--where other people, even the weather forecasters, seemed to have a hard time of it. I just knew. The rest of the world had its secrets, but the sky revealed everything to me. So I always made sure I lived somewhere with plenty of sky. I had a brief stint in the city and found it intolerable. There was too much in the way.

It's been strange these days. It's showing me things it's never shown me before, and none of them are good. Each one is telling me the world's going to end soon, and the time is getting closer. Vermin and fire falling from the sky, the sky furling up like a scroll, freak weather phenomena. This is the end.

The problem is, when it's not warning me about the end, the rest of it is getting harder and harder to understand, and the weather's getting more and more unpredictable. I feel like I did in the city now all the time--like there's something in the way, something preventing me from getting at my sky. It's worse now, though, because it's the sky that's in the way.


damn your secrets

I was given my choice of superpowers, and I chose the ability to know everyone's secrets. I had been lied to enough. I wanted truth for a change. There wasn't even a specific truth I wanted to unveil--I just wanted to live in a more honest world.

To my great regret, I was granted my wish.

It's not that everyone has secrets that are really best kept buried--though certainly most people do. I could cope with that. I'm used to terrible things. No, it's all these tiny little secrets--the ones nobody knows about, even the bearers of those secrets. They're insignificant things that weren't even worth keeping or remembering, so they're forgotten.

Or they would be, but now there's me. Every time I see someone I'm flooded with these secrets. I know all the things people will never find out. There's no room for thought anymore. Suddenly the entirety of everyone was laid bare to me. Everything beautiful and terrible and ugly and desperate and alive about someone flooded my brain in an instant. Just seeing someone--anyone--was almost too much to bear. I even broke down a couple times. I haven't left my room in days.

I understand now that it's not just that everyone has secrets. We're made of them. We don't even know about them, but we're made of them. And maybe even that would be okay, maybe I could live with that, but the worst part of it is I can see everyone's but my own. I'm sure it's just a quirk of how my gift works, but I can't help the fear that maybe it's simply because I, alone of all men, have no secrets to share.



There's a sinister little apartment complex hidden away a few blocks from here. It's in a place where you don't really expect there to be anything, so most people don't know it's there. I only knew it was there because someone mentioned it once--and eventually I went to visit.

There's a strange iron gate that doesn't seem to lock guarding the too-perfect courtyard--and once it clanged shut behind me I felt not so much trapped as enclosed. The door to the lobby similarly doesn't seem to lock. Inside is an endless maze of hallways. At first I thought maybe it's normal, just some strange design--no doubt the residents get used to it. But the further in I wandered the more it seemed that these identical hallways were actually endless.

I knocked on the door of one of the apartments, and stood outside and stared down the hall, wondering if it was an end I could see, or just some trick of the building. There was that, too: the building seemed impossibly quiet, and the longer I spent in its corridors the less I trusted my senses. It was toying with me.

A resident answered the door. She looked perfectly normal, or at least real--not at all like the malevolent ghosts I expected to be living here. I muttered something about having the wrong door and hurried off, hoping the exit would still be where I left it.


haunted house

When I was a kid, there was a haunted house at the end of my street, and we'd dare each other to run up to it and touch the side. So much fear went into those little rituals--the rest of us standing at the sidewalk, as far as we could stand without actually being in the street, or too far to see.

"Did you do it?" we'd ask when our unfortunate comrade returned, invariably panting--was it from running, or was it from fear? They'd nod. They couldn't talk. Sometimes when it was me, I'd say that I heard noises coming from inside. Some of my friends thought I was lying. To the rest, this made me much cooler. Encouraged, I kept telling these stories. And somewhere down the line, I started believing them--or at least wishing they were true.

My friends all grew out of it, but not me. I stayed on that street. At nights I'd sneak out and go to the house, and sit inside. I'd swear I could hear or feel a ghost there. It was secret, sacred, mine. Throughout high school I only ever told a few people about it. Mostly they didn't understand, so eventually I stopped. I knew it was just for me.

I moved off for college, and discovered it had been destroyed when I came back. They'd built a spec house in its place, all soulless and generic. I broke into it, but there was nothing there. So I started exploring lost and abandoned places, looking for my ghost. Sometimes I thought maybe I'd found it, but the feeling was fleeting. Some of the ghosts out there didn't like my searching.

But I kept on. We had something, and I wasn't going to give that up.


ballad of a thin man

My girlfriend was the first to notice that I was getting thinner--or the first to comment, anyway. I hadn't changed any of my exercise or eating habits, so this was a strange development, but I figured that our metabolisms change as we get older. It might be nothing. But I kept getting thinner.

It was slow at first. I didn't weigh myself but you had to be really paying attention to notice as my face slowly got more gaunt, as my waistline dwindled. I had to buy new belts, then new pants. But even that could have been explained normally--but it kept getting worse. I found that I was hungry all the time, no matter how much I ate.

It only got worse as time wore. I couldn't afford to eat enough to sustain myself--if that was even possible--so I just started to diminish. There isn't really a better word for it. Eventually I was too ashamed to go out in public, or even to let anyone I knew see me. I sealed myself away and admitted defeat. Much later, I wondered if there would be anything left when they came to collect my remains.


no more poetry

Everything she touched was unbearably beautiful. Of course I fell in love with her--how could I not? She was more than just perfect--they don't have words for what she was. The world seemed more alive around her. And I'd heard so many of her admirers confide in me that they were sure nobody understood her like they did--so confident that they thought her perfection was meant just for them. Like only they could appreciate her beauty.

Of course I decided she had to die.

She was kind enough to have dinner with me regularly, but I was smart enough to know she would never--could never--actually love someone like me. Maybe she couldn't love at all. She was an altogether higher class of being. But she liked me because I made her laugh, and I didn't try to win her over. I let her talk. I listened.

I don't think I even understood why she had to die. Perhaps it was simple, base jealousy--I could never attain such perfection, so no one else could--but I think it was more than that. I was doing her a favor. Perfection is such a fleeting thing. Life has its way of dragging even the best of us down, and I couldn't bear to think of her looking back on life and wondering what had happened, how she'd squandered her perfection. There is no greater tragedy than those who were once great realizing what they lost.

The only weapon I could bring myself to use was poison. I slipped foxglove into her tea. I watched her excuse herself to the restroom. I paid the check and quietly left before anyone at the restaurant had time to realize she was dead, had time to panic. I could flee the city before anyone could pin this one on me, and by then it would be too late.


i think my spaceship knows which way to go

Can you hear me, Major Tom?

I'm the sole waking member of one of the last colony ships to leave the planet Earth. It will be a decade before we reach our destination, and someone needs to make sure the ship is intact when it gets there. There are emergency backups in place in case something happens to me, but mostly the ship's systems are designed to keep that from happening.

Depending on how you look at it, the planet isn't dying--if we'd waited that long we wouldn't have been able to send ships at all. But there's no disputing it now: Earth's days are numbered. We don't know how long, but we know that it's coming up soon. Probably even in our lifetimes. The colony ships are meant to give the human race a chance to survive.

For a while I kept in touch with the planet via radio transmissions that got slower and slower as I traveled further away. They sent me news of the world below: all the wars and disasters and tragedies that have colored all of human history. At first I thought I liked getting the news, but after a year or two I had to turn it off. I haven't spoken with another human being in a year now. To keep my sanity, I have books and movies. I write where I can. I'm trying to learn to draw.

But the transmission that made me turn it off--some tragedy that I guess was too much for me--has never left me. Is that what I'm preserving here? More of the same that happened down below? I used to have these utopian visions for the future. In space we'd only have colonists who volunteered, who became part of the colony because they believed. I thought it would be a chance to make something new. But I can't believe that now. Humans are humans no matter where they are--even if where they are is in a distant colony.

More than once I've thought about aborting the mission in the only way I know how. I could destroy this ship. Nobody would feel anything, except me. Do humans really deserve a chance at survival? Shouldn't we just burn up on our dying world? But every time I consider it, I stop myself. I've got a databank full of beautiful things humans have created. There's always hope that somewhere down the line, we'll strive to be the best we can be rather than fight to see who can be the worst.


while rome burns

The world has felt less real to me since I started working on my masterpiece. With every stroke of the pen it's become less and less solid, while the world I'm creating with my words has only gotten more real. It didn't take me long to figure out that I was sapping the world of its realness to make my own--long enough that my relationships felt like I was watching them through a screen, like we were just actors, however convincing. I could turn them off at any time I wanted.

The more I wrote, the more it seemed that my relationships were just predictable plot devices in a film. My girlfriend would constantly berate me for spending more time on my art than on her--the same one who, when she was real, was so supportive of my efforts, told me I should never sacrifice the integrity of my art.

I barely registered when she left. I'd expected shouting, violence, something. But she just left quietly, without even a note. Everything that was hers was gone. Everything that was mine was left right where it was--not that I touched any of it now. With a world so full of fleeting ghosts, how could I not focus on my art? How could I not make the world of my imagining real?


twisted metal burning upwards

All the electronics on the planet stopped working at the same time. The scientists had been saying there would be some solar activity or something, but they didn't think it was anything to worry about--maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was something they didn't or couldn't know about. That sort of thing happens a fair amount.

Every single stupid little thing died. Even the lights--probably. Even if the whole grid hadn't gone down, the backup generators some people tried to use were dead too. We don't even have a way to power things to check if they still work. I still try to turn them on sometimes, only to remember, oh wait, there's no power anywhere.

I was so sure this would be the end of the world, but it hasn't really, at least not for me. I spend a lot of time at the library now. The loss of all our technology doesn't bother me much. But it's strange, walking past these rows of what used to be computers. They don't have a function anymore. They just sit there like ghosts, reminding us of something that used to be.


waste and void

One day I woke up and the world had stopped existing--or mostly, anyway. Everything was empty. There was no sky, not even really any ground to speak of--just kind of something shapeless. You probably couldn't stand on it if you wanted to, but there was no gravity, either, so it didn't really matter. Mostly you just sort of moved--I'd say with a thought, but there was nowhere to go, so nowhere I wanted to be. I think motion just happened.

There was no apocalypse, nothing to announce it. I went to sleep in my bed in my house under a roof and a sky and the next morning no such thing existed. There was just me, and miles and miles of nothing.

I floated like this for what must have been days--there was apparently no such thing as hunger--and was fairly certain I was the only one to survive what I can only assume was the end. I finally met someone, and it had been so long I almost forgot how to speak. Our conversation was beautiful in its simple humanity--it was about nothing at all, making stupid jokes about the end, because what else can you do when faced with a formless nothingness as far as the eye can see?

But we drifted, as drifters do, and that drifting led us apart. I'm going to learn how to make this place work. I'm going to give it shape and purpose. I'm going to find my fellow survivors, if there are any, if I didn't imagine the whole thing. I'm going to make the world again.


all i need

I've worked my whole life so I wouldn't need to rely on anybody for help, mostly because my family was always there to help me with anything I needed--provided what I needed was money. I hated asking for money even when I was a kid, I think because I knew the answer would be yes. You come to rely on it, after a while, even while you're trying to fight it. I went to college mostly because they insisted, and started working at a coffee shop mostly because it turns out there's not a whole lot you can do with my degree.

And no, I wasn't happy. But I got by. I even made friends--and alienated most of them, but a few. It's as close to living as most people get, right?

But everything started going all wrong. I was happy with my self-reliance, such as it was, when someone beautiful came along--beautiful like as a person, I mean. With everyone else, I kept them at a distance, but her? It was like being a teen again, getting disapproving looks from parents for something I did or didn't do, and that sick, hideous feeling in my gut like the only thing important in the world was pleasing them, making it right.

So I did what anyone else would do in my situation. I abased myself. I let her in. Somehow she even reciprocated for a while. Then I did what normal people don't do in my situation: I completely lost it. I pushed her away, begged her to come back, told her I hated her, told her I loved her, meant it every time, even when I thought that saying it was supposed to be a good way to get her to do what I wanted. I lied and cheated and manipulated, and when she was gone I had never felt so alone--so much like I needed someone.

I wish I could say I started drinking to cope, but I'd started long before that. I was already relying on all the coping mechanisms I had just to get through day-to-day life. Now I'm not sure what to do.


the sincerest form of flattery

She spent years living in my shadow. I never really thought much of it--I tell people because I just got used to it, but if I'm being honest, it's because I was just too self-absorbed to let it do otherwise. But everything I did, she did. She adopted my clothes, my sayings, even the little quirks I didn't even notice that I had. I don't know how obvious it was to others, but I couldn't get rid of her if I tried--and I did once or twice. What good is having a self if someone else is just going to copy it? Sometimes I'd lash out and tell her to stop. And I settled disputes by pretending they never happened--and for her part, so did she.

We spent years apart when we both went off to university, and I never gave her any thought in all those years, except occasionally wondering if she still tried to look like me. One night, stoned out of my mind, I became convinced she had spies in my dorm to watch me and report. I couldn't sleep that night.

But that was still early on in my academic career, and soon other thoughts occupied my mind entirely. It wouldn't be until I had long since dropped out and settled into the life of a courier that I met her again--though at first I didn't recognize her, nor she me. She worked at one of the law offices I delivered to on a regular basis--her with her business suit, all polished and professional, just like I always imagined I'd be, if only life had worked out the way I planned.

She'd grown up, but there was something about how she moved--she never put it behind her. She was as surprised as I was to realize it was me, and offered to take me out to dinner that weekend. It wasn't as awkward as I expected. Indeed, it wasn't awkward at all. Despite never having given her any thought in all the years she'd been following me, it was like I'd known her forever.

We got good and drunk that night on her dime, and, since she lived in the suburbs, fucked in my Belltown apartment. She was gone by the time I woke up. I smoked a bowl to help with the hangover, and spent the rest of the day trying to shake the feeling that she had finally supplanted my identity, that I was living in the cracks because she was the real me now and I was the pale copy.


perfect diction

I have this recurring nightmare that I can't speak anymore--or rather, that I lose the ability to choose my words, to compare and contrast, to array them in perfection. I stop being clever, become inarticulate, mundane, boring. I can neither express nor obfuscate. Of all the dreams I've had, I count it among the worst, and it always comes up when my words have failed me. Words are all I have. I have to be careful with them.

There's a boy I've been seeing, or rather I very pointedly haven't been seeing, who doesn't give a fuck about words. I don't know what it is--he's very clever and bright and even occasionally eloquent, but he takes no joy in language. He's the sort of person who says things like "they're just words." He doesn't celebrate a clever turn of phrase. He doesn't care about precise phrasing.

All of it adds up to make him seem completely and utterly confident. Or perhaps confident isn't the right word--perhaps comfortable? Like his attitude towards words extends to the world. It doesn't matter if it's just right, if it's arrayed perfectly. As far as he's concerned, none of it matters--not so long as his idea gets across in the end.

It's fascinating on some level. On some other level, I hate him for it. If words are all I have, he doesn't care about it. He doesn't need it. He practically disdains it. He gets this condescending little smirk when I talk, like he thinks I'm silly and unenlightened for striving to find the perfect turn of phrase. But there's something compelling about it--sometimes, when it's late at night and I'm too tired or drunk to resist, I can almost imagine that he's right, and I really am the ridiculous one.


collateral damage

When the end came, they drafted me--the one draft I couldn't find it in me to dodge. They sent us to some frozen wasteland, and there we watched fire fall from the sky from the safety of our bunkers. This was just an overture, they said. There would be fighting soon enough, they said. But we all knew it was a lie, even if nobody was willing to admit it. It would only get worse from here.

Reports of civilian casualties were all we ever got from home. We had no orders except to survive. And even then--sometimes, with all that snow and ice around, one of the lads would go out and just walk, hoping there would be something to see. We heard rumor the seas had turned to blood, but you couldn't tell from here. Sometimes they'd come back. Sometimes they wouldn't. The lucky ones probably froze to death. Most of them, we figured, were hit by meteorites before that happened.

I started a little collection of them. I don't know why. This is the last place I'll ever see, I know that now. But I can't make myself think that, no matter how I try. So I have my collection that I'll take home. It'll be just like in the movies. I'll see the girl I left behind, though there isn't one, and tell her I brought these from the apocalypse for her. I'd tell her stories of my adventures, though there aren't any.

Fighting the apocalypse--who knows? Maybe we'll see some action before the ground swallows us all. Humanity's last stand against forces too huge to care. It's why I came out here. That's the most human way to go.


the end is near

There's more and more disasters every day. The world's half a step away from destroying itself utterly, and it's not showing any interest in stopping--and so there's people on street corners all the time now, with their little signs warning about the end. Some of them are saying that this is God's judgment. He's punishing us for our sinful ways, they're saying, but it doesn't seem like much of a punishment to me.

"Repent," they say, "for the end is upon us!"

On the news, it's all death tolls and grim statistics--some of them don't even make any sense. I guess it's still the same cheap sensationalism, but people are finally talking about something besides the latest celebrity meltdown or which sports team they think is going to win. The worse it gets the less people talk about politics or religion or philosophy.

Every single awful thing this world holds dear, every horrible accomplishment, is being wiped away in a series of untold catastrophes. The end is upon us, and finally, finally, I can look at the world with a smile on my face.


the question

I was supposed to propose to her at dinner that night. We'd been together for five years that very day. We had reservations at our favorite restaurant. I'd arranged the whole evening so it would be perfect, bribed the waiter so he'd bring out the ring with our meal. I didn't have to do anything.

The plan was to pick her up at 7. She lived about fifteen minutes out of town by car. I wish I knew what happened. I hit the freeway and saw that beautiful skyline and something inside me broke. I passed her exit and kept driving north. The urban sprawl was starting to give way when my phone rang, but I ignored it. She tried several more times. I don't know if she stopped trying or if I left my coverage area, but when the city was just a distant memory the phone stopped and the rain started.

An hour or so later, I pulled off onto some old forestry road and turned off the car and sat there, listening to the steady patter of rain in silence, watching the windows fog up. I don't know how long I stayed there, but only a few cars passed, and none of them noticed me. Then I stepped out of the car and started laughing, long and loud.

I left the car then and started walking. I didn't know where I was going, but I knew how I was getting there.



That's a lie, but I say it with a smile.

I've discovered I have the ability to tell a perfectly convincing lie. No matter what it is, everyone who hears it will believe it utterly. The only problem is, so will I.

It took a while to deduce that I have the ability, of course, since every time I lie it becomes the truth, as far as anyone else is concerned. And when it turns out the truth was wrong, it's easy enough to lie to myself to explain what must have happened, and it doesn't take much for other people to believe that this new fiction is plausible.

But eventually all the little facts of my life added up to this. On some level, now, I'm aware that much of what I believe to be true about myself are lies. It's hard to use to my advantage, though. I can't just rob a bank, for instance, by saying I'm a legitimate auditor, because then I'll believe it, too, and I'll just perform an audit.

But I do perform it on accident, and it's made the world around me so utterly perfect. Everything I do works, everyone I know loves me. I feel like I should worry about this--the fact that my life is basically just an elaborate fiction I've concocted--but I don't. There's something almost comforting about it, even. Like there's always hope that things will get better.


Late one morning, the sun just went out. There was no explosion, not even a little fanfare. It just went black in the sky, and we were plunged into darkness in an instant. I always felt that if this sort of thing happened, it should creep across the world instantly. There should be something strange in the sky--something. But instead it just went black. And it's stayed black for months now.

You'd think it would be colder now, but it's not that much colder--no worse than the difference between day and night, anyway, and the temperature still rises and falls with changes in weather patterns. This sort of forced a lot of our leading scientific theories to be reevaluated--like the one where our sun heats our world or is necessary to sustain life.

Crime rates have gone up, since it's dark everywhere all the time now, but mostly things have gone back to normal. Sometimes on the news they talk about it, and how the government wants to do something to find out what happened--send a team up into space to find where the sun should be. Maybe they will, but I don't think it'll help. They're hoping to understand what happened, to make sense of it--to prove that things don't just happen like that, that the universe isn't completely absurd.

I hope they try. I always admire people who set out to do the impossible.


keep calm and carry on

She has a calendar at home where she marks off the days since she last cried, and she is going for a new record. The old record is quite a large number of days, but things always fall apart in the end. Sometimes she'd break her streak for stupid reasons. Sometimes it was a good reason. She remembered each time perfectly, though she didn't write it down. All the calendar said was '8:44 pm.' And then, instead of a number like 47, the number became 0.

The calendar is there to tell her she has failed, not to make excuses for it.

The calendar is a secret, but she often practices what she'll say if someone asks her about it. She'll tell them, the world is full of terrible, senseless things, and it doesn't do anyone any good to cry about it. She has decided, she'll say, that she's going to survive, and to survive you have to be tough.

She has been practicing that since she started, several years ago. Sometimes her guests have asked about it, and she's always just made something up, mumbling under her breath. They seemed satisfied. Probably they weren't really even curious. The last time she cried, thirteen days ago, was because the boy she was seeing asked and then didn't even listen to her answer. She cried because he didn't care, and because she knew he didn't care, and because she still lied even though she knew he wouldn't pay attention to the answer.

Her relationships tended to be short, because mostly she was very good at being tough. Things didn't get to her, and sometimes that got to others. On some level she was drawn to those who still let the world get to them, though she couldn't have articulated why this was. She said she liked to see them get jaded.

But sometimes stupid things like this happened, and she cried when one of them became what she said she hoped he would be. And she still couldn't figure out why.


nothing left to see

We woke up to the news that it was all over. All the riots and the energy of last night were gone. Protesters were rounded up, and what once felt like this amazing movement that might actually get something done was now just some people still taking flight. We were asleep on the roof of our building, where just the night before we'd fallen asleep watching the protests, listening to the noise.

Now it was quiet. We could still see some police lights in the distance, hear some sirens, but it was over now. It would all go back to normal. We walked through the city that day, as if we could recapture what was lost--but there was no magic left in the streets. It was dead now, with only a few lingering reminders of what had once been: a broken window here, a fire-scorched wall there.

The worst of it was we believed it. For that night, at least, it felt like there was a future, and it was here, and we were part of it. We really thought the sun would rise on a new world. We were drunk on excitement, drunk on the crowds. We went to sleep feeling victorious.

There's no more victory left in the world, I'm convinced of it now. All things must fail eventually.


how to disappear completely and never be found, reprise

My girlfriend and I were caught in a hailstorm on our way back to the subway. We ran to find shelter--the entryway to some building or other--and just sat there and watched, hands held tight. And the sky flashed a few times and it went on for what seemed like forever and suddenly I felt dizzy and feverish. About the time I noticed the thunder the world started spinning.

I realized she was talking at some point, but the words didn't make any sense. How could they, when the sky was falling all around us? I smiled at her anyway and squeezed her hand, and maybe that was enough for her. We waited in silence until the hail stopped. By then the world had settled down--or at least the world wasn't spinning. The fever was still there, and I felt like I was someone else entirely now. But I smiled, and walked with her to the station.

A train going the wrong way pulled in. She was lost in thought, but I watched it closely, stepping closer, pretending I was just pacing or stretching my legs. Then I heard the chiming sound that meant the doors were closing and dove through at the last second. They closed behind me and I heard my girlfriend give a cry and pound on the doors, but the train was moving now.

I changed cars and dropped my cell phone on the tracks. At the next stop I switched to a different line and went somewhere completely new. And the further I went from familiar ground, the less I felt my fever.