why would you lie?

They invented a pill that makes it impossible to lie. It actually took several years before it really caught on. At first it was a weird novelty with a tiny niche market. Then some of the bigger corporations started pushing it, and soon it was a big trend--people would take it for themselves, buy it for their loved ones, and then, they assumed, they were returning trust to the world.

Then the government got in on the game. There were tax incentives for people who were on the truth pill. It became an invaluable tool in court. That's where it started slipping. Soon it became legal to compel witnesses to take the pill before testifying. Since you could still remain silent, it became legal for police to use it as an interrogation tool.

Eventually the mandate to be on the truth pill was universal. It was seen as an obvious public good, and anyone who stood opposed must have had something to hide. That was the reasoning behind it. Protests were held, but they were stamped out quickly, and opposition, such as it was, went underground.

The remarkable thing was it didn't really work. It stopped you from saying anything that was untrue, but it didn't actually compel people to tell, as the courts would have it, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. People could still fail to mention relevant facts, and, while stating no direct falsehoods, paint a completely misleading picture in the minds of others.

The lawmakers were hoping for a reduction in crime, and an honest, freer society. What they got was chaos. Crimes of passion skyrocketed. Police went reckless in their investigations. This led to widespread rioting. But they still promised us that this was just a step in the right direction. By the time our grandchildren were coming of age, they said, we would live in a society that knew nothing of dishonesty. It would be fair and perfect and free.

But the regime didn't last long enough for their prophecy to come true. En masse, members of Congress and of the government resigned, and the pharmaceutical corporations manufacturing the pill were either destroyed or disbanded. The economy entered an unprecedented freefall, and soon there were protests that had nothing to do with the pills.

It wasn't long before it was all just a memory, and not much longer before it was hardly even that.


moths and flames


I don't remember when the light first started bothering me. I've always been a creature of the dark, but there was a time when I could tolerate the light, too. Lately, though, I can't stand it. It's not that it hurts me physically, or that I'm unused to its brightness. But the presence of those lights starts burning away at my psyche. I can't help but stare at it. I can think of nothing else while the lights are on--not without great effort, at least.

So I skulk. There isn't much else I can do. I avoid rooms with lights on and I come out only at night, forcing myself into the grocery stores and barely managing to buy the things I need without going mad. And I slink home and fumble around in the dark, too afraid to turn on a light even to see the things I need.

My neighbors think I've gone mad. They're complaining to the landlord--ostensibly about the blackout curtains, but it's really because they don't like that I shun the light. And they're probably right. I just don't know where else to go, or what to do. Even the thought of it is overpowering. All I want is some rest.


everything that is yours

First dig two graves.

I promised that she would be sorry, and I'm a man who keeps his promises. But I had no interest in making her sweat every day until I finally brought her to ruin, when I could just as easily strike without warning. I had no interest in lording it over her at all--it was better that she suffer and know nothing of the reasons for it.

No doubt she never gave me a thought for those years in the interim, as she established herself in the world. She didn't know that I was watching. She didn't know that every time something good happened to her, I had put into place a way to take it away from her. And she didn't know, when the world started slipping from her fingers, why it was happening.

I started with little things. Things that, if they happened on their own, would be just a minor annoyance, but when they happen in succession, made her suspect that the world was out to get her--and she was almost right, of course. The subsequent paranoia and bad moods only amplified what happened next, as I stole her job from under her, made her friends hate her and her family abandon her, even forced her lover to move across the country, away from her.

But she was clever, and she had fallback plans--but they were gone when she went to fall back on them. And when she finally hit rock bottom she still had no idea that it was my hand the whole time guiding these events. It is a comfort to know that you suffer for someone's revenge--but to think that everything has gone wrong utterly without sense or reason is to know despair.


somewhere else

It's none of your concern anymore.

He kept things together, more or less, when he was still around. People came to him with their problems, because he cared, because he could make things work, because they knew they could count on him to do the right thing. He was respected. When he got a job--a new job, a wonderful job--somewhere else, he was given a fond farewell, and we all promised to keep in touch. For a while, some of us even did.

But he was gone, and people changed. We had to. What we all thought would be a hole that we could never fill turned out to just be a temporary gap. It wasn't even that we learned to do without, like there was still something missing. It was more that we started living like he was never there, or at least never necessary. Life moved on.

But life has its way of bringing people together. Some years later he came back--as people often do--and, seeing a friend of mine in trouble, did what men like him always do in those situations: he tried to help. She shrugged him off, said she'd deal with it, but thanked him for his concern.

Then he did something I'd never seen him do, which was turn to someone else--in this case, me. "What happened? What did I do wrong?"

I said that I didn't know, but we exchanged a look that said everything. This isn't the town he left.


to please you

Sometime down the road, she stopped appreciating me. I had given up everything for her--my career, my time, my love. Everything I could, I gave to her. I helped her out--not just the little things, either. I got her that dream job she always wanted. I brought her the things she needed. First it was cigarettes, except when she quit for a while. Then booze, in little hidden bottles and flasks so they wouldn't catch on. Just to get through the day. I made her what she was, gave up everything so she could do everything she ever dreamed of.

I even carried on when it was clear she thought of me as nothing but a way to get her fix when she wasn't supposed to or couldn't tear herself away. Because she was more important. Of course she was. And yet--how could she stand it? Knowing that I'd done so much for her?

She wasn't home enough to notice when I started bleeding into her drinks, and she never noticed the taste. If it tasted coppery it was probably just the flask. She never suspected that she was drinking my blood along with her liquor. She was letting me become a part of her. And what if I was growing weaker by the day? She was finally becoming mine, letting me influence her.

Then one night she came home and I had passed out from blood loss, and she called the ambulance. "See?" I said, as they loaded me onto the stretcher. "She does care." And I smiled as they drove me away and the world went black.



When the war finally came, we'd spent so much time living in the fear of it that it almost didn't matter. We all had our shelters and our stockpiles. We all knew what we'd do when there was a raid--we'd done so many drills, when the first real attack came half of us didn't even know it. Those that did, didn't care. We knew what to do. It wasn't until we felt the ground shake, deep in our shelter, that it really hit home: this is for real. So we hid for longer than our drills mandated, and when the all clear sounded we went back to our homes, some of which now consisted mostly of rubble and debris.

When I was young, I was always frightened of war. All the violence and destruction and displaced lives--it seemed like the most unimaginable horror, the worst thing that humans had ever invented. I pictured myself huddled in a shelter with my fellow survivors, afraid for my life, trembling, alive, indignant. It was a terrible thing, and we all knew it was terrible, and wished that we had some power over it, to make it all go away.

I never expected to be bored by it. I never expected to hear reports of casualties and damages on a hand-powered radio and just think, "Well, they should have learned the drills better." I never expected to find my stockpiles of canned food and survival supplies as a mildly irritating necessity.

People kept dying throughout the war, but it was never anyone I knew well enough to care. You lose track of neighbors all the time in the real world, don't you? It just happens a little more. Of course, we all knew what really happened to them, but we'd all been through the drills, and functionally speaking nothing really changed, so what good was it to think about it?


five-day forcast

The weather gets worse when I try to visit. I didn't think anything of it at first, because it's still winter and of course the pass is bad sometimes, so instead I just sent her my apologies and promised the next weekend. But just as I'd pack up the winds would pick up and I'd lose power and the radio would be reporting the passes closed again.

This happened a few times before I caught on. I'd start checking the weather in advance, and it would be reporting clear and dry. The weather only got bad when I started planning a trip. So I tried to catch it off guard, leave without any planning or preparation, only to find myself stuck on the freeway for hours, stranded in a little truck stop town with nowhere to be and nothing to do.

So I stopped making promises, and she started asking why I couldn't tell her when I'd be by to visit. I didn't know what to say. She wouldn't believe the weather was cursed, she wanted me to keep trying, and so I did, and so I kept getting stranded, and I came to know the little nowhere towns and the little greasy spoons I'd find myself eating at, wishing I were somewhere else.

I wanted nothing more than to give up, but she wouldn't understand, so I guess I'll just have to settle for failure.


mirror images

I read studies that found that couples tend to grow to look alike as they get older. I don't know if that's true, or what that means, but it didn't say anything about starting to look like your ex girlfriends.

I haven't seen her in years. We were together for a year or two, I think, and then there was an ugly falling out and later the sort of awkward reconciliation you get when there was once an ugly falling out. But I know that when I look into the mirror in the past few weeks, I'm starting to see her staring back at me.

It's not just the mirror, either. Photographs of me turn up on the internet and I'm making her expressions. I'd swear my eyes have even turned that weird shade of blue hers are. But it's in the mirror that I spend what must be hours every day practicing expressions, trying to find one that isn't one of hers. Sometimes I manage to coax my smile away from her smile, but it feels unnatural, and all those hours of practice are gone after a few hours.

I'm not unhappy. I'm dating someone else now and she's wonderful. Sure, I think of her sometimes, but I think of a lot of things sometimes. I don't know why this is happening, and I don't know who I can talk to about it. I just want it to stop.

But that worries me too, because I'm frightened, and I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. I think I'm afraid that I'm turning into her, and the thing is there's a reason we don't keep in touch.


blue skies

A few days ago, the sky stopped being blue. Not because of cloud cover or anything, but because blueness simply stopped being a quality the sky possessed.

Everyone noticed, of course. For the first few hours, the whole city stopped, and people were just staring at the sky. I'd say they were wondering what it meant, but that's not what people actually do. They stop and stare. They take pictures. They ask what's going on, and did you see that, and then, some hours later, they go on with their lives.

But me, I couldn't get over it. For the first day or two I could still get people to talk about it, because it was still interesting, but by three days in, some people seemed to have forgotten, and the rest didn't care. Yes, the sky isn't blue anymore, but what can we do about it? There's still work to be done, and it won't get done any faster if we keep talking about it.

And maybe they're right. The world keeps turning. Nothing else has changed. But it seems to me like everything has, in its own little way.



Give us a smile, January.

She was young and stupid, like young people ought to be. She met him at a New Year's party and they both drank too much, like young people ought to, and at midnight she kissed him. Of course she told her friends that it's just what you do at the new year, but in truth she never had before and this year, she told herself, it would be different.

That January started out beautifully, like Januaries often do, and it snowed all the time and the ground was always sparkling like someone had scattered it with crushed diamond. This is how winters go, of course, and what started out as magical and beautiful soon simply became a crushing and monotonous cold, and even as February approached the spring seemed years away.

But it came, and with the flowers she'd mostly forgotten her brief glittering winter fling, and with the years there were other boys and other girls and much, much later she told everyone that she only remembered the good times. It's like the winter in that way: you can always remember how beautiful the snow is, but never how painful the cold is, how depressing the dark is.

And years went by and one year she found herself sitting with an old friend long after the party ended, and talking about youth and folly, and wondering if talking about having once been young and stupid meant that she was no longer young nor stupid--if she no longer drank too much because it was fun and instead drank too much because it made living more bearable for a while, did that mean she was wiser as well as older, or was it just a different kind of folly?

It had been another January full of hopes that ended up lost in the dark and the cold, and this time, she said, she was certain the winter would never end. Maybe she'd hoped for a little bit of springtime out of the conversation. But as she said it, something changed. She found in herself the resolve to face the winter alone, without the aid of all the false hopes and disappointments she'd come to rely upon.

It was a long, cold, dark walk home, but between the alcohol and her newfound resolve, she didn't mind so much.



It was an evening much like this one, late in the winter, when the days were just starting to get longer again, and the air was cool but not cold and you could just find yourself thinking, "Spring can't be that far off now." When the skeletons of the trees, though nothing was different, started to suggest the brilliant green that would herald the spring. That's when I first saw a man broken.

We were waiting for a bus after a show. It was going to be a long wait, and we were talking, laughing, doing whatever--it should have been a good night. It felt like a good night. It felt like a night where things finally start to go right. Then his phone rang, he wandered of to answer it. As he stepped out of earshot the last thing I heard him say was something like "What's happened?"

When he came back his face had changed. His smile was gone. He saw me but he didn't see me. And I asked him what was wrong, and he told me, and I told him that it would be all right, because that's what you're supposed to say. But we both knew that was a lie. He called a cab, and was gracious enough to pretend I wasn't doing him a favor by not coming with him.

I took the bus back home alone. When next I saw him he was a grimmer man. He still laughed and smiled, but they were the laugh and smile of a broken man.