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.


vanishing act

When I was a kid, my parents discovered that I could make things disappear. They didn't know that's what they'd discovered, of course--what they knew was that they couldn't trust me around any of their belongings. They figured I just misplaced things a lot. Sometimes they joked that I was cursed, but they didn't mean it, not really.

I just knew it was weird. As I grew up I thought maybe I really was cursed. But it always happened when I was distracted, so it seemed like I must have just had a problem remembering where I put things. And there's such a thing as unlucky people, right? But when I lost something, it was never found ever again.

I discovered I was actually making the things cease to be in high school, when I had things to hide--and suddenly they were hidden, forever. It wasn't as useful as I'd have liked for contraband, since usually the point of contraband is finding it again later--but at least nobody could catch me with it. I spent hours practicing until I knew all there was to know about it. It was my party trick, the thing I used to impress girls.

I never really found a use for it, though, apart from the novelty, and that wore off pretty soon. I didn't have a talent for theater or magic tricks, though I tried. There wasn't enough variety to the show. Things just disappeared, and never came back. No transformations or startling appearances. But I kept practicing anyway. I kept trying to show it off to people who were less and less interested. I had a gift, and it didn't do anything for me except make people think I was weird.

But I was always learning more. If I tried, I could make big things disappear. Bigger than I thought possible--and the more I tried, the more I realized there was no limit. I went out to the city dump and started vanishing things there--toasters, tires, rusted out husks of cars. I embarked on a campaign of vandalism, destroying things people owned. Nobody else knew my secret, and it left no trace, so there was no way to track it. I left chaos in my wake, but it wasn't enough, no matter how much I destroyed. It would never be enough, though I brought the entire world to nothing.


come hell or high water

Since the floods, I've been out of contact with--well, everyone I know. My home was literally washed away. I watched it float down the street with all the rest of the debris of the city. Cell phones are out of commission, and I'm at a refugee camp, because where else was I going to go? We've got food and water, though it won't last much longer. I don't know anyone here. I haven't tried to get in touch with my family, even though I've had some chances. I haven't even given the camp my name, so they couldn't get in touch if they wanted to.

The thing is, I watched my whole life floating away, or very nearly. And sure, I was upset for a while, but then when I got in the rescue boat and they took me to camp, suddenly I was free. If anything was going to give me a chance to start over, this was it. I could float on the will of strangers, find a new job, rent a modest apartment, live on like it never happened--like my whole life never happened.

If that's not comforting I'm not really sure what is.



Since my suicide, I've had a lot of time to review the video archives that represent my life. There isn't really much else to do here in the afterlife. Just watch your life. I think it's meant to be a form of judgment, and you have to watch it all. Maybe it's special for suicides. "This is what you gave up," they're trying to tell me. "Look at how happy you were."

That's the part that surprised me. I always thought it would be all the terrible things, all the shit that made me want to off myself, or that just made me feel like a terrible person in general. I haven't seen any of that--and believe me, I've been looking. No, it's all the happy moments. And some of it does make me kind of nostalgic. If they're trying to make me regret my decision, though, it's not working. All that's gone now. If I could go back it would be to more of the stuff they're not showing.

I finally got sick of it and destroyed the little TV they have for watching all these life events last night. I figured they'd fix it or replace it or send me to hell or whatever, but they haven't. It's gone now. My room's just a comfortable couch and some blankets, and a notepad to write on. I'm not sure what comes next.



How I wish you would take your medicine.

Of course she knew she had problems. So much of the problem was knowing that she had them, knowing she was broken. But they didn't understand that. They thought they were helping when they sent her to the doctors, who told her what was wrong with her using terms that were very technical and professional-sounding. What she took away from it is that it was a problem with her brain. They gave her pills, with names she couldn't pronounce. They told her this will make everything better.

She hasn't thrown them out, though she isn't quite sure why. When she's supposed to be out, she goes back to the doctor for more, and now there's dozens of little pill bottles lined up, hidden under her bed. She kept them on the nightstand for a while until she started having people over to stay the night. They looked at the pills and got this look on their face: this one's crazy. Usually they left, and that made her feel bad. Sometimes they stayed, and that made her feel even worse.

So she hid the pills, and as she did she wondered why she couldn't just throw them away, or why she's never even tried taking them. She's broken. She needs to be fixed. That's how it works, right?

She's supposed to be better, so when people who act very sad and concerned when they talk to her call, she acts better. They seem to believe the trick, and on good days, so does she. She's been seeing someone who seems to believe it, too, who doesn't act sad and concerned around her. That helps sometimes. But sometimes, when she's alone at night, she lies on the floor and stares at her collection of pill bottles. And these days even though she acts better, she's afraid again. Maybe they're just pretending. Soon they'll send her to another doctor and tell her she's been collecting pills under her bed this whole time. And she tells herself she's just being silly, even though she knows that never works.


a bitter pill

I bought a drug that will kill anyone who has recently betrayed someone else. I administered it to my girlfriend tonight, when I cooked dinner for her. According to my dealer, it works best when you serve it mixed in with food, so I just added it to the meal. It turns out it's actually a pretty good seasoning, too--or maybe it was just the sweet taste of victory.

But the problem is she's not dead. She doesn't even look ill. We're watching a movie now, and it's all I can do to focus. I've got a headache that's worse than anything I've ever had, and my vision's blurring and there's this dull ache in my stomach and a sharp pain in my side. It's a comedy--she likes comedies--and every time she laughs, which is often, the headache gets worse and my ears ring for what seems like hours. I can't even understand what she says, or what the people in the movie are saying. It's taking all the energy I have just to write this.

I think I'm dying. I think this must be what dying feels like. I don't know why it's not killing her, or why it's working just on me. I was only ever loyal to her. I did everything right. Maybe she's just better at pretending than I am. That must be it. Even now, at the end, she wants to pretend it's all fine, like she never did anything. At least I can die knowing she'll get what's coming to her in the end.


quite a following

People have been following me for several years now. At first I was frightened--who wouldn't be? But nobody I knew was willing to help. My family sent me to several doctors, who all tried to convince me that these were just paranoid delusions--but I knew better. Eventually I started pretending I didn't notice or care anymore, mostly to keep my family from sending me to another doctor, but also hoping perhaps they'd go away. They didn't. If anything, they doubled their surveillance.

I spent some time trying to lose them, both in the city and out of it. I went on spontaneous vacations, jumped on unplanned buses, even moved to different towns several times, but to no avail. My followers were still there, still watching. The part that vexed me most is they weren't trying to hide, not really. Sometimes they'd nod at me when they caught me looking. But it had been a year or two by this point--what were they waiting for?

Eventually, when I was in another new city and they were still there, I started coming to accept it. Somewhere out there, someone thought I was important enough to dedicate all these resources to watching me. I had no idea who it could be or why they would do this, but it was a comforting thought.


tricks of memory

I've been noticing scars in places I know I haven't been injured lately. Or rather, places I don't remember injuries happening. I don't drink or smoke or do any sort of mind-altering drugs, but I have been under a lot of stress lately. Perhaps I've been blacking out, but that doesn't explain the scars. I'm don't do anything dangerous. I don't even use my kitchen knives more than once or twice a month. I'm utterly boring.

I trace my fingers along the scars and little scenes flash through my mind: me with a razor blade, carefully cutting myself against a colorless backdrop. The only color is the brilliant red of my blood. Could I be forgetting that? In the images I'm--if not happy, more alive than I am in what I've come to think of as my conscious moments. There isn't much color there, either.

I read that the mind remembers things best when it's in the same state as when the event happened. So if you're drunk when you learn something, you'll remember it better when you're drunk. The same goes for sitting at certain desks, being in certain rooms. I worry that I can't remember these moments because I'm not alive like I am then. The mindset is so utterly foreign to me there's just no way my mind can even begin to recollect.