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.