six hundred::a year in review

This is my six hundredth post here, which is pretty significant, I think, even though the vast majority of my posts have been rather insignificant. I’ve had this site for almost exactly four years [the anniversary is on Wednesday] and I’ve received about 31,000 visitors, have about 1,000 followers, and have now made six hundred posts.

I don’t know. It’s something.

It’s also the end of the year, and it’s been a very strange year in almost every way. As a reader, I read over 100 books, many of them quite short, and most of them not what I planned on reading. My reading goal for the year was to finally get to some of these mammoth sized books I have lying around, but I only got to a few of them. Most of my reading got taken over when I became the interviewer for Monkeybicycle’s 52 Weeks/52 Interviews series. I’m glad I did it, but maybe even more glad that it’s over, though now I’m the Interview editor there, which is a cool result.

As a writer, I wrote about 400,000 words this year, but only completed one novel, which I only did a few weeks ago, and which is only about 40,000 words. I wrote two poetry collections, though, a few novellas, and compiled a short story collection, as well as writing about 60 new short stories this year, 52 of them in my Year in Stories project. But I have about 150,000 words of a novel I began last January just sitting around, and a bunch of other started but stalled projects. Oh, I wrote a graphic novel this year too. I often forget about that because I can’t publish it. But I’m about to begin a new graphic novel, so that’s cool. This one is publishable, which is also cool.

I was going to make this a longer post, but I think I’ll just do it sort of quick and randomly with silly lists. I read many more poetry collections than I’ve read in a long time, and way more books written in the last couple years than I normally do. Typically, only probably 10% of my reading is really new stuff, with the rest being, well, the rest of literature. None of these are in any sort of order, so don’t worry about that, if you’re reading. These are just my favorite things I read this year.

Best Novels I read this Year

  • 2666 by Roberto Bolano
  • The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe
  • Viriconium Trilogy by M John Harrison
  • Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • United States of Banana by Giannina Braschi

Best Novels I read Published this Year

  • The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Desert Places by Robert Kloss and Amber Sparks
  • Colony Collapse by JA Tyler
  • Edie & The Low-Hung Hands by Brian Allen Car
  • The Laughter of Strangers by Michael J Seidlinger

Best Short Story Collections

  • Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas
  • Salamandrine: 8 Gotchis by Joyelle McSweeney
  • Understories by Tim Horvath
  • Fish Bites Cops! by David James Keaton
  • At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

Best Poetry Collections

  • Moon Woke Up Nine Times: Selected Haiku of Basho
  • For All These Wretched, Beautiful, & Insignificant Things so Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed by Hosho McCreesh
  • The Waiting Tide by Ryan W Bradley
  • Dark Matter by Aase Berg
  • Butcher’s Tree by Feng Sun Chen

I’ll leave it at that. I read a lot of great things this year, and it’s impossible to really list them all, but this should give some indication and some praise where it’s deserved.

Best films is a whole other category and something I can’t really even categorise properly without writing a thousand essays about each film, so I’ll stick to the best films I saw this year that came out this year. Also in no particular order.

  • Pacific Rim by Guillermo Del Toro
  • To the Wonder by Terrence Malick
  • Ain’t them Bodies Saints by David Lowery
  • 12 Years a Slave by Steve McQueen
  • Blue is the Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Upstream Color by Shane Carruth

And there are probably a thousand more films I could list there. My whole life is film and it’s all I love in art and everything, but I’ll keep it there. I probably forgot something super amazing that someone will tell me about, but I don’t care. Those are my favorites, probably. At least today. There the ones I’ll be watching again and again. And, of course, should be mentioned that there are a lot of great films that came out this year that I just haven’t seen yet. So, yeah.

But, I suppose that’s good enough.

I have big plans for 2014, but we’ll see if any of that goes according to plan.

Nothing in 2013 did.

It’s been an all right year.

the last of the year in interviews

The final interview of the yearlong weekly interview series brings us back to the man who started it all. It’s JA Tyler’s birthday today, and this is my interview with him at Monkeybicycle. I’ve known JA for a few years now and he’s truly an amazing person, and he does so much for the writing community and young writers like me. He’s a pleasure to talk to, to know, and he always has great advice. Along with that, he’s one of my favorite writers, and, I think, one of the best around, so it’s an honor to call him a friend.

Read his interview and then buy his books. All of them, probably.

I spent last night with Girl with Oars & Man Dying again, almost exactly two years after I first read it. It’s magic and it’s beautiful and it’s perfect. It’s sublime. I love it.

What else? Bart, Bonnie, and Charlie are in town, so we had a very good time the other night, which caused me to spend yesterday sort of a ruinous wreck of human, but tonight we’ll do it again, this time with the Hambro, who’s always a pleasure to see. Just went to the library to get some of the books I requested, so I should have some goodness to occupy my time before they arrive.

I have one more post to write before the year is done, and it’ll be a recap of the year, because that’s what you do, yeah?

Still not sure what to do for New Year’s but Lake & Irving seems to be where I’ll end up.

Lake & Irving is a restaurant started by my good friend Dewey and his brother, Chris. Both of them are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, and Chris has, I think, ten years of experience as a chef at a Hawaiian 5-Star resort, so they come pretty decorated. More than that, they just make awesome food at a reasonable price. Lots of great beers, too, and the interior is so perfect. I really should write a proper post about it soon, but just know that it’s a great restaurant and bar here in Uptown, so if you live in the Twin Cities, treat yourself to some amazing food for a good price.

But, yeah, I guess that’s it. Still doing research on the giant monster novel, which still just means watching godzilla and Evangelion and so on, but the project grows and I’m excited to start writing it. Also, should have cover art soon for a very cool surprise.

It’s 45 degrees out and it’ll be -10 tomorrow, so I think I may try to do anything outside.

Till next time, which will probably be Monday or Tuesday or whenever I have time.

Oh, almost forgot to mention, the indiegogo campaign just broke the $1,700 mark! So many great rewards still to be claimed.

Thanks to everyone who’s been so helpful.

christmas makes me lonely

I can’t really explain it. I never have been able to, but christmas makes me lonely. I think it’s because family doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does for most people.

My family is a stranger to me and itself. I don’t believe they know me and I don’t believe they’re interested in knowing me.

They’re good people and I like them, but it’s weird that we’re tied together this way.

Anyrate, sometimes I just want to listen to this song.

Life always gets worse and better. There was a blizzard tonight and it cut our celebration several hours short. I received mostly gift cards for restaurants to take Chelsea to. It’s weird to become a unit with a second person, or to have people in your family consider you as such.

I have an essay I wrote about loneliness earlier this year. Someday I’ll write my philosophy book. Maybe soon, even. When I get lonely I think about it a lot, I guess. Maybe because I think I’ll be able to explain the world and my life to myself and then to all of you. Fiction teaches me how to think about the world and how to relate to it, but writing philosophy is a different breed, and probably it’s silly to call it philosophy since my philosophy is almost an antiphilosophy.

Rambling. Snow. Everyone sleeps.

I’ll never leave this life and that scares me sometimes.

I don’t know what I fell into when I was born but it’s been beautiful and strange and heartbreaking almost every single day, and I’m glad I’m alive and will continue to be for at least a while more.

There’s always so much more to do.

Goodnight, Starchild.

I miss you.

rethinking the recently finished novel

I realised in the week since completing the novel that it was limiting and foolish to include males in it. So I’m going to rewrite the final chapter and remove its maleness by creating another gender, which is easier than it sounds. This means probably nothing to anyone who isn’t me and it’s theoretical in a way that’s not new but it’s how I choose to engage in these topics.

It’s actually something I think about a lot. There are so many words devoted to gender politics and all that, and I don’t engage with ideas like that, in the way they’re typically presented. And so for me to understand things, I need to make them up and write the impossible into real life, so it can fit in my head.

But, yeah, that should make it more interesting. I mean, I wrote it, so that’s all the maleness that needs to be in the novel.

I think I’m going to write an epic poem about giant monsters and love. It should be a fun companion to the giant monster novel I’m planning on writing very soon. Currently rewatching all kinds of giant monster movies/shows and calling it research to prepate.

Watched Young Adult just now and it was okay. I think the last ten or so minutes ruin everything that came before. It sort of validates the horrible person that the main character is. It’s showing you how they’re a complete wreck but then trying to justify it by saying, At least you don’t live in this stupid small town. Or, maybe it’s not saying that, but it felt like it was, and it felt really hollow.

But, yeah, tomorrow’s Chelsea’s last day in Minnesota for about a week. She’ll get to recharge in the heat of Tennessee while I languish here in the cold. But Bart and Charlie are in town, so there’s fun to be had.

If you’re wondering why I’ve posted so much this month, it’s because I decided several months ago that I wanted to reach 600 posts by the end of the year. Because I’m pretty bad at updating, I had a ways to go this month, but now I’m just a few away.

sausage making

As we do every year on the solstice, tonight the family makes sausage, which my dad calls the sausage party. It’s one of the greatest days of the year! Drinks and food and making forty pounds of sausage.

Anyrate, my interview with Robert Kloss and Amber Sparks went up this week. They’re awesome, and this is also the first full interview of the interview series. Next week will be the incredible JA Tyler to round out the year.

I can’t remember what I wanted to say in here. It’s been an odd week, I guess. I keep feeling all these projects rising and I just keep putting my head down and trying to do work for money. I think it’s a difficult time of year to find work, maybe. Or I’ve just been unlucky.

The indiegogo campaign has slowed considerably, but that’s okay. I imagine people are busy with the holidays and so on. I’ll pick up pushing it after, I think.

 

And if you don’t feel like giving to me, think about giving to Gregory Sherl.

 

He’s struggled with OCD for several years and he needs money to get well.

a year in stories::fifty two

The last story of my year in stories journey. It’s the third in the far future ancient robot stories. It’s one of my favorite stories I’ve written this year, so I hope you dig it too.

 

 I was born in a world without life

He was darkness. Roaming the forest that was her whole world, he settled nowhere and never joined in their celebrations and prayers to the god of the forest. Carrying a blade that sparked like fire but glowed blue and cut through tree and flesh as if they were air, the sight of him stilled her lungs and caused her heart to sprint.

Do not deal with that man, said the mother, for he is a daemon. He is blackness and we must always pray for the light. Do you not remember the songs the Elder taught you? That man is a daemon from the far away past. He uses the forbidden items from the dead world of our ancestors. It was monsters like him who poisoned the world and left us this darkened sky. All beyond the forest is waste and it is from there that he came. It is there that he disappears to feed on the blood of our children. On your sisters.

But mother, he is the only man I know.

Mother shook her head, You do not know him. There is no knowing such blackness.

Over the following months he appeared more and more often. Stories circulated that all the dying male children were killed by him, that he turned into a great monstrous beast with enormous fangs and claws used to rip the human body to shreds. The howling of the night and the moon were attributed to his daemonic hands. The rustling of leaves turned ominous, the wind in league with the monster stalking them. The dark clouds shielding the moonlight were his doing, the sickness that spread through the tribe and killed all the men started when he pissed into the rivers of the world. He captured children, mutilated them, and ate their souls. He grew to fifteen feet tall with red eyes and blazing black hair, his skin made of lightning, his voice of thunder, and he transformed at will, riding the wind to sow destruction and fear amongst the last people of the world.

She watched her brother die drowning in his own lungs, his legs no thicker than her wrist, his fingers like tiny sticks, and his skin as brittle as winter leaves. She prayed over his body, Deathly. She prayed to the god of the forest, but she did not ask for salvation, only that his passing be quick, and that he rejoin her soon, as a tree to watch over her life, and the life of her children and their children.

When the time came, the boy, the last boy in the tribe, swallowed the seed that would sprout to a tree and grow from his heart to become another guardian of the world. The Elder’s cracked lips spoke the words and the boy closed his eyes. The Elder hobbled away and only she and her mother stared at the mound that had been their son and brother, their final hope for a future.

Autumnal wind blew through the encampment and they crowded round the fire. The insects screamed, the fire cracked, and birds sang sorrowful notes encasing the tribe in walls of sound, trapping them in fear of every snapping twig, every scattered skittering leaf.

When the tribe slept, she rose from her place beside the mothers and sisters and crept away to the river. The noise washed over her, its current filling her chest, her limbs. The moon shown, slivered against the withering constellations of an uncaring sky. She pulled the braid loose and let her hair fall. Shaking it out, the smell of her own body bathed in moonlight brought a smile and lightened her heart. She sat with her feet in the cold water, eyes closed, humming a song without tune, one she had never heard.

The songs of the forest came to her. Every howled note reformed the song she hummed until she sang aloud with the chirping insects, the scurrying mammals, and the weary birds. The howling so far away created a rhythm to the disparate noises and brought a melody to her notes. A lilting song of sorrow and hope, of lost love and desperate joy.

A roar broke through, rattling her spine, silencing her song. Motionless, she opened her eyes and saw him watching her, the blade in his hand, blue light lapping at the darkness. Her chest full of bees, she stood but with one hand he motioned her to stay. Scanning the trees, his body taut, the muscles of his neck and shoulders catching moonlight, he pointed to a tree and gestured for her to climb.

Watching him from the tree, new sensations ran through her, from deep in her bowels to every corner of her body. Dizzy at the sight of him, his darkness, the blackness of his skin like permanent midnight, her heart no longer buzzed but flitted on butterfly wings. Only slightly taller than her but broader, his face and chest covered in hair, he turned in all directions, searching for the source of the roaring. He entered the trees and circled round, checking the earth for tracks, his energy blade always in his hands. Crossing the river, he stood beneath her but did not look up.

A new roar and from the trees came a great beast covered in fur. On all four legs it was the height of the man and its skull so massive it could carry her inside. Standing on its hind legs, its head level with hers, she screamed and the beast stared at her and roared once more, shaking the skin loose from her bones, splintering against the sound raging through the night.

The energy blade crackling in his hand, he rushed the beast and leapt at its stomach, slashing from left shoulder to right knee, and then diving away to the left, into the river.

Innards spilt from the beast in a wet slapping noise as it groaned Deathly, pawing at its organs, and collapsing into a pile of fur and meat.

The man emerged from the river. She caught his eyes and he stared back, then set to cutting up the beast.

She helped him carry what meat they could to a clearing where a fire danced weakly. Adding more wood, he skewered the meat on sticks and roasted it over the flame. She watched all he did and took the meat he gave her. Rough and hot but delicious, she ate it all, grease covering her hands. He offered her more and she ate.

Before the sun peered through the trees, she returned to the tribe and slept.

Appearing more frequently, they considered the man a bane to their existence, a harbinger of blight, and they cursed him for every body lost or found mauled. The man stalked their tribe as the seasons rolled into one another and over into years.

She matured, her breasts budding and hair growing where it never grew before. At night she visited him and when she returned to the tribe she dreamt of his body, the fiery blackness of him. In the dreams he held her and the darkness spread over them until she was enveloped in a sea of night, tacky against her skin but filling her with light.

The Elder died and they were then only mothers and sisters. The mothers all said the words together and they planted the seed within her. They talked long of what was to be done, of how they could escape the plague of Death, the darkness haunting them. When the sun rose and no decision was found, they formed a circle and prayed to the god of the forest to save them, to protect them from the horrors of their final days. Many of the voices choked by tears, their prayers came as one long wail from dawn till noon. The mothers would never be mothers again and the sisters were coming of age. The new fear was not simply Death and extinction, but implantation. The daemon haunting them, they prayed for the purity of their children, of their sisters, that they not be ravaged and filled with a darkness uncanny.

She returned to him that night and he shared the meat of another monster with her. Staring at the fire, he did not look at her but her eyes never left his. When night swallowed the moon, she stood to return but he raised his hand. Standing, her body riotous, her skin crawling with thousands of insect legs called fear and hope, she waited, holding her breath. The man rose and stood before her, half a head shorter than her. Staring into her eyes then dropping his gaze to her breasts and hips, he took her hand.

Smiling the entire way back to the tribe, tears formed in her eyes and laughter rose in her. Laughter, for the first time since the dying began, since the men all fell away, Deathly. She did not sleep that night but rose with the others and wearily went about her work, the blood dried on her inner thighs till she swam in the river, screaming joy and hope underwater.

As the leaves greened and then browned, she expanded. The mothers wept and cursed the god of the forest for what happened to their daughter. They said the words and cursed the daemon stalking them, fearful that they would find all their daughters and sisters filled with tiny monsters.

At night he held her and put his ear against her growing womb. When dawn sneaked over the horizon, the man pulled her back to bed, and there she stayed until her son was born.

She did not return to the tribe but she and the man followed it. The energy blade protected them from the monsters of the forest as the tribe prayed to the god who would not answer or appear, but who kept all the other sisters and daughters safe from the ravages of the daemon still following them.

The mother came to her when her son had lived for a year. The boy walked on unsteady feet and smiled wide, dark like his father but with her lighter eyes.

Why do you stay with our pursuer? Why have you forsaken your tribe for daemons and Death?

Mother, she took her mother’s hands, I have embraced life. He is not a monster or a daemon. He is but a man. A powerful man. A strange man. He does not speak but he teaches me every day. I learn more of what this forest is and how we live with each passing day. And look at my son, your grandson. He has given us life. He has given light back to this forest.

Child, there is no light in darkness.

She shook her head, Mother, there is only light because of darkness.

Seasons wandered on and they followed the tribe who spent every waking moment searching for the god of the forest. They prayed three times every day and their pilgrimage lasted from sunup to sundown. The years tumbled forward but their god never appeared.

She no longer communicated with the tribe but remained in their shadow with the man. She studied how he dealt with his son. Playing, filling the trees with laughter, the man smiled wide and the boy screamed wildly, his tiny lungs full of only love.

Why does father never talk?

She held him beside the fire, Your father cannot speak but he talks. He talks to us daily. It’s how we know he loves us. Does he not teach you? Do you not learn so much from him?

Her son hugged her, I want to hear his voice.

She smiled, I do not think he has one, child. He is too good for words.

Why do we follow those other people?

Your father is their guardian, she sighed. He protects them but they do not understand. He was sent to them by the god of the forest, I think, but they believe him to be the cause of their destruction. If only they would listen to him, they would find what they seek.

What do they seek?

They seek their god, she said and lay him down to sleep, pointing out the stars that shined and the ones that did not.

As the leaves fell Deathly from trees, her womb filled once more. The man and her son danced when she told them and pressed their hands and ears to her skin, waiting to hear the call of the new life growing within her.

The wintry rains came and she struggled for warmth. And then the roaring came, a new noise from a new monster’s lungs. The energy blade flickering in his hands, biting at the darkness of night, she grabbed his wrist and begged for him to stay. Smiling, he kissed her forehead, nodded, and raced into the falling blackness.

In the cave they sheltered themselves in, the boy slept but she rubbed her womb, singing a song for the man, her boy, and the new son growing within her. The song was old, taught to her by the forest when first she shared time and space with the man and his glittering blackness. The fire kept the air of the cave close and she wrapped the fur of dead monsters round her shoulder, stepping into the rain. Far away she heard the tribe praying, screaming against the storming sky for their god to appear, to save them.

In the morning the rain continued but the man did not return. She waited and the boy asked after his father but she quieted his fears and told him that nothing could harm the man, that he was not a daemon but the son of a god. The boy smiled and flexed his wiry muscles.

As day drew to a close, her heart racing and the cave air stifling her, she stepped into the rain. Resonating through the raindrops came the cheers and screaming prayers of the tribe. Dizzy, her skull rattling with bees and decayed leaves, she found the meaning to the words amongst the noise.

Stay here, sweet boy. I must go see about your father.

The boy nodded but when she left, he followed her, quietly as his father taught him.

She burst into the encampment, her hair matted with rain, the pelts of monsters heavy. Where is he, she screamed, silencing the songs, turning every head to her.

He is dead, her mother howled, many smiles visible against the lightning.

The many mothers and sisters held aloft a body, ripped to shreds by the beasts he fought so long. Her womb bulging, she stormed through the tribe, beating away the other women until she held the man in her arms, the tears choked away by the rage. The mothers and sisters approached, calling him daemon, monsters, demanding his flesh, that no words be said for him. The hilt of the energy blade still in his hand, she took it and the blade crackled to life, the blue light piercing through the storm.

This man was no daemon but the sole light of your endless night, she yelled through the storm. Protector though you hated him, lover though you feared him, he gave life to the forest long after we all deserved to die. The world is rising against us, to shatter us into extinction, and he was our only armor, our only shelter. And you celebrate his Death.

When their hands approached to take his body, she slashed at them with the blade, leaving fingers and arms in the mud.

Her son watched as she dragged the man’s limp body from the tribe. He watched as she beat away the women, cursed them, spit in their direction, and cut away any offending body part that reached too close. Following her, her watched where she gave up, collapsing in despair and weakness, crying over the man who gave him life and light.

A hand on her shuddering shoulder, she turned sharply and held the blade to the throat of her son. He did not flinch but pushed her hand away. Dropping the blade that fizzled against the mud and grass, she held onto her boy and wailed till her voice shipwrecked, hoarse and painful.

She said the words over his body and planted a new life inside him to grow, to watch over them as he had done for her.

Her voice a whisper, I promise to live. Only for you and the light you gave me.

Through winter, they lived in the cave and survived on the stores they had made in autumn. When she felt strong, she hunted with the help of her son. He helped her make the traps, tie the knots, but she skinned the animals and prepared them for the fire. Together, they prayed for the man and the tree he would grow into, and they prayed for each animal they took from the forest, promising to return their bones to the earth.

The boy held his mother at night and asked about the life growing within her. She told him stories instead. Stories of the ancient world, of flying machines, of oceans, of tribes so large they filled every inch of the forest.

He asked often of his father that winter but her answers were soaked in tears and loss. By spring, he no longer asked but continued to pray for him before sleeping. He prayed to the god of the forest and begged it to show him how to be like his father, how to protect what was left of the world.

In spring a sister arrived at their cave.

You intend to birth a new son to that monster, yes? said the sister.

She blue light of the blade licked at the sister’s skin and no other words passed between them. The sister stared at the boy and at her womb. Scowling, she made a ward with her hands and left.

With the growth of new life, she and her son left the cave but avoided the tribe. For weeks they walked alone through the forest eating what they found. No longer hunting, she made the blade into a necklace and wore it always but never held it to bring its blade to life.

Where are we going, mother?

Gasping, her joints swollen, her chest full of sick, and her head light, We go to find the god of the forest. It will know what to do.

Where does it live?

She shook her head, This way.

The pregnancy wore on her. Every morning, sickness took her and the boy brought her water and nuts and fruit. The boy assisted her in everything she did and as spring departed and summer greened, she doubled in size. Every day full of pain, they walked on, following rivers, tracking signs he did not see or understand.

Where do we go, mother?

We go to find the god of the forest that is the world.

Is this the right way?

She nodded, Can you not hear them singing?

At night, the boy prayed for his mother. At every step she took, his heart fell through the earth, and at every gasping snore she made in sleep, he chewed on his fingertips until they bled. Many nights, he sat beside her, checking her breathing by putting his hand beneath her nose. He woke her often and when she asked him why, he only chewed his fingers more.

He made her a cane. Sweat covered her all the time and he fanned her as they moved. She grew so constantly weary that he let her rest and watched over her.

Crossing a river, she collapsed upon reaching the otherside. He prayed for her, watching over her, begging for a god or his father to come save them.

The noises began then. He did not tell his mother, but something stalked them from morning to morning. So caught in the war inside her body, she was blind and deaf to the world round her. She did not notice when he took the blade from round her neck or how he carried it always in his hands, the way he had seen his father. When night fell, he stood staring at the blue light flickering against the night. Every sound weighed on him, and the night turned blacker, the sky lightless, moonless, starless. The canopy so thick that there was only the forest and its many noises rebounding over and over, turning the songs of birds into terrifying echoes. The insects swarmed and he built a shelter for his mother, to protect her from the darkness, from the unknown.

The trees surged round him and he caught glimpses of a great beast watching them. A beast made of the forest itself, covered in green, a tree sprouting from it.

Their journey became slower and slower as his mother grew weaker and weaker. She did not notice the great lumbering green monsters always at the periphery of their life, and he did not tell her. He spent his days and nights in vigilance, chewing away his fingers, clutching the energy blade, and staring into the darkness.

As they followed a river, they came to a great clearing where a lake formed. In the middle of the lake was an island. The boy brought his mother into the water and the light of her returned. Weightless, the aches and pains of her long journey and painful pregnancy washed away. She swam for a long time, laughing, splashing water at him. They played and he laughed for the first time since his father became a sapling. She held him and asked where they were and how they got there.

I don’t know, mother. I thought you were leading me.

She held him close that night as they slept on the island, beneath the starry sky, the halved moon coating them. The boy did not sleep but listened close to the sounds of the world around him. A howling, birds singing, insects raging, and the constant rustling of underbrush, of wind blowing.

In the morning his mother stared at him, You look so weak and tired, dear son. What is wrong?

His lip quivered and his eyes collapsed, holding back tears until she took him in her arms and promised him it would be okay.

You’re only a child yet, you needn’t carry the world on your shoulders. Only five summers and you’ve become a man, but we shall be okay. You must learn to be a child again.

The words choked in his mouth and when he opened it to speak only sobs racked him to silence.

Looking over his shoulder to the treeline, she noticed a tree on the island that was not there the night before. Her brow furrowed, scrutinising the tree. It grew from a piled heap of foliage and leaves, rocks covered in moss and growth. Apples not yet ripe bloomed from the tree and she let go of her son and rose to take it.

Her hand on the apple, she found herself staring into a face covered in green.

You have come, a voice cracked, distorted, as if from the bottom of a well.

Falling backwards, hands caught her, cold and metallic, and laid her on the grass. Screaming, the boy jumped over his mother, the blade blazing in his hand, but the great green creature caught the boy by his wrist and torso.

You will not need that, the twisted broken voice said and pried the blade from the boy, then set him down beside his mother.

They stared up at it. Shaped like a human but covered in growth, the leaves of its skin shook when it moved, the metal of its bones kept it steady, and its movements were awkward, disjointed, rusted. It sat with legs crossed and faced them. Its voice came again, I have waited for you for a long time. You are the hope of your species. You and your son. You must live, and I will guide you.

Her voice weak, her body quaking, she said, What are you?

I am who you have looked for your whole life.

The boy’s whisper, The god of the forest.

A metallic brittle laugh rose from it, I am not a god but I am ancient as one and built by your kind a thousand years ago. I am nothing and nowhere but you are life and light. Where is the man?

He died, her voice still weak, her head swimming.

It nodded then pointed at the boy, Then you must be the new man. Though you are young, you must protect the life that grows inside your mother. The two of you will recreate humanity.

Gasping, the boy stood, If you are not a god, then what are you?

The leaves shook in the wind, I am like this blade. Ancient and designed for a purpose. This blade was made to kill but you have used it to protect. I was made to build but I have chosen to grow. I am a steward, waiting for this day. Now, we must get this baby out of your mother or she may die. Fetch some water.

The boy did all that the god of the forest said and met his new brother as his mother’s life pirouetted on the precipice of life and Death.

a year in stories::fifty one

Another story about the distant future and my ancient robot.

Watched three Godzilla movies last night to prepare for my giant monster novel, which I’m very excited to write.

Anyrate, my internet is the slowest thing in the world the last couple days and it makes it impossible to do anything.

But, yeah, here it is.

Make me as Humans Dream

The world expanded round it in shades of green and yellow. Birds sang as one, insects chirped and shrieked, and tiny mammals scurried through trees and over grass, seeking food. The lake surrounding the island was alive with fish and wind whipped ripples over the surface. Morning struck the forest and painted one side of the clearing with light.

The tree grew from within its chest cavity. A bed of soil thick against the bottom of its thorax, the tree sprouting through the space between its left shoulder and neck. Rising behind its head, the tree curled round to its other shoulder and rose, the branches casting a permanent shade over it.

With thousand year old metal bones, the synthetic skin over its casing rotted, grown over and through by bacteria, by algae, by tiny plants sprouting tiny leaves. Beneath greygreen growth remained a plastic mask resembling humanity with eyes emitting light. In ricket movements, it stood, teetering until balance was found, and it watched the birds hopping in the grass, flying in the air.

For hours it stood watching the world at play around it. When night came it walked to the shore of the island and sat. Dipping its three fingered hand in, the water coursed through the hanging vines and foliage of his arms. Pulling back, hand cupped, the water dripped from the leaves. It spread its fingers and watched in acceletated detail as the water slipped from its hand and pounded against the surface, drop by drop. A crackling poured through its speakers as it laughed, closing its eyes.

Through the night it listened to the forest breath, the life of whispering trees and flowers, the singing and playing of birds and animals, the slapping of fish against the surface, and the hum and shouts of insects. By morning the sound of day returned and it walked in circles round the island.

It watched the fish move as one, the birds fly as a single many bodied creature ripping through sky, the mammals collecting and feeding one another.

A rustling in the leaves past the trees and it turned to face the new noise. Louder than any heard in a century, its eyes focused deeper into the sun dappled darkness of the forest, but saw nothing past the densely packed trees. The sound of panting breath and an uneven gait, it waited, unmoving.

The human emerged. A woman, past middle age and dressed in rags withering against her weatherbeaten skin. Dark and grey, she limped to the lake and drank deeply, quickly, and then vomited in the grass. After weeping there, curled in a ball as the sun rose overhead, she returned to the water and drank. This time slow, stopping to take breaths, to cherish. When satiated, she stripped the worn fabric from her and dove into the lake.

It watched her without moving, without speaking. Its eyes captured every moment of her, recording it, playing it against all the many humans it had seen before, and then she emerged from the water two meters in front of it, smiling. On the island, she stretched out beneath the sun, gasping. It measured her heart rate, the breaths she took. Slowly, it pressed a finger to the earth and felt the seismic roll of her movements against the grass.

I have waited a long time, it said, its voice full of static and distortion, and she jumped to her feet, turning in all directions, using her hands to cover her nakedness. She faced it but did not see it, her eyes wide, eyebrows low, lips drawn.

It stood and reached out a hand, It is okay, child. It is only me.

The woman screamed, falling backwards into the wet shore.

It stood, the leaves shaking on its body, from its tree, the dark green growth catching the light and holding it. It said, I have waited so long for another human to appear. It has been o’er a hundred year since the last. We have much to talk about and I have much to teach you.

The woman’s heart raced and her breathing crippled her ability to speak or move. When it approached her, she scrambled back into the water, choking on it. Rising up, taking a deep breath, she dived back into the lake and swam away, emerging on the other shore. She turned to see it still reaching after her, a lake apart, and she ran back into the forest, into darkness.

The earth rolled away from the sun and darkness came once more. It stood, still watching where she ran. A bird landed in its tree and pecked at the insects who lived there.

Slowly, it sat again in the lotus position, its eyes scanning the forest, and it waited.

a year in stories::fifty

So I figured I’d just end the year with some of my favorite shorts I wrote this year. They’re about robots, so the next three days will have far future ancient robots, which will lead into the novel[la] I’m going to be writing probably early next year, after I finish Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp II and the giant monster novel[la].

Anyrate, here it is.

The Forest in the Valley Past the Mountain at the End of the River Below the Moon

When all is lost, we will remember.

Those are the words of the Teacher passed along to us through winding ways and forgotten rivers, travelling over continents to meet us. I was a child the first time I heard them, too young even to realise I would internalise their lesson and reach after its meaning for all my many days to come.

There were whispers of the Teacher for my whole life, and several lives before me. Legends circulate this way but there was no information about her. Keying in searches, browsing archived and cached versions of long gone sites and search engines, but still nothing came. My parents told me that the Teacher was a myth from their grandparents’ generation, back when much of the world was analogue. They showed me actual paper with writing on it, the words of my grandmother writ with ink on yellowing paper. Brittle in my hands, my parents cautioned me and I held it like a butterfly, with only fingertips.

The Teacher lives deep in the final forest of the world. The whispers say only those who don’t look will find her. Some sort of zen rubbish, but I wonder if there’s truth to it. Perhaps many have met the Teacher but only few realise. Maybe the Teacher is not who we think she is. But it is just like the pseudospiritual to speak in foolish riddles about things they know perfectly well. The only real clue seems to be that the Teacher lives in the valley past the mountain at the end of the river below the moon. It’s the only thing every whispered source seems to agree on, and, of course, it’s more nonsense without context. Maybe the Teacher’s only a dream for late night thoughts like these.

I read it again. My parents gently pulled me away from it, replaced the journal in the cabinet and we ate.

But when they slept, I returned to the journal and read those words several more times. In the valley past the mountain at the end of the river below the moon–it truly sounded like nonsense, but also magic. To think there was still a place on earth that was untouched by civilisation. Some place off the grid, where no GPS worked and no one but the initiated saw.

It was a beautiful dream, and through that beginning I met my grandmother.

We learnt about the 21st century in school. About their obsession with the 20th century, their slow progress and acceptance of the new world the old world had designed and built. My grandmother preferred to write on paper in a world that was becoming more and more paperless. She didn’t correspond with anyone, only kept her thoughts there, offline, away from tech. Away from the burgeoning subreality of what they called the internet.

Some still call the 21st century the age of robots. It was one of the dreams of the 20th century. It dominates their fiction and film, and they worked tirelessly to make it possible. They built robots to resemble themselves who could do the dangerous tasks no human wanted to perform. Still caught in the 20th century, in the husk of its memories and ideals, they designed better and better robots. Not only ones for manual labor, but ones for thinking, for engineering. They made robots who could build more robots, who could design better robots, better everything. Unfettered by human intellect, the machines began to selfdirect the world. And then came the rift. The lower classes were expanding and starving. Every job possible was done by machines and those who benefited were those rich enough to own said machines. The descent into almost universal poverty caused an uprising, the purge. The age of robotics ended in a nightmare, with millions of robots meeting a violent destruction. The 20th century’s dream of an automated world disappeared by the time my parents were children.

It’s only a footnote to a wild twenty year period, but few people know it. The thing about the purge is that none of the robots fought back. We treat it as a time of heroism and humans reclaiming their destiny and dominion over the world, but I don’t believe the robots were trying to harm us. There are some, now, who consider it similar to the burning of the great libraries of the past. So much knowledge and technology developed in such a short amount of time and we lost it as quickly as we gained it. My grandmother, unsurprisingly, hated the idea of a robotic world.

I began to wonder what she would think of life now, fifty years later. What would she think of the implants we use to connect the world? She talked a lot about privacy and individuality, and I feel she’d be lost in this world of integration and openness, where even your deepest thoughts can be hacked and dug up. Highly illegal and very risky for everyone involved, but completely possible. How would a woman who wrote on paper adapt to a world as distant from the 20th century as the 20th century was to the Ming Dynasty?

That was all a long time ago. Now I stand, staring at the last forest on earth. Its trees thick and beautiful. I wept when I saw them this morning. I wept again when I touched their bark and climbed to their lowest leaves. The images found in subreality are nothing compared to this. There’s no smell like this anywhere else on earth. This greenness, fecundity. An ocean teeming with life. The howling sounds of the many creatures who live there so loud even just standing near.

A lot happened between discovering my grandmother’s journals and me standing here, flipping off my implant. I force my breath to slow though my heart beats so fast. I’ve never gone dark before, even when we used to test the limits of our connectivity during teenage years. I only pretended, too afraid of what the consequences of falling out of civilisation would be. My hand on bark, rough and coarse, I tell myself I’m not afraid and force myself to believe it. With the slowing of my breath, deep inhales and long exhales, my heart steadies. I reach behind my ear, in the recess between my skull and jaw, and press.

There’s no sound or notification but the readings gradually dim and then disappear. The constant chatter at my periphery of the world at large vanishes and the sounds of the world, this world, crash into me. Swollen. Casting myself adrift, retreating into the past, or into a future past all this, I hear wind like never before. It whistles past me and from the forest I hear so many things I have no names for.

I leave the vast Asiatic plains behind and step into the fertile soil of the last forest on earth, where the Teacher still teaches, or at least lives.

The thing about the whispers of the past is that they’re carried by us, by humanity. If you follow enough whispers you’ll find someone who’s actually talking. It took me decades. Hours of every day for years devoted to the teachings. The teachings were always simple and beautiful. Nothing was digital and none of the teachings existed in subreality. Every person who carried a copy of the teachings had a different reason why. They spoke of the ills of technology, the distortion of telling, the problem with translation, and so many other things.

The teachings are a small book. A pamphlet, really. Fifteen pages with only a handful of sentences each. It’s not difficult to memorise the entire thing, but the people who carry the teachings around say that the words are the least important part.

It’s not the words that get you there. It’s the message.

I asked what the message was.

We met in person, because these people wouldn’t tell you anything in subreality that had to do with the teachings. Drinking tea, she showed me her battered copy of the teachings. The paper worn and thin with notes filling the margins. Words were underlined and circled with commentary crowding out the teachings themselves.

Her voice was soft. I found that many of the followers of the Teacher spoke quietly, soothingly. When they spoke, they used few words, and I found that they preferred not to speak at all, but to simply sit. It felt like waiting to me but it also felt like something ancient and mystical. They were all disconnected for much of the day, and some were completely disconnected, having had their implants off for months or years, or even completely removed. Even thinking about it builds a fire raging at the base of my spine, shuddering.

She said, The message can’t be spoken. It can only be lived.

I nodded as I sipped my tea. By this time I had read the teachings. I had memorised them, and even found those words I first heard in childhood: When all is lost, we will remember.

I asked her what that meant, specifically.

She cocked her head and a wan smile crept over her face, This is the world we live in. We live in a world of loss. We have lost what made us creatures of this planet. We are now conquerors of this planet, and we have lain waste to it. And so we remember.

Each step through the forest becomes easier. I have climbed mountains to be here, traced the forgotten rivers to find this place, and now my journey nears its conclusion. My battered copy of the teachings is all I brought with me besides clothes, food, and bottles to store water. My food ran out long ago, somewhere on the final mountain as I made my descent. At my hungriest, I ate grass. After losing a day to sickness, I discovered seeds and fruits. I dug my hands into the dirt and cried. I was so thankful to eat the tiny seeds and sorrowful berries. And then I found the river, or its beginnings. It led me here, and it fed me, nourished me on the long hike to find the Teacher. Apples like I’ve never seen grow here. Not nearly as big as the ones we create, but their taste is so foreign. A real apple and it tastes nothing like an apple.

As days go by, I wander the forest and come across more foods I thought I knew. Pears and berries so different from any I’ve tasted before. The forest is alive with insects and tiny mammals, ones we thought we lost. The entire forest is a single creature with thousands of distinct parts. A symphony of insects and birds singing through the air, the trudge of my own feet through leaves and over dirt. Through the canopy at night I see stars and tears burst from my eyes. They’re faint but they’re there. Stars.

The river courses through the forest and I recite the teachings aloud to myself. I feel no fear, only the tacky sweat and humidity of this place. It breathes with the winds of the world and I try to capture it in my lungs, hold it deep inside, and hope it transforms me. A week disconnected and I’ve never felt so at peace. I’ve never felt so not alone.

The river pools here into a lake. A real lake. At the center of the lake is an island. I disrobe and leave the teachings on the shore. Looking down, I see the bottom, clear as glass. Reflecting the trees and sky above, swarms of tiny insects hover over it and I see fish swimming in groups. Swimming naked through the water, I imagine this to be the last clear lake in all the world. The last place a human can look into water and see the earth beneath. Following fish who scatter away from me, holding my breath as long as I can until I burst through the surface, laughing. Nothing has ever felt quite so good. Clean for the first time since I started my journey to the Teacher, my muscles relax and drift away from me. My arms and legs stretch through the water, reaching all the way down the river to the mountain I came from. My skin dissolves and I become the lake, feeling every fish, seeing every star, leaf, and insect above.

Dirt between my toes, I carry the soil beneath the water to the surface and stare at it. Slowly, it slips through my fingers and slaps into the water where it clouds and rejoins the lakebed. Shivering out of the water I roll in the grass to dry myself. Across the lake I see my pack and clothes. Birds hop nearby, pecking at the bag and then flying away when they understand it’s not food. On the island with me is a small tree growing out of a mound of rocks covered in green life. When I approach, a voice says, So you are here.

The voice is soft and metallic, distorted by rotting speakers, but I cannot find the source. There’s no one on the otherside of the lake that I see but when I turn around the mound of rocks shifts and the leaves of the tree shudder. The mound of rocks stands and when it stands I see that it’s my height, the tree growing out of its back. It moves awkwardly, its limbs quaking at every movement, as if it’s never done this before.

Its face is a blankness. White beneath the moss and dirt, the face is a mask of humanity. Its eyes are lights and it stares at me and says, Why have you come?

I find nothing inside me. No words. Only this boiling confusion as I come to see that this thing before me is a robot.

It nods to the nothing I say and says, Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.

I’ve come looking for a teacher, I say but my voice cracks, crashes, shipwrecks.

It nods again, I too have looked for a teacher.

It sits in the lotus position and waves its hand for me to sit. Its hand is made of three fingers and a thumb, and it moves them clumsily.

What are you?

I am one who seeks.

I sit across from it, Are you the Teacher?

The wind cools me and I shiver again in my nakedness, and then it laughs. A hollow crackling laugh.

This place is the teacher, it says.

The tears bite at my throat and my voice falters, I’ve searched for so long. I’ve searched my whole life and it’s led me here. I’ve memorised all the teachings. I’ve made them a part of me. I lived for this moment. Thirty years and all I find is the last robot on earth.

What you found is the source of light.

You?

Again, that laugh. No, dear girl. You did not find me for you did not look for me. You searched for the light. It is here. It is all around.

We sit facing one another for a long time. We sit until I can take the coldness no longer, and I swim again. It watches me the whole time. Its face emotionless, caught in a permanent plastic smile. I retrieve my bag from the otherside of the lake and return to the island, holding it above me as I swam.

Dried and wearing clothes to fight off the cold of impending night, I hand it the pamphlet containing the teachings, and ask if these were its words.

With an awkward grasp, it holds the pamphlet and sighs in a crackling hiss, I have said these things. There have been many who visit me. None of them stay.

Why should they stay?

It spreads its arms, Because this is all there is.

Did you know that you’re the last robot on earth?

It sits there and I look around, the dying light casting shadows. Then tiny lights take to the sky. Hundreds of them. Tiny lights drifting in the air all around. I approach and they flit around me as hundreds of insects, flashing light into the darkness. Above us hangs a slivered moon and the joy that fills me takes my legs and breath away.

In the morning it still watches me and I say, Why do you stay?

In knowing, there is nowhere but here. Nowhere is now here.

I stayed with it for several days and recorded every thing it said to me. The last thing it told me to do was stay.

The next morning I said goodbye and left the forest in the valley past the mountain at the end of the river below the moon.

be careful, my children

Be Careful, My Children

And so the novel’s finally complete. Be Careful, My Children. Oddly enough, the first draft is almost exactly as long as I thought it would be. Got the final 5k words written just now and we’ve reached the end of a very strange journey.

I won’t post the chapter this time because then you’d have the ending, and that’s a weird piece of information to give, but I will post a short piece of that last chapter.

Before the Tree before the world before Time came to this place there was the Father. The Father found the child Goddess dreaming and He listened to Her dreamt song coursing through Him and all the everness. He lifted Her up but still she slept. Small with hair as black as the neverness and eyes vibrant and purple. Color did not yet exist like it does now but the Father saw Her eyes and fashioned color and Light. He fashioned these from the notes of the song. With His hands He grabbed the notes and swirled their essence into the everness and from them bubbled the world. The world was a sphere of Nothingness but the song promised and envisioned so much. The Father bent the song towards the world He molded and the song gave life and Light to the sphere but also Death and so we know the Goddess as the Goddess of Death and Light. Within Death there are a thousand thousands lives and within life there is but one Death continuing forever in all directions and across all dimensions but our infinitesimal Deaths are but a grain of sand on the shore of eternity. When the world was fashioned and still the song persisted the Father tied the notes around the world binding us and our world to the Dream. With this finished He watched the lives of the world come into being and He smiled. The Father watched over us and the Goddess dreamt. The more the Father watched the more He understood the sorrow of life and He saw lives blinking in and out of existence before He could name them or love them and He returned to the song and tried to bend it to better serve life on the world. But the Dream and the song are not for this world and so they cannot be made for it. The Father finally understood and when He understood he lay down upon the world and ripped open His chest. The Father killed himself to breed our world within the Nothingness of yours. From Father’s chest sprouted the Tree and the Tree became the heart of the world. It used the Father’s body to create itself and His blood became the rain forever Cycling and his bones became the Dust. Every drop of semen in His testicles became a brother and we brothers fashioned our homes from the organs and skin of the Father. And so through the Father we learnt creation and from the Goddess we learnt Death and from the two of them we learnt the Cycle. For Father returns to us every four seasons to give us life new and when we seek through the everness it is the hands of the Father guiding us through the Dream.

So, yeah, things just keep getting weirder in the novel. The language of this final chapter wasn’t what I expected it to be but I think it turned out all right.

Finished it later than planned because of Chelsea’s holiday party, which was really fun, but it meant I was hungover yesterday and lost the entire day to film.

Watched Only God Forgives, which is probably perfect but also just very bizarre. I’m not a fan of David Lynch and this was very Lynchian. I loved the silence of it all because I think film should have way less talking, and the aesthetic was so strong and perfectly executed, and everything was held back the way I like, but I guess I just didn’t actually care about most things that happened. So I suppose that’s what missed for me. It was like a perfect thing that I just didn’t care about enough. Still, though, definitely worth watching.

Also watched Robot & Frank, which is a pretty cool film about a man spiralling into dementia who befriends his robot caretaker and uses the robot to help him rob things. A pretty interesting film that’s often funny but also a moving meditation on what life is and what it means to be alive.

Now I’m in that weird post-novel space where everything’s bright and easy and lovely but also sort of opaque. The novel was meant for Broken River Books but I don’t really think it’s a good fit there. It may not be a good fit anywhere. Maybe it’s a bizarro novel, accidentally and finally. It’s on the short side, too, but I don’t know. I have several hours to reread, edit, rewrite, and assemble the novel into place.

Also, the giant monster novel sort of formed and crystallised in my head as I was writing this, which is exciting. I think that might be what I write next.

Also, getting very close to the date of a super secret surprise, which is actually the weirdest thing I ever wrote.

Anyrate, the indiegogo campaign reached and passed its halfway mark this weekend! Big thanks to everyone who contributed, but especially Matt Dodge who pushed us over the midway mark. I’ve known Matt for a very long time but we’ve only talked a handful of times, which is sort of weird. He’s a musician and he just had a new album come out.

But, yeah, still so many great rewards, including a new one from Passenger Side Books, who’s being generous enough to donate five bundles of all their chapbooks. That also comes with the anthology! So check it out and thank you, sincerely, from the bottom and top of my heart. It means the world to me how awesome my friends and even strangers have been during all of this.

falling behind but staying ahead

Just punched out another 5k words in the last couple hours, which puts me at about 35k words. I meant to finish the novel today, and I could if I didn’t have anything to do tonight. I meant to come back last night and write the 5k I just wrote so I would have today to finish the novel, but I watched a film instead.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a pretty cool film. Beautifully animated and it shares themes with my favorite kind of story: the Orpheus story. Though in Japan there are different characters, of whom I’ve actually written a novella about, but it also has a very Miyazaki feel. A girl stumbles into a fantastic world and beautiful and deranged things happen there. I liked it.

But so today I wrote the penultimate chapter of the novel. Tomorrow becomes a new game with different linguistic rules so maybe it’ll be good to devote an entire day to creating it. It may be anywhere from 5k words to 10k words. It’s hard to say right now since I’ve not written it yet. But I like what’s happening in the novel. I like the clash of voices and scenes and I like how there’s a definite direction, though there may not really be a definite truth.

No more writing today because I need to go to a holiday party for a company I don’t work for. I’m Chelsea’s date and so I get to eat fancy food and drink fancy alcohol with fancy people at a fancy place. A car’s picking us up and taking us back home. It should be pretty enjoyable.

Anyrate, here’s the next chapter.

We finally reach the desert. Tomorrow we begin our search for the original Tanizaki group led by Tanizaki Asuka. It’s warm tonight. We are six and we are prepared for a month two months in the desert. Once we find the original Tanizaki group, we are to return to the Institute. My name is Wong Bo and I’m leader of this recovery mission. I’m assisted by Xao Guo, O Ukseung, Isabella Rodriguez, Angelina Gutierrez, and Camila Cortes.

We’ve taken samples from the desert. It’s Guo’s hypothesis that there’s something unique about the desert itself, which may be related to the Dust and/or nanobiotics.

It’s interesting to stand on the edge of the desert. For kilometers before me there’s nothing but more desert and sand, but I stand on grass and behind me are the ruins of our world. People still live here. They farm the land but nothing grows. They raise wolves for food and protection.

It’s a stark reminder of why we’re doing this.

We begin at 0600 tomorrow.

 

The day went easily. We talk often to keep the desert out. One thing we’ve come to understand about this desert is that it swallows people and groups whole, so we’re determined to remain connected to one another. Unfortunately, there’s little for us to talk about beyond work as none of us have a previous relationship. I’m discovering why I’m the leader of this mission, however, which is an important understanding. It seems the others aren’t entirely sure what nanobiotics are.

I suppose I’m not expert either. Having never thought of it before, I now consider this a failing of the Institute and I keep these thoughts in the official log because it’s important for you all to know this. By keeping us in the dark and by separating the Institute project by project, we lose our connection to one another. It also limits our ability to communicate openly and riff off one another’s ideas.

I understand the importance of secrecy, but it seems like it carries a weight of distrust that’s detrimental to the overall goals of the Institute.

Aren’t we here to rebuild humanity and restart the world? I think a holistic viewpoint or strategy would be more useful. Of course, this is only my first assignment as a project manager, so I trust there is a great deal for me to learn. But these are my thoughts on this first night in the desert.

We’ll camp together in the same tent to hold and generate warmth.

There’s something strange about being out in the middle of nowhere at night.

 

We walk and we walk and we walk. We come to know each other, too. The Argentinians are beautiful and they handle the heat well, but the cold of the night really tears through them. Guo has become my confidant. She’s short and strong and rugged. Her arms are like barrels and her legs are like trees. She carries an aura with her that’s surprisingly appealing. Ukseung keeps to herself mostly. She’s quiet and collects a lot of samples.

The mission continues with no sign of the original Tanizaki group. Tonight we sang songs. It was the first time I had heard Chinese folksinging as well as South Russian. Guo speaks both and her parents escaped South Russia before she was born but raised her with their customs. It’s funny how nationalism persists even after the dissolution and ruin of almost every empire of the world. She takes great pride in being South Russian, though.

The same is true of the Argentinians. They consider themselves better than us. They think they hide it, but it’s quite obvious. The three of them only speak to one another unless asked a direct question. If they know Korean, they pretend not to as they’ll only respond to Spanish. They consistently mispronounce all of our names, including mine, which is about as easy as names come, regardless of language.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to bridge the gap.

 

The Argentinians were receptive to my concerns and they’ve been much more pleasant today. I think it’s a cultural thing. They’re the last true empire and I guess that fills them with pride. Perhaps they’re simply raised to be proud. There are worse traits to have.

We sang again and the Argentinians cooked us a traditional meal and then showed us how to dance in Spanish. They told us our hips were no good for it.

It was fun and their admonishments were more flirtatious than insulting. Ukseung even smiled.

 

We walked. No sign of the Tanizaki group. No sign of anything really. Last night the Argentinians had sex with one another. They believed they’re were quiet but we were definitely all awake. They weren’t exactly quiet.

Guo’s only reaction was to hold me closer but hearing other people have sex doesn’t exactly put me in the mood.

I didn’t say anything to them today because it’s not exactly against the rules. It solidifies them as a separate group, but I believe sex is good for overall moral. It doesn’t hurt it, anyway.

I’m worried about Ukseung. She retreats often inward and no longer engages voluntarily with the rest of us. Much of her time is spent staring at the collected samples. Especially the sand. Tonight I found her well out of range of camp, her head pressed against the sand. When I asked her what she was doing she told me she was listening, and refused further explanation.

I’ll keep an eye on her.

 

The Argentinians had sex again last night and when I didn’t give in to Guo’s attempts, she joined them. It was more than a little annoying, but I discovered Ukseung had left.

Searching for her, she was no longer in the campsite. I found her about half a kilometer away staring at the stars.

She told me it reminded her of a river. The stars swirled round her and wound their way across the sky like a flowing river. I told her I saw it too and she smiled. I asked her why she was out here and she told me it was because of the sex. I asked her about her sexual experiences and it turns out she’s a virgin.

I’ve found that about half the people I’ve met in my life are virgins and remain so for their life. I can’t tell if it’s an aversion to sex or simply shyness. Ukseung didn’t seem willing to discuss sex any more than what she told me. I sat with her for about an hour. Because of the cold we quickly huddled together.

She has a very slight frame but her skin was hot. A furnace burning inside her. I told her this and she leaned into me more but didn’t say anything. I think there may be an attraction growing or she’s just being kind. I’ve heard of the kindness of Koreans. They’re said to break their backs if you ask them or to cut off their hands if you say you need an extra. Not literally, of course.

We talked about the desert. She told me she felt at home here and I asked why. It was the desolation, she said. She told me how it reminded her of Seoul, which is where her parents died in the cataclysm. She said the heart is like a desert when it’s not nurtured. No matter how much love it receives, it remains cold and barren. She told me about how the openness and the sameness reminded her of life. She talked about suicide in a casual manner, which reminded me of many of the people I’ve known. I asked her if she believed in the Institute and she told me she was taken there when she was only eleven. She’s now thirty and she said she didn’t know much about life except what she learnt from Director Tanizaki. I pushed her towards the rejuvenation of the earth and she only smiled. She said she had seen so much of the earth but understood nothing of it. She told me she didn’t like people and didn’t think we deserved the earth, not after what we did to it.

Eventually we returned to the tent. The girls were asleep and I quickly fell asleep watching Ukseung play with sand.

Today was uneventful, however. There was a sandstorm so we made no progress. We stayed in the tent and had sex. Yes, I joined in this time. It was enjoyable and it’s true what they say about Argentinian women as lovers. It was an exceptional experience.

However, Ukseung disappeared during the sexual activities. Due to the sandstorm, we were unable to find her.

It’s possible she’s dead but we’re holding out until morning.

We couldn’t build a fire so we ate dry rations. They’re not very good.

 

The sandstorm continues. We made a search for Ukseung again and spent several hours hoping to find some trace of her, but the desert leaves no traces. The sandstorm’s passed now and in the morning we’ll look for Ukseung.

No one feels like having sex.

 

We found Ukseung. She’s fine except for her unwillingness to speak. When we pressed her to explain why she left she had nothing to say. She’s not spoken since we found her and she makes little eye contact. When the wind blows it catches her, though. Her face becomes serene, as if she’s listening to something beautiful. We took our camp with us and walked onward.

Still no sign of the Tanizaki group but we found others who had died out here in search of Antiguoniño. Guo called them whores and the Argentinians spoke amongst themselves.

That night Guo held me and we kissed. Her lips are softer than I remembered and her arms are very strong. The Argentinians watched Ukseung and told me she only stared at the sand and played with it or stared at the stars.

 

Another day and no sign of the Tanizaki group. No sign of anything. The desert washes all its signs away. Even our own journey. Every step we take leaves a print that’s swallowed by the desert. We talk less these days and the heat assaults us. We fight the cold with flesh on flesh, but the days are so very hot. It scorches us and the Argentinians begin turning a beautiful golden brown. Guo grows very dark as well. Ukseung covers almost every centimeter of her skin. She’s very pale and it makes her appear sickly. She has yet to say anything since we found her two days ago.

At night we stare at the stars with Ukseung. Ukseung’s expression betray something we can’t hear or see. Isabella believes she’s reading the stars. She sees us up there, she says. When I ask what she means Angelina tells me it’s an ancient Argentinian folk story about a girl who reads the sky and falls in love with a star. The star comes down to earth but they cannot be together because the star will melt her. Instead the star writes her messages in the night sky to fill her lonely heart. When the girl dies, a new star is born beside her lover and so they remain forever together, writing poetry in the sky.

It’s a beautiful story but Ukseung pays little attention to us. She plays with the sand and it seems to dance between her hands.

Tricks of the eyes and the fire.

 

Still nothing. We walk and search. The sun beats down. The night brings cold. Ukseung doesn’t speak and no one has sex. This place weighs on us and there’s no sign of the Tanizaki group or anyone else.

They may be gone. Buried under a mountain of sand or ripped to nothing by the abrasive sand blustering against our bones.

Even the food begins to taste like sand. Our eyes hurt from the sun and the sand. Our skin’s raw from the same. Ukseung no longer covers herself and she burns. Her skin’s a deep red and though we rub aloe over her, she doesn’t react. My own skin begins to burn. Need to do a better job covering myself.

 

I think about my mother. The heat’s getting to me and Ukseung’s skin stays a horrifying red. As red as the sun and lunar archipelago. She still hasn’t said anything. The Argentinians are worried about her health. We all are. Guo watches over her at night but is afraid to touch her skin. It must be painful.

I don’t know if we’ll ever find the Tanizaki group. We’ve only been out here about a week and a half but it already feels like eternity.

So little happens every day. So little changes, but, at the same time, everything changes. We may be walking in circles. We’d never know. Without cues in the landscape it’s difficult to tell. Everything is a blank slate that shifts to a new blank slate hour by hour.

Even the stars lie to us. There’s no consistency. Constellations arrive one night and disappear the next. It’s as if we’re crossing the entire globe rather than just walking through this desert.

We’ve seen no sign of the Tree either.

 

We didn’t find the Tanizaki group but Guo discovered their journal on Ukseung this morning. She still doesn’t speak and she hasn’t been alone since the sandstorm so she must’ve found it then. She won’t lead us to the bodies or where they are, so all we have is the journal.

It’s very short. Ukseung’s skin peels off in flakes of white. She pulls at it and pulls entire layers of translucent white off at once. She feeds it to Guo and Camila vomits. Guo’s changing and she only laughs as she eats Ukseung’s skin.

 

Today we set out into the desert to find Antiguoniño, the land of the niños discovered by Park Jiyun. According to her, she wandered through the desert for ten days before finding Antiguoniño so we’ve prepared cautiously for twenty days out here. Our map is taken directly from Park Jiyun’s approximations so we don’t anticipate any trouble. My names Tanizaki Asuka and I’m the project manager on this mission. I’m accompanied by Abe Tsukiko and Maya Diego. Tomorrow we enter the desert.

 

The day was uneventful and we kept to the map. The desert shows few signs of activity. The wind is calm, the heat is strong, the cold at night bites at us. We keep warm by sharing sleepingbags. I don’t know how Park Jiyun could have managed this alone. I’m glad I have companions.

 

Another day of walking with little to report. The heat burns and the sand makes walking tiresome. Every step feels like three since the ground gives beneath your feet. It’s a curious feeling, like walking through water. Maya and Tsukiko are cheerful travel companions and don’t seem to mind the desert. They keep moral high by singing and playing word games. Maya knows several languages, as does Tsukiko, and it’s a joy to simply hear them fly through languages like linguistic acrobats. Together they should be able to give us insight into the niños’ language. They’ve studied several ancient and dead languages. Everything from mandarin to french and german, and even english, swahili, and hungarian, which is apparently surprisingly similar to South Russian.

Less talented, I speak only Spanish, Korean, and Japanese. Tsukiko brought a shamisen. I didn’t understand at first, but it brings me back to mother’s home, before the Institute. It’s a relief and pleasure to have it with us. Maya’s even trying to learn.

 

Very little to report today. Still hot during the day and bitterly cold at night. We now sleep in the nude to stay warm, keeping our skin pressed together. I must admit that holding Tsukiko and Maya like that in this desolate place fills me with longing.

The wind howls but there’s something else to it. It’s a strange melody. Familiar though I’ve never heard it before. Maya and Tsukiko don’t seem to hear it, or don’t seem to hear the music in the wind. It sounds far away, as if echoed.

 

Still little to report. The melody of the wind kept me up all night and my hands studied Maya’s skin, almost unconsciously. I didn’t know I was doing it till I felt Tsukiko’s hands on my skin, squeezing my breasts and then Maya’s hands between my thighs. Both of them still slept and it’s as if the melody of the wind took us. Though we didn’t have sex, I now feel that I know them far more intimately than I’ve known anyone for several years. They don’t know what happened last night and I’m reluctant to tell them. Maya plays the shamisen while Tsukiko sings traditional ballads and my heart leaps. Then the wind blows and that echoing melody wraps round their song. When they go high, it courses below, and when they drop low, it rings above.

I fear I’m losing myself in the vast nothingness of this place.

 

The melody seeps into me. I find my thoughts drift away while Maya and Tsukiko talk and sing. I study the sand as it dances. The stars are a map and they speak to me. I see them dancing and singing. The wind sings a different song but together their songs meld and wind round me. I lose track of Tsukiko and Maya in this neverending nothingness.

The stars echo too. There are echoes everywhere. The echoes cause the sand to dance. This sand is not like other sand. This place is not like other places. We have not seen the Tree and I don’t know if the niños still exist. I believe Time’s different here. We’ve only been out here about a week but we’ve been out here for centuries, wandering.

 

Project Manager Tanizaki no longer speaks and so I’ve taken over this log. This is Maya Diego. Abe Tsukiko watches over Project Manager Tanizaki. She seems only interested in the sand and the stars. She stopped speaking to us and from reading this log, it appears she hears something we don’t. Something she calls echoes and a melody. It’s a troubling development to know what’s happened to Tanizaki. I must admit that the desert closes in on us. It grows more and more claustrophobic the worse Tanizaki’s condition becomes. We’ve missed an entire week of log entries.

Tanizaki stopped covering her skin from the heat. She turned a terrible red and then her skin peeled off and flaked away in white.

Tsukiko and I were too occupied with ourselves, regrettably, to notice the decline of Tanizaki. We’ve been out in the desert for two weeks now and still no sign of Antiguoniño. Tsukiko and I have decided to turn back but we’re not certain which way back is, or how to leave the desert.

 

Tanizaki ran away in the night and Tsukiko went to look for her this morning. I stayed here to make sure we didn’t get lost, but I fear all I’ve done is lose Tsukiko. The desert closes in and a melody beings. It’s familiar and I fear it’s the same on Tanizaki heard.

If Tsukiko doesn’t return tomorrow, I’ll go looking for her.

 

Still no Tanizaki or Tsukiko. I’ll give her till midday to return.

The coldness and darkness of night nearly broke me. I studied the stars and the lunar archipelago to keep myself together and keep the night out, but the more I stared the more I saw writing there, as if the waves of the sky were calligraphy telling me where to go and what to do. Leading me to Tanizaki, the Tree, or Tsukiko.

I’m afraid.

 

I found them and I killed Tsukiko. After two days of wandering I found her eating Tanizaki who stared still at the sky. I choked Tsukiko till she died. I don’t know how to leave or where to go. The melody courses through me and the sand dances. It dances for and because of me. I watch it swallow Tsukiko.

 

I don’t know how long I’ve been here but it feels like forever. I stopped recording the days riding away like bandits. I’ve forgotten my name and when I read through these pages I find nothing familiar or worth reading. The sand tells me a new story and sings a new song. I see an ocean spreading forever and the child at the shore carries me to the waves. She’s bringing me home. She’s bringing us all home.

Goodnight.

 

After studying the Tanizaki Report, I’m afraid we must return to save Ukseung’s life. The Argentinians believe but Guo begs for one more day. She sat with her all last night but I fear this melody or the sand is a disease and Guo’s succumbing. The Argentinians agree with me. I don’t think we could beat Guo in a fight but we may be able to if we all work together. She’s become possessive of Ukseung and is always by her side, whispering in her ear.

Tomorrow will decide a great deal.

 

The Tree. This morning we saw the Tree. A faint image kilometers away. We’re closer now. We’re maybe another day’s walk to it. Ukseung’s improving and Guo seems determined to reach the Tree. After reading the Tanizaki report, I believed it a fortunate turn of events. I feared we may become lost in the desert as the others did.

Tomorrow we’ll meet the niños. I think Ukseung’ll make it and hopefully seeing grass and plants and other people will cure her.

I’m not ashamed to say I’m afraid of her. The way she stares and plays with the sand. The way she stares at the sky and dances to something only she hears. And now Guo too. Me and the Argentinians keep our distance. I wish we weren’t but if this is a disease, it may be our only option.

 

The niños are curious creatures. Ukseung spoke to them in their language, which shocked them. She smiled at whatever they said and they took her away. Bright and pale, Ukseung looked similar to the niños.

The niños are exactly how they appeared in Park Jiyun’s photographs but there’s something significant about them. They inhabit more space than they take up. I don’t know how to explain it better than that, but it became clear to me immediately that these tiny monsters were much larger than what they appeared to be. They carry something immense within them.

They quickly took her away and Guo followed. I’ve lost track of all of them, truth be told. The Argentinians disappeared in the confusion following entering Antiguoniño. Our missions appears to have expanded beyond what the original intention was. We’ve discovered the fate of the Tanizaki group in all its gruesome and horrifying detail, but we managed to escape such a fate by finding Antiguoniño.

I’ll go back. We stood at the edge of the desert, a curtain of rain before us. The sky was bright all around and it made little sense to me how there could be a desert and thick grass right next to each other. It’s as if the rain doesn’t enter the desert but only the soil directly beneath it. When we stepped across the threshold, everything changed.

The rain washed away the immense and claustrophobic nothingness of the desert. So long were we out there that it became natural to feel that crushing anxiety. I didn’t even know it was there until it disappeared. I felt lighter. Freer. We all laughed and talked as we had the first day. The Argentinians shared kisses and even kissed me. They still avoided Guo and Ukseung.

The redness of Ukseung’s skin literally washed away. All that dead and dying burnt off skin washed off and she was left with this strange pallor. Her skin was bright, not only white. Her black eyes and hair were a shocking contrast and when she stared at me I felt empty.

She stopped looking at the sky and she smiled. She didn’t speak then but she never looked back at the desert. It was like everything, all the horrors of the desert were a distant memory. Even looking back at it, it didn’t seem so terrifying.

We walked through the rain, our spirits high, but the water weighed us down. Ukseung took off her clothes and Guo followed her example. Guo no longer spoke either. I didn’t realise that till now, but she simply stared at Ukseung, as if being led. Me and the Argentinians followed them to the end of the rain where the niños met us.

They were waiting for us, and there were thousands. There were human women among them, likely whores of Babylon, but it was a real joy to see others like us in that alien world. And then Ukseung and them spoke and we all became separated.

Now, alone, the niños all around. Several of them have tried to have sex with me but I refused. Some of the whores of Babylon mocked me but I don’t really care. I’ll sleep here, alone in the dark wondering what happened to my team.

 

A week gone and so much to tell. This place really is a paradise. I feel free. It’s why I’ve not been keeping a better log. I look through these pages and become depressed. Everything we were doing seems so insignificant beneath the boughs of the Tree. My man comes to me and he’s sweet and gentle. He caresses me but not like a woman. He’s stronger, more wild. He smells like flowers caught in the rain. He tastes like infinity.

Many of the women here prefer to be abused and humiliated but my man doesn’t do that. He doesn’t disrespect me. He adores me.

The Argentinians remain aloof and together. They join in when orgies happen but they mostly keep to themselves. At the center of the orgies are Guo and Ukseung, who have both become intimate with Angel de Paz Pizarro. Park Jiyun and the anthropologists simply study and record what they see here. It’s an interesting clash of cultures and goals.

I don’t know how to return home or to get back to the Institute. I don’t know if I want to.

Tomorrow there’s a celebration honoring Park Jiyun. We’re all very excited for her.

 

It was a secret ceremony. None of us know what happened but Park Jiyun’s gone. My man won’t tell me and none of the other men say anything about what happened. But when we say Park Jiyun’s name they bow their head, as if honoring her.

It’s very curious.

 

It’s been a month since I last wrote in here. Writing these letters becomes difficult, as if I’ve forgotten how. The Argentinians come to speak with me occasionally. They want to leave but they’re afraid. I always just tell them to find a man and let go.

They don’t want men though. It should’ve been clear to me long ago, but they’re in love. They have been since before this mission began. And here I thought none of us knew each other.

They tell me that the niños ate Park Jiyun, but that seems unlikely. We’ve never observed them performing any acts of violence or anything like that. I remind them of what happened in the desert but it feels like a nightmare that happened to someone else.

They read over the log and they remind me of our mission, but what is a mission compared to this.

I don’t even remember which name belongs to which Argentinian but they tell me that the mission was to save humanity, not to have sex with monsters. They’re being unfair and small.

 

We ate Angel de Paz Pizarro. Something happened when we did. I feel her inside me. I have become more than myself. I don’t remember when I last wrote in here. Much has changed that will never be the same. I believe I may be pregnant but I can’t tell. There are whispers that Ming Faye’s coming.

I long to see her again. I’ve heard so much about her and all the work she does.

The Dust connects us all. It dances and we sing.

I ate Angel and she is now a part of me. It was beautiful. I can see it so clearly. It’s so beautiful.

I sprouted wings along with the gods. We flew through the air copulating. It was an enormous sensation, as if my body stretched over eternity.

Time is a fabric blown by the child goddess dreaming deep in the belly of the Tree. We’re all a part of her woven dream and her song. The song that is everything.

We are Dust birthed from her purple eyes. My gods come to me and I copulate with hundreds of them, becoming pregnant over and over again but never giving birth. I give birth to myself. A new me growing always inside me.

Ming Faye comes and I’ll take back my name and tell her all the things I learnt here.

She’ll be here soon.