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. 

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