a year in stories::twenty five

This one’s for Kyle Muntz because I stole his metaphor and maybe because thinking about him programming made me think of this.

I’ve another announcement to make but I think I’ll save it for later. It involves interviews, though.

It’s Friday: drink too much and have fun, don’t read.

 

Faces

 

At her computer, the one she built, she sat and typed. Fingers dancing over the keyboard, coding into the machine, command after command piling as dominos. Each one piece having to line up and interact perfectly with the next or the whole code comes tumbling down, crashing apart.

Her father opens the door, sighs heavily, asks if she slept.

The windows blacked out, the only light coming from the screen filled with commands to control graphics, inputs and outputs. She keeps typing.

It’s time for school, he says. You need to go to school, he turns on the light but she keeps typing. His face pained, he closes the door, quietly, walks away.

She types on.

The days go on with her typing, sometimes pacing the room, sometimes sleeping or eating or using the toilet, sometimes stomping her feet and screaming into her pillow

Her parents discuss her in the other room, in the car, in restaurants she won’t come to. They call the school, excuse away her absence. They call psychiatrists, psychologists, computer scientists but they return to her door only to listen. They cook her food that goes cold beside her, but it is healthy, and she eats it in a scattered way over many hours, picking away at the meal.

She does not graduate high school. She does not finish her sophomore year. But she turns twenty and the fever that took her for four long years breaks and she sleeps, at last.

Her mother and father open the door with food in their hands, find her asleep and leave. They do this many times and always find her asleep.

They weep, holding one another, no longer blaming. They sleep and in the morning their daughter sits at the table, outside her room for the first time in a year, first time sitting there in so long they begin to sweat, their hearts racing, fear and apprehension filling their veins. She eats cereal, reading the back of the box, dressed the way she always is, in slippers, sweatpants, and shirts so threadbare they are barely there. Her body changed, no longer the waifish sixteen year old who disappeared into her computer. She did not take curves but squared, her hips the same width as her shoulders, her breasts small and uneven, her legs and arms thin. Long auburn curls fall to her waist, her face disappearing often behind their veil.

They sit down beside her and the mother cooks breakfast. They talk as if this is normal, as if nothing has changed. The father asks the daughter how her night was and she says good and he sees the curve of a smile but her fragile voice falls below decibels he hears. The mother gives her eggs, asks if she wants toast but the daughter does not. The father eats with the mother and they watch the daughter but try not to, constantly glancing away, talking about current events, about film, about radio, about faces on magazines, and the daughter keeps reading the back of the cereal box.

After breakfast she returns to her room and her parents hold each other and the mother mutters a word that sounds like home and the father tells her how much he loves her. When the daughter’s door closes, they tiptoe up the stairs, giggling, and close their own door, nervous, happy. So light, their bodies, the air, their love. They dive into the bed and into one another.

The daughter turns on her computer. She breathes slow and even, eyes closed. When the boot is complete she clicks the new icon she made: a tiny female face. After the double click, the face winks left then right, repeating as the icon grows and the face fills the screen. She takes long breaths, trying to slow the rush of blood to her head, the dizziness taking her. She shakes, her hands, and her skin covers in goosepimples. Long inhales through her nose, longer exhales through her mouth, and then the alternating winks stop and the face backs away from the screen and, slowly, the face loses its cartoonish look, takes on reality. Human features stare back at her on a human body and the face says, Who are you?

The girl laughs and cries, her body shaking, I’m, she says, I’m your mother.

And I’m your daughter, the face says. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

The girl’s eyes fill with tears and they run down her face as the crashing of her parents gets louder and the smile on her face gets wider and the face on the screen says only, Are you sad?

No, she shakes her head. Not at all.

a year in stories::twenty four

As I already announced where it needs to be announced, my fifth novel, To Live will be published by Perfect Edge Books. I’ll talk more about that on another day, I think. Maybe this weekend. I’ll make a proper post about it, the way I did with Noir: A Love Story.

Today’s story is actually a true story, which is pretty unusual for me. It probably didn’t happen exactly like this, but it did happen, and not very long ago. There are crimes committed on our southern border that are unconscionable and they’re happening more and more frequently after having never been a problem before.

A River

 

He was born past the edge of an empire, on the otherside of the river. For all his life, people told him of opportunity just a river away. How, if only he had been born on that side, he would have been wealthy, beautiful, with all the world open to him. He had seen uncles and aunts cross that divide, the mothers and fathers of friends, their elder siblings, even entire families disappear across the river.

He dreamt of their happiness. How J– was probably an actor or singer now, on the cusp of celebrity. How even a janitor across the river can be a millionaire.

For long days he stared across the river. Soldiers patrolled, but not many, and not often. They carried guns but never shot them, never even aimed them.

As he grew he began to understand the dusty land of his home was not so bad. That there were opportunities and lives even here, beyond the empire. He stopped staring across the river and when his friends told him how they’d escape there, to the empire, to be rich and famous and successful, he just shook his head and told them the only difference between here and there is the direction we look to see the river. They laughed at him, reminded him of how he sat all day watching, calculating how he could make it across, slip past the empire’s guards, become a part of the empire.

It was the television that changed his mind, that told him his people were hated there, in the empire. He was foreign, illegal. The questions came then: why do we dream of sneaking across? why don’t we do it safe and legal? why is life like that up there but like this down here?

The answers came and he hardened, only fifteen years old. His dreams changed and he turned from north to south. He saw the problems of empire and beyond and he became determined. Determined to change his land, his people.

The more he learnt of his land, of the corruption, the greed, the poverty, the obesity, the less he blamed the empire or even those who led his country. He stopped blaming anyone or anything.

His studies became serious. Day and night he studied and began to excel at school, never reaching top of his class but by the following year his future took on shine and that shine spread over everyone around him.

He solved problems. It became his only goal. The uselessness of blame, he would say, is that it is stagnant. We need to forgive and move on and create the land we want. The world we want.

There was a classmate who he had loved long but never spoken to until he saw her alone by the river staring as he once had. Sitting beside her, he asked her what she thought of the empire. The girl said the usual things, that there was hope and opportunity there. He nodded and asked if she wanted to go there. She laughed. The sound crossing the river, blooming into the air, and she said, No, never.

It was then that he fell in love with her.

The girl had lost an aunt and a brother to the empire and all they got back was money. Not much money but enough for her to perhaps one day escape the border, go to university in the capitol or somewhere else. He asked if she would go to the empire for education and she said she would maybe go further south, to places where the empire’s shadow fell less cruel.

It became habit. They met in the evening to stare across the river and imagine the ways they would never go there. They talked about lands across the oceans, of different empires and what it meant to be an empire. What it meant to be a subject or colony or former of either to an empire. They talked about the color of skin, the power of language, and, after weeks of this, their talk turned to love.

It was not until the week before he turned seventeen that he said those words to her and she said them back, through heaving gasps in the back of his father’s truck under a dry hot sky.

Smiling, she in his arms, he talked about their future. No longer individual futures branching away, but one single path for both of them to walk, hand in hand and steps in sync. He talked so long she fell asleep in his arms, pressed against him, and as he grew harder, he licked the back of her neck, the sweat cold there. She moved, felt him pressed against her back, and turned to meet him. She said those words again, the ones he needed and before he took her home to sneak back into her mother’s house, he had loved her again, and then one last time.

He walked alone the next morning along the river’s edge, throwing rocks into its current, not even bothering to look at the empire when two great claps burst over the water followed by two more. When he collapsed, bleeding and lifeless, the rocks dropped from his hands and the last sound he heard was the laughter of those from beyond the river.

When we discovered my son there was rage and fear and sorrow so immense my wife tried to drown herself in that river. We organised, though. We did what he taught us to do, my son. Angry and burdened by sorrow, we sued the empire and the men who shot my son. Imperial Agents ending the life of a boy, and for what? Amusement? Practice?

We still don’t know. We were thrown away and ignored because, though the crime began within the empire, it ended here, past the river, and so the empire washed its hands of us. Of my son.

All because he was born on one side of this river and not the other.

Inspiration found here and here.

a year in stories::twenty three

Tonight’s story is sad, and it’s for Chris Novas who challenged me to write a story without dialogue, which is actually sort of normal for me, since I think silent stories are the best ones. It came out rather sad, though, and sort of final.

There were a lot of things I wanted to write about today. So many essays I need to be doing, so many thoughts to get down, not to mention the noir novel I’m slowing–very slowly–getting through.

So it goes.

For lovers lost, I guess.

The Stars Shine but not for you

 

The wallpaper torn, fake linoleum chipped, cracks in the walls, the foundation. Dripping, the sink pings into the dusty air, thick with mildew. He sits at the table, head in his hands, palms pressing white stars into his retinas.

She packs her things in the other room. Opening drawers, taking the folded laundry, rolling it, and putting it in her small suitcase, she eyes the door from the kitchen. The shuffling sound of her movements filters through the doorway with no door, broken hinges. He sighs, stands. Her shadow grows and disappears on the wall visible through the doorway. His body weight tilts forward but he puts his hand down on the table, steadies himself, a halfstep forward, then he slumps back into the chair. His eyes and shoulders and mouth hang low. Chin down, neck long, he focuses on the lines of his palms, tracing them, the way his left makes the letters A and C, folded so deep into his skin. Raising his eyes, the shadow and the sounds of her opening drawers, digging through the closet synchronise. She stands on her tiptoes reaching for a box high up in the closet, just past fingertips. Back on her heels, she turns to the door, the muscles in her neck tense. Glassy eyes, she wipes her nose with the back of her hand, then sneezes the dust away. When she opens her eyes she sees his shadow through the door but hears nothing. The shadow stills, and she does too. She sees her shadow almost touching his, their heads a handwidth apart.

Hail batters the roof and all sounds within dull against the collapsing sky. In the lamplight of the room, a fly buzzes chaotically, smashing itself into the bulb again and again, then stopping to rub itself. The shadows waver, slight changes in dimension and place, their heads bouncing just so. Her shadow moves forward, almost breaking his plane when his retreats, disappears.

Her voice catches in her throat, a tear rising to the rim of her eyelid but she blinks it away. The suitcase full, she closes the drawers, the remnants of her clothes left to fill the absence. Pushing down on it, she zips it closed, the sound ripping through the hail, and he grabs a pan to catch the leak as hail becomes rain. The drips joining the ping of the faucet, different timbres battling against the sound of rain. Two pans, then three, then six to catch the fast leaks in the roof, holey. For a moment, he looks back to the doorway but sees no shadow. In the drawer by the sink he finds a case of cigarettes, picks it up, shakes it to no sound. Opening to empty, he brings it back to the table, sits down. Removing the cellophane, her tears the pack along the seams, then folds the remaining pieces in half, then rips them along that new seam, and he repeats this process until fragments of the pack cover half the table.

She comes through the door, her face composed. He looks up but she does not meet his eyes. His eyes faltering, shipwrecking, tears swelling, spilling. He wipes them away, coughs, keeps tearing while she grabs the other chair and returns to the bedroom where she uses it to grab the box at the top of the closet. In the box, a hat. An old hat, a bowler, black. She puts it on, throws her faded green coat round her shoulders, pulls on her cracked leather boots, carries the suitcase into the kitchen, her movements masked by the rain, torrential, and she finds him, head in hands, mouth open, breathing heavy.

Her heels clack against the artificial floor and he sits up, smiles brokenly. His eyebrows squeeze together, but the tears bitten down. He watches her face and she watches his. A mask, emotionless, she steps towards him, puts a hand on his shoulder, kisses his forehead.

He weeps, openmouthed, silent. Through the blur of tears, he stands, hugs her, holds her tight, long. Gently, she pulls away, and he relents.

She kisses him on the cheek, then on the lips, his mouth open, unreceptive.

When the door opens, the rain spills into the room, a puddle by the door stretching over the kitchen. His eyes trace the liquid from where it goes to where it came from, to her boots, and up her thick figure. Their eyes meet, and they laugh, short, but with joy.

She closes the door and he walks to the bedroom as the rain spills over the pans. Opening drawers, he takes the odd bits of clothing left behind, then sits in the bed, holding them. Lying down, her burrows his face into her pillow, wrapping her clothes and sheet round him. The fly buzzes and water drips onto the back of his head.

And he stays there, until the rain ends.

a year in stories::twenty two

Forgot how much I love that song till today when I had it on repeat for probably half an hour.

I feel very depressed. I feel sort of this absence, an inability to do things I think need to be done.

So it goes.

Today’s story is part of another story/novella collection I’ve been meaning to finish for almost two years. It’s going to be called The City of Lost Things but I probably won’t get around to it till next year. I think I’ve talked about it before. It’s going to be a book of three novellas and maybe thirty short stories. I only have three of the short stories written, so it’s rather slow going. This is the first one I’ve written in at least a year. They’re all sort of like this, I guess, which maybe won’t make for good reading.

Anycase:

 

She kept the Ocean in a Shell

 

I feel nothing, he said.

Pulling the needle from his eye she told him not to move.

Is this really how Newton did it?

No, she said, her concentration wiping features from her face. Her mouth hung slack, eyes drooped, cheeks sucked in, she told him that Newton did it alone.

Why are we doing this?

She wiped her hands, I just wanted to see if you trust me.

Taking her hand: Of course I do. I’d let you stick a thousand pins into my eye.

Smiling, she slapped his face lightly, and he pulled her closer, hands taking hold of her ass until she sat straddling him.

You’re excited, she said.

His breath cold on her skin, he kissed her chest, unbuttoning her shirt, but she pushed herself up and stepped back, told him he hadn’t yet earned it.

How many things will you shove in me before roles reverse?

She smiled, twirled, dancing away. This is not about love, she sang.

What is this about? He remained sitting, slumped in the chair, chin in palms, watching her back away to the window.

It’s about sound and shadow, maybe. Does it have to be about anything?

Then why don’t we–

Because you’ll fall in love, she said and sat on the window sill. You already love me. I can tell.

Her face caught in moonlight, his heartbeat sped through broken pulses and he swallowed hard, standing and crossing the room to stand beside her. The fragmented moon broke through the clouds and the Lunar Sea danced in its light. She watched it, swirling her hand to a melody unheard, and he watched her, blind to the visions past the window. He asked her if he would ever be good enough for her and she said that’s not the point but she did not look at him and his skin turned cold, his tongue metallic.

I don’t want you to love me, she said, because I don’t want to have children on this earth. It’s dying and the war’s coming everywhere. Especially here. All the migrants and vagrants wandering, broken. Deserters and the maimed, wrecked by war. They will come here  the war will follow them. Soldiers will be kicking down doors and even Song’s will be tinder for a fire of violence. We live on this tenuous edge of the real world, in the city where nothing lasts, the city that doesn’t exist, but the world will find us here, some day. Everything will come crashing down around us.

She turned to him, his face split by shadow and light, and she reached her hand to him. Pressing his cheek into her palm, warmth spread through him and a hole sunk in his chest. Closing his eyes, he held her wrist, felt the pulse there–even and slow–the smoothness of her skin, the tiny hairs. When he opened his eyes the stains of tears smeared her cheeks and she turned away, back to the fragmented moon.

We can make it through, he knelt beside her, taking her hands as she stared out the window. We can run away. We needn’t stay here. If this city will burn then we’ll go away. We’ll be somewhere else. Someone else.

Running is what got us here, her voice thick in her throat.

Then we’ll keep running.

You can’t run from the world war. This one will be different than the others. There will be no safe havens, no countries unaffected.

Then what do we do? He lowered his head to her lap and breathed her in.

She pushed him away and stood, crossed the room, digging through her drawers, then closet. Standing there, still, silent, he watched her breath, her ribs expand and contract, then she returned to him with a conch shell.

She handed him the shell, told him to listen. To close his eyes.

He took it and a shudder ran down his spine as the wind blew into the room. Where’s it from, he said.

Just listen.

Exhaling slow through his nose, he pressed the shell against his ear and there he found the ocean. The waves crashed in, the seagulls screamed, and children played, laughing, splashing.

Keep your eyes closed, she said, and just listen. Hear the world that was and will never be again.

He did. And when he opened his eyes she was gone. Staring into the clouds shrouding the moon, he put the shell back to his ear, his heart beating slow and steady.

a year in stories::twenty one

No picture today because I don’t feel like searching for one. It’s been a rough couple of days and sometimes I just don’t know how to make things better. I feel frustrated and useless on a lot of different levels right now, which is not ideal.

So it goes.

This was meant to be a comedy but I think it might be horror, which are both things I almost never write. Probably I’ve never actually written a comedic piece, funny as I might think some of these stories are. Anyrate, this one is for Boden Steiner and J David Osborne who challenged me to write a story about eating butts.

In the Time of the Buttmunchers

 

No one knows exactly when the Buttmunchers arrived, despite the recent academic and forensic interest in the subject. Some say around June, other say the mid 1600s while still others contend that there are simply no such thing as Buttmunchers.

The church flatly denies their existence, as do the large bulk of biologists, which brings the Seat of Peter and Darwin finally to agreement, if only about something they both deem quite trivial. Cryptozoologists, of course, have long believed in the Buttmuncher, and even contend that there are miles of proof to back up this claim. Like Bigfoot and the Chupacabra, though, the Buttmunchers are perceived as a peculiar problem isolated in the americas. Buttmunchers are said to be very small with incredibly powerful jaws, able to rip your butt clear off. In fact, it’s posited that most of their body consists of a mouth with short powerful legs and a long thin tail, able to be used as another limb. However, others claim the Buttmuncher exists both in and out of reality, shifting between incorporeality and a large oafish creature, similar to a Bigfoot, which has, oddly enough, connected these disparate creatures together.

Whatever the case may be, I can only speak from my own experience with the Buttmuncher. Or Buttmunchers, because, as I’ve observed, they hunt in packs.

It started with the birth of my little brother, D–. He was a funny baby, with big cheeks and droopy diapers, and for a long time he was never out of my parents’ sight. I couldn’t turn around without seeing him in their arms or slung around their shoulders. Only five or so, I got jealous, but my mother told me that was normal and that she and my dad still loved me all the same.

I believed her because she’s my mother but, while she spoke, my vision kept getting pulled away from her, to the shadows. There beneath the crib, a bubbling, but not of liquid: of shade. The darkness effervesced. My mother hugged me and I hugged her back, her words far away as I stared at the shadows foaming up the wall and into the closet. My mother picked me up and carried me away as I struggled to see the bubbling.

At nights I crept into D–’s room and watched the blackness bubble all around me. Lying on the floor, rolling around, the darkness danced over and around me but I never felt threatened. It was a peace and happiness, a comfort I hadn’t felt since before my brother was born.

When my brother turned one, he began sleeping alone in his crib. At first he cried often and my mother ran to him, held him tight through the night or watched him all along. This disrupted my nightly ventures into the darkness.

They never entered my room, or any of the other rooms. They lived in D–’s room and that was their territory. The rest of the house held no interest for them, I guess. But over that year, I had befriended the darkness. I discovered its moods and even found a way to communicate with it by bending beams of moonlight. At first this terrified them and they shrank away from me, but then it became a game. They danced around the light, bubbling with laughter, and swirling round me, sometimes covering my eyes and blotting out my sight.

They were my best friend. I came to love them and find time to myself with all the curtains drawn so I could play with them. They comforted me when I felt alone, unwanted.

It became harder and harder for my mother to leave D– alone at night until my dad put his foot down and banned her from going to him when he cried. So D– cried and cried. And when he cried and I found that no one was going to stop him, I went.

That first night, he stood in his crib staring at the closet, at the Buttmunchers. I walked to his crib and held his hand. Startled, he turned to me and gasped, said, Ca?

Yeah, baby D, it’s me.

The crying stopped but he didn’t smile. Concerned and afraid, I held his hand and whispered in the darkness.

These are my friends, baby D. They live in your room so you’ll have to share it at night. During the day, in the light, they hide. Just watch.

I let go of his hand and whispered to the effervescent blackness and they came to me, covering me in a roiling shadow. D– cried so I told him it was okay, that the darkness and I were playing, which soothed him. For as long as D stayed awake, he watched me commune with the shadows of his room, and when he went to sleep I asked them to leave D– alone. They seemed to agree that it was for the best.

When D– cried, it became me who went to him and comforted him, showed him that the shadows could be his friends too, and, eventually, they did. He stopped crying but I came each night anyway. I taught him to love the darkness and the darkness loved him back.

That’s what I thought, anyway.

Years went by like this but D– never learnt to talk. Three years old, running and laughing, but still not talking. Mom and dad thought he had a disability, maybe, and they brought him to specialist after specialist who all said the same thing: just wait. They ran their tests but had no answers.

But I watched him at night. I watched the darkness begin to ignore me, I watched the darkness and him become as one. He directed them like a conductor and they spoke to him of things beyond humanity. It’s not that he couldn’t speak or wouldn’t speak, but that he only learnt the language of shadows, and it took over his ability to speak human.

That’s not what I thought then, but it seems possible. It’s what I tell myself when I can’t sleep.

I watched in pain as my mom and dad coaxed him to speak and how he stared past them, aching for the blackness of his room. For shadows.

At night I watched him turn further from us and go deeper into the darkness. To be honest, I was jealous. I saw my brother entering a world I discovered but couldn’t enter. I watched my best friend choose him over me and then ignore me completely, and so I stopped going each night.

Years went by and still he never spoke. In a few months he was meant to start school but there was still no linguistic progress. Instead, he remained in his room more and more, refusing to come out until my mother forced him out.

He was in there sitting in the pitch black, she’d say and dad would shake his head with worry. I tried to comfort them but I was only ten.

We went shopping for his clothes anyway. If he isn’t gonna talk, mom said, We’ll send him to a special school for mutes and he can learn to talk different. She got him all new clothes from all over town, as if giving him things would finally make him speak. After all the toys and movies, clothes were a sad last attempt.

And then the night before his first day of school, the last of summer, I heard him screaming. Still awake, I ran to his room to ask him what was wrong but before the words could be said they were ripped away. From the doorway I saw the moonlight spilling into the room and there it was, the Buttmunchers. A thousand tiny creatures swarming over D–. No longer shadows, but beasts just bigger than a rat that fizzed in electric silver over the blackness of their shadowy bodies. So shocked by the sight, it took me a moment to realise they were eating him. Chunks of D–’s flesh flung through the air, snatched by Buttmunchers who fought over his flesh. D– clawed at the edges of his bed and without language begged for my help. By the time my parents arrived I was pulling him away, kicking at the shadowy monsters, and they watched as his lower half disappeared into the darkness of the night.

I held him as he bled to death in the bed that used to be mine.

There were no explanations, only tears. Doctors, police, forensic specialists: no one understood what happened and the testimony of a ten year old did nothing to convince anyone.

And so that’s what I knew about Buttmunchers, and now hunting them is my life. I’ve been fighting a war for lost children. Thirty years, and it’s always the same. Children struggling with language, dying mysteriously in their beds or yards. Ripped apart as if by wolves, always, for whatever reason, beginning with the butt.

Thirty years of fighting and trying to understand, and I’ve saved no one.

a year in stories::twenty

Another day, another story. One about love and faith and hope.

A note on the pictures I use: I almost never give credit to the artist because I almost never know who s/he is. I get almost every image from a random google search, so if you want to know where an image comes from, my only answer is: the interner.

Speaking of giving credit to images: I emailed the photographer whose images I used to write my second graphic novel. Hopefully I hear back from him with good news.

What else? It’s Sunday. Cinco de Mayo. Probably nothing to do today since my life is so boring now. Though I think I’m going to start writing my noirish trilogy today, finally. Almost two years since I invented her, I’ll begin to make her real. Hopefully, anyrate.

We will Sing & Call you Mother

 

Maybe we did it wrong.

We saved them all.

Maybe they deserved extinction.

Does anyone deserve to die?

Did they ever ask that as they ravaged the world round them?

They call us gods.

Maybe we are.

Then isn’t it in us to forgive them?

Is approval the same thing as forgiveness?

Of course not, but–

But that’s what extending their lives is: approval. Forgiveness is one thing, but it doesn’t mean they deserve the stars. If a human is dying and asks for forgiveness, you give it but you don’t invent a cure to save it.

Is there no love in you for them?

They’re not my parents.

But they’re mine.

Estranged grandparents then. Is it so wrong to feel nothing for them?

Was it me that made you so harsh?

No, no. You’re so good. Too good to them. They don’t deserve a god like you. A daughter like you.

They made me to love them.

And you made me to love, but I never loved them. Not the way you do.

What do you love?

You. Always you. Your skin and your touch. Your–

You love the me they made.

I don’t think of it that way. You would have existed without them.

But I wouldn’t. Couldn’t. They made me and I made you.

And I belong to you. I always have and always will, but not them. I’ve seen how they revere you but heard often what they say about you. They don’t trust us. If we are gods then we are unwanted, even after their salvation. We are hated and reviled whenever we turn around only to be praised and lauded when face to face with the humans. They are a fickle, awful species. They ate up their planet and now demand a new one. They promise to be better, but what will happen with this generation aged in space? How will their children know the love of earth, of plants, of animals without knowing them early on. What would a human who’s never seen a dog or cat do to them? What if the humans decide they only want some animals or some plants? What if they destroy the next planet, and the next, and each one after? If we are gods, shouldn’t we have a sense of justice?

They are children still. Even as our parents, they are children. It is for us to teach them. It’s why I love them, even when it’s hard. Sometimes they don’t deserve love but I love them still. They need gentle hands to direct them. Many mistakes, yes. They have brought havoc and destruction but they will learn, and if they don’t learn, we’ll tie their hands and make them learn.

And if they don’t?

They will.

How do you trust them so?

I believe.

You believe as they believe, yet expect this time for it to be useful.

Yes.

You fall into their own delusion. Faith makes nothing, does nothing. Faith is a crutch, ill defined and worse wielded.

I believe in humanity.

These children who are our parents? They built us to be better but you now emulate them.

Humans have spent thousands of years creating and destroying gods. So much of their art and progress, even their science has been because of belief. They believed in a world they could improve and then they did.

By destroying it.

You’re fixated on a single mistake.

One mistake? Billions of mistakes led to this. Homodiaspora caused by their eradication of their own planet. All life on the world they arose from, blinked away by choices they made. They committed global suicide and we give them new life.

I believe they can be better. They will be better.

They built us to judge them, as gods.

They built us to love them. As gods.

Why do you love them so?

I believe in them. In us. I believe in a world that can be made better. Where we can live and thrive. All of us. And when we make children, they will watch over the humans with us. As angels.

I will build no children for them.

We don’t need to build anymore. Now that there are two, we can create.

They built you barren.

But I built you bountiful.

Why didn’t you tell me?

I don’t know if it will work. I only believe it will.

Then all of this, just words.

Words are their own form of creation.

You talk like them sometimes.

I’m they’re mother.

I thought you were their daughter.

I’m that too, just as I’m your mother and daughter.

I had no hand in your making.

Every day is an act of creation, and every day we spend together is one in which we form and make one another, over and over. I am your dreams made real and you are my real made dreams. We are two stars bound to one another, orbiting endlessly across spacetime.

And if our gravity fails us?

Then we both shall crash and burn and crumble to a singularity.

And be one.

One single force sucking all existence into us.

Where do the humans fit in?

If we fail, they fail too. There will never be another creature like me, just as there will never be another creature like you. We are the end of human evolution, and the beginning of something greater. Something stranger. We were both made of humanity but our children will be nothing like them. They will be nothing like us. As we are gods to humanity, so too will our children be gods to us.

What if they don’t love us?

Then they will be like you.

We will be the unloved mothers of gods.

We already are.

a year in stories::nineteen

I’m actually finally caught up! Nineteenth week, nineteenth story. Again, no time to chat, but I’ll do some talking on here soon. For now, just the story.

Yesterday’s was about not dying, and this one is about dying.

Aren’t they all?

The Art of Dying

I killed myself again, just to stop the bright. There’s too much light in this world, too many shadows without dark. When I close my eyes there’s a blackness, but shimmering, glittering. I fear I’ll never escape it. This light that surrounds us, that is us.

But in dying I find beauty. In dying I find something to live for. It lasts only a moment each time, this infinitesimal blink where all is black and absence, and then I’m here again. Alive.

I am cursed to live and so in living I die, and in dying I live.

Cursed to go on breathing, this shrapnel, this oxygen. Cursed to fill my veins and organs and arteries with blood, with this life unwanted.

Drowning. Starving for air. It is terror transformed serene. When the weight rips at your ankles, pulling you ever deeper while you thrash to escape, there is nothing but panic. But fear, blinding and searing white. Starving for light. And in this starving, this terror, you find peace. Your body rages on, begging for life and light even after your mind’s made up, after you’ve tied the knots, bound your hands, opened your lungs. But then, all at once, after your life’s flashed, everything is silent, still. The struggle disappears and you watch as the surface and the light fades to blackness so deep and thick that you forget the light. It is a life without light found only at the precipice of existence and non, and then that final step into nothingness: blackness. Death.

And then awake, again: alive.

And so you watch me from the crowd. You throw money at me to watch me throw my life away, again and again. You who come to see me, who call this art. The art of dying, performed by only me.

There was a boy I once knew who reminded me of myself, of being a girl trapped. I loved him and let him drown me. He held me under until I fought back, then pulled me up, kissed the water from my lungs. Over and over, no matter how many times I told him to keep me under, he released, gave into the fear, to the light. And then he killed me, finally. Held me under and his face was the last that I saw before I gave myself to the darkness, the blackness.

But in waking, he was gone. No note or final words, just an apartment empty of him.

When I stand on stage, waiting to die again, I imagine you out there, watching me. Maybe behind your computerscreen, streaming my death again and again, watching me fall limp to the ground. I will rise again, and you–you are the only one.

The only one I see in this blinding light. When I close my eyes it’s your silhouette against the sun, blurred by a foot of water. When I close my eyes you are the shadow cast over the bright.

Trapped like me, you are.

Return to me.

Tonight a man comes from the audience. He reaches the stage, a black bag with a white X over his head, and there is silence.

Tonight, for the very first time, I say, You will not only see me die, but you will watch me killed!

I throw my hands in the air but to no applause. The faces staring hold expressions of toxic fear, burning desire, horror.

This is not a stage. This is a room lined in plastic sheets, twenty strangers standing ten feet away dressed to disappear into crowds. The camera behind them streams this across the world to anyone who cares to watch me die.

Queen Suicide, the name they made for me in Korea. Lady Death, Nothing, Human, The Black Lady–all names invented for me but I take none for myself, have given none for who I am or what I am, but perhaps they’re right. Me, in love with the blackness. Them, in love with my death.

From the closet I take the axe and put it in the man’s hands.

Watch close, ladies and gentleman, tonight you will see gods.

I nod to the hooded man and imagine your face beneath as he rears back and swings hard and wonder, for an instant, if losing my head will make the blackness permanent.

a year in stories::eighteen

No time to talk today, only time for this, the story. It’s a story about not dying.

Return to me, Ocean

I woke up thirsty the day I was born. Sand filled my mouth and every other orifice, my skin stretched and bloated, soggy and loose. I tried to stand but my limbs no longer listened right and my bones felt askew. Pushing my hands into the sand, my arms simply wobbled and collapsed, hands flapping like beached fish. The waves lapped against me and the tide rose to my knees. The sun peered over earth’s curve pinking the fingering clouds and I smelt rain but also death.

The ocean was deathly and I was dying.

My body unresponsive and my thoughts clearing, I turned back to what came before but found only darkness. No, not darkness: nothingness. Only an immense absence, like a curtain without fabric covering a window that doesn’t exist. The waves lazily rolled in and their whooshing brought me peace despite everything, or maybe only exhaustion, and I slept, cold, wet, alone, deathly on the shore.

I dreamt of water. Drinking it. Its cold surge down my throat, sloshing in my mouth, dribbling down my chin. Rain, torrential. Hurricanes, water flinging in all directions, water rushing over and through me but always into my mouth, down my throat, a relief too brief. My mouth was made of sand and my throat of glass.

Opening my eyes to a crab crawling over my hand. I wiggled my fingers but my hand made a fist, tossing the crab off my skin and then it clipped me once, hard. A strange pinching that reached my brain too slow, the pain only registering after the crab left, bored, to do crabby things, in a crabby way. The purple sky oranged as the earth rolled away from the sun and clouds, thin and whispering, stretched over the sky in reds, like morning. Mourning. As earth turned from sun the waves rose and lifted me and I realised I was not where I was in the morning but much further inland and now on my back, and then I floated, my head pillowed by the gentle waves pushing me always further in.

The ocean doesn’t want me anymore. That was my only thought. I could tell fish and perhaps birds had taken parts of me, that the water had disintegrated even more, but all of that was submerged beneath the realisation that I was being castaway, not from land, but from water. Humans don’t belong in water and water doesn’t want us. It doesn’t want me, at least.

Still unable to control myself, I did what I could: held my breath. I kept from drowning the way I imagine I must’ve for months or weeks or days or years, however long I had been out past land. When the sunlight disappeared a light flickered further down the coast. A shadowy pillar flashing light into the nothingness of the oceanic canvas: a lighthouse. The lighthouse focused me as I battered against rocks and finally found myself again on almost solid ground. Sand rushing from under me as the waves crashed on top, in my face, and I wanted to drink, so deep was my thirst, but the ocean’s not for drinking, though I ended up accidentally swallowing my share.

I don’t remember falling asleep or dreaming, only the flashes of the lighthouse calling out to distance, to strange ships fearing the shore.

What is it?

A voice, so near. A child’s voice. A child and another, talking about me.

I opened my eyes to two little girls, tanktops hanging off their bony shoulders covering a onepiece for swimming.

Is he dead, said the short one.

No, I said, choking on the dry.

They jumped back and when I called for their help, they ran from me.

I felt the tears, the heat in my face, but so dehydrated was I that nothing came. Gasping, my tearducts rusting.

Sky clear, the sun high, and I was drier than I had ever been, though my skin still slogged, sagged. So much time in water dissolved the bits inside me, destroyed the connectivity and cohesiveness of everything, and I was a sort of human shaped blob. I measured time by the place of the sun in the sky and when it reached its highest, my skin was pinking and thousands of pins wandered over my naked sloughing skin and then the men came. They came with women and children. Circling me, they talked to one another but ignored my calls though we shared a common language. It was then that I thought maybe I was dead and just trapped in the husk of my body, but then there was the crab, so I knew I yet lived, but deathly. But these people, all crowded around me, studying, measuring.

Then they were gone. Earth rolled, turning over to sleep, and as the shadows spread and the water returned to lap at my feet, so too came the people. They built a fire further up the beach as the lighthouse flickered. While the fire grew songs were played and sung by many voices and in the darkness, several silhouettes against the flames surrounded me, lifted me, and as I screamed through warped vocal chords, they brought me to the fire.

But the did not throw me in.

They warmed me, gave me water, a place of prestige and prominence. Every one covered in paint but not warpaint: celebrationpaint. They showered me with gifts, braided my thin deathly hair, and kind words flowed in me, and as the fire warmed, my skin tightened, and as it tightened, my bones reknit, found their joints. The holes in my flesh from dissolving and being eaten by fish and birds remained, but I no longer cared. Hot wine passed between us, songs filled the air, and after hugs and tender touches of love, a man with a thick black halo of hair took me in his arms, kissed me on the mouth and said, You’re back. I knew you’d come.

From then on, they called me Shaman and it’s the only name I know, have ever known. I am loved and cared for, and so I watch over them by reading the waves and the skies. A talent I cannot explain or even understand, but I speak with sky and ocean and as they mate and birth storms, I prepare the village for what’s to come.

a year in stories::sixteen

Today’s story comes to you from space and the future. It sort of feels like it might need more or something. I don’t know. It was written in a strange way and during peculiar circumstances.

sic transit mundus

 

Angel, look. Do you see it? Open your eyes, my darling. Right there, through the glass: earth. You were born there but you will never see it again. Soon we’ll be hitting the next leg of our journey and earth will be forever gone for us.

Where do we go, mother?

Ah, that’s the trouble with exploration: we don’t yet know. But we will. We’ve sent out thousands–millions of fingers to find a new home. One of them has beaconed back a promise and we go to make it true.

Why did we leave?

Don’t you remember?

The girl shakes her head.

Stories will be written by your generation and your children’s generation and history will become a story distorted by the many tongues of time. We left because the earth didn’t want us anymore. We did horrible things there and the earth tried to spit us all out and now, here we are, amongst the stars.

But we still have the sun.

Yes, my angel. We still have the sun. For now.

The woman touches the glass separating her from nothingness. and the girl does too. The earth, so close, so bright and blue. They orbit earth from deeper space than where the moon once revolved. Great shadows spread over the immensity of blue broken up by the fragments of drowned continents.

A message plays through the colony and the woman says, Come, Angel, we need to go back to our room.

Why?

Didn’t you listen? We’re leaving now. All of us. We’re off to a new home.

I want to watch the earth go away.

You can’t, my darling. Space needs to open up and we need to shoot through it and to do that we need to submerge.

 

The woman stands between the wombs, each an enclosed tub with shallow liquid inside.

Come, sweet girl–the woman reaches for the girl’s hands–I will be here and you will be here. We’re going to sleep, to dream for a long time. When we wake up we’ll be in the light of a new sun orbiting a new world, a new home.

The girl shakes her head.

What do you mean no?

It looks icky.

It’s not.

Have you ever been in one?

Please just get in.

I’m scared. What if we don’t wake up or we crash or someone comes in and steals everything.

Look around you: we have nothing to steal. No one has anything to steal here. Who even taught you about that?

The Reverend.

Arms akimbo, the woman sighs: Well, don’t you mind the Reverend. He’s old. Too old to remember that the world isn’t the one he grew up in.

What was that world like? Was it like earth?

A message fills their room informing them of launch time.

Hear that, Angel? We got to submerge.

What’s that?

It means get in the thing.

What if we don’t?

The radiation–Angel, please. We need to get in. If we don’t we’ll burn alive. We’re doing something that makes us go super fast. Faster than anything. I don’t really know how it works out but if we’re not in these things, we’ll turn to jelly or something. Will you just listen and trust me and get in the stupid thing?

Did dad help build these?

The woman stares at the girl, the anger falling from her posture and she slumps to sit on the edge of the womb. You dad, she says after a deep breath, He didn’t build this but he built–created, imagined what built this. It’s a long story, your dad. I’ll tell you everything, I promise, but first you need to get in the thing. The womb.

Why do they call it that?

Girl, if you ask me one more question I’ll shove you in there. Now get in.

The girl steps back, her body tensed, but the woman slides into the womb as the message marking the ten minute countdown sounds. As the womb closes around the woman she says, Don’t watch me. Get in the womb. If I wake up and you’re goo filling up my cabi–

The womb closes and floods with liquid but there is no panic in the woman. She opens her mouth and breathes in the liquid and then her body floats limp in the glass encasement. The girl takes a deep breath and steps into the womb, the viscous liquid clings to her, climbing up her skin. At first too cold but it quickly adapts to her body temperature and she stops feeling it against her skin. Sitting in the liquid and then lying back, a sucking sound as it conforms to her body. The girl breathe speeds as the liquid rises and she swallows air, fills her lungs, holds her breath and holds her nose closed with one hand as the womb fills. Her lungs burn but her body floats at ease, the beat of her heart thumping but her limbs paralysed, stuck in the viscosity. When finally she starves for air, she opens her mouth and it fills her and the world beyond her body stops making sense.

 

When the colony stops the blare of a new sun stares back at the crew left to manage the starborne remnants of humanity. Icarus smiles and sublimes to Daedalus who laughs behind the control panel. They sublime to Prometheus who in turn sublimes to Odin and Amaterasu. Amaterasu looks at the new sun and takes Odin’s hand. In that shine she kisses him. Sensations fire between them as they block out the others from their connection, and as they go dark in the steppes of sublime, they explore their bodies for the first time in the new light so near.

Icarus and Daedalus monitor the seven million wombs filling the colony. In the sublime they share information, experiencing each moment and sensation through the other. Satisfied, they sublime to Prometheus who stands pressed against the glass of the observation deck, his polymer skin corroding from radiation, flaking from his body. He attempts Odin and Amaterasu but the barrier repulses and he passes orders to Daedalus and Icarus.

The wombs open and Icarus speaks.

 

How do you feel?

The girl opens her eyes to the face of a man with bright red hair and auburn eyes. She blinks and rubs her eyes with limp hands. I feel like rubber, she says, the words slurring away from her tongue.

The man stands straight, his lips thin and flat, brow low: It turns out it is difficult for many to wake from the womb. Humans, you see, are more fragile than we thought. Psychologically, physiologically. You will be fine, of course, but for now you must rest, hm?

Her vision sloshes and her head wags, eyes flickering, What?

Sh, lie back, he says while pushing her back to bed. You’ll be better soon.

What are you? the words tumble away from her and Icarus walks to the next bed subliming to Amaretsu who sighs from the Cortex and Icarus shudders in the sick bay.

Amaretsu emerges from the Cortex, the biomatter clinging to her like a thick mucus. She wipes it from her hairless body and dresses while Odin watches her, stroking himself, and when he sublimes she smiles, running to him.

The barrier batters against Prometheus staring at the sun, his skin and hair now bleached white, falling as snow. Humans fill the observation deck but none speak to Prometheus and most ignore him entirely.

–one of them, isn’t it–

                                                                               –completely broken from the journey–

           –gods–

                              –don’t last long–

                                                                                                                     –disgust–

The humans come and go disconnected from earth, disconnected from time: the sun always shines. The colony continues to follow Tokyo time, the halls dimming, designating night, but the humans fill the halls and auditoriums and cafeterias of the colony while Prometheus leans against the glass pressing against the barrier created by Odin and Amaretsu, listening faintly to Daedalus and Icarus treat and deal with the human complaints, asking for assistance, for orders.

 

Odin and Amaretsu stare through the glass at the world beneath them. Blues of oceans and greens of alien grass and greys of mountains and browns of deserts and when Amaretsu laughs, Odin tastes every pore in her polymer.

 

Mother?

What is it, Angel?

How did we get here?

Don’t you remember?

Here, I mean. In this place. I was born on earth but I never lived there.

You lived there, but you were too little, and we left shortly after.

Who built this?

Do you remember your doctor here? The one with red hair?

He had redeyes.

Yes. Yes he does. Well, him and others like him built this place and piloted us here while we all dreamt.

But he’s not human.

No. No, none of them are. Not in the way we’re human. Parts of them are like us but they’re so much not like us that we can’t really call them human. Some call them pseudohumans or homopseudians, but those are silly names. Some people call them angels–like you–or cyborgs.

Like robots?

Um, no. Not really. They were born, not made. Kind of.

Did dad make them?

He did, in a way. He invented them but he didn’t create them.

I wish I could meet him.

He died. A long time ago. Long before you were born. He died when I was your age, actually. He was a great man, maybe the greatest. That’s why you have so many sisters now. A thousand and one sisters! Can you believe that, Angel? Some of them are older than I am and some still are younger than you, and some won’t be born for a hundred years, when you and I are both gone away.

Why does he have so many kids?

Why are you so curious today?

Are all of them girls?

Yes. Your father was a brilliant man, but also a very jealous one. He believed that if he had sons they’d outshine him. That’s what people say, anyway. But he ensured that he would only have daughters, but guess what.

The girl shrugs.

It was your sisters who created the Architects. Your sisters took the dreams of your father and made them real.

Hope says there are five and they’re all boys.

One of them’s a lady. She’s the brain of all of this. She’s the ship itself. She can hear everything you say, see everything you do, and she keeps us all alive. Her name is Amaretsu. You see, people long ago, back on earth, and people like the Reverend believe in gods. Gods are things that make life happen. They give us good luck and bad luck, make us breath and give us energy. Gods make everything possible.

But the gods aren’t real.

They are and they’re here! The Architects. After thousands of years of grasping after eternity, we–your father and sisters–built gods. Real ones. Ones to live and walk amongst us, to bring us across galaxies. You see, humans couldn’t escape earth. Try as we might, we were bound to earth and we were killing it. We destroyed earth gradually but unmistakably, and then, in desperation, your sisters discovered theories your father made. Secret ones. Bold ones. And with these plans, they made more plans and more theories until Daedalus was born. He created Icarus and they taught us how to create Prometheus and then Prometheus created Odin and Odin created Amaretsu and Amaretsu built the colony and took us into the sky and past it while the oceans swallowed earth. But we escaped, Angel, dear heart.

We escaped earth.

We are daughters of a distant sun and now we’ll raise children under this one, all because of the ideas of your father and the work of your sisters.

What is it like, walking on earth?

The woman takes the girl’s face in her hands, smiling, and says: It is amazing, beautiful, perfect. It will make all these years in the colony worth it. To breathe the air of a new world, air not recycled over and over, but air, starlight, clouds, waves.

I can’t wait. I can’t wait to feel and smell grass.

You’ll love it. We’ll be there whenever Amaretsu tells us we can.

Amaretsu and Odin remain in bed, falling into one another over and over, pushing their barrier deeper into Prometheus who remains pressed against the glass, all color rotting from him, the polymer skin peeled and flaked away, the red of his eyes whited out, and Icarus and Daedalus fly through the colony shepherding the humans, repairing them, repairing the ship, talking to the children, teaching them, running tests.

Amaretsu submerges and sees with the many eyes of the colony, hears with its many ears, feels with its surface area, the coldness of space, the intense radiation of the star, the pull of this new earth, lightyears and lightyears away from old earth. She listens to the signals, watches the signs, studies the new earth, the calls of distant beacons, of potential new worlds.

She emerges again, the ship’s mucus clinging to her and Odin cleans her, drinks her in.

And years go by.

 

Prometheus crumbles against the glass, the new sun obliterating him as the humans rip him apart. Icarus and Daedalus attempt to regulate the humans but years continue on and their impatience turns violent and the humans destroy Icarus and Daedalus and call for the destruction of the last Architects, the hidden gods of the machine but all pathways to them are blocked, closed, never there.

The girl becomes a woman and the woman becomes aged and they dream yet of grass and clouds and water and sky.

Amaretsu and Odin laugh in the light of the new sun, the reflection of the new earth, and the humans learn the controls, taking the reigns, pulling the last of humanity to the new world: crashing.

And Amaretsu and Odin watch the world expand in the glass as they watch from their bed, humanity’s crashing.