It’ll be like Catcher in the Rye if Catcher in the Rye were about a kid who helps his grandfather dissolve bodies in a bathtub and isn’t sure how to tell his shrink.
Killing the Elephant
On that day – the one on which he killed the elephant, but before he actually shot it dead – he found himself in the passenger’s seat of his mother’s car as she drove alongside a wheat field down an old rural road on their way home from the market. He sat there staring at the black screen of the phone in his left hand, fiddling with the window controls under his right hand, trying to ignore the silence. His mother sat with her hands intently on the steering wheel, her eyes shifting over to him with each periodic fluttering of her hair. The corners of her mouth shriveled downward as she watched him stare blankly at his phone.
“Has she messaged you back?”
Her son wouldn’t respond. His head just turned for his eyes to look out the window as he cracked it open and shut it at slow, tedious intervals. She looked back ahead of her, over the steering wheel at the road.
“I think I’ll just go see her. Just show up and try to figure things out,” he mumbled. Most of his words slipped out through the window into the passing countryside, carried away from his mother’s ears.
“Look, hun,” she said with a bit of enthusiasm. Her gaze was focused at and upward angle above the road. “A hawk.”
He looked over and there – above the road, sitting on a power line – was indeed a hawk.
“God, I love hawks. They’re so gorgeous…”
The predator spread its brown wings, exposing its ruffled white breast before dismounting its perch, and dove down towards the golden field below.
“…graceful but vicious,” she finished.
When the bird reemerged from the wheat there was a small furry animal clutched in its talons. The hawk seemed to make a point of flying by the car for the mother and son to observe its majesty. Neither he nor she could make out what sort of poor creature the hawk had caught, but as it flew away they could both see the reflection of daylight in the little mammal’s eyes. They seemed to look right at them. The eyes looked right at the two voyeurs in the car with an expression of what they both assumed must be the rodent equivalent of indifference, as if to say “yes, well, here we are. I suppose this all really was entirely inevitable. After all, I am a rodent and she a hawk. This sort of thing happens all the time. Anywho, enjoy the rest of your drive. I’m off to be eaten. Probably atop a tree branch somewhere. I do hope it overlooks a lake at sunset. I do love lakes at sunset…”
Once the predator and its prey had flown out of sight, the mother looked back at her son who had resumed staring intently at his inactive phone. He had stopped futzing with the window controls.
“Have you talked about her with the doctor at all?”
“Shrinks aren’t doctors, Mom.”
“If they can give you drugs, they’re a doctor.”
“So Sam in the dorm above me is a doctor? Here I thought he was a philosophy major. Or was it communications…?”
“Don’t be a smart ass.”
“Better than a dumb ass.”
She looked at him as the corners of her mouth curled down and inward once more. “Why do you do that?”
He turned the phone over in his hand nervously and said “because. Talking with your mom about girls at my age is… weird.”
“Hunny,” she smirked. “I hate to break it to you, but… we’re weird.”
He didn’t really respond to her attempt at humor because the comment was more true than funny. Instead, he finally clicked his phone on and watched the screen flicker to life. There were no notifications, no messages, so he sent a quick text to a friend and clicked the phone off once more.
The silence grew tense and awkward. They both felt it. Then his mother went to turn the radio on just as he began to speak.
“Shit,” she fumbled with the car stereo to turn it off. “What?” She found the right button and turned it off. “I’m sorry, hun. What was that?”
But it was ruined. He forgot what he was going to say.
“At any rate,” he thought aloud. “I figure she’ll probably be at the party tonight. She’s usually at those things…”
But she wasn’t, and after the boozed-up twenty-somethings and uninvited high-schoolers had left their mess, he and his roommate began to clean their crime scene of an apartment. There were plastic cup castles on tables, cloudy swamps of bong water and spilt rum on countertops, and a badlands of chips, shake, and beer cans littered across the carpet. It was three in the morning.
Every Day, For an Entire Week
By Michael Sapieja
Every day is grey and wet like chewing gum after the color and flavor have completely gone. Outside a window in a rural Wisconsin town the world has turned to colorless mush the same shade of joyless nothing as the sky. Dreary and depressing and cold wet clumps of dirty white ice that might have been snow fall off a mossy tree branch the color of granddad’s spittoon drippings. The clumps of ice explode on the street below into bits that skitter and skate and hop in every direction like diamonds, though that would imply grace and beauty…
Every day turns to dusk and the sun finally gives up on trying to burn through the bleak veil. And the colorlessness slowly gives in to darkness as the children walk to their respective homes from the big, yellow bus somewhere of in the distance, its stop sign surely extended, a line of quietly annoyed cars waiting for it to get a move on…
The children walk by in their brightly colored, puffy-with-goose-down winter coats; shades of bright green and pink and blue, desperately trying to cut through the dreary atmosphere but failing miserably.
One boy – short with shaggy and damp looking blond hair – trails behind the others and kicks around the little pellets of shattered ice. The sleeves of his black, hooded sweater are crusted with mucous. It is noticeable from a distance, and he draws attention to it by wiping his nose on his left arm. He calls after one of the other boys. “Alex!” he yells. Or maybe it’s “Max!”
In the night a lamppost ignites and glows orange and does not shut off until well after 8am when the blue jays and cardinals arrive to steal the seed laid out for finches on a lawn by the street in front of a house owned by an elderly couple with a very large, comically fluffy white dog. The birds are chased away at 9am when the dog is let out by the elderly woman with short, white hair and gaunt features but a kind voice and smile. She lets her pet out to harass the birds and after they are all gone he squats and soils the already tarnished snow. His owner opens up the front door again and calls out “Come on, Tim! Let’s go!” Her voice echoes through the frozen air of the neighborhood with little effort, and Tim runs in, tongue hanging out over thin, black lips.
Every day for a week the birds and the dog and the children come and go.
Then on a Thursday night, as the lamppost switches on, a thick snowflake slaps itself against a window and absorbs the soft orange glow of the streetlight. Another flake as fluffy as Tim the dog runs headlong into the same window and the edges of the panes begin to frost. The sound of icy wind whistles and moans like distant air raid sirens, and through the darkness a glorious parade of thick, white paratroopers float down from the sky and settle on driveways and occupy the street.
On a Friday morning, few flakes continue to like rain into the ocean. The sun is out. The sky is blue. The branches of trees are frosted like wedding cakes and everything catches the light and deconstructs it into bright spots of green and pink and blue and white, like actual glittering diamonds with actual shimmering beauty.
Off in the distance from where the children will appear later, a grating, groaning sound grows nearer and louder with each passing second. Then the virginal coating of snow is violently split and parted and moved from the street as a plow pushes through to pile up four-foot-high walls in front of driveways that will need to be shoveled. The upturned snow is the color of runny shit, the street lousy with salt and puddles of dirt-ridden water that will freeze enough for the children to slip on. And the weather is bound to turn. Forecasts predict slush and sleet and freezing rain with snow mixed in for the next five days.
Every day, for an entire week.
December 12, 2068. Mr. Vache is in the main cabin of his limousine struggling with one Mr. Jason Ricker. I know they are struggling violently because I just had the shock absorbers changed and yet the vehicle is rocking and swaying like a sailboat in a storm. And Mr. Vache is not homosexual to my knowledge so a violent struggle is the best scenario I can come up with. I am standing on the curb facing away from the vehicle, listening to the new struts squeak and groan behind me, and I am holding Mr. Vache’s jacket. Armani 2025. Vintage. Classy.
The limousine stops rocking and squeaking and Mr. Vache steps out, the white shirt I just brought back dry-cleaned that morning now spattered with blood. I’ve had the interior of the vehicle entirely stain-guarded. Blood is tricky, though, and it stinks of shit and sweat which means Mr. Ricker did not go peacefully. Still, I prefer this to other messes Mr. Vache has left in the past.
July 2, 2059. At night outside the runway show I open the cabin door for Mr. Vache and his three female companions. They are drunk and I suspect at least two of the models have been exposed to Exstasy. I wait outside, facing away from the vehicle as it rocks and squeaks behind me, and I survey the crowd of fashion patrons walking by as if they don’t notice it. But they do.
Later that night, after escorting Mr. Vache to his penthouse, I return to the limousine to clean the rear cabin. There are bits of jewelry and puddles of champagne and semen and mucous gluing bits of pubic hair to the upholstery. The smell is thick and salty, but for 2 million dollars a year salary I do not complain.
July 3, 2059. I have the entire interior of the vehicle stain-guarded.
December 12, 2068. Mr. Vache takes his Armani 2025 jacket from me and puts it over his blood-stained shirt. He is young and handsome for his reputation, but not as young and handsome as he was 10 years ago. I hand him a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his brow and bits of blood that have begun to dry under his nails and at the edge of his cuticles.
He tells me, as he picks at his fingers with the cloth, “You’ll forgive the mess, Eli.”
For 2 million dollars a year salary I say “It won’t be a problem sir.”
“How will you dispose of him?” Mr. Vache glances back at the limousine.
“My blackbox reviewer will be the only one who ever knows, sir. For your safety.”
Mr. Vache is focused entirely on cleaning his left little finger. Blood is tricky.
“Sir. If I might ask. Mr. Ricker was heading the media department. I assume he was embezzling funds.”
Still focused on his nail, Mr. Vache says “Ricker was going to let ethics get in the way of his business – my business – and planned on blowing a few whistles that aren’t his to blow. He wanted to tarnish if not dismantle us. To what ends, I don’t know. Probably some religious nonsense. Would have destroyed the entire media department.”
“Sir. The media department and its production affiliates are your lowest-grossing endeavors.”
“Yes Eli, but the weapons and pharmaceuticals and experimental endeavors are connected with social unrest and various high profile global scandals. Fuck me if they aren’t the direct cause of a few of them. The only way we keep the masses ignorant of this is by doping them with controlled media. My media, Eli.”
August 13, 2058. My blackbox is installed. This puts me in a new strata. I feel pride being placed in a higher class. The blackbox is reserved for the top 10% of the population affording the best health and life insurance policies. The blackbox is reserved for the top 10% of the working population and the best single percentile of valets that work for it.
August 14, 2058. I am assigned to David Vache, 23 years old, the creator and owner of Vache International Resources. It is the fastest growing manufacturer of, for lack of specifics, everything.
- by Michael -
Once upon a time, in an unpleasantly warmer place and a darker place than this, we were all so very hopelessly in love with our own destruction. And we knew it, too.
But we didn’t hate it - as much as we said we did - and the fact of the matter was that we didn’t know how to feel completely full without it. It was, after all, the most interesting part of ourselves. It was dirty and it was gritty. It clung under our nails when we’d bite and claw at one another from behind sad and calm eyes. It was a rush! The Hurt was so easy to get and give and burnt everyone’s nerves like an easy drug, and it was so powerful and so colorful - that blend of self-inflicted feelings - that none of us even bothered to figure out how not to get drunk off of it. It was every shade of red, from a hot coal to the dried scabs on our arms and legs. It was a passion so easily consumable, even easier to feed.
That swelling in our heads when we sat alone.
The purging of festering heat from behind our poorly crafted masks of civility when we’d scream at each other.
The taste of bitter tears and the salt-crusted veins they’d paint on our faces.
That hollow, aimless staring at the dark without a thought in our head as we lay there motionless, absorbing the harshness of the fact that we willingly did this to ourselves and the universe refused to stop us because it was just as empty and cold as we were in those moments.
What contrast. What break in the monotony. How profound we were. How special. How vacant.
If that wasn’t love, it sure as shit would do until the love finally got here.
Once a year on February third for the last ten years or so, a man named Martin walks down the path that cuts through the graveyard here at Beacon Hill. He carries a folding chair in one hand and a single water lily which he cradles in the palm of the other. He gently carries these two items and deliberately paces himself steadily up the hill; steadily up and through the grid of memories belonging to other people until coming to rest at a headstone with a marble water bowl before it. He cleans out the dead flower from the water in the bowl and replaces it with the new, brilliantly pink water lily. He then sets up his folding chair a reasonable distance from the grave and sits himself in it. On years when it rains or on years when the given February third is too sunny, he looks five plots to the left and confided to me that he does so in regret of not spending the extra money to buy the resting place under the oak tree.
“I’m not gonna give a damn if I’m under a tree or not when I’m dead,” was his reasoning. “The tragedy,” he said, “is that I didn’t go first.”
But he sits regardless of the weather and admires the grave and talks with her while fiddling with the gold band on his left ring finger. I’ve seen him laugh to himself in that folding chair of his. I’ve seen him cry, too.
The love of his life died of cancer on February third. Martin says the only reason it was so sunny on the day that she died was because all the thunderclouds and rain in the world were inside of him - inside of his heart and soul - that day. He told me he’d fallen in love with this amazing, smart, unflinchingly kind and incomparably beautiful woman the very moment he’d laid eyes on her. Most people say that, though. But that’s okay, is what he said, because she didn’t love him back. Not right away. He says it took him five years to become the man he needed to be to be loved by a woman like her. Said she was worth every second of it.
They were married and passionately in love for two years before the cancer came out of nowhere and killed her in under six months.
The first time I saw Martin crying and talking to her and twisting his wedding band around his finger, he looked up at me and smiled and said “you know, I’ll never love anyone the way I loved her. Not ever again.”
Every year I watch him clean out that bowl and put in a new flower and sit in that chair for about an hour. Sometimes he stays longer, but he never stays less than that. Never less than an hour.
Then the god damnedest thing happens when he’s done. A woman - pretty thing - walks up the same way he’d come in, and she approaches him slowly and puts a hand on his shoulder. I see him fiddle with the ring a bit more and he takes it off and puts it in his pocket. Then he reaches into his other pocket and pulls out a similar but more modern wedding band and places it over the white tan line on his left ring finger. The woman behind him takes her hand off of his shoulder, lets him take his time in getting up from the chair, then she kisses him and hugs him for a good long while. I don’t think I’ve seen a year in the past six where she didn’t hold his hand and stand with him in front of the grave where he buried his heart. I’m usually too far back to hear the last thing he says before leaving, but I see him look at this pretty woman and mouth words that look an awful lot like “thank you.”
A couple years back, that woman was carrying a baby in her arms up that hill between the grid of graves, up towards her husband Martin. That baby is probably the most adorable little girl I’ve seen; must be almost five years old now. When Martin was walking down the hill with his folding chair in one hand and that pretty woman in the other - this was just yesterday I saw him - that little girl was smiling the most wonderful smile when Martin lifted her up out of the car to hug her after she says “Hi daddy.”
I asked him about his two pretty ladies - last year, it must’ve been - and I remember saying, stupidly enough, “I thought you’d never love anyone like you loved her.”
He said “I don’t. And I’ll never love anyone like I love them.”
Philip Marshal (Philosophy Professor): I ask my students every semester how they believe the world and its societies would react if we all found out that everything would suddenly come to an end. I asked “If we knew the exact date of the apocalypse, what would happen? How would the world react? How would you as an individual react?”
Alex Kidd (Undergrad): Dr. Marshal was always making us think about mortality and theology and human nature. Philosophy, right? But I don’t really think he ever anticipated Doomsday the way it went down. I mean, look me in the face and tell me you anticipated it at all, yaknow? None of us did. Not really, anyway. But Doc Marshal was just there to make us think about that shit, not plan for it.
Silvia Beaton (Head of Operations, Icarus Project): Of course nobody was to plan for it. Nobody but us at Icarus. For what good? What benefit? If the project would have failed there would have been nothing left and we’d’ve had mass panic, rapes, murders… total chaos. The whole world going to hell right before ending? Obviously the governments of the world didn’t want that. Ignorance is bliss. Agent K said it best when he said “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” And yes I just quoted Men In Black, but the point stands.
Robert Schopher (Journalist): So we’re all crammed in that room with the blue curtains - American and other Nation’s flags and that jazzy patriotic shit - like sardines. Reporters with no elbow room get cranky, but… “Urgent matter of national security” we’d all been told. Room’s buzzing like a honeybee box full of speculation. Figured North Korea was finally gonna go off like a powder keg. Maybe Iranians. I joked about China’s inevitable coup - finally overthrowing us as the world’s SuperPower, right? Then Mr. President himself walks up to that podium with some stiff broad in a suit and introduces her as the head of operations at something called Icarus. Whole room goes quiet as a casket, right? First Lady’s in the corner holding back sobs ‘cause obviously she knows something we don’t. And I’m just taking pictures…
Carl Baker (Father): I was workin’ in tool and dye, textile things and that sorta labor, you know… an’… that day, on December 28th, two-thousand an’ twelve? I… well I come home from that work, grease on my hands, grimed up into between my fingers, and I go on into the kitchen for a rag and I hear the wife and the boy hollerin’ at me to come see what’s on the television. Grab myself a beer from the fridge. Sat down. And there’s the idiot I refused to vote fer at his podium, and he grabs his wife of his - the First Lady - an’ pulls her in real close. Says “Ladies and Gentlemen. Citizens of the world. I am so very sorry.” Hell, I didn’t know what to do. Kid’s sayin’ “daddy I don’t understand” and the wife starts sobbing, so I just throw my bottle at the damned television screen. Didn’t know what else to do. Wa’n’t nothin’ else TO do.
Silvia Beaton (Head of Operations, Icarus Project): No, I wasn’t scared. My team and I were fully prepared for all anticipated outcomes, positive or otherwise. I guess I just didn’t expect the dead silence of it all. Like we’d robbed them all of something by not informing them sooner, but - the looks? The blank faces on the journalists in the press room? - they understood. They didn’t like it, of course. But they understood.
Robert Schopher (Journalist): Not a single person in that room had it together enough to even clear his throat. Everyone’s too focused on how far his or her heart has climbed up into their throat, or dropped into his or her gut respectively.
Philip Marshal (Philosophy Professor): My colleagues and I used to get around a poker table every Saturday and just have at it. Full blown arguments about politics and religion - always calm and collected. Like serial killers but with better beards - and of course we’d argue about human nature in the face of adversity and… well, honestly, I guess I always that it’d be bloodier. I’m a pessimist. Either always right or pleasantly surprised. But I still figured that human nature would destroy us all with ego and pride and fear and war long before the nature of the universe ever would get a chance to touch us.
Sheriff Walter Owens: I was out on patrol, December 28th. You know. When the announcement was made. Radios were so damned quiet and at the time I didn’t think much of it. I get back to the station and most of the boys are stoic but plenty of them were crying right along with the women. Plenty of them were holding each other, too, and I thought somebody must’ve died. Everyone’s looking at me with big, wet, doleful eyes as I walk towards one of the other cops who was sitting at his computer, and I see this black and white image of a potato surrounded by darkness… it didn’t register right away, but when I realized what I was seeing? My blood went cold for an hour, I swear it.
Silvia Beaton (Head of Operations, Icarus Project): Ten years ago I was working for NASA as the lead engineer on a team whose primary objective was extraterrestrial projectile identification and collision prevention. Imagine the shot my ego took when it wasn’t us who discovered the PD462, but some kid out of a New Zealand observatory.
Jacob Gardner (Astronomer): PD462. A potential devastator. I’m an intern then, in 2003, sitting at the telescope in the Carter Observatory. I’m just a kid staring at the beautiful, vast sea of glittering diamonds in the sky, and then… suddenly… an anomaly. One of these kids was not like the others, you know? Sheer dumb stupid luck I saw it then. A damn shimmer o’ light wasn’t there before and suddenly… poof! It was. A fuckin’ potato the length of California and twice as wide! I tell you what, there were phone calls to be made about that.
Silvia Beaton (Head of Operations, Icarus Project): PD462 was going to hit us in a matter of years. We got the phone call and crunched the numbers Gardner fed us and no matter how many times we calculated and recalculated… impact was inevitable. So a secret summit was held and the Icarus Project was born.
Yamada Mitsuro (Engineer, Icarus Project): Offense had to be nuclear. The asteroid would hit Earth with enough force to virtually split the planet in half - vaporize it, more likely. We’re talking trillions of tons of rock and steel, like a cosmic bullet aiming for a head-shot. So my team and I were tasked with designing a fleet of probes that would carry roughly 30% of the world’s warheads out into space to meet PD462 halfway.
Silvia Beaton (Head of Operations, Icarus Project): Five years of the most god-awfully stressful planning and building and remote rocket launches. Shuttle missions. Everything launched during the day out in the middle of nowhere. People asked questions, but it’s a miracle we were never found out.
Aaron Lloyd (Classified): All I had to tell the press was some bullshit about weather balloons and satellite retrieval. No muss no fuss.
Robert Schopher (Journalist): So the Beaton woman from Icarus just keeps talking while all us journalists stare in shock and silence in the press room, President off to the the side with the Wife, and we’re listening to this broad tell us how they’ve known about PD462 for damn near a decade. Tells us and the world that their attempts to neutralize the asteroid failed and that in 24 hours the thing’d tear through our atmosphere and effectively end life as we know it.
Jacob Gardner (Astronomer): We were hoping the nuclear detonations would at least break the asteroid up into small enough pieces that they might burn up in the atmosphere or fly off in opposite directions away from Earth. After detonation, small pieces did in fact break off, accelerate towards us and burn up in the atmosphere, but the large bulk of the thing was still headed right for us.
Carl Baker (Father): “May God have mercy on us all” and “I’m so very sorry” was the best Mr. President could do fer us. Ha. Just about told him where he could stick God’s mercy.
Alex Kidd (Undergrad): You know what we did that night? We didn’t go out and steal shit. I mean, yeah. Plenty of people did that, but a lot fewer than we’d have anticipated. There’s always going to be people who feel cheated and entitled to things they didn’t really earn or people with old grudges they felt they could settle, so yeah, there were gunshots all over the world popping off. Crime went up that night, but it’s not like it was total chaos. That’s what was so smart about the timing. Give people just 24 hours to live and I think they realize that they just want to have a nice time with the people they love most. So no, I didn’t go out and help cause a ruckus. I switched of the TV and told my roommate to pack us up a nice bowl of the dankest shit we had, and we blazed up nice and proper. Invited the whole floor to join us. Called up my ex and had an emotional conversation. Only girl I ever really loved, if you want to know the truth.
Sheriff Walter Owens: Cops got divided into two groups that night. Those who were ready for all-out war with the enraged and desperate public, and those who just didn’t see the fuckin’ point. The damned thing was, though, that after 1am, any sort of problems just died down. Worst of it was just a few evangelicals damning the gays, but even they decided to quit wasting their time around sun-up on Zero Day.
Philip Marshal (Philosophy Professor): There was this global, unspoken idea in the air on Zero Day. A sort of perfect unity that can really only come with the acceptance of total annihilation. People got down off their soapboxes and put away their protest signs. What a silly idea, bigotry. To still make an issue of the quantity of melanin in our skin? To be angry over the love shared between any two given people? Over theology? Please. Black, white, gay or straight; we would all make the same noise under the weight of PD462, and nobody cared whose god failed to prevent it. So what did I do on that morning? I kissed my wife and made love to her, then I made breakfast, cleaned up, and then I went outside to breathe in the air of my last day. Sweetest air I’ve ever tasted.
Carl Baker (Father): Never want my son to go soft on me but I hugged ‘im an’ told ‘im I loved ‘em anyhow.
Jacob Gardner (Astronomer): I spent all Zero Day in the observatory watching that carefree mass toss its weight at us with reckless disregard for a very large percentage of life in the universe. And as I’m sitting there with a bowl of ramen… haha, is that a strange last meal? I suppose so… well, anyhow, that’s when it happened.
Silvia Beaton (Head of Operations, Icarus Project): The structural integrity of the asteroid was severely compromised by the Icarus satellites. It took a terrifying amount of time, but the damned thing tore itself apart a few hundred-thousand miles away from impact. Plenty of pieces strayed away, a few adding new craters to the Moon. Others burnt up in the atmosphere. There was of course a meteorite that hit Atlanta, another in Nevada, and the biggest one off the cost of California. Hundreds of lives lost is still tragic, but we’ve dealt with floods before and the Earth keeps on turning.
Robert Schopher (Journalist): I mean, yeah. It’s all well and good. But everyone’s so docile now. How’s a journalist gonna make a living if nobody’s gonna throw a grenade somewhere?
Philip Marshal (Philosophy Professor): I don’t know. Has the Earth kept on spinning? It IS possible that we did all die and found a neat, manageable afterlife. Everything as we knew it only slightly better? Social evolution at its peak? The world singing kumbaya? Tell me you don’t question it every now and then?
Alex Kidd (Undergrad): I married that girl, by the way. My ex? Yeah, everyone just stopped taking everything for granted suddenly.People went back to work and back to school and society picked right up after only six months or so, and with gusto. All things aside, though, Dr. Marshal has become an asshole, handing out F’s just to keep reality in check.
- by Michael -
Lay on the cold ground in the grass and try not to think at all about your life and the mistakes you’ve made. Listen to the slow death of the world around you. Just really soak it in. Try to focus on the leaves and watch them fall like golden tickets. Like flakes of golden foil. The children of Midas swing from the shedding branches and throw hand-fulls of their father’s legacy down towards the earth below. For a moment let this horrify you, and realize that trees have gained practical immortality through breathing our garbage and eating themselves.
They shed. They Die. They eat themselves. They are born again.
Do not say hello to any squirrels that come near you. You are sane and they are tourists.
Class is out. Check that, class has been out for 4 hours.
Might as well have been out for four years…
He is standing on the corner of Downer and Lockhart and has been doing so all these hour-years, swearing under his breath every other beat but patient nonetheless. He has been waiting, and almost stubbornly so, for a ride. He was prepared to catch a cab home until he received a text message. “I wasn’t sure if I’d really be able to come get you,” it read. “But don’t worry, I’ll definitely be there. Was gonna be there earlier but there were… complications.”
So he passed up three cabs and two buses as well as a few friends passing by whom had offered him rides. He waved them all on knowing his ride would soon be there to take him home.
He’d been waiting for four hours.
“Hey! Sorry! I’ll be a little late. I’m picking someone up on my way to you, I hope you don’t mind!” a new text read, and he let’s out a frustrated sigh.
Fifteen minutes pass and the sun is almost down. He’s standing on the corner by the lamppost and a car - a sandy coupe - pulls up and comes to a stop. The passenger-side window rolls down and a voice breaks the twilight with a playful “how much, stud?”
He smiles and shakes his head. “More than you can afford.”
The dark-haired driver raises a challenging eyebrow. “Now, how would you know what I can afford?” She smirks.
He doesn’t respond. He just smiles and admires the light from the dashboard reflected in her dark eyes.
“It’s cold as holy fuck out here,” she holds eye contact. “Where ya headed, handsome?”
“Home, hopefully. Anytime now.”
“Need a ride?”
He shifts his weight on one foot and says “I’ve been waiting for one, actually. She should be here soon.”
“Not exactly - I’m sorry - do you do this often?”
“Pick up strangers.”
“Only the really cute ones,” she winks at him. He chuckles and shakes his head in disbelief. “How long you been waiting?” she asks.
“Uhm…” he checks his watch by force of habit. “Four hours or so…”
“Or so.” He shifts his weight to his other foot and looks off down the road hoping his ride will finally show up and stop making him look and feel like an idiotic asshole.
“Well, stud, ya got patience. I’ll give you that much. But damn,” she shakes her head and shift-turns to face him a bit better. “Four hours? Fuck that.”
“And you’re offering me a ride?”
She takes a deep breath in and her eyes go wide with mock disbelief in herself. She exhales “I guess I am!”
“You don’t even know me,” he looks at her like she’s crazy.
She hits a button to her left and the doors click unlocked.
He looks off down the road. The sun is almost gone behind the horizon. The sky is dark and empty like the streets below it. “How can I trust you?” he says to her with playful doubt in his voice.
“You can’t. I might be a weirdo with a knife ready to cut your hitchhiking heart out.”
Their eyes are locked and his heart is racing with frustration and simultaneous excitement. He gnaws on the inside of his cheek and looks back down the street. He pulls out his phone and checks it again to find nothing.
“You can’t keep waiting out here all day,” the strange female warned him. “Something tells me you’ll freeze to death waiting for your scheduled lift.”
He tucks the phone back in his pocket and looks off down the road one last time. He opens the passenger door with a “eh, what the hell.”
“Yay!” she cheers him on as he takes his seat.
He tries to move the seat back but it’s as far as it’ll go. “Tight fit. At least it’s warm, though.”
She snickers. “I’ll not make a vagina joke.”
He laughs. “I think you just did.”
The car pulls away from the corner of Downer and Lockhart.
“Please don’t cut my heart out, though,” he says.
There’s a brief silence and his chauffeur replies with a wary “ditto.”
I think it’s cool that we can walk like this. Just the two of us, right now, yaknow?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the other guys, but this is nice, yaknow? Chill.
No, yeah. Definitely. And thank god it warmed up once the clouds went away, right?
Thank you, by the way.
Hmm? What for?
For breaking the awkward silence, haha. I’m not… I’m not really good at starting conversations.
Really? I never woulda guessed…
Haha, it’s not like there’s an art to it. You just say something and hope it matches up with something someone else is thinking. Then they respond or they don’t.
Ha… Yeah, I guess, right?
Well, look at us now! Talking up a… a goddamn storm, right? Haha. It’s like that awkward silence never existed because we’re in this moment right now, existing between silences.
…I mean… if that’s they way you wanna look at life. I guess that’s kinda bleak, though…
I think it’s true.
Yeah. And I think you’re smarter than you act sometimes.
Like when people are around.
I think you’re fascinating, sort of, I guess.
You’re saying I fake it? Callin’ me a liar, huh?
Haha…well. I guess you figured me out a little bit. Here I thought I was all opaque and complex and shit.
What? No no, what?
It’s nothing. Forget it.
What?! Haha, no! You can’t do that! You gotta tell me, now.
Well nothing. I just think your attractive when you’re like this, yaknow?
When you’re not being a facetious asshole. Acting over-the-top and over-doing everything. And you keep it toned down just enough for people to like you but then you have this fucking shield of fake ignorance and idiocy up just enough to keep people away…
And when you’re like this? Mellowed out and genuine? I…
What? Shut up. Yeah, I like you, alright? Don’t smile like that.
I like you too, though.
Haha… you really see right through me, huh?
You act like it’s hard.
Yeah… I guess not, though, right?
Sorry not sorry.
Ha…heh… … hm…
Nuthin’. I’m uh… I’m sorry for being an ass so much.
No, I mean… I don’t hate you all the time when you’re like that.
And I’m sorry I never really… Yaknow…
I just wish I’d made a better effort at this sooner, I guess.
We should do this more often, yaknow? Just the two of us.
We could watch movies and you could make food…
I mean… yeah.
I’m going to kiss you now.
‘bout fuckin’ time.
Tired of being called square.
Tired of being called boring.
Tired of being mocked and disrespected, so I threw a lamp at my stupid roommates and left.
It was dark down Lockwood. City-dark, though. Not country dark like at home. No stars in the sky. Dim lights from lampposts and bar signs and neon club logos.
Hands in my pockets, tiny clouds condensing in the air before me in time with my breathing. Spiteful dwarf cirro-cumuli born of bad feelings and boredom.
Then they stumbled out. Hipsters. Or beatniks? Fashionable people. I don’t fucking know. Didn’t really care. They stumbled out laughing right in front of me, the three of them, from Club Diije right into the clouds my lungs had birthed not two seconds prior. The trio made clouds of there own. Thick, angry cumulonimbi of tar and tobacco, all three of ‘em with cigarettes in their mouths.
They cut me off and I wasn’t feeling passive. I stood there, right still before them, hands still in my pockets, so they’d catch on to their rudeness. But they didn’t. That isn’t to say they didn’t notice me, though.
“Woah-hoho…” the tallest one said from behind black wayfarers. Shades at night and a damn blazer. Black pants and Italian-ish leather loafers. Like he was a bad genre mix between the Blues Brothers and Miami vice. He had neck tattoos and others I probably couldn’t see. I guess he was handsome if you’re a girl who likes that kind of thing.
“Hey, hotstuff,” the girl on his arm chuckled at me.
“Hey yourself,” I stared at them.
“Maggie, don’t be weird,” said Tall-and-Shaded to the girl.
The third one of ‘em - another guy with just a T-shirt and jeans on but the same haircut as Maggie - said I seemed hostile and I said my night was shit and needed to walk. The hipsters said why walk alone when I could party with cool people? I said I didn’t want to but they insisted and said I wouldn’t have to spend a damn dime.
Austin was the guy with Maggie’s hair, and he offered me a drag on his cig, which I took. Then everything got sinister and hazy but I’ll admit I got right clear out of my skull and so did the negative thoughts and feelings from earlier that night.
I remember karaoke.
I remember a booth in a diner with Maggie flinging mashed potatoes at me.
I remember a club. A gay club. Free drinks. Whatever.
I also remember the four of us dancing somewhere colorful. Maybe the gay club still.
Everything else is a little fuzzy but I remember my pants down in a bathroom and Maggie’s hair bobbing up and down between my legs.
I remember vomiting so hard it hurt in my chest when I finally came to on my front lawn next to the busted lamp I’d thrown hours ago.
Carter came out of the house in his robe and sat next to me. “You didn’t have to go out and prove a point, god dammit. What the hell did you get into, anyway?” He paused and looked around. “Fuck, who did you get into?”
“Idunfuckinknow, man. But I don’t like today so much.”
It was bright out and cold and the air was still and birds were chirping like wet sneakers in an auditorium.
I was not wearing pants.
I had a dream last night. It was about me walking into a bar or a pub or whatever. Broad daylight outside but I broke through the door where a surreal twilight beset itself upon me and left the day in stark contrast behind. The place, on the inside, was so massive I could hardly see the walls at its end, and it was packed full of people who, moments before my arrival, were probably having a wonderfully loud time. But the second I came in there was an abrupt halt to the merriment like the sound of busy silverware coming to rest on a plate. There was a haunting stillness in the dim establishment and its entire occupancy was focused on me. Even the bartender threw daggers from his pupils in my direction, and when I looked above him - above the bar - I saw a banner that read “A Party for Every Person You’ve Ever Wronged”. And that’s exactly what I had walked into. A party for anyone I’d ever wronged in any way, ever. It took me but a moment to realize the bar was filled wall to wall with every single person I’d ever met in my life. My parents and family and best friends both past and present stood at the front of the crowd, the women I’ve used stood just behind them. At the bar were the females I’ve ever truly loved, an army of empty shot glasses spent in front of their weary forms. Even the people I thought I’d forgotten. People I’ve only talked to in passing.
Every person. Ever.
A small boy, nine years old, worked his way towards me. He gently pushed my parents aside and came up to me and handed me a double of whiskey which I drank compliantly. I gave the glass back to the kid and our eyes locked, his full of disgust and sadness and mine full of terror. The boy was me, and as I began to open my mouth to apologize to every conceivable person, nine year old Me turned my body around at the hips and sent me back out the way I’d come in, and he slowly shook his head as he did so.
I was thrown back into the sadistic light of day and when I woke up I wondered what it must be like to do so knowing, every morning, that a single person has ever truly been in love with you regardless of your shortcomings.
figured i’d send this because i wanted to. you don’t have to keep reading it. maybe you won’t open it…
but if you do. hi. never stopped thinking about you. i know you did about me and that’s okay. or maybe you didn’t, i don’t really know. either way it’s okay and i don’t expect you to respond.
i guess i just wanted to see how you’re doing. i know the answer. you know i do. “busy”. “stressed”. “good”. “okay”. “fine”. but i know you know what i mean. how you’re doing. as a person. how you’re feeling and what’s on your mind. “school”. “work”.
you know what i mean.
i’m not going to make you ask me how i’m doing. i’ll just tell you, i suppose.
i’m doing okay. i’m not mad or angry about things like i was. i’m calmer. i think i’m calmer and maybe more reserved. maybe not. maybe i’m just still me without anyone to embarrass myself in front of…
it’s weird how i can be doing so good and be so down at the same time. life is good. school is good. the future looks bright. but i still feel like something very big is missing. like a wallet full of cash and photo booth pictures. or a limb but with less blood.
you know what i mean.
i think i also wanted to say i’m not sorry. i apologized a lot at the end for feeling like i did something wrong. i didn’t. i loved you. i still do. but i lost you and it hurt and i was scared. i was sorry because i felt like i did something or didn’t do something. in my head i let it happen. it was my fault. part of it was.
but it wasn’t.
i’m trying to say i miss you without any strings. without begging. there’s a lot of memories that i used to wish would go away. but i’m glad they don’t. they’re better than any picture. than any video. the smiles. the tastes and scents and touches. the laughs. best time of my life and for a second i wished it away but i’m glad to have those memories with you and nobody else. i am. they were real. they happened. we enjoyed the moments and that, above all else, is something special.
Maybe I won’t remain a big part of you. Maybe I never was.
But you’re a big part, and will always be a big part of me.
Maybe some divine act will bring us back together someday in someway.
Maybe some universal force will keep us apart.
Until we know for sure: I miss you. And I hope all is well.
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