It is always perfect, in my mind
I would bike everyday. Through the woods where teenagers smoked and dug ramps or laid boards across fallen trees, down the hill of concrete blocks to the path on the shore of the lake. I would bike myself to exhaustion and let the wind and spray and leaves restore me. I would emerge stronger than myself, myself to the power of three hundred sixty-five. Quietly would I reign.
No one ever drowned in sweat
It is easy to compel a body, but a mind will escape your traps. Myriad worlds were charted in those days, though at some point they all began to orbit the same star. Ping pong is a pretty easy game to understand, but I played like a klutz. The ball is right there, just, you know, hit it. I felt bad making her retrieve a wide shot so often, but I didn’t mind when I had to do so for her. Volition played elsewhere, at the expense of motor control.
Eye with two pupils
There was a machine in my arm, numbly splayed, all tangled silver and lights. I think it was rewriting my thoughts. Anything I touched with that hand felt like it was wrapping my whole body. But I couldn’t move my hand very far in the restraints. I wasn’t in pain or anything. My cellmate had it worse: the whole back of her head had been replaced. Sometimes, when I managed to sleep, her dreams seemed to invade mine. Lurid, grotesque shadows of people I didn’t know dominated them — when I awoke I hated her for a few minutes.
The anticipation was the worst. After dreamless sleeps I’d find myself different. Even if I couldn’t see their handiwork, I knew unseen surgeons had been at work on my body. To look for a pattern was dangerous, opening the mind to the cold fingers of its own speculations. Were they killing me, or transforming me, or was there no difference?
A Warm Night
In his fever dream, he destroyed Nature. Anger his sword, despair his halo, fire his tide. Nature, the Woe-Bringer, fled but did not resist. After some time alone in the charred aftermath, he decided he could govern reality better than it had been.
Sketching madly in the dust, he designed four primordial gods. From tarnished gold and blasted minerals that sparkled dimly in the land of embers, he created Truth, who would wield the fundamental axioms of existence. From the blackened grass and reeds he wove Logic, controller of rules and laws and the outcomes of things not foreseen. From the skin of slag upon still waters, he sculpted Freedom, whose breath is both life and the power to choose. And lastly, from the darkness of caves thick with rubble and smoke he made Justice, whose axe must fall upon transgressors of the law and those who bring Woe unto others. These beings would create the harmonious universe that Nature could not.
But this tetrarchy, given rule of all that was, became unruly with the passing of ages. Logic bewitched Freedom, who danced unendingly, to revile those that lived. Truth wore a mask and hid all mysteries in realms beyond reach. Justice relished the axe, and drank deep of human blood. In the end, Truth slew the other three, for Truth must slay all contradictions.
In response to this, he destroyed Truth and all descended therefrom.
In the cloudy aftermath, he bestowed on all humans the power to make their own universes that would spin, anthropocentric, around their minds. When two people neared one another, their domains would whirl together like clouds or rivers, a beautiful merger. All time and change flowed from a human wellspring, and all Woe could be traced back to its source: the mind that willed it.
For a time he was happy: the winds blew at right angles to one another, the seasons came and went like clockwork, the tides were warm at twilight. But nowhere could be found surprise, or spontaneity, or expectations that were exceeded. This verged on Woe, so he sought out others with whom to mingle his universe and thereby stave off what he feared.
He searched for days and days and was surprised to find no one else. His sight was far-reaching. After a year, reckoned by the deep cycles that govern the movement of many universes within a higher space, he knew that no one was left. Everyone had caused Woe to someone, and thus had ceased to be. And he looked out over grandness of all he had wrought, which was also empty and inanimate and imaginary, and for the third time destroyed all that was in his power to destroy.
The more you pull away, the more it pulls back. It is a mass of arms without a body, with barbs instead of fingers. I suppose it has a mouth too. It must have a mouth. But that toothy sneer is just for show. The arms are its power.
“Just a few minutes.”
“Only one more. This is the last one.”
“I’m not even going to think about it.”
“Engaging defensive countermeasures.”
“I’m burning everything I own, living in an overturned dumpster, and only coming out to hunt pigeons with rocks.”
Five arms, and that mouth, which I thought was useless, opens wide and laughs.
There is a lot of mythology about the glutton as plate-ravager, epicure, and overeater. But gluttony is omnivorous. Its barbs pierce skin and lodge in muscle, bone, and deeper things. Its arms are stronger than yours, and it has more of them. And its true name, addiction, remains secret.
When the eddy of our universe had settled into its rhythm, two children glimpsed one another on a plain of dust and weeds. It is a testament to the thunder and might of glimpses that the memory of this — of faces, of eyes, of gravity’s inevitability — fell deep into the pockets of their young brains and never left. Though the years have made those sliver-moon moments as insubstantial as dreams, nothing can be forgotten unless one truly wishes to. Imagine their surprise to learn that they had helixed around a common core.
It felt like a war. A tri-polar war. A civilization of unparalleled beauty, artistry, and technology built a miraculous city. After a time, all who dwelt there perished. Much later, the followers of a dethroned ruler fled to the ruins. They had reigned for what felt like a thousand years with a decadence only the mixture of ill-suitedness and inexperience can engender. They were pursued by the ascendant rebels who had seized power at the regime’s inevitable collapse, and whose first use of that power would be to reach forth and eradicate all traces of the old order. The silent halls, like the bones of whales, clanged with the sounds of swords and the ghosts of the builders woke to invisibly strike down the interlopers.
In this state, I fled into the catacombs beneath the city.
Sine qua non
Sunlight through snow through wooden slats through eyes that do not feel like my own.
The same sun that sends a different snow into its final remission.
He finished pouring, then swirled the cup haphazardly. Pale yellow-orange sloshed onto his wrists.
“You ever had one of these?” I shook my head. “Well, no one makes them like I do.” He thrust the cup at me, sloshing the front of my shirt. I had to grab it to keep it from tumbling to the floor. “Mind eraser,” he said. Something in the other room thumped through the house, rattling the kitchenware. Cheers followed. “It’ll erase your mind.” He shuffled off, drawn to the noise like a worm to the thunder of footfalls above.
The drink reeked. I, now, reeked. It smelled like death: hemlock, nightshade, strychnine — or how I imagined those things smelled. Not at all how I imagined sophisticated people with cigarette holders and not-sloshed-on clothes at fancy cocktail parties smelled. Those people, like all phantoms, smelled like whatever I thought was best.
Now I was alone in the kitchen. A second thump, louder and deeper, reverberated through the walls and floor. Well, there’s a first time for everything, right? I lifted the cup to my mouth and poured the bitter, death-tasting brew in, feeling it cascade down like a waterfall cloudy with bubbles and babbling like whisperers in a crowded library. Purple leaves, purpler in the moonlight, bowed on their stalks to drink from the misty pool where the falls stayed for a moment before becoming a river again and wandering away. The calmness gave me goosebumps. Spray tickled my eyelids, waves lapped at my knees. Behind the waterfall there was a vast darkness, a cave that lengthened back and back out of all experience. “Forget,” whispered the leaves. The hand of a wraith, gaunt as a skeleton, reached through the wall of water, fingers white around the stem of a chalice. Behind was a silent, faceless shadow. The earth shook. The chalice overflowed in the endless falls. Was there any choice but to drink it?
Dream in Sunlight
Dust fills the air. Green and gold and glittering, like an eruption of mica that that presses its hand over the mouth of the land. Concentric rings of stone surround the day-giver, the Emerald Eye. His hands tremble in the reins. Doubt was at its zenith.
His companion wore a hood, beneath which spectacles flashed in the light. His pale hands were calm. War-dead surrounded them. Neither spoke.
The wind began to rise. Shadows shifted. Across the motionless plain, the sun moved. It brightened as it approached. Rings of weathered stone beat the air, spinning faster and faster, whipping at the dust. He squinted against it, dismounted, bade his horse farewell, and walked toward the descending light. His companion did not move, but closed his eyes behind his spectacles.
It began its life as a spore on a moon inundated with fungi. Its genetics were precisely calibrated by architect-slime, and to accelerate its growth it spent a season in the warmness pits. There it was comfortable, and its first non-ancestral memories were of two sensations only: suspension and expansion. But in time the pits were drained, and it was expelled onto the fronds of becoming, where it would receive its final body. Cold dark surrounded it, and it waited as tendrils connected and reconnected to those at its side.
Whether the error occurred by chance, negligence, or sabotage cannot be said. The autonomous specialization process was to have given the fungus the body of a Shepherd, a slow-moving yet capacious hulk whose task was to aid in controlling and recycling the Unruly that flourished upon the Core Mycelium. But the instructions misfired, and it became not a full-sized Shepherd but a runt barely larger than two Burrowers stacked beak-to-root. The error went unnoticed, and the Shepherd was itself herded to the vertical fields.
At first it attempted to do its job, lifting its meager heads and scything its fingers, but the Unruly ignored it, laughing with their movements. It thought it just had to learn through experience, and tried harder. Other Shepherds plodded by and the spongy ground shook. The Unruly quailed and it regarded them with wonder. It chased them, trying to learn by watching the secret of their size, but soon it received instructions that it was to remain in its own zone, and it did not dare countermand an instruction.
It soon became clear that it could not properly shepherd its zone. The Unruly, that never took the same form, feasted on the tender Mycelium that itself ate the Iron Core, and instructions came to other Shepherds to contain the threat. The giants plodded through its zone, and the Unruly fled. It met the eyes of one, far above, and thought it saw the other sigh infinitesimally.
It believed it knew the source of the problem. In a season of rest, when the Unruly waned, it sneaked in darkness to the warmness pits, where it remembered its first expansion. It sloughed into one, submerging into slime, and, without knowing it, crushing a generation of macrospores. The moon reeled. Instructions flared. Tendrils seized the interloper, who had disobeyed.
At the base of a vast region of unburrowed stone, there is a single shaft blocked by a muscly valve of white fungus. It is shot-through with black veins. Forty Shepherds stand outside it. To this, the tendrils bring the runt. The valve cracks wide enough for its body to pass. Beyond, a dim purple light breaks upon the perfect blackness of the undermoon. It feels fear – maximum priority self preservation – but cannot act. It receives its final instruction, which does not resemble any it has received before: “Kzassllud. Imperfect.”
The tendrils thrust it into the purple glow, and the valve closes.
There were times when your pulse raced. There were times when you forgot to eat until 1:30 in the morning and stumbled to the car, stomach devouring you. There were times when, though the entire force of your will was bent upon it, you couldn’t stop laughing. There were times. Now they seem curious, like an oil painting of yourself hanging in a gallery, by some Renaissance master whose name you can’t recall because he’s not famous enough. There are thousands of these in your gallery. Gallery of times that you now know were just a lull.
Akin to Silence
All minds were spotlights to him. All heads, mirrors. All mouths as loud and constant as the horns of fire engines; all eyes their hoses. To attract attention was to set himself ablaze, so on tiptoe he went. To lurk in the eaves of bridges, to scramble behind the disused, to whisper names to gods akin to silence: that was his nature. But in the end all flesh is fuel.
The mirror describes the thing, but the mirror is itself nothing. Its color is silver; a thousand hues dance on its surface like waves made by a passing boat. The waves linger, maybe for hours, agitated and random, always dwindling to smoothness in the end. I polished the mirror for weeks. I polished it until its edge was as sharp as the edge of the sun, until I thought I could reach through and take my own hand to dance with myself in the double-space of the solitary room.
But the mirror is not the thing. Its memory is short.
I watched you through gauze, eyes like emeralds in candlelight. There would be no place for you in the deep vaults, the underground islands and white jungles of my realm. Peopled all with statues, frozen moments hallowed in stone. You will not join them. The shine of your shield, the deftness of your feet, the sound of your sword as it cut the throat and neck of my mortal sister — you and they are dust. Time will slay you in the end.
The thing cannot be felt, but held. Not reckoned, but understood. Not fought, but challenged. Not learned, but discovered. Not imagined, but dreamed. Not spoken of, but shared. Not caused, but born. Not changing, but traveling. Not bounded, but woven. Not blinding, but shadowing. Not immortal, but unforgettable.