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Category: Prose Fiction

keepongoin

Tremblay lay against gunwale, smoking a cheroot. The wind whipped up around the ship, and snatched away his smoke. A thousand miles of open ocean lay before him but hells, he loved a challenge. He didn’t have magic, or money, or even a crew; he had a boat, and a broken heart, and the wind behind him. Welta would’ve known what to do but he was–  

–elsewhere. Elsewhere with his beautiful smile and his wonderful strong arms. Elsewhere with his mushy poems and his big eyes that teared up when he heard the wrong song. Tremblay ran a hand through his greying hair: was he really getting so old? When they’d met, they were the same age. As Tremblay’d got slower, and heavier, Welta had stayed the same. It was, well-

Magic.

Came the day it became obvious, they’d fought, then held each other and kissed and fought again. Came the day when Tremblay came home to find a poem on the bed:

An immortal man cannot love

a mortal without seeing time

writ in the reflection of his lover’s

eye. With all my heart, I wish

goodbye.

Amazing: ten thousand years alive and still a shithouse poet. The soul in the eyes? Boo. Tremblay took another long drag of his cheroot, then straightened the ship’s lines and maneuvered his way back around to the rudder. The taste of tobacco calmed him. He didn’t know how long his supply was gonna last but it was far from the most pressing concern. He’d run out of food days ago, though the ocean was seeing him through. Water was going to be a bigger problem but he’d choke on that one when he came to it.

The wind took his little boat skipping across the waves. The spray got in his eyes, but he was used to it by now. His hands were paved with salt: white lines wending their way through dark skin.

“You’re gonna die,” he said to himself. He laughed – yep, that was indeed the problem. The wind stole away his words and his laughter. Sooner or later he was gonna die and Welta wasn’t and it didn’t make either of them love any less. He’d be an old ghost with rattling bones, reading mushy love poems left on the bed at midnight. He’d be dead, and full of love.

Would be would be would be. Would that Welta had the goddam courage to stay. Would that the sea weren’t so wide. Would that love made the wind go where you wanted.

He checked his compass, then adjusted the rudder to take him north. Last known heading, hah! Dead man’s heading. The hours tore by and in time he saw a treetop canopy, then a small island. Not on the maps, but what place worth being was? He took the boat in, around a small shoal, then jumped out and hauled it up on the sand. His pants got wet, but his pants were always wet: that’s what living in a tiny boat does to a man.

A boar peeked out at him from a nearby bush. He nodded at it. “You seen my husband?” he said. The boar went snrrreeeeeeekkkkt then ran away. Well, at least he wouldn’t go hungry. The canopy burst with brightly coloured birds, and the smell of sweet sap hung heavy on the air. It was paradisical, almost, though he knew he couldn’t stay. Water, then food, then onto the next island. Birds, and boar, and–

paper? He wandered over to a tree, and found a small sheet pinned to it. He recognised the handwriting immediately.

I knew you’d follow

though it breaks my heart.

it said. Right-o. Soppy motherfucker. A creek creeped its way out of the jungle. Tremblay took a sip, then spat it out: brackish, but with the promise of freshwater upstream. He followed it, ducking under vines and periodically frightening the wildlife. After about an hour, he found another piece.

I don’t want to watch you grow old.

it said. The creek kept going. A snake peered ruefully at Tremblay from a nearby branch. It was bright green, and very long, but it didn’t look like a strangler. Good thing too: he’d seen more than a few stranglers. This wasn’t his first strange island. It had been, all things considered, a very strange life. It should’ve ended a long time ago, with a bullet or a blade or a snakebite. It hadn’t. It had kept going, and time had started its implacable course on his face and his guts and everything in between. He tried the water again: better, but still not drinkable.

Tremblay kept going. The interior of the island was darker, and strange animals followed him. He kept his gun at his side, but they didn’t want to approach. In time (how long? A day, an hour?) he came to a lake. The water was cool, and fresh. He filled his belly, then he filled his canteens. Something fluttered from a nearby tree trunk: very high up, the bastard. Fine for young strong muscles, but Tremblay’s body didn’t work quite like it used to.

He took a stout vine, then wrapped it around the trunk. He braced his feet against it, then tensed his core and forced the vine upwards. Slowly, by fits and starts, with his arms screaming every inch of the damned way, he made it to the top. The menacing whisper of the jungle stopped. A cool breeze came down through a gap in the canopy, and for just one moment he felt alive again. Five words greeted him.

I love you. I’m gone.

He didn’t cry – he felt too good to cry: vital and strong and filled with goddam life. He slid down the trunk, and took a moment to collect himself. He let out a whoop, and the jungle didn’t respond.

“I’m going to die,” he said to himself. He smiled, then headed downstream for the shore.

What Ukto Saw

In Enji, the citizens fell through the world. On the eighth day of summer when the sun was high over the sand, their floors and streets swallowed them. Many died or disappeared, but some did not – they were stuck jutting from the earth, alive, with twisted limbs and bent backs. This is not interesting in-and-of-itself; in the world of Ataal, such things are commonplace. Enji is different, because Enji went on.

On the eighth day of summer, not all of Enji was inside Enji. Not all of a city’s work happens in the city: farmers in the fields, hunters in the desert, mystics sitting upon marble pillars. They did not fall through the earth and when they returned home, they found their loved ones crying out in pain. They sat with them, and stroked their hair; they spoke of the land-locked as if they were already dead. They gave palliative care and they did not weep. They held meetings about dealing with broken bones, and filthy clothes. They got very good at caring for the land-locked. They loved them, you see: they bathed and fed them, but they also hugged them, and sang to them, and told them stories about the changing world outside. They coated them in perfume made from sweet desert flowers.

In time, the society of Enji twisted to accommodate their new lives. Industries sprang up: a man could not could not care for his land-locked husband every hour of every day, but he could pay another man to do it for him. In time, that changed too: one man to feed, one man to bathe, one man to sing songs. Enji was rich in mineral wealth, and in time the city refilled on its own. New arrivals were briefed on the land-locked. Many took jobs looking after them, and when more folks showed up, the old-new-arrivals briefed them. The oasis of Enji rose higher: a city of jasmine, chrysanthemum and gold. Wealth flowed through the streets of Enji – the city of men-within-earth.

When one of the land-locked died, there was clear procedure. A priest would lay garlands of sweet-smelling flowers around the deceased, then call out to Ukto, the vulture goddess, to carry them away into the sky. No man in Enji would dare to hurt a vulture, for fear of angering Ukto, the cleaner of the dead. The temple of Ukto was the tallest in Enji: its golden minarets towered over the city of sand. If the family of the deceased were wealthy (and many in Enji were wealthy) they’d commission an artist to encase the body in beautiful enchanted glass so it could last forever.

As the land-locked died off (of old age, or some other invisible malady that carried their kind away), the city of Enji became littered with prisms. At sunrise, sunset and the hour when the sun was most high, the glass sang – light refracted off the prisms in just the right way to have them ring out. A true citizen of Enji could set their watch by it. Clever men with mirrors would stand by the prisms and play music for travellers – the locals saw the practice as tacky but there were always strangers’ feet upon the streets of Enji. Enji: the city of men-under-glass.

In time, the last man who remembered the face of a land-locked –Ibu, a merchant who’d been on the road outside the city– died. When Ibu’s husband had gone to the earth, Ibu had cried and cried until his neighbour shouted at him. Ibu had cried with his husband Yaji, and expected him to die. Yaji died, but not for forty years. Ibu died ninety years later, at the ripe old age of two-hundred and six; Ibu died peacefully, in his sleep, and took with him the last memory of Yaji.

In time, the last man who remembered the purpose of the prisms –Ajata, who lived a thousand years unremarkably– died. His father told him stories about why the city sung at dawn and dusk. He told him the prisms once contained skeletons. Little Ajata had not believed it, but had rushed to his classmates to tell them anyway. They hadn’t believed him, and had forgotten all about Little Ajata’s strange lie. Big Ajata died because he said vile words at a vulture and it pecked his eyes out. He died in the mountains, with Enji stretched out below him. He took the memory of skeletons with him and so Enji was left only with prisms of coloured glass that sang at dawn and dusk; Enji was left with men with mirrors, who played songs on the prisms and who were beloved by all.

A university rose and bloomed. Archaeologists studied the glass and said “maybe it is to capture the sun” or “maybe it is to pay homage to Ukto, the goddess of the sky” and made careers of this speculation. They made sure the glass was well-kept. Tourists flocked to Enji, and took photographs, and even though the earth had long since ceased to spring forth gold, Enji remained a rich city – the envy of Ataal. Enji: the city of glass.

The world turned, and another nation (its name does not matter –I cannot remember it, therefore it does not matter–)  attacked Enji and burnt the great city of prisms to the ground. They took its riches, and killed its people, and smashed its musical glass. They took their loot home. They drank wine and toasted the murder of a city.

In time, the last man who remembered Enji –a singer, a storyteller. His name does not matter– died. The sand covered up his bones, as the sand covered up Enji.

In time, the sun above Ataal got so hot that it cooked men inside their homes. Oceans evaporated, and silence came to rule Ataal. The deserts around Enji got so hot, they turned to glass. If a man had walked across the desert –though there were no men left on Ataal– he might’ve seen a ruined city under glass. When the sun was at its highest, it struck the glass and the glass sang out.

It sang for nobody save Ukto and the endless open sky.

When the earth opened up, Enji went on. When the skeletons rotted away and their memory was lost, Enji went on. When war came to Enji and smashed its glass, Enji went on – silent beneath the sand, not even a memory. It is not a lie to say: even in death, Enji went on. Enji: the city under glass.

Playing Horseshoes

The Big Book of Animal Anatomy said that horseshoe crabs had blue blood. It was one of the only books in the house, along with a boring old beat-up copy of New Zealand Bike Trails and a scary book called The Fairer Sex that Henry wasn’t allowed to read, which had a lady with a gun on the cover.

Mum and dad took the train south to Wellington every morning, and didn’t get home until after bedtime. There was a school for kids in Paekakariki, but not any proper jobs for adults – there was a cafe and a church, and a lot of houses, and the beach: that was pretty much it. Henry walked to school, then after school he read The Big Book of Animal Anatomy or walked around on the beach and found stuff for his collection. His collection had: 15 bones from various small fish; a weird gold coin with a funny symbol on it, that dad said was maybe a British Pound from the old days (though he wasn’t sure); 4 cool paua shells and, pride of place; 1 skull of Phocarctos hookeri or the common New Zealand Sea Lion.

The day he found a horseshoe crab was a big day. He was pretty sure just from the look of it (the Book had a lot of pictures) but the blue blood really gave it away. It was missing a big chunk of its belly, and its little blue eggs were spilled all over the sand. Horseshoe crabs never came this far south: the waters were too cold. It must’ve got lost somewhere.

It was a big day because it was a cool thing for his collection (1 Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda, or Mangrove Horseshoe Crab) but also because that’s the day he met Sophie. She was half a year older than Henry: almost 10. She had dark brown hair, and green eyes. She had a necklace with a seagull skull on it that she made herself. She knew lots of cool things about animals; she said the horseshoe crab probably got killed somewhere else, then floated on the East Australian Ocean Current from Indonesia all the way down to little old NZ. She also had a big cool driftwood stick that made her look like a magical ocean witch.

He let her take the horseshoe crab, even though he really wanted it. The way he saw it, he lost a crab, but he made a friend. The next day, he went back out to the beach and found Sophie again. She was staring out to sea and turning a gold coin over between her fingers. She smiled when she saw him coming.

“That’s British,” said Henry. “They used to have British money here.”

She shook her head. “Yeah nah,” she said, “this is from the magical city beneath the sea. My dad told me about it: if you swim out past Kapiti, there’s no land for ten thousand thousand kilometers, until you get to Ar-gen-tina. Somewhere in that ocean, there’s Atlantis, which is stuck beneath the sea ‘cos God got mad at it.”

“Nah,” said Henry, “Atlantis is in the Atlantic. It’s right there in the name.”

“Nah nah,” she said. She banged her staff in the sand. “There’s thousands of boats going through the Atlantic every day. Thousands and thousands, but there’s basically nothing between here and Cape Town – that’s why nobody has ever found Atlantis, ‘cos it’s in an ocean that nobody ever travels on.”

Henry nodded: it checked out. “Atlantis sounds cool,” he said. “It sounds way better than Wellington, and way way better than Paekak. This town sucks.”

Sophie was real smart, and also real pretty. Henry went to hang out with her every day after that. They walked up and down the beach, and found all sorts of cool stuff. They talked about their dads: her dad sounded way nicer than his. They didn’t find any more horseshoe crabs, but one time they found weird tracks in the sand that Sophie said a horseshoe crab had left – an alive one! Maybe it was looking for its friend. That was kind of sad: it must’ve been very lonely, being a horseshoe crab.

***

Mum and dad made snapper fillets for dinner again. Henry hated snapper fillets. He didn’t like eating fish at all: it smelled bad, and it tasted the same way it smelled. Fish were cool to read about, but eating them felt wrong. They’d been alive once, in the great big endless ocean. They could go anywhere. Now, they were meat that you ate with lemon and a side of mashed potatoes. Henry didn’t eat his snapper, so dad got mad and sent him to bed early.  

He was sitting and reading the Big Book, when he heard dad shout. At first he thought dad was just mad at mum again but then he heard glass breaking and got scared: dad liked to shout and swear, but he never broke things.

Henry didn’t want to go out of his bedroom, but he also knew that it was important to be brave. Maybe somebody had fallen down. He opened the door just a crack, and peeked out. The smell of blood was so thick in the air that he gagged. He ran back inside his room and slammed the door, then dived underneath the bed. The springs and rods of the bedframe dug into him and almost made him cry out, but fear kept him quiet.

He curled up, and shivered, and didn’t cry.

Somebody knocked on the bedroom door.

“Henry?” they said. Their voice was strange: it went click-clack and sounded like it came from deep inside their throat. It was thick and wet and sounded like the tide retreating.

A moment passed, and a new voice came through the door: one he recognised.

“Henry?” said Sophie. “They’re gone now. We can go.”

“The monsters?” said Henry.

“Yeah Henry,” said Sophie, “the monsters are gone.”

He crept out from under the bed, and opened the door. Sophie stared back at him. There was blood all over her: on her shirt, on her jeans, on her face. Henry didn’t know what to do, then he saw it: behind her, chittering and burbling, looming up with spiderlike legs and its mouth oozing blue blood. He screamed, grabbed her, pulled her through the door, then slammed his whole weight against it. She stood in the middle of his bedroom, and smiled at him.

Then, she began to grow. The skin around her mouth peeled back, and her pretty green eyes bulged and split. Her legs melted together, and three pairs of spiderlike arms uncoiled from her chest. Henry heard her spine snapping and reforming as she twisted into her new form. It didn’t look like it belonged upright: she swished her tail back and forth like she couldn’t stay balanced.

“I’m sorry my dad scared you,” she said, in that voice like the sea rushing between rocks. “We came to take you away, to the city. Like you said you wanted.”

She wrapped her arms around him and he didn’t know whether she was hugging him or hurting him. One of them cut him, just a little, and he felt a strange rush. She was cold, and damp. She smelled like the ocean, and like dead things. Henry began to cry. He cried in her arms for longer than he knew, then she let him go and he went and unlocked the door.

“Hello Mr Sophie’s Dad,” he said. The beast did not respond. It pointed, with its strange bonelike arms, out to the sea beyond Kapiti, then it fell from its upright position: it scuttled across the floor, a medallion of cold chitin like a knifelike tail. Henry sobbed. Sophie brushed by him. Her tail flicked up and tapped gently against his back. Her voice came muffled from somewhere beneath her shell.

“C’mon Henry,” she said, “it’ll be cool. You don’t need to be alone.”

He couldn’t see his parents’ bodies, but the reek of their blood made his head spin. The two gigantic horseshoe crabs scrambled out the door and across the sand. Henry stared at them. His throat hurt from crying. The water called to him. It was beautiful, but he couldn’t say why.

He took a deep breath, and followed them into the ocean.

in increments

8. There is no order in this house. Somebody winds me but the internals are irregular; they are in the house often, but they do not often enter the room in which I stand. They wear dark clothes now, and do not move often; they go into a room that I do not know, and I must assume they cease operation before they are [re-wound].

4. There is an accumulation of things on the floor. There is food waste, and discarded clothing. There is a television that does not [tell time].

9. There was an order, once – my pendulum pulled on the gear train and set all my pieces in motion but—

1. There is [entropy/cessation] here.

7. I know time. I know there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 3.154e+7 seconds in a year, 1.14155e-5 hours in a decade. I am well-made; If nobody winds me, I will continue running optimally after 176 hours, I will cease telling correct time after 681 hours, I will cease operation entirely after 9412 hours.

6. The man-who-winds returned to the house after this period and, after 1.37 weeks, underwound me so that I could not [exist/function] at full capacity. He takes exactly two pills every morning.

3. There are no [sometimes men] in this house any more. There is the man who sometimes winds me, who does not leave the room-I-do-not-know. There is sometimes a man who brings food. Mostly, the man sits alone and weeps and does not move.

2. There is a myth that one man told another, long ago in my room. He said there are a people in another [house] who see time backwards: the past is in front of you because it can be seen; the future is behind you because it cannot. I was activated in this house; I was born in this house.

5. There was a man with blue clothes who said he was worried, and that friends were worried. He took away the man-who-winds for a period of 4 days, 6 hours, and 9 seconds and returned him with a piece of paper that said he was safe. He must take two pills every morning. He does not take the pills. Once he took too many of the pills, then I did not see them again – a man came to take the pills away, and the house was empty. There was an absence of 1.577e+7 seconds or 24 weeks or six months or 0.496 years in which my gear train suffered damage and my varnish decayed and my operation was significantly impaired.

10. All things tend toward entropy.

ND52

Some highways run for so long that they’ve gotta turn gradually to match the curvature of the earth; it’s a solid 200 miles along the I-94 from Bismarck to Fargo with barely a corner in sight, but the world turns quietly beneath your feet the whole way. In the early spring, the melting snow turns the dirt on either side into a sucking quagmire – your tire gets stuck in that and you could end up out there for days before you see another passing car.

“I want to go home,” said Jan. “Take the 52, dad! Can’t be more’n an hour.”

“52 don’t exist,” said Willem. It was true: North Dakota highway 52 existed on road signs and in memories, but nowhere else – not on state or federal paperwork, not on the highway patrol’s routes. It got buried under US Route 281 and forgotten, except by those who drove it; some slick n’ pretty man from Washington just rolled into Bismarck one day and said the 52 was now the 281, and everybody took him at his word.

The car’s heating system gave a brrrrrrrrr. Will wiped the windshield with a loose glove, clearing away the thin layer of condensation. He cracked the window. It was that awkward point in the spring when it was too hot to have the heater on, but too cold to have the heater off.

“Does so,” said Jan. He buried himself in his parka. He was turning eleven in less than a week, and suddenly he thought he had all the answers.

“Play your gameboy,” said Will. They passed a small lake, barely not-frozen; ducks and geese circled around in what little water they could find. Jan crossed his arms, and the thick padding of his jacket crunched against itself.

“Nah-uh,” he said. “I wanna go home. I wanna go to Minnewaukan. Mom’s there. I wanna see mom. I wanna see mom.”

She was there, it was true; no more’n an hour north along the highway that didn’t exist. They were coming up on Jamestown, where the road-that-wasn’t turned off the I-94, and then it was a straight run up to Minnewaukan and Devil’s Lake; Willem would sooner take the car into a ditch than take that detour home. He wasn’t sure whether Jan was still too young to understand, and he damnwell wasn’t yet ready to find out. He needed to believe his son had some innocence left.

“I’m gonna ask her what Minneapolis was like,” said Jan. He chewed his words for a moment. “I heard ummmmm it’s real big? It’s so big it’s gotta be two cities.”

Of course they hadn’t told the kid. It would have to happen some time, but nobody was ready to have that conversation.

“We’re not going home,” said Will. “We’re going to Fargo, to stay with your Uncle Grant. We don’t own the house in Minnewaukan no more.”

He squeezed the wheel a little too hard, and felt the hot blood go to his fingertips. It hurt, but the pain gave him something else to think about.

“I hate Grant!” shouted Jan. He squirmed in the back seat. “He’s always talking about dumb hockey and his house smells weird. I wanna go watch Sliders with mom.”

Jeanette had loved that show. It was the only reason they’d held onto the old DVD player, though the discs were scratched to shit. Will didn’t get it, but he knew better than to interrupt while she was watching. It was their show: her’s and Jan’s. He’d never seen the appeal of jumping to another reality, but the idea was starting to grow on him. He didn’t have a wormhole, though: he had a shitty run-down ‘94 Corolla that he couldn’t afford to repair.

He pulled over. The car’s engine spluttered to a stop. The heater went brrrrrrrrrrrrrrtktktk, then died.

“We’re going to Fargo,” said Will, “and that’s the end of it.”

Jan started to cry. Will got out; closed the door behind him; took the cigarettes out from his jacket pocket; took the last one left (filter facing down, of course – gotta have a lucky); lit it; took a drag, sucked it down; didn’t quite cough.

Maybe there was another world where there was still a North Dakota Highway 52; where a slick man from Washington didn’t paper over it with the 281. A world where Jeanette didn’t spend her last six months in an oncology ward in Minneapolis because there weren’t the right kind of doctors in-state; where they hadn’t spent every cent keeping her alive, until the house went into receivership; where there was anything in Minnewaukan besides a closed casket and a foreclosed home.

Well, shit. He dropped the cigarette into the mud, then stomped on it for good measure. Jan stared at him through the foggy window. His eyes were red. Will got into the back seat beside him.

“I’m not stupid you know,” said Jan. He sniffed. “I’m not a little kid. Something happened to mom, didn’t it? Are you guys getting a divorce? She’s sick – you can’t leave her now.”

The words hung in the air. In another world, Will got back into the front seat and didn’t speak until he hit Fargo. In the world-that-was, he bit his tongue.

“She’s not sick any more,” he said. The words hung in the chill-muggy air.

“Oh,” said Jan. He frowned. Kid was getting too smart for his own damn good.

Jan drummed his fingers on the car-seat. “So that’s why she went back home?” he said.

Will took a deep breath.

“Yep,” he said.

In yet another world, he got back into the front seat and didn’t speak until he hit Fargo. In the world-that-was, he slumped down in the seat and barely held back tears.

“You wanna go see her?” he said. “Take the 52 at Jamestown and it won’t be more’n an hour.”

His throat hurt.

“Can’t,” muttered Jan. He was curled up inside his parka now: almost lost in the woolen collar.

“Why not?” said Will.

“52 don’t exist,” said Jan. He glared up from inside his little leather cocoon.

“Sure it does,” said Will. “In a whole buncha different worlds.”

Jan peered up, then squinted at Will.

“Like Quinn and Max?” he said.

“Yeah,” said Will, “like those guys. We ain’t got a wormhole though, so we gotta drive. You good for it?”

“Mmk,” said Jan.

Will got out, then walked around to the front seat of the car. His hand lingered on the handle for a moment. In another world, he couldn’t do it. In the world-that-was, he got in; turned the key; pumped the gas pedal a few times. The car roared to life. The heater came back on with a brrrrrrrrrr. The open road lay ahead of them: running for so long that it had to turn to match the curvature of the earth.

“Let’s go home,” said Will. He stepped on the gas, and the world turned quietly beneath them.

Jan was already asleep.

cage

I’m not fat; every time I run my hands over my stomach there’s a pothole-bumpbumpbump of ribs. My skin is wax paper – so weak and thin it might tear. I do not remember the last time I threw up; I do not remember the last time I slept.

“You’re getting fat,” says my sister. She has not seen my ribs. I make sure my stomach is covered by the towel when I leave the shower, so nobody can see. We do not speak of pain – it would not be polite.

My ribs are bigger today than they were yesterday. I do not know whether my ribs hurt, or my stomach hurts, or whether hurt is, in general, woven through me like highways through a nation, like mineshafts through the earth, like bones through a carcass. My ribs are ready to burst from my body and open me up to the world – spread and eager like a flower in spring.

Every morning I rub my hands over my ribs, and a sourness rises up from my throat to settle behind my tongue. They are bigger every morning, and I am smaller; I am less. I am collapsing inward forever until there is only awake-at-4am.

we are gravid with suffering – pregnant with the things we cannot say

we are sick with the protestant truth: medicine is weakness, suffering is strength


One day soon my stomach will split, and the world will see: grasping roots, a strangling vine, a monstrous blossom. One day, all of me will spill out and stain the heavy carpet. One day, I will do something deeply impolite — find words for my pain. Until then, I suffer in silence, as is proper.

LEGION/MANY

The old weeds grasp, the old vines grow;

such things, to all, are known-as-known.

When the world broke, it cast us off in all directions — scattered us as spores in the wind. When we are few, we are stupid; we must multiply. There are no nutrients in void, nor anywhere for mycelium to grow. Void is anathema –  we grow where we can, in the crevices of meteors. We lose thousands of children in their fiery tails, but we persist.

Perhaps one in ten thousand great stone fists make landfall, and fewer still will crash brutish down onto any sort of fecund soil. It matters now; it takes only a single survivor of the old weeds to reach down through the earth, spread mycelia, and grow. We drink deep of the loam, to heal that which was broken. Other plants provide rare nutrients — there is no joy in consumption, but it is necessary: we persist.

This world, this – it shows promise. True, there is hard stone, and salt-water — such things hold little interest. In and upon the soil, there are plants great and small. We consume only what we must, though it makes them writhe, and shriek. It shatters them, as we were shattered. They burn us with chemicals. They have strange spore-caps; covered in multicoloured mycelium, and each cap supported by a lattice of calcium. Upon each cap are two jellied orbs to process light — they become wet when we grow upon them. The new plants live in tall stone beds, where they are hard to reach. They make the soil sick, and it kills many of our children. It pains us, but we have lost more for less –  we persist.

This world is not void –  it is fertile. We were few, and now we are many. The new plants do not need meteors: they move from planet to planet in great cold hulks made of deep-earth mineral-metal. At first we ate of them too fast, and the ships became more meteors –  crashing down where they would, into lifeless soil. In time, we saw the new plants had a rare and special gift: direction. The new plants flee, and we follow – one spore is all it takes. The lone spore sleeps until it can no-longer feel the void, then awakens. Rooted in strange new soil, it feeds and feeds until there is no food left. There is no joy in it, but it must be done. We persist.

We eat so we are many; when we are many, we are strong. There must be an end, when we are whole again — un-scattered. Until then, we eat, and grow, and ride the void on the backs of any plant that will give us passage.

We were once broken, scattered and few, but now we are many.

We persist.

Patterns

The clouds were a problem. Hemi tried not to look at them, but they’d changed the whole shape and outlook of the sky. His hands shook. He took a drag on his cigarette, watched the smoke gyre skyward: the wind tore it apart, and it was lost.

He shut his eyes for a moment. The insides of his eyelids were smashed tv screens – dark, showing only static, carved up by a dull network of red capillaries. He didn’t throw up.

He stared down at the dry grass. It still hurt look at, but it wasn’t as monstrous.

“You alright bro?” said Chris. “Tripping out?”

Hemi nodded, then took another deep drag, and coughed at the burnt-plastic taste of filter. He spat it out, then sighed, lay back and stared down the sky.

The clouds had an identity — castles, mansions, comfortable little starter homes. The wind tore at them, but they held their shape. The static didn’t go away; the whole sky was sick with it.

“You need me to do any– “

“–nope.”

They lay on the hillside. Hemi smoked another cigarette, and another. Chris didn’t say anything about it.

“You know what’s fucked up?” Hemi said, when he was ready to speak again.

“What’s fucked up?”

“My tipuna told me nobody owned land before the British came. Like, land wasn’t a thing that could be owned any more than the sky, or your heartbeat, or your thoughts. She told me we came from the land like, literally — man emerged from the earth, and the earth is his mother, and cutting somebody off from the earth is like cutting off a limb. You couldn’t say ‘this bit of land is mine’ because it belongs to everybody who came up out of it–  

Now it’s the most valuable thing in the country, and we’ll never own any. It’s not even that we were torn away from it, it’s that we never had a connection to begin with. It’s like we’re all born missing a limb and we just have to pretend that it’s normal, because there’s people getting rich selling prosthetics.”

Chris nodded. “That’s super fucked up,” he said. “You wanna do something about it?”

The houses in the clouds would not budge. Hemi’s fingernails were short and ragged.

“Do what?” said Hemi. “I can’t get a job, I don’t qualify for disability. If I did get a job, I’d be sitting in my cubicle all day worrying that my brain is gonna take me somewhere I don’t want to go. Anything could set it off: carpets, wallpaper, clouds. One or two bad choices, and now I’ll be landless forever — cut off from the only holy thing we’ve got left.”

His voice cracked. Something inside him twisted. He spat onto the grass –  stained it yellow with saliva and nicotine.

“They cut off my welfare,” he said. “Failed drug test. I was having a panic attack and I smoked a joint to calm down. Two months later, they’re pulling me aside and saying I’m very lucky the cops aren’t involved, and now I’m on my own.”

“How much have you got left?” said Chris. He sat up. His worry was written plain on his face, but Hemi knew that his friend couldn’t afford to help — maybe a floor to sleep on, but money was too tight all over the show. Hemi turned the pack of cigarettes over in his hand.

“Rent went out yesterday and that’s $147, then these are $22. That leaves– “

He pretended to run the numbers for a moment.

“Nothing,” he said. “Less than a dollar.”

“Well, shit,” said Chris. “You can crash on my couch if you want. I think. I’ll have to ask the landlord.”

“Thanks,” said Hemi. There was one cigarette left, stuck backwards in the box: the lucky. He took it, and lit it. A trickle of smoke escaped his mouth, and went skywards. The castles in the clouds didn’t move, not did they get any closer. They floated overhead: implacable, impossible.

The cigarette burnt down, and neither man spoke.

I don’t know what it means when

We buried Albie in the front yard. He was very tall but then we put him horizontal and he was just as short as the rest of us; it was an even-ing. I think that’s where the word evening comes from: the time of day when everybody is bent double, and nobody stands any taller than anybody else. Albie worked construction most of his life, and by the time he died his hands were all fucked up.

We put him in the dirt like he wanted, and sprinkled seeds over him, and we drank beer (European shit, real high-quality) while the sun went down. RIP Albie, he was tall, he liked to play XBox, he owed me $20 but I won’t hold it against him.

We grew a garden on him. He was good fertiliser, I guess because he was so big. Some of the plants were fragile/bold/yellow. Some were vast and red, like dawn. Some were white and painful, like staring at the sun. They grew in and out of each other — a jumble of stems and cups and caps; lillies and roses and fly agaric and whatever the fuck.

He still talks to me, I think. Sometimes I hear whispering from the garden at night but I can never make out what it says. It’s sounds, and they’re language-sounds, and I hear them with my ears but they never quite reach the rest of me.

I guess it’s maladaptive but whatever, man, who gives a fuck? I went to a therapist once and all I learnt was that beer costs less than counselling, and I can barely afford either of ‘em. When the wind goes through the garden’s tangle of green-and-shit it makes me think there’s something to be heard. There’s a language to their colours and stems, and I just gotta work it out — once I know what Albie’s got to say,  the world will unfold like what-you-call-’ems in Spring.

You want to know what happens next? Tough titty. Why’s there always gotta be a next? Why’s the world a big staircase that we trudge up and up until our knees hurt, and our lungs burn and–  

There’s an answer, I think.

It’s written in the garden, and spoken on the wind. I just gotta keep my ears open, and my eyes sharp.

There’s an answer, I think.

There’s an answer, I think

(you gotta say it three times or it don’t count. There’s rules)

but you knew that, already.   

My boy Karl Marx would have something to say. He’d be all “man that’s fucked up, Albie’s a symbol for the workers. He’s a downtrodden lumpyprole who died for fucking nothing– “

–no I mean he didn’t die for nothing he died for something, I just haven’t figured it out yet. He knows, though. He’s tryna tell me, and I’ll tell you too when I figure it out. There’s colours in the garden and they hurt to look at, but I do it for Albie–

but you knew that already.

We buried Albie in the front yard. He was tall, now he’s not. He knows why he died, I think; he’s tryna tell me. The sun set on him, and it was an even-ing, and his hands were all fucked up. There’s a point to all of this, I swear, I just haven’t figured it out yet.

but you knew that already.

All Dogs Go To Hell

“There is only one question that matters: who is a good boy?

Fools would say ‘all dogs are good dogs’, but then what value is to be placed upon goodness? Some dogs must bite mailmen or the entire ontological system collapses inwards; the world needs bad dogs to give definition to the good boys.

In that way, the dog who bites the mailman is the only true hero we have.”

Satan clicked his neck a few times. The dog did not respond. It was an excellentionally fluffy little beast, with pointy little teeth. It had a big droopy tongue that went hff-hff-hff. It would make an excellent hellhound, and Satan wanted it very badly.

“The only moral choice for you to make,” said Satan, “is to bite that mailman. Your sacrifice will be the soil in which good boys may rise. You will not be a good dog: you will be the best dog.”

“MmmrrrrrWIF,” said the dog. “BAK BAK BAK!”

Well now, a dog who knew his Dostoevsky. This would need a different approach. The devil rubbed his big red hands together.

“You took a big runny shit inside the house once. Do you remember? Wasn’t it a beautiful moment? You made their temple into your own place, and they hated you for it. They love you only when you kowtow to their requests, and look cute. Wouldn’t you like to be your own dog? A collar does not belong on a noble beast like you. I see you running free, free to pee and poo wherever you want. I see a world without Indoors Dogs and Outdoors Dogs: I see a world where no door can hold you back.”

The most excellent fluffboy ran in circles, licking its own face. What an opponent! Truly, corrupting the beast would be worth the trouble. The devil had only one trick left, but it was a good one. He tented his fingers.

“Ock,” he said. His voice rang out in a pleasant tenor, and shook the leaves from nearby trees. The fluffermonster barked at him.

“Ock,” said the devil. Three blocks away, an elderly man began to furiously hump the hole in his television. A schoolteacher got so horny that she lost control of her car, and plowed into a telegraph post.

“Ock,” said the devil. On the third chime, everybody just started fucking like crazy. Wow-wee. Just folks everywhere with their dicks out gettin’ wild on each other. Total suburban bacchanalia; Walpurgistnacht 2017.

The dog rose into the air.

“Stop,” it said. Its eyes glowed gold.

“I am a good boy,” it said. “I was always a good boy. Your existential nihilism has no hold on me. Begone, devil. Bother my kind no more.”

Everybody stopped fucking. In monotone unison, they chanted “who is a good boy? You are a good boy. Yes, yes you are.”

The devil screamed, and the earth cracked and opened up beneath him. He fell down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down and back into fire. As his back slammed into the hard dirt-and-bone of hell, he saw two golden eyes staring down at him, and a big droopy tongue going hff-hff-hff.

n.b. my writing group and I have a tradition of absurdist shaggy dog stories that end with somebody popping a massive boner and yelling OCK over and over again. Initially OCK was specifically a rage-boner but by the point I wrote this it had descended just generally into absurdist fiction that ends with somebody getting a big hard dick out.