Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The House That Jack Built


People who could be frightened, people who were insecure, people who admired us; these were our prey. We brought them to her house and invited them to play a game with us, a game they had never heard of. It was a game they could not win, a game they could not loose, a game they could not stop. It was The House That Jack Built.

It began sometime in 1990. I had only just become aware of the passage of time, that there were numbers assigned to years. I had found a newspaper in the garage and read a headline about the gulf war. A strange electrical sensation coursed through my body. War. I had heard of war. I changed schools that year and entered into the fifth grade in a program for gifted children. That was when I received my first phone call. That’s when it began.

Other children had called in the past to arrange play dates or invite me to birthday parties. But no one had ever called just to talk to me before. I sat on the dark steps leading into the rumpus room with the black rotary phone between my feet. Brow furrowed, I believe I asked her:
“What do you want?”
“Just to talk.”
“I should go now.” I said, wishing to return to my own inner world, to the sanctity of home and hood.
“Why?” she asked.
“My friend Sarah is coming over.” I told her.

Sarah lived across the street. Sarah and my sister and I had eaten and bathed and played and slept together since I was three years old. There was very little separation between myself and Sarah, myself and my sister, myself and my parents. Just as meals appeared three times a day and bath water ran once after dark, Sarah would appear before noon and we would all play dolls or house or ride bikes up and down the streets or run through the fields playing freeze tag or dance to a Paula Abdul cassette. Other children from the neighborhood might participate or not, but Sarah would be there like sunshine, or spring, or inhalation. It was pre-ordained, habitual, mechanical, natural. I had almost no sense of self. I was the accumulation of these many daily rituals, the appearance and disappearance of these other characters, the texture and variety of landscape, of house and hood.
“Sarah who?” she asked.
“Butler.” I told her.
“The earwig. Tell the little earwig I said hi.” And hearing that sentence uttered in that particular tone, nuanced as it was, changed everything. That phone call was the beginning, although at the time I didn’t know it. That was the beginning of my fall, my descent into the outer world.
Suddenly someone from outside had just created a conspiratorial connection with me. With that utterance, she plucked me from unity and bliss. Sarah was no longer a part of my self. Sarah was an earwig, and she and I could have a laugh at Sarah’s expense. Sarah’s presence in my life diminished. My interest in her as something other than an object of ridicule waned. When her mother remarried and they vanished from the neighborhood a year later, I stood in front of her house feeling the loss, realizing she had been gone for a long time, I had banished her, and now she could never be retrieved.

By 1993 my experience of self had become inverted. My family had moved. There was a new house, a new hood, new kids, a suburban landscape, all alien to me. My parents were strangers as well. Even my own body was unfamiliar. By then I was in middle school and she and I were no longer in the same class. Nonetheless I still received the phone calls, now via a cordless phone that I could carry to my room.
She came to my house to “hang out” or I visited hers. We invented a language composed of two words, “Giba” and “dumbass.” We would converse as if we understood one another perfectly, making observations about those around us, including my sister, most of which were concluded with the word “dumbass”. If my sister attempted to join the conversation and play along, we looked confounded, as though we could not understand her, but we could still communicate with one another, and we would discuss this creature making its attempts to establish contact with us, but we would never speak back to it.

The houses in the new neighborhood were identical. I would marvel over the fact that the boy three doors down was living in a structure of precisely the same shape. As I moved through my own house I was moving phantom-like through his. I would imagine going into his house, which corners I could duck into to go unnoticed as he passed, how I could give him a push down the stairs, his stairs which were identical to my stairs. Or how I might enter his room, identical to my own, while he slept and simply be there, uninvited.

1995. We were high school freshmen. We had some classes together. Sleepovers abounded. She was given the basement floor of her house as a bedroom. It had an exit into the backyard. Our fusion reached its peak. I was now distinctly “I”, a separate, confused, and lonely entity, but together there was a “we”, just “she” and “I” together, and we were ready to unleash our games upon the inferior masses.

We would invite them to her house and pull out a deck of cards.
“Have you ever played the house that Jack built?” we would ask. Invariably they answered “no” or “what’s that?”
Now came the fun. We would invite them to play with us, would shuffle the deck and deal out cards. Then we would play. The only rules in The House That Jack Built were that there were no rules other than those that she and I invented as we went along. Naturally, only she and I knew this, and we would confirm the validity of one another’s plays and confuse and shock those we were playing with.

Gradually, our playmates might begin to suspect that they were the butt of some joke, but we would continue to play with such passion and sincerity that they would doubt their own perceptions. If, smiling, they accused us of making things up, we would assure them that we weren’t, that they’d get the hang of it soon enough, it was really quite simple…
Frequently a card play would be accompanied by a loud pronouncement:
“And this is the house that Jack built!” or “Gone fishing!”
At that point we would collect all the cards that had been “played” in the center, or take away the hand of the other player, or some equivocal gesture of triumph that would leave our victim with the sense of impending defeat. The game would go on endlessly, however, and we’d take pains to steer it away from any form of completion.

Eventually our victim would beg to end the game, insist that they had to stop and we would inform them that there could be no stopping until the game was finished. We would lean in on them, glare menacingly, grin sardonically. Something in the air would change. They could not win, they could not loose, and they could not stop. Desperately some would insist that they had just lost the game, trying to join us in the rule defining, referring back to some similar situation earlier in the game for which we would always have an exception,
“Yes, but you only give up your cards if you have no clubs in hand.” or “No, all the cards must be reshuffled and re-dealt when the eight of spades precedes the queen of hearts.”
Afternoon would turn to evening. Our victim would sweat, grow quarrelsome, or cry.

There were no adults left to monitor either of us at this point in our history. We would decide as school let out to take the bus to her house. On the bus we would select who we would or would not invite for our games.
One night as we walked home from the bus stop we asked a bony acne scarred girl from her neighborhood to come over. Nicole was the kind of innocent who hadn’t learned yet to conceal her emotions. Nicole told us in her high nasal voice, that she would go home and do her homework first, then tell her mother and finally come by around 4:00. She arrived at 3:45. That was the kind of girl Nicole was.

In the basement we sat atop the washer and dryer with Nicole between us taking turns playing with a small hunting knife I‘d coerced from a boy in my Math class. I would pass it to her and she would pass it to me, but we would never pass it to Nicole who watched the blade while talking in short nervous bursts and fingering the hem of her skirt.
Suddenly She grabbed Nicole by the hair and ran the dull edge of the blade along her throat. Nicole gave out a small startled cry. As she was released, Nicole touched her throat, finding it intact, and started to sob. We smiled mockingly. Without a word Nicole grabbed her sweater and pounded away up the stairs and out the front door.

People who could be frightened, people who were insecure, people who admired us; these were our prey. We brought them to her house and invited them to play a game with us, a game they had never heard of. It was a game they could not win, a game they could not loose, a game they could not stop. It was The House That Jack Built and it wore them down, made them loose their hopeful grins, their sycophantic giggles, their pathetic displays of wit or humor.
In the end, they usually begged, especially when we lay the dull edge of the knife against their throats. Most of them believed we would do it by then, after the hours of suspicion turned to self doubt returned again to suspicion. After we had whittled away their trust in us and any tidbits of faith that they had in themselves, they would see the knife, then feel steel sliding against their flesh, and they would believe for a moment that their throat had just been slit. They would sit there wide eyed, waiting for their lives to bleed out.
For some of them, this was the moment when they lost unity, bliss. For others it was just one more crippling blow. And for just a few, it was the first time in a long while that they had lost themselves, completely and utterly vanishing in the moment, only to re-emerge into singularity a moment later, blinking and breathing and staring into our houses, identical to their own.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Curiosity


It is a noisy, dirty corner in the heart of a large city. (Names don't matter here. Maybe they never do.) The two streets that meet at this particular corner are both wide and full of heavy traffic, there are recurrent small waves of pedestrians walking back and forth from one sidewalk to the other. The entire scene is covered in a semi transparent layer of dark smoke that hurts the nose and throat if you stay too long in its vicinity. (Eventually you might not notice it at all. Maybe by then you will have stayed too long, you will be part of the smoke, of the noise, of the pain.)
A large truck is double parked on the southeastern side, in front of a boarded up shop covered in graffiti. (Various gangs have marked this place as their territory, invisible warriors that came in the night and planted their flag upon forgotten surfaces of concrete and metal and wood.) Three men sit on the edge of the truck bed and a large mechanical dolly sits on the sidewalk, unused. Two other men walk from east to west, drinking from glass bottles covered in paper bags, loudly discussing the events of the day without really listening to each other. (Sentences fly like missiles without direction.)
An older woman, wearing a large blond wig and a tight mini skirt, smokes by the donut shop on the north western corner. The skin of her arms hangs loosely from her wrists, pockmarked by needle scars. A neon sign of a nude woman blinks in and out from the covered front window of a massage parlor that stands next to a freshly painted liquor store on the northeastern corner. A little boy grabs onto his mother’s hand, dragging a plastic bag behind him, gently sobbing away the remains of a heartfelt tantrum.
I exchange a few words with the lean young man with short dark hair. (I met him a few moments ago. He just came up and talked to me.) I am flirting a little, maybe even a lot. Sometimes it's hard to tell as quantities and measurements change from day to day and I was never too keen on measurements to begin with. (I know I want something, something different, something unusual, something scary. Fear sometimes makes me feel alive.)
He tells me that he investigates animal mutilations. I say that I sometimes make videos about that very subject. I don't think he understands me. Maybe he just can't process what I've said, maybe he just assumed that the only possible reaction on my part was surprise so he heard the reaction he anticipated instead of the one I actually gave him. (In that case, I am talking to a ghost. But at this point I don't mind talking to ghosts. It's so much better than being alone.)
Two shirtless teenage boys are standing nearby looking at us, listening to what the young man has to say. Both boys are covered in tattoos that blend the sacred with the profane, the violent with the loving, the peaceful with a deep unrelenting sorrow. I get the impression that they know him, maybe they have heard him talk like this many times before, maybe they can recite the long sequences of words that pour out of his mouth from memory, a kind of hopeless poem mired in mold and rust.
They lean against the window of an old battered hotel. I hear a loud drunken voice coming from inside, behind the dirty facade that still holds traces of a past lifetime of small luxuries. From animal mutilations, the young man moves on to a flow of words that I can only barely keep up with, a sequence of ideas that seem only barely interconnected.
"Fattened as they are with the sloth of caged animals, you know what I mean by their sloth? Darkened by their cheerless existence beneath our marvelous white wings, they know no joy. Nothing like it, nothing."
(I don't know what he's talking about but my curiosity is evoked like an invisible flower emerging from the depths of my chest, something tangible that travels up and down my body leaving traces at various hidden nodes.)
On the south western corner there is a one story complex. A small adult shop is embraced on both sides by a single dilapidated house that wraps around it like a concrete parasite. The house has two facades, each one leading to a different street, each one with a little forgotten porch covered in trash and a solid steel gate.
The adult shop has only four faded porno tapes in its window, the lost glories of never quite beautiful women that have long lost their battle for men’s attention and are now forgotten symbols of wasteful dispersal that fail in their weak attempt at temptation.
The young man starts to walk and I follow him. I can't say that I like him, I can't say that I don't. I just know that I want to hear more, I want to experience more of what he can bring to me, what this corner can offer, what this moment can invoke. I am unrelenting in my curiosity. It often gets me in trouble. But it's beyond my power to change it so I might as well give in completely. Follow it to the end, wherever the end may be.
The young man walks into the adult shop and I follow him. He is still talking. I look around while listening to his long nearly incomprehensible rant.
This is not my first time in one of these places, but it's still a strange space for my eyes to explore. Somehow his words fit into the things I'm seeing, words curling around objects like snakes, adjectives flashing over photos like transparent labels made of flesh.
"They watch, you know? They are always watching. They watch the images of childhood from our flickering screens, see the green of grass and blue of sky without the knowledge of the wealth of feelings that such images evoke in the spirit of one whose bare feet have trod on grass and leaped towards the sky."
One who leaped towards the sky, I hear him say it and I see a woman jumping. She is nude, grotesquely large breasts hang from her chest, rising from the sheer momentum of her jump. She is smiling but it doesn't really seem like a smile, more like a painted mask that refuses to come off. There's a hint of sky behind her and a man is smiling next to her, content with what he sees. She leaped towards the sky but she didn't make it. She landed inside this place. Much like I have.
Behind the counter, there is an older bearded man wearing a baseball cap and reading the newspaper. He looks up at us for barely a second before his eyes return to the wrinkled pages that he holds in his rough hands. (I would expect him to be surprised to see me here. How often does a young girl walk into a place like this? Maybe more often than I realize. His eyes don't register any surprise at all. Maybe he is completely beyond surprises. Maybe a long time ago he accepted the world as a place of unrelenting predictability. I am just another element in this long chain of constant repetition. This could almost be said to be a kind of enlightenment. But it feels heavy, old, tired, used.)
A TV screen behind him shows intense intercourse happening between a large muscular black man and a thin blond girl who seems like she's about to break under the black man's weight, under his unleashed physical strength. The volume on the TV is turned down while the radio blares out right wing talk intermixed with old rock and roll songs. I can't help but blush slightly when I see the young girl being taken in such a rough manner. I try my best to act nonchalant but I can't help myself. Something about the music and the condemnations of liberal ideology mixes in with the interracial coupling, something clicks inside of me but I can't decipher it. There's too much input all at once, too much information. The image intermingles with the words, as if they're saying the same thing, as if they're pulling towards a common center from different directions. The older man with the baseball cap groans and turns the page.
Two Latin men stare at a glossy magazine and make whispered comments. Maybe they're talking about me. They're both wearing checkered shirts and thick well worn blue jeans. (I imagine they came here straight from work, both eager for a moment of pure pleasure uninterrupted by the harsh touch of reality.)
An older man in a black overcoat carefully runs through the many video sections, scanning every title carefully, making silent calculations with his eyes. Every so often he grabs a box and puts it under his arm. He already holds several there, at least six. (I wonder what he's looking for. I wonder if it's even possible to find it. Could anything at all satisfy the hunger that hides behind his down turned eyes?)
A sweaty brown skinned man stands by the dark door that leads to the private booths, anxiously staring at each of the men that walk in and out of the store. His head is shaved bald and his hands press against his hips with a sense of repressed urgency. His eyes have the distinct shape of barely controlled need, of desperate hope slowly turning bitter and painful. (How long will he wait until he decides the wait has been long enough? Maybe the wait is never too long. Maybe there's always a prize at the end.)
I see another door, dusty and forgotten between rows of video tapes and plastic dildos of all sizes. I immediately realize that it must lead to the larger house that embraces the store like a snake made of brick and glass.
The young man walks through the store without looking at those around him. He slows his pace just a little and turns to make sure I'm still there. I follow him closely and listen to his ongoing rant while I look around. I expect someone to stop us from going any further but nobody does.
Each of these strange men have a role to play within this game and we don't feature in the rules. (When were these rules written? How long can they stay in place before they start to decompose into fragments of memory, touches of old songs, glimpses of wasted youth.)
The young man continues:
"The sky shall not have them. The grass shall never touch them. We keep them safe, we will always keep them safe, you know? Like pearly little maggots hidden away in a dark dumpster, suffocating them with cellophane wrappers and video games, and mp3 players, and cellular phones."
We keep them safe inside these houses, these stores, between four walls, while a man penetrates a much smaller girl on a flat screen and another man reads a newspaper, too bored to even look up. Safe from what is out there, safe inside. (We seek safety. We yearn for danger. After all, this is why I am here. I have to admit it, even if only when I speak silently to myself.)
The young man opens the old door in the back of the store without a key. He walks straight into the open space on the other side. Nobody makes any move to stop him or ask him where he is going. I follow while trying to keep track of what he is saying. I have forgotten why it was that I started listening to him, but now it has become absolutely crucial that I should listen, absolutely crucial that I should understand. (How do things like these become important? What happens when the importance goes away? These things just happen and I am more onlooker than participant in their shifting games of musical chairs.)
"They may speak to one another, reach for one another through these devices, but harsh words will have to win their battles, smooth talk will suffice for exchanges of affection. We will not let the bloody fisted brawls have them, nor the hand holding, tickling, chasing, and swinging. They are only for us."
With a quick hand gesture, the young man lets me know that I should close the door behind me. I close it, trying to be as quiet as possible even though nobody is listening.
I see a series of black and white photos on the wall next to me. A young girl rising from the ocean, covered in foaming salt water, wearing a pair of jeans cutoff shorts and a white t-shirt, all soaked in the ocean water. The same young girl walks towards a cave on the side of a rock wall rising from the gray sand of the beach. The young girl strips off her clothes as she walks into the cave where I can barely see stone steps leading up into absolute darkness. The last photo is the girl from behind, completely naked, fading into the darkness as she walks up the stone steps.
I turn to look into a doorway and I catch a glimpse of a young girl sleeping. The only clothes on her body are a small white t-shirt and thin white panties which slide into the gap between her buttocks, revealing the gentle curves of her flesh. Her face is turned away from me but I believe it is the same girl from the black and white photos, the same girl that walks into the cave. I can see her chest moving up and down slowly, softly. For a moment she seems a perfect picture of innocence. But who can live here and still retain any semblance of innocence? (This must be the place where innocence comes to die, where it surrenders itself for one final sacrifice. Is this why I have come here? Is this why I have followed this stranger into an unknown house? Have I brought my own sacrifice to this temple of shadows?)
I place my attention back on the young man who has never stopped talking. He hardly ever turns to see if I am still there, as if he assumes that I couldn't possibly go anywhere else.
"We strip away their immortal souls and make machines of them, we take away what is free and light in them and leave dead robots behind, fat little high fructose corn syrup powered robots to cherish the ideals we hammered into the hole we tore in their hearts. They will hate terror and terrorists. They will love America and God. They will hate what we tell them to hate. They will love what we tell them to love. Their ears and belly buttons will be washed and their homework will be done. And they will grow to be like us."
The house we have entered is shaped like a thick L, with each end crowned by an elegant wooden door that leads to the outside. Inside, the light is low and shaded in red and green. At the corner of the "L" there is a long table, covered in a ripped and stained tablecloth. Two women and two men sit on small metal chairs at the table. When I first see them, I am afraid that they will be alarmed by my presence. But soon I realize that they couldn't care less who I am or why I am there. (How many strangers must come through here at all hours of the day or night? There is a kind of comfort in the thought, a space where everyone is equally welcome, everyone is equally foreign.)
One woman prepares a crack pipe with the careful tenderness usually reserved for babies or works of art. She is wearing only a slip over a pair of tight white shorts. One of the men, a skinny older Caucasian wearing thick glasses and a sleeveless undershirt, anxiously stares and waits for his turn. The other two angrily discuss their current situation, always precarious, always on the brink of a complete catastrophe that has already started but never quite comes to an end. The second man is a middle aged Latino, wearing jeans and a buttoned up shirt. The woman is older and hints of sadness and deep resignation recurrently wash over her wrinkled face. She wears a black T-shirt and a ripped red skirt.
The young man keeps on moving and I keep on following. He walks by the quartet without saying hello. I follow his example. I hear one of them whispering as we pass them by. (Maybe they do notice me briefly, maybe they have seen many girls like me before, maybe they know what happens at the end of this adventure. In this way they are blessed for they know much more than I do. My ignorance is frightful, my ignorance is appealing, my ignorance is warm like a blanket, my ignorance is heavy like a dark cloud.)
Behind the table, there is a broken door that leads to a long bathroom. I follow the young man into the bathroom. None of it makes sense to me, but it hasn't made sense since the beginning, so there's no use in starting to ask questions now. (Or rather, I will continue to ask questions but I won't worry too much about trying to get answers. I can't ask the mutilated cow what happened in the middle of the night, and yet I can see it, I can touch it, I can keep it in my mind and make it gyrate to try to get it to somehow surrender its mysteries, its invisible chains of causes and consequences. Can I ask more of my present than I can ask from a dead mutilated cow?)
Inside, behind a ripped plastic curtain, there is a stretched out shower stall with three different shower heads, designed so that three or more bodies can bathe simultaneously. The tiled floor is covered in grime, it smells of urine and sperm and vomit.
The young man opens a drawer and takes out a long red tube with two silver metal prongs at the end. He shows me the device and explains that it is used to administer strong electric shocks. He asks if I will try it with him. I ask him if it hurts. He says it does. My eyes are wide open and a cold wave of fear is pulsing up my back. But it's too late to say no to anything, it's too late to play hard to get when I have already surrendered. In this game I am the playing field and he is the only contestant.
I say I'll try and ask him to start slow since I didn't know what to expect. He nods absentmindedly. (In the scheme of ordinary thought there are only two poles for experience: normal or evil. What I am about to experience is definitely not normal.)
Just then I notice a young boy sitting on the floor, in the shadows. He is playing with several little plastic toy cars and tiny plastic soldiers. He makes soft explosive sounds with his mouth each time one of the little figures gets shot. He looks up at me and smiles. I smile back at him and just then I feel a surge of electricity against my arm. I jump up in shock. The little boy laughs and points up at me. The young man laughs as well. Then he begins talking again.
"We will make them want us, want us for the toys, the shoes, the clothes, the sweets we can buy. That is how we buy their affection, that is how seduce their desire. They will wail for these things, the fruits of our Empire, never knowing the taste of earth and air and sun and water. We will give them corn to eat in all of the colors of the rainbow forged in the shapes of cartoon characters and steroids to make their lungs pump even when there is no oxygen left to breathe and technology to cast its light over their pallor and more fucking liquid corn to leave them thirsty for more and more and more…They belong to us and to no other, certainly not to themselves. Whatever they are, whatever they were or might have been, it will be smothered like the unwholesome flame that it is."
The only light that seeps into the bathroom comes from a high little window that also brings with it the constant wave of screams, curses and laughter that washes in from the alleyway outside.
The young man is standing next to me, smiling lasciviously. He strikes me again with the electrical prod. I jump up and manage to half muffle a scream. Two tears slip from my eyes and slowly make their way down my cheeks. The young boy again laughs and points at me with wide eyes. (I feel the urge to stop what is happening. I feel the urge to run away and forget. But I can't stop listening. I can't stop the raging need to see what waits at the end of the tour, to feel, to sense, to remember.)
"Death shall not have them, for we will never let them live. They will die before they can be born, to satisfy our hunger, to stave off the orgy of fear that is existence. They will never be here, will never know now, will always be spirited away by our incessant diversions, left as ghosts slumped on sofas with crumbs in their creases."
He prods me again and this time the electrical shock is too intense. For an instant I try to grab hold of myself, but I find myself falling. He holds me by the shoulders and gently slides me down to the floor. I feel the dirty wet floor underneath me. Somehow I don't care, in a way it feels comforting to be laying down here with the dirt and the urine and the sperm. The little boy is still pointing at me, his mouth wide open. There is a black gap between his front teeth.
"And the few who suspect that they have been denied the most precious gift we could give will be punished for their intelligence, for their pure heartedness and courage. The brave and the curious and the noble of our brood will suffer the worst tortures so that we may enjoy our cannibal feast, unperturbed by remorse or anxiety."
The young man is taking out other gadgets. He tells me to strip and I do as he says without thinking. I am looking up at the ceiling which seems to be an orgy of constant fractal movement, bright colors moving in all directions, shapes shifting so often that I can't try to guess at what they are. (I wonder if he has given me some kind of drug without my knowledge, but maybe I have made the drug myself, out of my own need for new horizons, out of the frayed edges of my hungry eyes.)
The young man hooks some wires to my mid drift. More electricity surges through my body. It is not as shocking as before, it feels oddly stimulating, like a general soft tickling that is never strong enough to be uncomfortable and yet won't let me rest. I tell him I like the way it feels. I moan lustfully and I urge him to turn it up. He smiles down at me and I smile back. I feel sweat forming on my forehead, on my chest. My knees open without any conscious decision on my part.
The skinny older man wearing thick glasses steps into the bathroom and looks at me nodding. Then he turns towards the toilet and urinates right in front of me. I giggle and the little boy laughs loudly, his laugh echoing in the confined space. I slowly lose consciousness while I stare at the old man's penis and the yellow arch of his urine which emerges from the circumcised head.

I wake up in a small very dark room. The windows are covered with two layers of curtains and a thick old blanket taped to the window. I am laying on the floor, wearing only a white t-shirt and underwear. A young Latin girl lies sleeping on a ripped up mattress next to me. She is covered in cold sweat and wears only a thin summer dress. Her breathing is shallow and labored, her face squeezes painfully every few minutes and her dried tears have left a spider web of discolored makeup all over her cheekbones. Hanging on the wall close to her head there is a little wooden crucifix; taped up underneath it, the photograph of an older smiling woman with gray hair.
(No matter where we are, we must eventually believe in something. The forms will change, the urge will remain the same. Belief is a door too easy to shut.)
I hear the voice of the young man coming from a room next door.
"We will never need to atone if we nip truth in the bud, snuff out the first smoldering spark before a wild fire can grow and spread its crimson fingers over the hearts of our children, taking them forever from us . Never will the passion to live flower within and eat them alive and transform them from worms into butterflies. They are ours alone to devour."
I turn to look at the doorway. I see two Latin men staring at the two of us. They both wear checkered shirts and well worn thick blue jeans. I open my mouth to say something but I can't figure out what to say. (Am I the intruder here or are they? Or is everyone here a passing shadow in an old haunted house with no true inhabitants?)
I hear the young man's voice fading. He is walking away. Our little encounter has ended.
After some time of laying there staring up at them, the two men turn to leave. I slowly stand up. I find my clothes laying on a corner, mixed in with other clothes that I don't recognize. Everything is soaked with sweat. I get dressed quickly, then I slowly find my way out.
In one of the hallways that leads to the street, two shirtless teenage boys smoke marijuana and trade jokes and conspiracies amongst themselves. One of them has a large scar across his chest and a fresh bruise around his right eye. The other one has two fingers missing from his left hand, he uses the stumps to scratch his running nose.
Using the joints as pointers, they discuss places and possibilities, people and betrayals, histories and legends. In their words, a trail of bubbling life pierces through the scratched up walls and the pungent smell of vomit that seeps in through the outer gates, along with loud horns, angry threats and a crackling radio playing an ancient song of harvest.
I hear the trail of their words as I walk by:
"Fattened as they are with the sloth of caged animals..."
I step outside and bright sunlight hurts my eyes. I close the door behind me and walk away.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Singing With Babies


Pale sunlight streamed in through the glass windows on either side of the narrow room. It was almost 7pm and soon she would have to put the babies to bed. She would somehow convince their little bodies that it was time for sleep even though it was still light outside. But before she tucked them away for dream time she sat each one on the padded dinning room chairs that surrounded the oversized antique wooden table and turned on her black laptop. Jonas sat closest to her and Noah on the chair beside him. She pushed the computer to a center point on the table between them.
Noah started to clap his chubby hands as he saw the LCD screen come to life. Jonas, looking so small in the straight-backed chair, waited patiently, watching curiously and quietly as the Windows sound and screen prompts popped up one by one. Noah let out a small excited wail as she plugged in the computer’s mouse and then found the right folder and file and pressed play.
“Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow!” It was part of her daily vocal training and she sang the syllables loudly going up the musical scale. The wooden floor and furnishings bounced her voice right back and the sound was crisp and resonant.
Jonas seemed stunned and looked at her excitedly with a big bright toothless smile that puffed out his fatty cheeks, a smile that showed he was not quite sure what he was hearing, but he liked it. For him, it was all new. His experience was fresh and his eyes widened when she sang. He laughed too, with every meow meow phrase he erupted into tiny giggles of delight.
“Meow meow meow meow meow meaow meow meow meow!”
She sang along with the prompts of the recording. Jonas looked back and forth from the psychedelic screen saver that accompanied the music to her, mesmerized by the combination of what he saw and heard. She wondered if music and those transforming colors of never ending possibilities would always be linked in his mind, she hoped so.
Jonas started clapping his tiny hands, bobbing his head up and down rhythmically to his own beat. Noah sang a little under his breath, a sound that seemed sort of like speech, but was flavored by melody. She looked at them as she sang, opening her eyes wide, raising her eyebrows, sending her energy towards them in pure unabashed delight.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

There Was A Song About Them


There was a song about the houses, the little boxes made of ticky tacky… you know the song perhaps? Maybe you heard it first sung by an Indian gentleman on a short plane trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles or in endless variations on a late-night television program or on an old recorder long ago dumped in the trash. Perhaps you know the song about the houses.
If you have never seen them, the houses of blue, green, red and yellow, you might think that it was only a song, a silly song, a symbolic song highlighting the rote and under-whelming achievements of modern man. You might think that they were not literally boxes if you had not seen them as I, Earl Winters, have seen them.
They line up as neatly as boxcars on rails of track along the faces of those low, verdant, mist shrouded hills, traversing from the fringes of San Francisco into the deep dank moors of fog-covered Daly City. If you know anything about moors then you know that they conceal mystery and hide their phantoms. You know that hidden in that ever-present gray are the deadly secrets of the transmutation of matter and their link to moon cycles. To see these little boxes, however, dispels any fear of the unknown, blots out any possibility for variance, and suggests infinite uniformity, for though there’ s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one, they’re all just the same.
See the all-American family seated together in the dining room, hands clasped, heads bowed in prayer, meatloaf garnished with a sprightly sprig of parsley grown in the victory garden out back. After dinner father reads the paper, mother washes the dishes, little Sally and Tom play with the silky terrier, and the baby plays on the rug in the living room.
If you wish to enter this century, well then, mother throws out the designer paper plates before heading for the bath and father examines the world news on his iPad while Sally texts her boyfriend while baby snuggles in her lap and Tom plays a graphic and gory first-person shooter game designed by the US Army recruiting agency on the Xbox.
Pick a year, 1956 or 2011, if you peek into the little boxes and peel away the curtains, if you can somehow manage a glimpse into their tightly sealed world, you’ll find the inhabitants doing the same things at approximately the same time from one box to the next. You can depend on it. Most of the time.

I have suggested that this century is the 21st and that I, Earl Winters, am familiar with the box houses and what goes on inside of them. I know what goes on in much of the world in fact. It is my job to know. If you have ever listened to Half Moon Bay Radio KWMA, my name may have seemed familiar to you. I am radio journalist, Earl Winters, former host of Important Points, your daily investigative news journal. There is nothing about the workings of the world that I haven’t learned either as a kid on the streets of New York or in some press conference or news room or even on a battlefield or two. That is to say that I knew quite a bit before I ever visited 119 Santa Clara Avenue in San Francisco, right on the cusp of the moors.
I have told you that I am a journalist, but have I mentioned that it was terrible soul bruising work that turned my eyes into bleeding wounds and the only balm I found to sooth them was poetry? To smooth the broken glass and barbed wire of guerilla warfare from my voice I went twice a week to a café on Shattuck Ave. near the radio station where I worked, Café Nouveau Paris. I went to read things I had scribbled down in tiny notebooks to a room full of self-proclaimed poets and orange walls and glazed croissants.
That is where I first saw Theodora, smiling at a tiny round table, golden strands of hair falling over her gray-blue eyes, nervously shuffling sheets of paper with long bent fingers. I came in from the streets and noticed her immediately. The rest of the night I tried to be near enough to speak to her. I looked for an open seat or table, I thought of trite scenes I had seen in movies, dropping my napkin or spilling my tea, whatever I could do to prick her effervescent bubble.
I stood mostly paralyzed by the wall until the opportunity came. She was standing under a lamp and reading a small hand-written sign that asked for donations in a roundabout way. Poetry is all about the roundabout. Here, even a sign was indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity.
I told her I liked her poems even though I could not remember them. I said that I had felt something kindred in them even though they were entirely incomprehensible, possibly only gibberish as far as I could tell. The poetry of her was in her smile, her posture, her tousled hair.
I suggested getting together to share more poetry. I gave her my card and as she read it, waited several long seconds for her to recognize my name. The recognition never came. In fact, studying the card she had to ask:
“Important Points, that’s… a radio show, or internet based thing?”
She liked that it was radio, I could see it in her smile. And that smile filled me up with a mint-scented air that I could sense cleansing the deepest part of me, moving through me as incense drifts though a room. She told me eagerly, as if this now assured me that we were friends, that she created music with a group that called themselves Pleroma. I said I’d love to hear their music, and she eagerly gave me a card which contained the internet addresses in which to find their sounds.
That night I went home and found the place in space-time where Theodora’s voice existed, her screams and deep guttural tones came through my speakers and filled me with a light I had not seen before.
Four months passed in which I sat at that round table next to Theodora reading her my poems, listening to hers, telling the stories of my life to her round blue eyes and trying desperately to wring some from hers. I endeavored to create other meetings with her, suggested a visit to the rose garden, expounded upon my desire to collaborate, prayed for a rainstorm so that I could offer her a ride home.
For all my effort, I saw her once a week in the same place at the same time, in the Café Nouveau Paris for the open mic session on Thursdays. Each week I asked for something and got a basket of smiles and an invitation to come improvise and record something with Pleroma in the house at 119 Santa Clara Avenue in San Francisco, right on the cusp of the moor.
Four months passed and I thought she must love me. Four months passed and I knew that I loved her. Four months passed and she gave me so little, but it was something. At last when she stopped coming to the Café Nouveau Paris I felt it was time to be bold.

There was a song, about the houses, the little boxes made of ticky tacky… you know the song perhaps. The house at 119 Santa Clara was one of these little boxes on the hillside, an orange one with a sage bush out front and a white car in the driveway. It was into one of these boxes that I, Earl Winters, set foot on a summer evening in the 21st century.
Yes, Theodora was there to hug me at the door and invite me inside, to offer me tea and introduce me to Leigha and Ferdinand and the others that had come to call that evening. Leigha was petite with dark curly hair and heavily shadowed eyes. I thought she was quite lovely, the complete inverse of Theodora, brooding where the other woman was flippant, unhurried where the other was fleet, dark where the other was light.
Unlike Theodora, Leigha was aware of my radio show and comfortable with bringing up politics and the things of the world to which I was accustomed. Ferdinand joined in our chatter. We stood in the bright living room and yes, I smelled the faded sweetness of amber incense, saw the chalice on the mantle, the flickering candles and a bowl full of silvery leaves, but I thought little of it.

They took me downstairs to the studio that Theodora had often times referred to as the underworld in her invitations. Poetry is all about the roundabout. Every sign is indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity. The underworld was filled with electronic gear, guitar and microphone cables were spread over the floor like the thick dark chords of an enormous spider’s web. Lines from Theodora to Ferdinand, from Ferdinand to Leigha, Leigha to the Russian fellow that had arranged some of their live shows (Theadora had introduced him as their priest)…electronic lines to a guitarist, lines to me, to a microphone placed inches from my mouth.
I turned on my small laptop to find the poems within. In the walls of this unfamiliar lair, surrounded by large pieces of artwork and installations within the confines of open cabinets, I grasped at the known, the familiar. I held onto my computer and tried to smile though I was aware that the tiny, scared boy of fifty years ago was slipping through my eyes.
After Leigha lit small white candles and turned off the lights Ferdinand took a seat at the twelve o’clock position of the circle. It was then that I noticed the shadow cast on the wall behind him, the silhouette of Ferdinand with horns rising from his temples.

In the other boxes on the hillside there were cars and washing machines and children’s bicycles in the same spot where we sat entangled. All-American families were seated together in their dining rooms above their garages, hands clasped, heads bowed in prayer, meatloaf garnished with a sprightly sprig of parsley. Where there should have been a garage at 119 Santa Clara there was instead an underworld in which I had unwittingly descended pursuing a poem.
A poem composed of more than words and letters. A poem of soft white flesh and laughter that could lift me from the sadness of my afternoons. Poems that multiplied, mirroring each other in their glory, just as the sun is more beautiful followed by the cool light of the moon. I basked in both lights at once, amazed that such a thing was possible.
Whatever else I saw that night, whatever transformations occurred, I wrote them off the following day as tricks of the night, as the side-effects of medication from my minor eye surgery.

In the light of day I thought of the slow, moon-shrouded poetry of Leigha, who I felt was more receptive to my attention than Theodora had ever been. Her eyes were ink pools waiting for entrance. Poetry is about the roundabout. Every sign is indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity. She had looked into me, found me waiting there, had welled up with emotion as we created music together.
Leigha, petite with dark curly hair and heavily shadowed eyes, I sent her an email and told her how I loved her, just as much as I loved Theodora. In my carefully thought out verse I confessed my desire to know her, to be with her alone just as I had been alone for many months with Theodora. I suggested a picnic and drive to Bolinas. I described watching the colors of the sunset and sharing dreams. I imagined sitting beside the soft poetry of her body, touching the warmth of her hands.
The response I received turned my chest immediately into stone, leaving me more than cold, as I read the words the poems in me crumbled into nothingness. It read as follows:
"Thank you for your email and working with us today. We read your email carefully. We understand what you are perceiving and feeling, but there are just some things that cannot happen. We are trying to do something unusual. This means there are some things we do not do. We would like you to be part of our creative projects, but the kind of thing you described in your email would be outside of the possibilities. We hope you understand. We like you very much and would like to keep doing creative projects with you. We know that the kind of contact we have had is rare, and we would like to maintain that kind of rare contact with you. It will just have to stay within certain limits. Love, Theodora, Ferdinand and Leigha."

It was the impossibility that the three of them had read my email together and responded in concert that led me to uncomfortable conclusions. Whatever I had seen, whatever had happened, it was the email that guided my regard of the happenings at 119 Santa Clara.
I responded to the email saying that I was hurt with Leigha’s disclosure of my message to the others. She responded that it had not been their intention to hurt me, it had simply been their intention to tell the truth. A week later I wrote Thedora;

“It is not possible that I was understood by the collective mentality of your exalted group, as exalted as you may be. I poured my heart out to you, and then you and your intensely felt colleague and house mate. So now, the three of you know the heart of my heart of my heart, based on a trusted and risky effort at sharing, and I know almost zero about one of you, and a little more about the others. When I asked to get to know one of your better, I got a group speak response, that felt very cultish in style. May this life, Theodora, bring you endless joy and creativity along with the suffering and struggle...EW”

Her response was an obscure:
“No problem EW, farewell.” Concluded with a smiley face.
I looked up from the short message, unable to focus on any shape around me. The familiar colors and furnishings of my living room were dirty and old in the bright afternoon light. With those final words I felt the last bit of mint drift out of me. The poem had faded, taking my stories with it.

Perhaps you know the song about the houses. If you have never seen them, the houses of blue, green, red and yellow, you might think that it was only a song, a silly song, a symbolic song highlighting the rote and under-whelming achievements of modern man. You might think that they were not literally boxes if you had not seen them as I, Earl Winters, have seen them.
Poetry is about the roundabout. Every sign is indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity. And yet all these houses, all these familiar little boxes, they are all the same, they must all remain the same.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Soulless Things


Later, much later, Andrina was caught in the net of a fisher of men. She was a soulless thing like all of her sisters, except for the youngest who had earned hers through sacrifice. But when that priest looked into her eyes she felt a pang in her chest.
What eyes they were, round and silver like moons with amber striations radiating from the darkness of his pupils. His hair too was silver streaked with black, like lightening flashing in a tempest, it hung long around his face, undulating as the sea in the brisk gale that blew over them, rocking the tiny boat.
Helpless in his net, Andrina gazed back through long black lashes and the pale hair that hung limp and heavy around her face. She had never seen a priest before, and so his long black habit revealed nothing to her of his occupation, but it impressed her nonetheless. She had never seen a fisherman wear such a garment.
He did not speak to her at all before he cast her back into the sea, and after following him and singing her most alluring song to no avail, she at last swam reluctantly back to the depths.

As the tides ebbed and flowed the pang in her chest grew into an unbearable torment. Creatures such as herself do not sleep, but they dream with eyes wide open, concealed in kelp forests whose swaying lulls them like a silent song. But her dreams were only of those eyes and the way he flung her into the sea and never looked back. She could not bear to dream, and soon could neither eat nor sleep. She found no pleasure in the arms of the sailors that she dragged into the watery abyss and sucked their last breath from them with deadly apathy.

Desperately, she followed her younger siblings' example. After arduous searching, she found the sea witch in her caverns, gumming the bones of dolphins and drowned children.
The witch drew herself up out of the silt, stirring the water momentarily to muck. Then her one remaining golden eye locked onto the pale face of Andrina and she commenced to indulge in a laughter which began modestly but soon rumbled through the caverns, disturbing other dark things that once lay sleeping.
“Another little mermaid tormented by love.” the witch gloated, “And with a priest, no less. This should profit me well.”
“Love?” Andrina felt insulted. “I cannot love. I’m sick, witch, and I’ve come for a remedy.”
“Silly thing.” the witch said rearranging some bones to form her magic circle. “You are sick with love. You were contaminated by that priest. You’re only hope is to make him love you back. You must seduce him if you wish to be released from your torment. I will do for you what I did for your sister. I‘ll give you legs. Now hurry and leave before you transform. I love to eat things that have legs. You have one year, and if he hasn‘t made love to you by then, I get to eat you anyway.”
The witch quivered as she spoke this last line. Then her laughter swelled again, shaking slimy things from hidden crevices in the deep.

Andrina arrived with the storm, tossed onto the earth by titanic swells of white capped water. She hated the legs from the moment she stood on them and each step brought pain as though a dagger had been thrust into the arches of those horrible feet. Andrina dragged herself away from the angry mouth of the sea and staggered up the first path that presented itself, up to the church on the cliff. Above her the stained glass sparkled in the darkness, red and blue and gold, candle light flickering from behind so that the colors blinked like stars. The priest's boat was torn from the dock behind her and smashed in the waves while the wind howled and the icy rain pricked her flesh like needles falling from heaven. Naked and shivering, she burst into the chapel where her priest kneeled at the feet of the virgin. He turned as the doors were flung open and she limped, wild eyed and chest heaving, across the threshold to collapse in a pale heap.
With the same somber attitude with which he had cast her out of his net, the fisherman priest rose and shut the chapel doors against the storm. When he lifted her from the floor, Andrina wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips against his, but the priest held still as though a snake were at his feet, his lips unyielding. Then very slowly and gently he pulled his head away from hers as she lost consciousness again.

Having never slept before, Andrina lost a week to slumber in the priest's bed. When at last she awoke he fed her broth and bread, things she had never tasted, things that made her stomach sour. He tried to speak to her, but though her eyes remained fastened to his, she could not understand a word that spilled from his tongue. She tried to kiss him again, but he pushed her sternly, though gently, away.

He converted a store room into quarters for her and showed her how to stuff her own mattress with straw and scented flowers. He made her wear a scratchy gray dress and showed her how to draw water from the well. She was made to kneel before the altar with him several times a day. He attempted to teach her to speak his language though she could scarcely manage to feign interest in the coarse sounds that he uttered.
He taught her to tend the garden, but things of the earth withered in her care.
He built a new fishing boat and took her out with him, and here she excelled. She would cast the net and sing in her own tongue until it was heavy with fish. After discovering this talent he sent her to fish alone and tried to teach her to sing his own music. She would not look at anything written on paper, but he taught her to repeat after him and was amazed by the perfection of her memory. She could perform complex melodies if he sang them or played them for her on the organ but once.

Thus routines were established and Andrina fell into step with her priest, each footfall filling her body with searing pain. Every Sunday he rang the bell and one old woman would trek up the path and take a seat in the pews to listen to the mass and take the sacrament and hear the priest play the organ as Andrina sang. Andrina grew weaker with each passing day. The priest was immune to her physical charm. His eyes were more hypnotizing than her own, his passion distilled into religious fervor. Only her voice could reach him and this he bent into his songs of worship, his will stronger than her heart.
Andrina’s pale hair grew brittle and her eyes lost their sparkle. There were days when she could not move about without the assistance of a cane, and yet worse days dawned when she could not rise from bed at all. Her priest ministered to her then and she followed his eyes with her own, as entranced as if she were in the kelp forests of her home.

The seasons passed, 1, 2, 3, 4 and the old woman from town died. Her casket was carried up the cliff by two men with coarse faces and tight fitting suits. They lowered her into the ground and left the way they had come, walking stiffly down the dusty road. Andrina, supported on her cane, watched them go and thought of how she would like to draw them down into the darkness and suck their last breath from them. The priest prayed for the old woman and buried her and made Andrina come into the chapel and sing.
His language was beginning to make sense to her.
“Ashes to ashes.” she heard, “dust to dust.” It terrified her that she could understand this, she who had once been immortal, she who was now running out of time.

That night, she slipped into her priest's bed and he flung her out, just as he had flung her from his net eleven moons ago. He made her kneel with him and prayed for her forgiveness and salvation the rest of the night. As the dawn broke over the sea outside and peeked through his small window he clasped her face in his hands and said:
“My child, god's love is infinite. Seek his love, not mine. The flesh will die, your immortal soul will go on at his side if you abide by his commandments and do his work.”

Andrina formed her mouth awkwardly over the words leaving large gaps between each utterance:
“My flesh was im-mortal…I lost that to be at your side. I have no soul. Your love is my on-ly salvation, since you caught me in your net. Save me, please, save me, my love.” she wept and the priest, taken aback by her first words since her arrival, turned pale and released her warm cheeks. He clambered to his feet and left her alone on the cold stone floor.

Andrina went out in the boat and sat upon the sea weeping. The wound in her chest had only grown in the months that had passed. She whispered farewell to the sea and the long life which now seemed like a distant dream. She wondered if it had been real at all, or if she had always been a mortal creature, the crippled daughter of a fisherman perhaps, weak minded and fanciful. She wondered if she might escape the witch’s appetite by running from the sea and settling inland, she wondered if she would die somewhere surrounded by stone and root and if some priest would lower her stoically into the earth mumbling about ash.

At that moment the sea hissed and bubbled near the small boat and a black dagger broke the surface of the water, a pale hand wrapped around its barnacle encrusted hilt. As the knife rose into the cool air the sea quieted beneath it and Andrina could see the face of her sister, Arista, just under the shimmering surface, black hair radiating from around the pale oval like the rays of a dark sun. Andrina recognized the dagger that had been cast away by their strange youngest sister long, long, ago in the moment of her sacrifice. Andrina herself had been the one to place it in her hand. Now it was Arista who offered it up. Trembling, Andrina seized the dagger, her finger tips brushing against the cool slick flesh of her sister’s hand before Arista sunk back into the depths. Andrina concealed the dagger under her dress and turned the boat back to shore.

The priest was gone for most of that day. Andrina waited for him in the chapel, but would not kneel at the feet of the virgin. She paced and felt the bite of the earth sting her feet. As dusk approached she nearly gave up hope that he would return, but then he came into the chapel looking pale and weary. She limped to him and shaking he pulled her against his chest. For a moment the pain in her heart was eased, almost transformed to euphoria, but then he spoke into her hair, the heat of his breath touching her scalp:
“My child, my vow is to God. I can do nothing to break my covenant with him.”
She tried to turn her face up to kiss him.
“Save me, please.“ she begged, but he held her until she stopped struggling,
“No!” he cried fiercely though softly, “What you ask for is not saving, you would damn us both!”
The sun was slipping away behind the stained glass, leaving them wrapped in gloom. The moon would rise soon. She fell limp in his arms and wept for a moment longer. Her hand was wrapped around the dagger's hilt as she spoke into his chest:
“I will not die for your God.” She plunged the knife into his belly and he gave a little startled cry as he crumpled heavily around her. “Now you can feel my love, as I have felt yours.” she whispered.
The chapel doors blew open, a sudden gust coming up from the sea. Andrina pushed her priest off of her onto the stone floor where he lay bleeding and gasping like a fish. She took hold of the hem of his habit, and wincing from the pain in her feet, she dragged him out of the chapel and onto the dirt path.

Storm clouds were gathering over the sea and the lightning flashed over the water. Silver against black, like his hair. She pulled him through the dust, ashes to ashes, down the path cut in the cliff, the dagger lodged in his belly, his blood spilling into the earth as they went. The moon was rising, silver over the water, like his eyes, as she stumbled and fell and crawled still dragging him behind her. Her knees were torn by the rocks so that she too bled and her blood mixed with his and with the earth.
On the beach she struggled to her feet and dragged him into the surf, then collapsed with him where the sea met the land. She wrapped her arms around him and sang her most alluring song to him, waiting for the waves to pull them free. The mouth of the sea opened hungrily around them and swallowed them up, pulling them into the deep.
Now Andrina gave him her kiss, drawing him down, down, down with her into the inky depths, far beyond the place that nets can reach, mortal dreams peeling away from them in their descent. She was a soulless thing like all of her sisters, except for the youngest who had earned hers through sacrifice, but when that fisher of men looked into her eyes it left a wound in her heart that not even eternity could heal.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Belief


Belief was a golden-haired child born in the state of desire within the realm of the word.
The word: right, gleaming, sometimes dark and full of clouds.
All was true.
None was true- just like dreams during bouts of thunder.
He had never been in the realm of the Real, cushioned as he was by the pillowy softness of DESIRE and THE WORD; he only caught short glimpses of the Real, tiny fragments of light he could never remember. It was as if they had never happened. The golden-haired child, born on the white bed during the time of blue, little did it know that nothing born of the word could walk in the realm of the Real.

Belief was born in a place where the urge to fulfil needs is transferred into abstract longings whose ends can never be met, a place where yearning goes on and on because there can be no end to yearning. Belief was a necessity, a logical conclusion to such yearning. It worked like a bottle with a cork, how tight it kept all those things locked down. Blue and brown bottles all lined up and evenly spaced on the shelf, tidy and ordered and gleaming like church windows in noonday sun.

Belief was a natural product of desire. Oh, that dress. That kiss, more, more, please.
Whereas a need could be met, a desire knew no fulfillment and so it naturally blossomed into Belief.
Oh, that touch, more, more please.
It is the notion which makes us believe that what one longs for does exist, will happen, is coming eventually to those who are good, to those who believe. The houses they promised, the dream they spoke of, the heaven that awaits after toil and suffering, the approval of the father after a lifetime of whipped dog-like subservience, the love of one and only one other human.
All of it- belief.

Once, not too long ago, Belief knew he was a man of god. He was a street preacher with long blond hair pulled tight behind his head. Many people regarded him as a semi-delusional zealot who imagined he could hear God in his head. He stood by the courthouse steps and told them the evil of their ways. He was a man in an old brown suit that was one inch too short for his pale limbs.
Many people prayed to god. Hands clasped tightly, desires leaking from their mouths. They talked to him, some even thought they heard answers or saw signs in response. But when a man did nothing but stand on the street and preach and shout and lecture to the passers-by about the word of God, the majority, even the church-going people, thought that his mind had slipped into the cave of fantasy. From his own perspective, he was the only one who believed in the lord enough to give up all other things. He saw himself as truly devotional, the messenger, a solider in God’s army.

It all happened for Belief within the realm of the symbolic order. All of this happened because a symbol was not the thing itself. A car was not a car, love was not love. Words, words, symbols. It was like a shadow, it took a shape that couldn't be grasped, a shape that could take on a life of its own and birth new shapes with no correspondences to the Real. These shapes, these shadows with no correspondences, were the makers of DESIRE, the grandparents of Belief. They were dark storms that clouded the Real.

Belief constructed a world around himself, as we all do, to explain his existence. It was elaborate and full of detail, rich in explanations which he liked to share often with whomever would listen. In his world, God spoke to him, God commanded him. There was one word that mattered, one sound that trumped all others. In his world, men could do what they wanted with their women as long as they were married. It was what God commanded, what he actually wanted for the men of earth. He knew that people must be humbled, for now their pride eclipsed their accomplishments, and their ego would not let in the glory of the lord. They needed to experience the low human-state so they could one day experience a higher one.
It was the only way. He knew it. As God’s solider, it was his mission to teach THE WORD. God told him the way to humble these humans who coveted their fine clothes, their hot meals, their whims and merriment.

Belief was a prince in the house of DESIRE. He ran to and fro calling for some action or other in his name. People gladly indulged this spoiled child because it gave them Hope, his lovely sister and wife. She was only another word. Hope lacked anything that could keep it from floating away during the night. Hope was the golden-haired sister of Belief. Sticky, sweet and empty. Always encouraging one to embrace Belief, for if you stuck with him, you would get to taste her sweetness, like dime-store candy.

Once, not too long ago, there was a family that trusted Belief. This family hired him to help repair their roof which had been leaking for many years. He worked at their house for five hours one day.
On the 5th night, as had been his plan for several days, he cut a hole in their screen door, which was partially open to let in the wonderful summer-scented night air. He let himself in while the moon was still high. As everyone slept, he kidnapped Hope from her bed.
He had recognized her as his long lost sister and lover. He took her to the woods where he had told his wife to wait for him under the trees. His wife gave Hope a robe and told her to change into it.

Hope and Belief, together once again, offered justification to the house of desire. Like the children of a couple that has become disenchanted with one another, they were the fantasies that made all other fantasies survive.

A small ceremony was performed and Belief proclaimed Hope as his wife. He become one with her, as he would many times afterwards, many times each day. Hope was found nearly a year later walking on the street of a town she once had seen through very different eyes. The colors she remembered had taken on a fractured quality, as though she had merged with some other creature while chained in the woods. The blue authorities wrote down her words:
"Anything I showed resistance or hesitation to, he would turn to me and say, 'The Lord has commanded you to do this. You have to experience the lowest form of humanity to experience the highest.’ I watched him from the ground, talking as he did with emphatic movements. Then he would get on top of me and humble me once again.”

Belief and his first wife were taken into police custody. They were both declared mentally unfit to stand trial. It was Belief's explanation that the court saw as unstable. His preaching on the courthouse steps, his very thoughts on God.

If we could only have Belief we would join God in Heaven and bring Truth back to life. With Belief’s hand in mine, it was okay to kill and take another’s land. His presence supported actions borne from desire, his company justified all actions. Human thoughts became God’s thoughts.

With Belief at your side, you will do any number of absurd things; set out cookies for an immortal in a red suit, or eat crackers and wine and call it the flesh and blood of your God, or burn a person at the stake, or drive your neighbors from their homes and push them into the sea, or destroy all of the natural resources available to you and the rest of your race. With belief, it is what God desires, what God has asked for in an inaudible voice that shook the walls with its power.

The writer of a particular text about Hope used words like “horrific and sick” to describe Belief. This is the conflict. One man believes he is doing what God wants him to do. He is humbling a young woman so that one day she can reach a higher state, so they can both become what they were meant to be. This is Belief.
One deed is thought of as righteous, the same deed is seen by others as evil. Both are words used to describe an action.

There is nothing that “can’t” or “shouldn’t” be done when you can say that Belief is with you. No door can be closed to you when you come from the house of Desire, frothing at the mouth with want of a satisfaction that can’t be had, golden Belief and fair Hope marching at your side demanding that you take, take, take. Take what you want and say it was for Belief. Your basket is full, Belief is there at your side, a parrot on your shoulder.

Even in custody, Belief continuously sang hymns to himself until he was removed from the courtroom. The world around him was crazy, full of evil men who had no contact with God. He sang to remind himself that he was the one with the truth. He was the one with God on his side. He had to sing to protect his world. He sang to protect his symbolic order, the world he had built for himself, the only world that still had a place for him.

He ran amok under the shadowy banners of the house of Desire within the Realm of the symbolic. There it was glorious, there it was beautiful. In the realm of the Real, Belief and Hope vanished like evil spirits.
In the realm of the Real, you stand alone with blood on your hands, raw animal death under your fingernails, spattered on your face, shivering through your bones.

The Real is void of Gods, void of hope, void of salvation or damnation, void of any branch to which you might cling and profess “It is so!” In the state of the real you would not search for your lost sister, because there is no sister to lose, no “other” to humble or cling to, to subordinate or raise higher. There is an endless sea of “something” which defies explanation, which eludes capture in the realm of the symbolic. Whenever you dip your hand into the well of the Real and try to bring it into the realm of the Word, what you retrieve is transformed from life into death, from unity into separation, categorization and humiliation.

The Real cannot be perceived through the word, not through the damaged eyes of Belief or Hope, made of words as they are.
Nothing that can be said is true.
All those who speak lie, from dawn till dusk they lie and only in the darkness is the truth revealed to them, in their nightly visits to the well of the Real. Something voyages between these two realms, the land of THE WORD and the kingdom of the REAL.
When it is in one state it is one thing and when it is in the other it is another. This something is a voyager, sometimes captured by the gravitational pull of the WORD. To be free of the word and of desire you must sacrifice Belief and Hope, stop expending vital energy in supplication to these false deities. They are closest to you, and therefore easiest to reach.
Then you must tell Mother desire that you know she is a lie forged of the illusory substance of Father word and then your tongue will be tied by the white hot heat that leaves you howling and wriggling as you abandon the WORD, achieving lift off.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Meeting


She pulled up to the café and saw that the lights inside were on still. It was past nine and all the other small cafes along the street were dark. The corner café was spilling its yellowness onto the sidewalk and into the dark night. Even though the lights were on, she could tell it was closed. It had that feeling, something that was finished, but still lingering. She pulled her car alongside the plate glass windows that acted as a wall. She shut the engine off and looked inside. There were two people inside behind the counter, both of them almost blocked from view by the large industrial coffee grinders and stacks of cups.
She put her purse in the trunk, put her cell phone and car keys in her pocket and then got out of the car. She shoved three twenties into her corduroy jacket pocket. She looked again through the café windows and saw Ronnie inside. The barista, now she could tell it was a young woman with long dark hair, was handing him two white paper cups of coffee over the cappuccino maker.
Suza walked away from the front glass door and strolled the length of the café, the entire front wall was made of plate glass windows. With her hands in her jacket pockets, she looked into the empty seating area at the far end of the narrow building. There were wooden tables and chairs and wooden bench seating built into the walls. On the wall above the bench seating were framed pieces of art arranged in a single row.
She turned to the left, towards the registers and the coffee grinders and equipment and saw Ronni standing in front of a narrow table against the window by the front door, fixing his coffee with cream and sugar. He looked up and they made eye contact. He smiled at her in recognition. She looked again towards the paintings on the wall, semi- abstract mountain scenes painted in a neutral orange and red palette. There was a small cork bulletin board just a few feet from her on the wall. It was crowded with so many paper signs, ads and posters that it seemed more like an interactive collage layered with old announcements and flyers.
She heard the sound of the glass door fifteen feet away and she looked towards it, towards Ronnie coming out of the door with two coffee cups in his hands. She walked towards him and he handed her a cup. “They’re closed but they still had some decaf,” he said.
“That was sweet of you,” she brought the cup to her chest, a source of warmth in the cold misty night. “I can’t even drink decaf, I still feel jittery when I drink it, but that was nice of you.”
She felt a mixture of sadness and harshness inside as she rejected his offering, his thoughtful token of affection.
He walked slightly ahead of her, walking towards a row of tables along the wall of the café perpendicular to the front and the street she had parked along. They sat for less than a minute. A wild gust of wind picked up and she felt the wind go inside her jacket, torturing her chest with an icy touch.
“It’s cold,” she said, grimacing slightly. “Maybe there’s somewhere else we can go.”
She looked around at the darkened neighborhood.
“We can go to my car.”
He led her back around the block to the front of the café. His car was parked about ten feet behind hers, leaving a space between them just big enough for another car to fit in. As they were walking he turned around towards her.
“You look really good,” he said with a smile.
She smiled, “You look skinnier.”
“Yeah, I’ve lost a lot of weight.”
It had been a year since they last met at the same café. He was the same, but different.
He opened the passenger door to his tan Volvo and she slipped inside. Inside was the dog she remembered from the time before, a pug with slightly glazed eyes and stinky fur. She avoided touching it. The last time she pet the dog, over a year ago, the smell had not come off her hands for hours. She had washed her hand with soap, poured Listerine and rubbing alcohol on it, nothing worked immediately. This time she avoided touching him, though he leaned his head towards her, practically begging for affection.
The dog kept his skinny hind legs on the back seat and reached towards the front seats by putting his two front legs on the console between the driver and passenger seat.
Ronnie walked around to the driver’s side and got in. Once inside he handed her a small, folded-up piece of aluminum foil.
“There are two five-strips in there, you’ll need to cut them yourself.”
“Oh, they’re not all cut up?”
“No, it looks like this.”
He opened the glove compartment, pulled out a ziplock bag and procured another small folded-up piece of aluminum. He opened the folds of foil and then moved it towards her. There were three strips of paper inside, each about an inch long and an eighth of an inch thick. Ronnie and Suza both peered in, as though they were looking into a doorway or a flashing tv set.
“Shit,” Ronnie muttered as he lost his grip on the feather-light foil and a little strip fell into the nether-region by the car’s gear shift. She let out a little chuckle, wondering to herself how many illicit substances were lost in the caves of his car. Ronnie pulled up the fake walnut veneer that housed the gear shift and found the white little strip (it looked like cardstock or paper used for watercolors) and put it back into the foil.
“Don’t do what I just did,” he said with a smile, “when you’re cutting them, put on some gloves, you’d be surprised how fast it gets absorbed into your skin.”
She nodded. She was a little surprised by how small the strips were. How could such a small thing produce such profound changes in the person that puts it in their mouth?
“So, cut those into five equal strips…”
“Yeah, exactly.”
“How many do you usually take?”
“I take one.”
He said it with such finality and seriousness, looking into her eyes directly with a slightly tilted head, as though he had to make the point and underline it. She was surprised. He had told her stories of taking 5-10 hits of whatever substance he could find, it made her a little nervous that he limited himself to one tab, how strong were they?
“I haven’t tried these ones, but I took some that looked like this a few weeks ago and within an hour, an hour and a half, I was on the floor. I was glad I only took one because I wouldn’t have been able to handle any more."
They’re strong, she thought. She felt a little nervous, her stomach started to turn, her body finding something to worry about.
“I met someone that is interested in DMT, can I give him your number?” she asked.
“I don’t really want to deal with people I don’t know. I would probably deal with him through you, but I’ve never seen DMT commercially available. I’ve made it, synthesizing it from plants, but I’ve never seen it out there in big quantities.”
He leaned over her and reached into the glove compartment again, it was still open. He got a small bit of folded foil and opened it. He turned on the overhead light, which illuminated the substance in his hand, a small crystal, it was smaller than a grain of rice.
“You do speed?” he asked.
She laughed, “No, do you?”
“Yeah," he said.
Now she understood why he was so skinny. She thought she heard him say something about smoking.
“If you are going to smoke that, I should probably go,” she said looking at the door handle by her left knee.
“No, I’m not going to smoke it now,” he said laughing.
She started to feel a slight sense of nausa.
“Speed is something, I mean, if you can’t just do it once or twice a month, you really shouldn’t do it. It can really mess with you.”
She looked at him moving around all jittery. He kept on looking in his rear view mirror and then looking at her and then looking ahead out through the car’s windshield. There was a stoplight twenty feet away, green light beamed towards them. She started to feel paranoid, like at any moment, a car could pull up next to them and turn on its sirens. They were just sitting there talking, but the glove compartment was full of different baggies and any cop would have been following his right instincts to stop and search them.
Avoiding the dog, she sat slightly tilted in her seat.
“Right now,” he said, “the doors are open. We can get coke, heroin, crack, which is just a few blocks from here. There’s molly. Whatever you want. But not DMT. I’m looking to get a big mimosa tree, the bark has DMT in it. Then I can synthesize my own.”
“I’m sure they have one at the nursery on Water Street.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they do, I just don’t want to attract too much attention, you know? I’ve got a garden full of psychedelic plants already. Did you know that the moment you die, your body releases dmt?”
Through an unlit cigarette in his mouth he said, “I think that’s very interesting.”
He pulled a lighter out of his jacket pocket and lit his cigarette.
“I think I am going to step outside,” she said.
“Oh. Does this bother you? I can put it out.”
“Really, you sure?”
“Yeah, I can wait.”
"I think Valaris has DMT in it. I’ve been looking to find that plant.”
“We have valaris. The variegated kind.”
“Which kind is it, there are lots of varieties.”
“You know,” she said, “I’m not sure, it’s variegated. It’s in my friend’s yard, he planted it, not me.”
“The other day I found some really pure molly. See, me and my girl took some hits, they were ok, but they didn’t quite take us there, and once you start, you really want to get there, so we went down to the Falcon Bar and I started asking different people if they had seen my friend mollie. Some girl said, ‘yeah, I know mollie.’ It was this candy raver girl. You know the Falcon Bar? It’s a raver bar. It was such a clean roll. It was exactly what I’d been looking for. I found her later and asked if she could get some more, she had major quantity. We had a big old-fashioned ecstasy orgy at my house a few days later.”
She started to feel something in her stomach. A general sense of ill ease, like something bad would be drawn towards them. Maybe it was the memories of an old life in Santa Barbara, but sitting with Ronnie in the car, his glove compartment full of enough evidence to warrant years of jail time, it just reminded her of a particular level of existence where you were always scared of the cops, or at least looking for them at every moment.
She wondered if it was just her that was paranoid. He had not been paranoid several weeks before when he was comfortable arranging the substance and payment for it over the phone. No code words, no disguise. ‘It’s white on white, 5 bucks a hit.’
She was the one that was worried about the cops, she who remembered so viscerally her life ten years before. As she sat there, her body tilted avoiding not just the dog, but the situation, she realized she was pulling in, not pushing out. She tried to imitate him a little. She realized she was getting fearful. She reminded herself not to pull in or else she would absorb his atmosphere into herself.
She pushed out. She tried to imitate him a little, but she forgot her intent soon after.
He said “You know, I’m not a drug dealer, I’m not trying to make money off this, I just want people to get high and have a good time. When I do LSD, I do it spiritually. I go into the woods and take it. I don’t fuck around."
“Ronnie, I need to go now, I need to go pick up my goddaughters.”
He looked at her very sweetly, he stared at her like he liked looking at her face. She smiled at him and got out of the car. She checked her pocket to make sure the foil was there, then drove her car around the darkened lake, back to her house.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Bird


Light comes in, bursting through the colored landscape with speckled dots of brightness. Moves in like the unwanted visitors who stalk restful sleep. Soon she will remember where she is. The little white room, the single bed with a tri-colored crocheted quilt over her naked body. The little stars of light break through the story of her dark dream. Images of hillsides and trees and a rusted red car leak from her memory, fading fast, spilling, spilling as the light gets stronger. She cannot fight it, it is day and with day comes a bright reality. Four white walls, a single sized bed, a narrow window that looks out into the long, narrow garden. As the colors of her dream drip back into the unconscious, as she fights the tide of consciousness that rushes in, she finds herself too tired to reach for her pen and notebook just inches from her bed on the wooden nightstand. She cannot will her arm to move. It is all right there, but she lets the dreams slip, just like so many other things that have washed back into the dark unruly waves of her nighttime voyages.

Minutes pass, maybe more. Her eyes are open widely surveying the room. The sky outside is cloudy, a thick blanket of white, the same as most mornings here by the sea. Maybe soon, as all things are temporal, the fog will come in full gusts, will water the plants in her backyard with its fine stingy spray. She pushes the quilt off her body with a shove of impatience, the move, though coming from her own limbs, startles her. The impatience seems foreign, though it is all her own. Suddenly, her skin, all warm from a night of thermal incubation meets the cooler air of the small white walled-room. The meeting of two worlds are like tiny alarm clocks on her skin, a thousand little electric needles to her fleshy whiteness. She tosses her legs off the bed and reaches for the sweatpants and oversized white t-shirt on the carpet, the small pile of clothes she wiggled out of more than eight hours before. The t-shirt is thin and white and soft from bleach and time and washings. The tiny alarm clocks begin to fade as the clothes wrap around the contours of her body, all full of curves and roundness, each one calling out in its own voice for touch.

She stands up and looks at herself in the long mirror nailed to the back of her bedroom door. An image familiar, an image that looks like a vision from a dream. Wild shoulder length hair of dark waves that have taken on a medusa madness in the night. Her brown eyeliner is smudged below her eyes and she looks like she should be on her way to some hole in the wall industrial show in the depths of San Francisco, not waking up in her small white walled room, a ceiling of clouds speaking to her through the window. She is different. A different animal than the one who closed her eyes and fell asleep on a flattened pillow. She searches for what has changed, something beyond the mess of hair and piercing eyes, eyes that saw other worlds during the long dark hours. She looks deeper, but realizes suddenly it is not just her, it has all changed. A new layer of dust added to the bookshelf, the slowly dying geranium outside her window, it was all new and different, as altered as she had become by the dream of a rusty red car that would come for her on the street where she lived.

She walks to her bedroom window. The window is narrow, entry or exit from it barred by a crosshatch of decorative iron bars coated in a whitish oxidation along certain edges. The garden outside is lush. Bright bushes of blue hydrangeas are in full bloom which compete with overgrown weeds competing for the same sun. Along all edges of the wooden fence are bushes of deep red geraniums she planted a few months before and a tiny morning glory in a little plastic container that she hopes will one day cover the yard in its curious creeping vines and purplish blue flowers, though right now, the plant is just a few inches tall. Along the back fence, more than a hundred feet away from her window is a massive black walnut tree whose canopy is so wide it covers much of her yard and much of her neighbor’s too. She stares out into the garden many times a day, her patience sometimes rewarded and surprised by the iridescent green shimmer of hummingbirds as they dart quickly among the azaleas, poking their long beaks into the heart of each flower face. More often though, she watches the tiny song birds, more frequent visitors to the garden. Their little brown bodies and fat breasts make her smile with their constant play.

She’s looking out the window and sees a slight movement along the back fence, just a vibration really against the wooden planks but then two pale hands reach up from the neighbor’s yard and grab onto the fence, within seconds a man easily draws himself over the boundary between the two yards. She is startled and still, her mind actively remembering each lock in the house she secured in the night before she slipped out of her clothes and into her soft bed. She does not make any move, her breathing slows. He looks up into the wide canopy of the black walnut tree, his hands on his hips. He is a white man, thin but not frail, though nowhere close to fit. He’s wearing brown slacks and a short sleeved white button up shirt, his clothes reminding her of a mid-level bureaucrat from the fifties or perhaps a director of a small funeral home in the middle of the country where time and fashion is still decades behind. She has never seen him before, is startled and alarmed at first by his presence, but her fear turns into curiosity when he does not walk towards the house but instead, climbs the black walnut tree along the back fence. He perches on one of the lower branches, squatting slightly. She notices his feet are bare and very white.

Her attention is diverted from the man as a fat songbird flies close to her window, circling in front of a small geranium bush with deep red flowers and then makes a straight line to the man in the tree. The man watches as the bird approaches and he opens up his hands as it flies nearer. The bird lands in his cupped hands and stays for a few moments. Both the man and bird are still, looking at each other until suddenly the bird takes off and flies up, landing on a near vertical branch at the top of the tree.

The man closes his eyes. He stays like that for a while, though she cannot see his slightly creased forehead, she can sense his intense concentration, his stillness, he seems to both expand and contract, yet is still, getting lighter, lifting as though the wind were picking him up in a gentle embrace. Wind full of summer jasmine and the threat of seaweed-scented fog. She watches him through changed eyes, sight altered by dreams and time. She notices his white shirt, the way his chest begins to protrude just a bit more, pushing against the plastic buttons along the front, the same sort of movement she has seen the little brown songbirds doing in the puddles of her concrete patio after a rainstorm. As she watches, his pale white skin turns a pale shade of blue while thin, long blue and brown speckled feathers sprout on his thin arms. His bare feet turn darker, then become black and claw-like. A weak breeze moves through the leaves of the tree, the tiny song bird at the top takes flight. In a moment the man is covered in feathers. He opens his arms wide, ducks below the lowest hanging branch of the black walnut tree and flies away in the direction of the ocean, his blue and brown feathers becoming a dot, then vanishing completely against the white overcast sky.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dinner For Alice


The hunger was undeniable. Alice would awaken in the dead of the night, stomach growling, feeling stretched as though it might break into pieces. At first, always at first, she would try to be quiet, she would try not to wake up Ben, then she would remember that Ben was gone. She was alone.
It was the cold hard fact of this singularity that drove Alice into the yard, into the victory garden that had fallen into fecund disrepair since his departure. After a day spent in tears and rotating cycles of hair tearing and screaming, she would fall, utterly spent upon the bed and almost forget his absence in the dark desperation of sleep. Until her stomach called her awake, gurgling, forgotten and denied during the regularly scheduled emotional storms of the daylight hours.
In the endless torrent of wishes for her own death, for the death of Ben’s new flaxen haired lover, for Ben’s death, there was no time or motive to take sustenance. But in the darkness, after the exhausted blackouts, her appetite would take control and lead her barefoot into the yard. Under the pale white face of the moon Alice would kneel in the dark soil between the bug eaten chard and rhubarb. With one trembling hand she would scoop up a hand full of dirt and greedily thrust it into her mouth, wriggling worms and all. Turning over rocks she would lick at the scurrying surface, swallowing things that were still moving.
She fed with urgency and abandon, alternating between unturned bricks or stone and fistfuls of cool moist dirt. And when she was satiated she would return to the house, crawl with dirty fingernails back into bed and sleep until dawn, whence the appetites of the night would give way to the convulsive grieving of the day.
The nighttime excursions came to be extended. Rather than returning to bed Alice spent the rest of the night walking through the neighbors' yards, skirting around the edges of houses and tool sheds and compost bins, sometimes stopping to feed in a freshly tilled flower bed. In the early hours of morning before sunrise she would creep home, entering through the side gate, back into the yard, through the back door.
Pleasantly tired, she could sleep away the hours of the day. She tacked cardboard over the windows to keep the light out. As long as the sun was barred from the house, grieving could be suspended. Alice rested peacefully in her dirty bed, a layer of soil accumulating between the sheets. Waking after dark, her stomach crying with pain, she came to rise instantly with the knowledge that she was alone, that there was no one who could see her, no one who could stop her from doing what she wanted to do, no one to stop her from eating what she most craved. And what she craved for a time was the earth itself and the things that hid within it.
The change was gradual. Her skin first developed a certain sheen. It darkened. Then it began to harden. Her legs and arms had grown just a little longer. Her movements during her nightly excursions were quicker. There was a sound that her altered feet made over the concrete and asphalt, a soft skittering as she moved fleetly into the shadows along the walls.
Alice herself, resigned weeks ago to dying, accepted the changes unquestioningly. With a goal as simple as death, anything that happened in between was superfluous. As the changes came, however, as Alice pursued her appetites without regret, the death wish diminished, even vanished. Alice no longer thought of herself at all. She simply followed her instincts.
Her new form demanded greater sustenance. Neighborhood cats began to disappear. Soon the power lines bore pitiful photocopied announcements of reward for the safe return of a handful of different family dogs. One night Alice went out into the garden and spread her new pair of shiny black wings. In the city she kept to the alleys, terrifying the homeless drunks hidden beneath papers and soiled sleeping bags.
They had nothing to fear however, Alice had a hankering for something particular. She found it around the corner from a popular new nightclub; a young man laughing and wobbly with intoxication tugging a pretty young woman into the alley with him.
“What was that?” the young woman asked sharply peering into the darkness ahead of them.
“Nothing, nothing baby.” he cooed. Alice shuffled closer.
“Uh uh, no way, I’m out of here.” The woman broke free and hurried out of the alley, back to the street and its lights.
“Mary hold on.”
He called after her, but only managed to lean against the wall catching his breath. He laughed a little as he started towards the street and lost his footing. Alice scurried forward and took hold of him, mandibles sinking into his soft pink flesh as he screamed. The sound was drowned out by the beat from the club next door. Soon it ceased entirely, transformed into the gurgling of his own crimson internal fluids as they spilled from his lips.
Alice thought that he reminded her of something called Ben, although she could no longer quite recall what Ben was. Nonetheless, she felt sure that Ben was what she wanted, and this was almost it. She found it deeply satisfying.