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There is almost nothing left now. You’d think I would be able to recall something, anything, but no dice. Because of course there isn’t. The nature of the universe is one large all-consuming electromagnetic gray void, I sit in the void, look at my hands, try to remember where I came from and why I’m here. Nothing left, only the white noise and the fog rolling in over my sclera. Scant time to remember the world as it once was. There were people, other people just like me. Try to see their eyes in the darkness. No. No dice.

It is a calm summer night in the suburban sprawl and I’m walking home from a concert. Cars pass me by on the right, I’m going to get run over. Most of them are coming from the new shopping complex that was just installed about 3 miles out, some of them turn into the cul-de-sac, while others race on toward the city. I’ve never been to the city in my life. I should visit sometime. Might be fun, I could make a day out of it. Right now, however, my head is still throbbing from the overpriced tickets and the lousy stereo system, the feet all stomping in unison and the guy who asked me if I would take a picture with him sticking his tongue out of his green lizard mouth. I don’t know why I go to these venues, maybe I’m a masochist or maybe it all boils down to simple boredom.

The sun is clearing the horizon and everything is viewed through a purple kaleidoscope held by a mad jester who points in my face and laughs. To my right is the Boulevard of broken dreams, long, arduous, filled with traffic, headlights piled upon headlights, and on the left of this narrow strip there’s a 10-foot-tall fence that surrounds a gated community. Under my feet I can hear the wine bottles and discarded CD cases cracking. It’s one of those evenings that really makes you want to get home as soon as possible, reminds you that the world is a chaotic place and you’re always open to the next thing. As if this isn’t enough, the heavens pour, and the street is abruptly drenched.

This narrow strip is like a bowling alley, you slip on it too easily and your leg could get crushed by the wheels of an oncoming semi. I consider briefly flagging down a ride but it’s only a few blocks from here, so against the wash I press on.

The drops speed up and they grow in size, and looking for shelter I find refuge in a dead-end alley. It seems familiar to me, although I’m sure that despite being under a mile from my home, I’ve never been here. Something about the arrangement of the pipes, or maybe it’s the stack of boxes that are decomposing slowly in a fresh puddle. Maybe it’s the smell of the place, a smell that is simultaneously acrid and pungent, one of old rusty coke bottles and empty promises.

In a small opening directly to my left that measures maybe two feet from side to side and stretches back into darkness, an alley within an alley, I catch sight of a man wearing a suit. He looks as if he came from a business meeting, but now he crouches here on a precipice, holding himself up and cocking his head back, filling every orifice with rainwater that filters among the turrets and gates above. Suddenly he turns away from the night and focuses on me instead, from his vantage point I can only be seen between two walls with a puzzled expression on my face. His hair is as wet as mine, in strands it falls down, ruining his clothes and covering his fingers in a thick coat of secondhand residue. For over a minute we lock eyes and stare at each other, musing as one over the strange predicament we find ourselves in.

He pulls something from his pocket. A flashlight. He points it directly at me, it fills my field of vision and the night vanishes, replaced by a blinding, searing rash. I flinch and step back from the opening, he remains expressionless, saying nothing but knowing all, and I am caught in his field, a foreign intruder dabbling in a private club. He makes it well known that my presence will not be accepted here. He stands, and as I run back down the alley to the street, shielding myself off from that piercing glow all the while, he follows in stead and leaves his secluded recess. All the while training the light directly onto me.

I run for what feels like a week, my shoes wearing out. Need to buy new ones when I get the opportunity, but right now this concrete tightrope is all that separates me from the man with the light. Need to reach the park, can’t scramble up this pile of monumental granite, can’t risk walking into oncoming traffic, gutter is full of mud that flows and oozes along in little rivulets. Need to reach the park, need to run.

I am at a casual social gathering arranged by some of my friends who have a warped sense of humor. Some kind of music is coming from the speakers but I don’t recognize it, it isn’t the kind of music that would liven up an occasion, it’s melancholy and distant. Or maybe I’m only imagining that.

Someone I’ve never seen before is sitting opposite me on the couch, watching the TV with a blend of annoyed detachment and boredom, his eyes glazed over and his pants coated in a fine layer of powder. He looks at me slowly, scanning my demeanor. The light is low in the room and we’re surrounded by small islands of conversation, none of which I can make out. This stranger’s face is lit by a yellow hue. I can’t identify the source of said ambient discoloration, but it distorts his features and adds perspective and depth to them. There is a cinematic quality to it.

“Phase shift,” he says. “I’ve seen it before, keeps you going. Some dread it. My advice is to enjoy it while it lasts. After this you won’t have much to subsist on.” Something about that last qualifier- subsistence- strikes a nerve in me, and my spinal cord begins to twitch and jerk with anxious laughter.

The party is wonderful and although it’s lit like a funeral, we all engage in unbridled reverie long into the night.

It’s midday and the sun is hot. Coming in through the windows at a hundred and ten degrees, I mop my brow as my sweat collects and pours down my face in little rivers and eddies. My coworker is monitoring the ice cream machine. She doesn’t notice that there’s blood in the mixer. I don’t bother telling her that, it would ruin the mood, and why ruin the mood when you’re a dedicated adherent to the brand?

The door makes an electronically generated chime and my coworker drops the ice cream cone to take care of the order of an elderly gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair and a tweed suit. I rush over to the ice cream machine and stick my hand under it, gathering the blood, watching it slowly come out in the shape of the funnel, and sometimes it mixes itself into the frozen treat and other times it doesn’t, but it’s always there. I look around the main dining area. Tables and stools, all empty except for one couple away in the corner. He’s telling her about something, throwing his hands around and devouring a sandwich like a carcass, she’s looking at her phone and isn’t paying any attention. Who can pay attention during this record-setting heatwave? Who can ignore the dead air, the still silence, the prismatic refraction of the window? Whoever could has more restraint than I knew was feasible.

I taste some of the mess, it tastes like when you cut your fingers open and you think about what you’re made of, how this fluid is the substance of life. Tastes just like that. My associate doesn’t notice, she goes on, clutching the clipboard where she records the gentleman’s order and smiling that artificial smile with the preprogrammed routine. Doesn’t she see that I’m tampering with her product, getting my sticky fingers into everything, breaking company policy? What can she see, and how much of it is true?

Useless hypotheticals, every last one of them an exercise in futility. It’s too hot in here, too clean in here, the floor is mopped every hour on the hour and the bathrooms are held to a standard lest the health inspector make his monthly visit and finds that the fryer has been coated in dead flies. I saw them once, they were gathered back there. Like something from a dream, their bodies in front of the bubbling grease. Blocked it off with a tube of foil. Probably still reproducing. Wings buzzing, larvae hatching.

And I wonder where this blood comes from, but I have no time to process this quandary because it’s so hot outside, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk, so I shovel the mixture into my gaping maw, taking shovelfuls of it into me, trying to create equilibrium between my internal systems and the external world, the cruel and sloppy mess that is the restaurant at noon.

My coworker turns around from the elderly gentleman and notices that the ice cream machine is working on its own, ice cream is going to waste, falling through the slats in gallons. There isn’t any blood. She tries moving the handle to the off position but something is blocking it. She puts her hands through me, finally smacks the machine and calls her supervisor. He’ll call a repairman, he’ll be here tonight. She goes back over to the gentleman and apologizes, then resumes taking the order. The ice cream keeps dripping down, its formula has been diluted and the tank up top has halted the freezing process.

I blink twice, and as I do the couple fades out and then my coworker fades out. There is blood on my hands and I am standing in an empty restaurant next to a cold humming automaton. The tiles below my feet are hard. I look up at the other equipment and smile softly. This is how things have gone. This is how far things have come.

It is early morning and your ears are filled with a strange cyrillic ballad. Out of habit you reach up toward your ears to remove your headphones but find you’re not wearing any. The Russian stands out like newsprint on a dawn that could have come from a late 18th-century painting. The sidewalks are idyllic, devoid of pedestrians, and the trees are dripping with fresh dew from the night before, when the rain came down in torrents and blanketed the street. It was another world out there last night, an archaic pit of tension, and if you had stepped out into it then you would have been sucked away by the howling winds, but for the moment everything is calm and the orange hues of the world develop their vibrance while far away on the horizon the storm clouds recede into nothing, and the Russian synths continue pounding into your head against all odds.

You’re lying face up on your bed, staring up at the ceiling. The fan rotates softly, casting each part of the room into shadow at predetermined intervals. Down the hall, one light can be seen. You breathe in sharply, your lips make a hissing noise. Your heart is flipping. Just had a terrible dream. Your belongings are cast into a nocturnal ambiance and you find it difficult to move your head. You’re tired, still tired despite getting at least a few hours of sleep. You need rest.

You grip the sheets beneath you with fingers like rakes, then let them go. In and out. And all the while the fan rotates, a wheel on bearings, connected to wiring that stretches down to the fuse box. Downstairs, where you don’t go. A door calls you, it’s large and empty, and there’s a flight of stairs leading down to it. Something is down there. You don’t know what, but you do know it’s there.

Outside you hear only the lonely motor of a faraway truck as it ambles its way down grassy roads. There are no stars tonight, though the clouds have made their presence known in full force. These are dark clouds, they cover the sky and blot out the moon, behemoths of vapor and confusion, each the size of a city and each watching you intently. Staring into your window. There’s something downstairs, where you don’t go anymore. It stretches its fingers out, curls them nimbly around the edge.

You want to get out, maybe climb through the window and break your ankles on the field below, even if it means for one short minute breathing the fresh meadow air, escape this room and escape the fan that mockingly rotates like the tip of an umbrella. It appears to unscrew, to become unstable, as if at any moment it could fall and hit you in the face, and you wouldn’t be able to do anything because you can’t lift your head. You had an exhausting day at work.

The fan spins faster, but none of the air reaches you enough to cool your brow, your eyes are bloodshot and your hair is sticking to your face. And from the hallway you can hear footsteps. Not footsteps, really, only a hollow imitation of what a jackal during the last days of life on Earth might think footsteps sounded like. From the stairs they continue on. The light in the hall extinguishes itself and you’re left with only those clouds to see by. They gather.

As the noise deepens and echoes, the clouds give way. A barrel of thunder roars as the ferns and mosses are pelted by a ceaseless liquid. It is not water, it smells of raw meat. The stench reaches your nostrils and you want to vomit, but your stomach is inoperative. The footsteps are drowned out by the storm. The fan slows itself, then crawls to a stop. Finally the blades rest, having made peace with themselves, as the vile cumuli drop their carcasses and spatter over all.

And then, as your heart throbs and your teeth clench together, you see him. He is what’s in your house, he is what called you from downstairs, where you don’t go anymore. He grasps at the edge of the aperture and pushes the door open ever wider, standing there and saying nothing, only breathing in and out while outside your tools and property washes away in a flood of liquid, a deep scarlet liquid that only continues to seep into the drains and levees.

His eyes glow although there is no light source, his smile widens, and his suit is light brown and his tie has some sort of arcane pattern on it, his trousers are smooth and creaseless, and then comes the lightning, and you see for the first time that he is a generic man, one whose accolades do not satisfy him and whose progress earns him no recognition, a plain man who hides in alleyway detours with his flashlight when the rain pours down and peripheral vision is limited. Waiting and watching. He pulls his device once more from his left pocket, tosses it from his left hand to his right hand as if it were a toy- which it is, really- and points it at you. There is nothing but searing pain, ripping you limb from limb, organs disintegrating into rot, eyes burned to cinders in their sockets. You scream.

I’m back at the party, though the esoteric guide I encountered earlier is gone. In his place I see a gothic erudite taking a long drag on a cigarette. I wave my hand in front of her face and she says nothing, keeping her eyes locked onto the television, where a panel of five judges in gawdy attire press red buttons and the studio audience screams. She puts her hand before her mouth and yawns. She’s seen this before, she’s seen all of it before. She’s been to five parties in the local area and all of them bore her, each one more predictable than the last. Still, she persists, an inexplicable figure in a culture that moves too fast for her to keep pace with.

The room is crammed with absinthe vapors and illegal substances. In the corner someone is playing with something flammable, their eyes sparkle as they do so. This house reeks of dust and of filth, they never clean the place and it remains a grim reminder of times past. I don’t know why my friends invited me here. I want to leave.

The speakers are still playing that horrible music, it sounds like an empty void, a darkness that has a magnetism to it- isn’t that what black holes are, magnetic voids that draw things to them, suck them in, smother them with impossibilities? I listen closely and I hear things from my childhood. Small memories, though valuable, which shaped my youth. Falling from the tree in my backyard, seeing the ground rush at me and being unable to stop it. Cracking my skull open on that sharp rock. Seeing the blood on my fingers from the fresh wound, wondering if that was really my blood, my elixir, now painted onto the grass and mixed in with the dirt. Going in for some neosporin.

And as these noises fill my auditory cavity- the noise of my dazed footsteps on the lawn, the noise of my head making contact- the speakers begin to fill up with that same liquid. It gushes forward and the people in the small islands of casual chatter don’t notice, and my companion on the couch picks up her book and begins flipping through the pages- and all the while the room fills like a bathtub. It encircles their ankles, runs down the walls, creating little bars of darkness here and there, and the music continues. I sit back as my hands are engulfed, I take a deep breath when it hits my neck, and the gothic erudite takes one more drag, and then I’m under.

I see nothing, because of course I can’t, but my mouth is full of the stuff and it is heavy, heavier than  the greatest mass and more pungent than the most elegant wine, the darkness is all-consuming and the iron is universal. And I assume the little islands are out there somewhere, making their jokes and dreaming of cities far away where their problems don’t exist, but I don’t see them and I don’t hear them, and all I taste is the blood, it’s up to the ceiling now and I fall deeper. The floor fades away and I fall further down, an endless chasm that opens into a trench of even greater infinity.

I am standing 200 feet above the ground on the edge of the largest building in my residential area, the new community center, and crowds are urging me to come down. It’s a bright day and the sun is shining and I can see for miles out  from up here, and all the buildings and streets look like a miniature. Out there are my relatives, the ones I never visit because I’m too busy with life. I’ll see them and reconnect with them. Someday, if my itinerary allows. The leader of the group below is shouting at me through a megaphone. Law enforcement arrives on the west side of the parking lot, sirens blaring. I stare straight forward, and then my foot slips on a discarded bottle of tequila.

The year is 1994 and I am sitting out in the yard, my fingers wet and sticky. It’s expansive, this lawn, a world of green rolling parapets and mud holes, and I’ve spent as much of the summer as I can out here, bored and alone, making intricate details and scenarios up in my head which I’ll relate to my friends once school is back in session. Today is the first time in a long time I’ve felt real pain, first time since I sliced my thumb open trying to cut the vegetables. And then it had only been a thin slice, a scar that left after a week. Now my head is foggy and my hands are fading in and out- and everywhere I’m seeing red and my senses are cutting through briefly like a radio transmission, a little too far in one direction on the dial. I try to get up but my feet won’t let me. My head is throbbing and aching, and my legs are weak cornstalks that can’t support my weight.

I look up at the sky, lie back and try to make the most of the beautiful day. There are birds pollinating the flowers, a new row of chrysanthemums to my right, each whose roots stretch into a healthy pile of soil. They suck nourishment from the earth. I’m providing them with nourishment right now, I think. Iron. I chuckle at this, my final imagined scenario, my last parting gift to the summer, while ants curiously poke around my neck and the sky becomes crimson. It darkens to a deep pomegranate, and then it winks out.

It’s late in the day and your coworker is looking at you with a mixture of confusion and terror. The elderly gentleman points at you, covers his eyes, and runs out. You’re coughing something up. You don’t need to be told what, you know what it is, but she tells you anyway. You’re leaning against the ice cream machine and you find it difficult to walk. She hauls you over to one of the tables and runs her fingers through her hair, weighing the alternatives. Finally she crosses over to the desk and calls the paramedics.

The ice cream machine produces only delicious, pure ice cream.

It dribbles from your lips and collects on the table. She comes over with a few napkins to wipe it up, then heads back to the supply closet for some bleach. Her efforts are in vain, the more she mops up with her rag the more gushes from your maw like Old faithful. She pats you on the shoulder, slaps you in the face when you don’t respond and only gaze out the window with those glazed sclera. Tells you to hold on, that they’re on the way, and she’ll even ask the manager to give you a week off. You try to thank her but can’t process your words. The sun beats down on you. You’re hotter now maybe than you’ve ever been, the table is a metal skillet and you’re frying.

I’m standing near the entrance to the flight of stairs that leads to the infinite darkness. I think a minute earlier I was washing the dishes, there’s a bowl in my hand. I was going to the dish cabinet when I heard the darkness calling. It starts first as something in my chest, a resonance that I can tune into if I concentrate hard enough. Why would I want to concentrate?

As the foot of the stairs consumes my thoughts, I am reminded of the imp of the perverse and how it leads the hapless to their deaths and convictions. In village squares and at great heights, at festivals and events, and of course when opportunity arises, the imp will make itself known. The darkness pulses. I don’t go down there anymore. Still, the imp scratches at my ankles. My foot moves forward once. I try putting it back but I am pulled forward into the chasm. There is a threat of tangible proportions and qualities waiting for me in the abstract room without end. It is not the apprehension of potential danger that reviles me, but the certainty of absolute danger.

Closer, it says. The bowl drops from my fingers and shatters into a hundred little pieces, some of which roll down the stairs in an elaborate pattern. I step onto them, my feet are sliced open by the ceramic shards but I feel nothing because the hum of the void is greater than my sensory perception, the call of the darkness outweighs any response I may otherwise have made, imp and darkness working in tandem to send me hurtling over the edge. And again there is that heaviness, something which presses upon the internal organs and doesn’t let go.

The phone rings, waking me from my macabre reverie. I’ll clean the bowl up later. It echoes through each room in the house, makes its presence known, and the grip of the imp is abruptly broken. On eggshells I shamble over to the handset, raise it to my lips. I’ve forgotten what to say.

“Hello. May I ask who’s speaking?”

“You know who this is.” he talks with platitudes. I can imagine him, although his face doesn’t spring readily to mind, only his teeth and his grin. “How’s it going? Are you enjoying what I’ve given you?”

“I don’t know what you’ve given me,” I say. “I don’t know where it started and I don’t know where it’ll end, but I don’t like it, and I think you know that.” I look down at my feet. They’re severely wounded, my carpet looks like Omaha Beach. Need to get upstairs, the medicine cabinet, procure some bandages and isopropyl. Who knows what’s seeping into those deep cuts even now. I steady myself, turn back to the phone. Something about the stranger’s voice smacks of that abyss immediately behind me.

“You’ll learn gradually,” he says. “It starts out slowly, softly. You’re here, and you remember where you came from and how you got there. But as you realign, you don’t understand it so much. Think of it like a web, an interconnected map of points and events. And everything leads to something else. They all have common boundaries, something that holds them together. I’ve given you something worthwhile, friend. The power of exclusivity, of detachment. I’ve cut you loose, you were a balloon mired in a deep layer of rock and I broke your string. Now you’re floating away. It’s exhilarating. Might be painful, but pain is only another reminder that we’re alive. Have fun.” And like that, the line goes dead and I gently place the handset back where it belongs. I can’t walk on my feet anymore, the blood has dried and there are shards everywhere. I get down on my knees, try using my hands instead.

I approach the bathroom. It’s only at the end of the hall. I can get some bandages, wrap them around, then clean up the mess. I hear water running. I didn’t turn any faucets on today. Only a few more yards. Just a short distance. My arms are tired, though. My legs are tired. Tired of running, and jumping, and exerting themselves. I feel the softness of the carpet and think about how nice it would be to lie down here, to go deeper into sleep

(into the abyss)

It is midday, around noon going by the position of the sun, and you’re sitting on the sandy banks of a river. While you know the river, have seen it on your commute, this section of it is foreign to you. Across the river, someone stands against the wall atop a pile of rubble, staring directly at the concrete. They don’t look at you, nor do they move. Behind you, on the trail which winds lazily alongside the creek, a beggar sits in a vacant stretch over an empty bottle. You look at him and he looks back. He waves and smiles, then returns to the bottle. He’s studying it, turning it over and over again, trying to find some greater purpose in it. You look back across the river, and the person or thing who had been staring at the wall is gone. Only the endless tide and ebb, and the wind among the cattails.

It’s the night this started and I’m at the venue, the event of the season according to all the flyers I saw hung up in the laundromat a week ago, so I bought tickets, printed them out. I try to get to as many of these things as I can, maybe meet someone. I’m too old for most of them, but maybe someone will notice me and we can go back to my house. I keep hoping, but every night all I get are overpriced drinks and an earache. Blistering music and blistering caricatures.

From the walls every oversaturated chord makes its presence known, the luminescent headbands and shoes overwhelm my eyes and ears. There is too much here. Someone picks me up, throws me head over heels into a mosh pit. I find myself amidst a frenzy of arms and legs, flesh and blood, writhing in unison. One chaotic amalgam. I attempt to wrench myself from it but the party don’t stop and the band plays on. Something is shouted from the front of the room.

I’m on the floor. The man with the lizard tongue comes up to me now. He displays his augment proudly, flicking each side of the tip to demonstrate his prowess. I wince and he leans over, points at his phone and asks if I’ll take a photo with him, says he likes my style and maybe we could go to his hotel room for some drinks. Says he’s the manager for one of the bands performing tonight, that this is their last day here but he’d like to maybe get some action before their tour bus ships out. I politely decline, pick myself up and dust myself off.

He grabs my arm. I repeat myself, tell him that I want nothing to do with him, but he holds his tongue out and presses it against the side of my face. Finally someone calls his name- I miss it but it is roughly what you’d expect- and he runs away, without an apology or consolation. I wipe my cheek and grimace when I find his spittle lodged behind my ear. These events are out of my league.

To my immediate right is the boulevard of broken dreams, to my left is the slope, and under my stride I hear the crunch of discarded candy wrappers and fine grit. It collects itself here where nobody watches. I press on. Want to get home because I can lie down and relax, pop open a cold one and forget about my life and the predicaments I’ve found myself in, and the cars whizz by and the sky darkens.

The sky is filled with giant red clouds, clouds which at sunset might be considered normal. I know what’s in them, though. They blot out the sun and the stars and throw even the road, even the streetlights, into an intoxicating ruby Mist. My steps quicken, my breathing gets shallower now because I’m pushing myself to the absolute limit, testing the boundaries of what’s possible, right here and now, in the present, between a tall fence upon which I could impale myself and a hundred vehicles all careening past me in unison. The clouds pick themselves up in ferocity, everything is a dingy brown and the trees cry out, poisoned by the iron, by the lymph and the platelets, and the windshield wipers on the sedans that disregard me sweep the plasma off like nothing. They will never be truly clean. Over my shoulder I hear the impending turbulence. Five blocks, maybe. I see the alley to my left, and a light poking from it. I pay both it and the light no mind. My legs want to give out, but they continue. It’s mind over matter now.

It’s getting harder to breathe in this atmosphere, My lungs are desperate to inhale and to choke on something that nourishes me. No oxygen here. At home, though, it’ll all be over. Need to get there, find some sense of resolution, a facade of conclusion. Even if there is none, I need to finish this sequence intact and whole. If there is one thing left in my world, if there’s one element I can control, it’s how fast I can move. My brain tells my muscles to get into action. I reach the park. How long ago was it that I found myself here following the same order of events? Time is irrelevant.

I look behind me and I think I see the stranger, though his presence is less permanent now, he’s fading out behind the curtains of red drizzle, and the specks of fluid that emanate from those behemoths above. I slip on the grass, it’s soaked through, but I round the corner and my shoes make squelching noises and I look like something from beyond the grave but I don’t care, because I’ve reached my house and I slide the key in, and it hits home and turns, and the door opens and it’s quiet inside.

So quiet. No more storms, no more sense of apprehension. I’m dripping all over the carpet, I go and sit down in the armchair and catch my breath, air in here is pure and clean. Only the ticking of the clock and the gentle settling of the floorboards. I state straight ahead at the door and wait for my friend to arrive, but nothing comes. Outside there are noises of night, real night, serene and quiet and peaceful, and with my thoughts collected I doze off, falling deeper.

Deeper, into an ocean. A red ocean, which gives way to a field of static.

I am ensconced within a field of static, the known universe. I would miss the people and places I knew before if I could remember them, but I cannot remember what never existed. I sit here. I don’t know if this is the end, or if there will be something after. It is possible, although I feel this state of being has some poetic finality to it. There is nothing beyond the void. I have crossed through the abyss and found the other side, and now I exist at all times and in all places, and at nothing.

This is the end of an inevitable process.

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