As a Kid

Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep I would call my grandma and tell her so.

I’d call her, she’d answer, and I’d say, “Grandma, I can’t sleep.”

She’d say, “What’s wrong? Why can’t you sleep?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t.”

“Well just try to relax, close your eyes, and maybe you’ll fall asleep.”

It very rarely worked, but somehow I’ve made it to the age of thirty-five. Even while struggling to sleep almost daily time kept marching on with no one noticing as it usually does so. While I don’t remember what Little Jimmy did to sleep, especially not having access to benzodiazepines, alcohol, or antihistamines as a child, he somehow found the ability to sleep. The thirty-five years seemed to pass in an instant but only in retrospect. Grandma’s advice never seemed to help at the time — just relax — but Jimmy found a way.

My bedroom as a kid had these strange sliding accordion doors — I don’t even know what their proper name was and I’ve never decided to learn as an adult. It made my room seem fancy apparently; a few of my elementary school friends said so. The white wicker furniture on the porch also made out house seemed fancy. A few of them even mentioned that “Jimmy’s family must be rich!” but little did they know we were poor as hell. I didn’t even know how poor we were at the time. We might’ve looked rich on a superficial level, at least to other ten-year-olds, but we didn’t own much of anything. The bank owned most of the important things like our car and the house while credit card companies owned most of the remaining possessions. In fact looking back, I think my parents were perpetually in debt; they literally didn’t own anything. But as a nine-year-old you’re not aware of these things unless your parents were arguing about money, which they often did.

I had sliding doors on my room. Accordion doors. They had these slats on the bottom half of the doors, and smoked glass on the top half. Even though the glass gave some visibility into the living room, you couldn’t see much. You could see shapes through the glass, but nothing definitive. For some reason the left side — from the perspective of someone inside the room — was never moved. If you needed to get into my room you’d move the right side three-paneled accordian door. Never the left. The left panels were always as straight as could be, like they were a wooden and glass wall, and even if they could be physically moved were never actually moved. I didn’t question it: it was a rule. Well, not really a rule, just how things worked. The doors at the time were slightly cracked open. The cat named Patches (the cat I’d sometimes throw off the basement stairs) liked to sleep in the bed with me. He pushed the right-sided panels open just enough to sneak into my room. The right-sided panels were always open enough for an average-sized black and white cat to enter the room. He loved me even if I tossed him off the stairs weekly.

I couldn’t sleep at the time. I would toss and turn in my bed. But then I stopped tossing and turning. I found myself lying on my right side — facing the slightly opened accordion doors to the living room. My room was also next to the front porch with a lone window shining pale, yellow, incandescent light into my room. It almost made a welcome mat in front of the accordion doors, the pale yellow trapezoidal shape of light on carpet. And I layed there. Just existing during another night of being unable to sleep. You could see a tiny bit of the couch through the slightly-cracked door. Patches slept near my ankles.

I went to call my grandma, to complain as I sometimes did, but I felt like I wanted to be totally still this time. Perfectly still for just a little longer. It’s hard to explain. I wanted to call her, but something compelled me not to. While I could move I didn’t want to move. I stared through the tiny gap in my door and looked over the shape of the couch.

I felt dread. I felt death. I laid still and felt something so damning, terrifying, and unholy that I could only stare. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t do anything. I was locked in place and facing something that only I could explain years later as death: this was what it felt like to die and not to die but to actually be dead. A perfect stillness and comprehension of the darkness behind everything you see. A perpetual “thereness” of a perfect void, of an absolute nothing. Behind every object, person, color, emotion, or anything there was this nothing: this void, this color blacker than black. There was nothing scary to behold visually — just the dark living room lit up by the weak porch light — but something about it felt so ominous that it was beyond explanation. Like there was a dark shape or entity creeping just around the corner, just barely out of sight. Even if you could feel it and know it was there it wasn’t visible. I don’t know how long I laid there or what happened to release me but, as stated, I’m now thirty-five years old and whatever happened that day decades ago remains as vague as any decade-old memory can.

I’ve never experienced it since. But sometimes if I lay very still in bed and keep my eyes focused on a certain point about eight meters away I start to feel that creeping dread. The all-consuming stillness, the background darkness and void that is behind every person, object, and thing. The black shape creeping in my room just barely out of sight around the corner. Something so still and dark and permanent and real that it drills its fear deep into consciousness. If there is anything to fear it is this. I don’t know what it’s called, but that’s the only thing to fear in life…and what exactly would you call that?

If the feeling threatens to wash over me I’ll I take a sleeping pill. Or something. Drugs are a fix-fall for nearly every problem in life and Jimmy didn’t have this option. A half-milligram of xanax scares the demon away long enough for me to not worry about it. As for my grandma? Well, I can’t call her anymore. I’m thirty-five years old. My grandma isn’t around anymore.

Marijuana Ghost

Something strange happens while smoking in a local park.

Matt and I sat on the bench. It was dark, just a few hours after the sun had set and the moon was dangling just above the trees in the distance across from us. It looked to be about full, but not quite. It had the awkward look of a lemon or a lime, not the sleek sickle of a crescent moon, nor the half circle of a half moon, and certainly not the perfect roundness of a full moon.

Matt reached into his coat pocket and I heard rustling. The sound of a plastic baggy being searched for, found, and removed in the darkness. And in his pants’ pocket he did the same. Digging around for a certain item, although this one was easier to find and remove. It was about ten centimeters long, made of metal in roughly an “L” shape. It was a tube with a fine mesh screen at the end: it was a pipe. A pipe for smoking things, but not boring things like tobacco. No, this was a special pipe designed purposefully to smoke psychoactive things, especially marijuana, out of. Not that it made much of a difference — a pipe is a pipe — but from the artful design and color of it, lit up by the awkward moon, anyone could understand what its true purpose was.

Matt fucked around with the bag a little bit and was crumbling up its contents on his lap, lowering his head down to clearly see what he was doing in the light of the moon.

“Did you need a light?” I asked.

He shook his head. He was too concentrated to say anything.

Matt and I are friends by convenience as we work at the same place. No one is interested in where we work and our families mutually find it a disgrace. Mine for not living up to my potential, and his for, well I suppose the same thing really.

Matt grew up in a strict Christian home and raised him as such, although by the time Matt reached the age of twelve decided the entire ordeal was bullshit. Matt questioned things in a way that few people did, and it didn’t take much time lying awake at 1 a.m. thinking of God, the universe, and most importantly the shit a person goes through in their lifetime to question everything. Even by the young age of twelve most people have been through enough to stumble onto the conclusion that life is garbage. The house of cards falls down when you remove a singular card and his was removed almost by accident one night. Matt never talks about this moment really, in fact he seems to hardly remember it.

I never had this problem growing up. My parents were religious, or rather “religious” but we never knew it. Dad had a tattoo of Jesus in his arm, and my mom “believed in God,” but besides this there was no sign of spirituality or anything. Mom was bad with money and dad was withdrawn and they’d argue about that all day long, occasionally yelling at my sister and I about how we didn’t do enough around the house or didn’t appreciate their struggles. There was no time for real contemplation about a higher power, and we both grew up fairly agnostic. I never really thought about God. He existed, sure, but how and why did it really matter to me? If he did exist, which he surely did, he didn’t seem to give a damn about me. Not that I was greedy for the love of a deity — I was used to being invisible — I just wanted proof. I remember praying one night and I asked something along the lines of this: “God, if you’re real, can you give me a sign or something?” God didn’t do anything and the universe continued to whirl like the gears of a clock.

Matt and I grew up completely opposite environments. Matt, being raised in such a strict Christian household, felt trapped. Like his mind, body, and soul (if he had one) were trapped in a cage. His parents incessant pestering of him to be a preacher in the Church of Christ wore on him greatly. He just wanted to get away, but at the age of fifteen and living in a comfy well-to-do family home in the suburbs he couldn’t and didn’t want to physically get away. But there were other ways to escape. He found drugs, he found girls, and he lost his virginity. The typical process people in religion-based private schools seem to go through. 

As for me? I didn’t do anything. I was uncaged and free enough that I didn’t feel the need to escape from anything. This is my life, I’d tell myself. Not being happy or enthused about it, but not being totally depressed either. I eventually stumbled into the belief that there is no God, no God as Christians describe him (or her…) at the very least. The real God, if you want to call her that, is nebulous and undefinable. And trying to define God seemed like the most foolish thing anyone looking for understanding would ever attempt to do. Like Matt, if you put God in a cage, she’ll find a way to rebel and escape. And her being a God, can you imagine the unforeseen and nebulous ways that she would rebel?

I didn’t do drugs, and for some reason I have a strong gut-feeling hatred for them. They seem wrong in some twisted indescribable way even though logically I know they’re great, at least in moderation and when used properly. Obviously I’ve stumbled into drug use despite my deeply held and illogical opposition to them. I didn’t have a girlfriend until well after high school, a fact that caused me great social anxiety during that period of my life. I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t unique, I wasn’t on the football team or did anything notable at all. This is me. Nothing. A whiteboard with the potential to be something, to be of some use to someone or something in some way, but which is currently blank. And I feel I will always be blank.

Hence my parents disappointment with me. “James, you’re so smart. You could do anything you want to do. You could go to college, you could have a good job and have money.” And I didn’t want those things. And what did I want? Nothing. Everything. The whiteboard that is me didn’t know if it was in a math classroom, a science lab, magnetically attached to someone’s refrigerator, in a Fortune 500 boardroom, or in a garbage truck heading to the dump south of Rockford.

This explains mine and Matt’s friendship. Two people on perpendicular trajectories that seemed to somehow be parallel. We didn’t talk deeply at work, we never said anything of importance together, we just existed around each other. Two parts to some completely flawed, directionless, hopeless entity. Hell, I didn’t even like Matt that much — he was distant mostly but could have bouts of utter cockiness that would throw you off and leave you hating him — but for the most part Matt was Matt.

We were seated on a bench next to the river hidden in a little grove of trees away from the romantics, joggers, and bikers on the bike path behind us. There was a large white arch trellis up against the trees, and I’ve always known it to be a popular wedding spot. Very picturesque. Fitting. The mid and evening sunlight was perfect for those wedding pictures you see posted on social media, especially in the spring and summer. You know, the beginnings of happy families and such.

At night this picturesque location takes on an ethereal quality where certain drug users like us two could take in the atmosphere and think about nothing with also seems to be the same as thinking about everything. I had the passing question wondering if the wedding goers had any idea what happens here after the sun goes down. Drug use. Teenage sex. Drug deals. Muggings. Maybe even witchcraft.

Matt fucked around with his pipe enough to finally take a hit from it. He held the pipe with his left hand and a lighter in with the right. The flash of flint and the dim reddish glow of the lighter and the audible hiss of him drawing the flame into the marijuana as the moon glared at us, deformed in its current phase. Matt held in the smoke as long as he could and exhaled. He passed the pipe to me as the cloud of lung exhaust gently drifted up and away towards the moon and the trees, indifferent to where it was going.

I did the same. I inhaled, exhaled, and my cloud chased after Matt’s. I sighed. What were we even doing here? That was a normal thought for me, although I could feel my brain begin to stumble around wondering what the hell was going on with it, what chemicals would it have to contend with.

“Pretty good stuff, huh?” Said Matt.

“Yeah.”

We sat in silence puffing and passing like proper and civil marijuana users do. Etiquette. A couple on the path giggled like they do. Moments layer a cyclist shouted “On your left!” as he (I’m assuming) whizzed around the couple who were blind to everything else around them. And as their entire consciousness was contained within a tiny bubble around them where nothing else existed, mine followed suit. My consciousness shrank to the size of a dot, fully centered within my head. Like a star collapsing into a black hole. I was in the shit now, and it would only get worse. The outside world was still there, but it was like looking through a window at something else. Or maybe like a TV? The people on the TV were real, but they also weren’t. It’s all the same thing isn’t it? The screen is my consciousness and it was showing me a white trellis, trees, and a ghoulish moon, but was it even real?

I tried to tell Matt my insight. “I feel like a TV right now.” He chuckled and shifted his weight around a bit, seemingly settling into the bench as if it was a comfortable recliner.

“How are you feeling, James?”

“I feel…terrible. I mean I’m here I guess. Physically you know? But…”

“Why do you feel like a TV?”

“What? Oh. I don’t know. I guess…does all of this exist? Like the trees and stuff?”

“I think it does, but how is that like a TV?”

“Well. It doesn’t seem real but it is. This is everything, you know? Everything you know…” I sat and thought for a second.

“And you being a TV?”

“Everything I know…oh. Okay. A TV. Has images of people who are real but…when you look at the TV it’s just an image.”

Matt slapped it all together quickly for me. “So you’re saying this,” he gestured to the surroundings, “is real but it doesn’t feel real to you right now? So in your head you’re a TV?”

“Yes! Exactly. You get it.”

“Good job, James. It isn’t that profound though.”

“Oh.”

We sat in silence for what felt like ten or twenty minutes. My brain compressed further. I felt awkward, like I should be doing something better with my time. But what better was there to do? What would my parents prefer me to do right now if they had any say in it? Nothing. Maybe they’d want me to do nothing because that’s what I am.

And then it really started. The introspection. The anxiety and the endless questions marijuana brings me to. It started with the awkwardness of our mutual bench silence. What should I say? Should I say anything? What would James, the person that everyone knows me as, say right now? Where is James? James is fucked up and losing his mind on marijuana right now. Where is the real James? Is he in there, in the black hole, trapped? Can he please come out and say a few words?

And the posture. How does James sit? How does James act? Would James, regular everyday James that is, sit relaxed or would he be upright enjoying himself. But these are all silly questions because I’m talking about myself here. How do I usually act? What do I usually say? It’s me, oh God, it’s me. I’m the guy James who is wondering what James would do. I’m not a TV passively experiencing things, I’m a robot. A big, ugly, meat and blood filled robot with a computer in his head. Act natural. Isn’t that what people always say when someone gets in this state? Act natural. How do I do that? I don’t know myself. I never thought about how I act when I’m sober; maybe next time I should take notes. But I’ll probably forget it in an hour. Don’t forget it. Write it down. Write it down now.

Apparently Matt noticed my fidgeting and nervousness as I dug in my pocket for my phone. (What pocket does James usually keep his phone in? He’s right handed so it should be there but it isn’t. Oh, the right pocket is where James keeps his pens and papers. It’s in the left pocket. It’s not there either. Where did James put the damn thing?)

“You okay there?” He asked.

“I need my phone. I can’t find my phone. I need to take some notes.”

He reached down next to me, picked the phone up off the bench, and handed it to me. He asked again, “Are you sure you’re okay?” The moon lit up a wide grin on his face.

I forced a laugh because I thought James might laugh at something like that. “I need to take some notes. I might forget some stuff and I need to take some notes.”

I opened the phone and navigated to a note app. Somehow this was effortless and a big, giant neon sign started to flash in my brain saying Act Natural! I just did it. I had acted naturally. I felt a little better but not by much.

Take notes on how James acts. How does James do thing? Act Naturally? How? Don’t know how I act naturally. Don’t know what I do and why I do it. Don’t know myself???

Matt could tell I was on the verge of losing any sense of self and offered me a cigarette. He wasn’t wrong and the first drag off the cigarette was magical. My consciousness expanded from a black hole into the entire cosmos, a mini big bang all in my brain. I was here, really here, and was a magical and wonderful part of it all. Even as a miniscule puppet of meat with a computer in my head, here I was. And as much as everything made sense under the moonlight I lost it all. I was here. Sitting on a bench. Smoking weed. And possibly losing myself.

The smoke from our mutual cigarettes did a dance similar to the marijuana smoke hours or days or years ago did. The clouds even did an embrace, twirled, and swayed a bit. Mine was a female cloud and Matt’s was a male cloud. They were dancing to relaxing classical music like you see in movies. Movies on TV. Wasn’t I a TV? I killed the thought as quickly as possible.

The clouds strangely drifted down into the trees and the trellis. With each drag and puff the dancing clouds would drift up, over, and down and seemed to hang like a fog. Didn’t heat rise? Or did the weight of the miniscule particles of the cloud come down due to gravity? Maybe it was getting foggy out? Hazy? I blinked in case I had some haze over my bloodshot eyes but that didn’t fix it either.

One of the beams holding the white trellis up seemed to move but only slightly in the distant haze. My eyes locked and Act Natural! seemed to mean that James’ heart rate increased from a flood of adrenaline to his system. I sat still even though I was already still. An entirely different level of stillness. I steadied my breath and tensed up my muscles. The beam was moving. A shape was slowly forming off the side of the beam melting into an entirely different form. Or was it just the haze?

The longer I stared the more the shape refined itself into a humanoid shape. It looked feminine in a way. There appeared to be hair waterfalling off her head, and the hips and chest gave her a clear hourglass figure. She was all the same color, the color of moonlight on mist, glowing under the trellis.

Matt sense something was going on with me again and asked, “Hey, are you sure you’re okay? Do you want another cig?”

I looked over at him with my eyes Acting Naturally! and then across the grove towards the trees. It was the primal and perfectly natural way, embedded in our collective DNA, of saying something is over there.

Matt stared and I could tell the exact moment he saw her. He was an animalistic meat robot just like me and we had the same program running in our brain computers. He did the same thing I had done moments earlier: perfect stillness, slowed but deep breathing, tensed posture, and the eyes of an animal on the possible verge of death.

“What is it?” I whispered.

He didn’t move for what felt like a few minutes. Hours? Seconds?

“…is it a ghost?” He asked.

“I don’t believe in ghosts.” I didn’t know what else to say. There wasn’t much explaining or rationalizing what was going on, especially in my state.

Almost imperceptibly the shape seemed to grow larger. Slowly enough for us to not notice immediately but in a way that something deep within us felt threatened. She was slowly moving towards us without moving her body at all. No features visible. The shape of a woman floating towards us as a cloud of smoke or fog.

Mine and Matt’s brains were perfectly synced up running the primitive software that we both had running in our heads. At exactly the same time we jolted upright and started sprinting in the same direction. Towards the car. Towards safety. Towards the perfect, bland, and depressing sameness of The Real World. Where there were no answers. Where there were no questions either. Sprinting as fast as possible from the beautiful unknown towards the terrible known.

The Playground Spiders

I was laying on the floor and the clock on the wall said the time was 2:41 p.m. Or maybe it was closer to 2:40 p.m. These old clocks with hands aren’t the most precise things. I love digital clocks because you don’t need to think about the time too much. They say what the time is with no personal interpretation. The longer I looked at the minute hand the more I could see it slowly drifting upwards along the face of the clock. It was now closer to 2:42 p.m. I had to be to work at 4:30 p.m. What to do with all the time?

I stared up at the ceiling fan spinning and making strange flashing patterns as it rotated. The parallel lines of the wooden boards on the ceiling made changing angles around each blade of the fan as it spun about on it’s magnetically-induced rotation. There was a trapezoidal form of sunlight a few feet from me and if I cared to look at it enough I could see its shape slowly warp and creep across the carpet. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the planet is spinning thousands of kilometers per hour but it is. Thanks to inertia we don’t feel a damn bit of it. But the signs are there, the sun slowly creeping across the sky transforming the trapezoidal light, thinning and stretching it. In a few hours it would be a narrow pillar of light. And then it would be gone. The clock continues to tick: it’s now 2:46 p.m.

I clear my mind of all thoughts: I have nothing to do, I have no motivation to find something to do, and there is always that pestering thought at the back of my mind saying that, “Sometimes you need to relax.” Is this relaxation? I want to do something, but I don’t at the same time. That’s boredom: wanting to do something but having nothing to actually do. My brain drifts here and there with thoughts that mean nothing. Where did the wood in the ceiling come from? Who made the clock on the wall? How many clocks just like this one were made? Where were they all at? Was someone else laying in their own floor thousands of kilometers away looking at the same clock? Theirs might say a different time. Spacing out some more I could feel gravity smashing me into the floor. That’s how you know you’re really bored and anxious: when you notice gravity smashing you into the floor. It’s strong, it’s always there, and no one notices it consciously.

Then it hits me: this is what life is. Boredom. It’s existence with nothing to distract you. I try to embrace this fact but it doesn’t really work. Is this it?

***

A boy stands in a grassy field near a playground. There is a building in the distance on the opposite side, and a few forms catch his attention. There were five kids on the playground running, jumping, climbing, and falling in perpetual motion. Of these, a cute blonde girl with braids was the first to break her perpetual motion. Another kid, a boy, ran up and slapped her arm as she stared into the grassy field. “TAG! YOU’RE IT!” he screamed. The girl did nothing but stare and eventually the boy noticed her lack of motion and looked where she was looking. A boy stood in the field and they looked at him.

The girl waved. “Hello! Who are you?” The boy stared back at her.

“Come over and play with us! We’re playing ‘tag.’” The boy silently walked over, climbed up a short metal ladder that led to the girl and the boy’s perch. He looked down at his shoes and back towards the field where he came from.

She held her hand out professionally and shook the boy’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Are you new?” He looked confused but nodded. “Hi, New Kid, what’s your name?”

“Jimmy.” He looked at the ground a meter below him.

“My name is…” For some reason he didn’t hear what her name was. He nodded like he heard it though.

“This is Shaun, and over there,” she looked over at the other three kids standing on their own elevated section of playground nearby, “is Jessica, Brent, and Keith.” She waved and all three kids waved back.

“I have to pee really bad but I don’t want to go. I might pee my pants!” said Shaun as he ran off towards the other group.

“Do you want to play ‘tag?’” she asked the boy.

He nodded.

“Okay the rules are simple: the ground is lava so if you touch the ground you’re ‘it!’ You can go first; YOU’RE IT!” She slapped his arm, instantly turned, and ran in the direction of Shaun, her hair bouncing along with her voice — and everyone else’s voice — emitting high pitched screams and laughter. The boy chased after her.

Up, around, down and all over the kids scattered the best they could over the playground equipment. The ones further away would try to carefully keep their distance while others closer to the boy ran away as prey being chased by a predator. The boy closed upon Shaun, tagged him, and reversed direction. The prey became the predator and the predator became prey. Shaun was running all over the playground trying to catch one of the four other kids. The girl, trying to navigate a metal ladder across a section of playground islands, accidentally fell while trying to escape.

Shaun seen it and yelled, “You’re burning in lava! Haha! You’re it now!” and everyone turned to avoid the new predator that arose from the woodchip lava.

She climbed back onto the playground equipment, and Jimmy was closest to her this time. She charged after him like a hungry lion would, laughing and smiling yet determined to catch her prey. The boy, terrified of being ‘it’ ran as fast as he could. He came to a gap, a gap only a meter across and a half meter downwards, but in his mind the gap was a giant gorge, a nearly uncrossable chasm. Down and down the gorge went like the bridge of Khazad-Duhm with fiery lava a kilometer below emitting a pale red glow from the depths of the earth.

He turned and the girl was right on him: he desperately leaped across the chasm and reached achingly for the other side. Gravity had other ideas. He had misjudged. His body hit the metal platform with a sickening thud and he fell to the ground. This sickening thud was outdone by another sickening sound, this one a cracking sound. The sound of a bone snapping and shattering.

The boy was in shock as he lay on the ground. Slowly sitting up he noticed his left leg felt numb; like it wasn’t really there. And then he saw it: protruding bone sticking out of the side of his calf. It reminded him of a fresh t-bone steak in a way, at least that was the first thing he thought about, the bone a glowing whitish color hidden by a thin coat of blood that soaked everything. Still in shock, he didn’t scream or panic but started to cry. He felt sorry for his leg, like he wanted to apologize to it.

A few spiders that lived under the woodchip lava were terrified by the impact above them and crawled out to look. They were scared: what was this chaos going on above them?

The four kids ran over as fast as they could, which to Jimmy seemed like it both took forever — as if they were in slow motion — and happened instantly. They were around him in a circle looking just as shocked as he was.

“Look at all the blood! And the bone!” Brent exclaimed. Jessica, seeming to only realize the blood and the bone after Brent had said something about it began to stare at it. Something didn’t seem right in her eyes, she turned and ran about five meters, bet over, and vomited.

The Girl crouched down and examined the bone as the spiders aimlessly wandered about. Shaun said, “Look at the spiders! They’re going to get him. Kill them! Gross!” Brent and Keith took the cue and with Shaun started stomping on the eight-legged creatures as they helplessly tried to flee.

The Girl started screaming. “Don’t hurt them! They’re innocent. Don’t break their bones, one broken bone is enough!” The didn’t listen and continued to stop and laugh and scream in total disregard to her command. She stood up, shoved Shaun and he fell into the lava. Brent and Keith got the idea. They stopped stomping the creatures, looked towards the building, and ran off. Shaun sat there in the lava and looked at The Girl.

She again crouched next to the boy. “I can fix you Jimmy. I know magic.” She scooped a pile of woodchip lava from the ground and said, “We can burn it back to normal. This is lava. I think it’s called ‘callderizing.’” She carefully put the pile of woodchips next to Jimmy’s leg, instructed him to relax, and smashed them up against the skin and protruding bone.

Jimmy’s numb leg instantly felt heat, fire, bubbling, and burning. It hurt and a visceral scream he couldn’t control came out of him. She wrapped her fingers around his calf and smashed the bone into his leg while continuing to hold the woodchips next to the wound. “Just a little bit longer, okay?” She looked 30-years-old as Jimmy looked into her eyes.

“I’m done. You’re okay. Stand up.”

Jimmy looked at his leg and it was surrounded with dirt, small bits of woodchips, and a few wandering ants. He was surprised and steadied himself as he stood up. His leg was fine. It wasn’t broken anymore.

“I think you have to go home soon, huh?” Jimmy nodded. She stood up next to him, looked around, and then back at him.

“We’re friends now, right?” Jimmy nodded again.

A speck on the ceiling seemed to move out of my peripheral. Naturally, I moved my eyes to look at it. It was a spider, a harmless spider as all spiders are in Illinois. It creeped aimlessly around the ceiling as if it had nowhere it needed to go and was simply enjoying itself. It would creep towards the fan, think differently about its actions, and move off towards the wall. And then back towards the fan but this time at an angle; it didn’t really want to get to the fan it seemed. Zigzagging motions this way and that way aimlessly wandering around for whatever reason spiders wander around for.

I watched as he slowly zigzagged his way near the fan. This time he made it above the fan blades. He did something with his rear and shimmied. Then he started to fall. Slowly, inch by inch, he slid down on a web towards me. Closer and closer to the fan blades.

The downward flowing air caught him and quickly pulled him the last tiny distance into the blades. He flew quickly across the room in a way that I couldn’t follow. I panicked: he didn’t land on or near me did he? I looked all around the walls, the floor, and on the furniture that was nearby. I saw nothing. Was he dead? Was he mangled and soon to be dead? Or was he alive and happy, wondering what had just happened to him as he tried to piece together the chaos?

A Morrowind Fanfic?

Note: I posted this before actually publishing anything on Wattpad. Here’s the link to the story.

When I first tried to seriously write fiction, I did so on Wattpad. That didn’t work too well for a few reasons. Firstly, I think I just didn’t have the motivation to consistently post; you guys might realize this from my amazing inconsistency posting here, but you can get away with that on your own blog/website. From what I’ve read Wattpad requires constant and regular updating to keep your fans coming back for more. Secondly, Wattpad seems to be highly biased towards fanfiction stories, which mine were totally not. And lastly, Wattpad, being a seperate site, was hard to “market” to people. My Facebook network and friends didn’t seem to give two shits about finding a link and reading my stories. It just didn’t work out.

I should say I’ve never been a fan of fanfics either. I’ve never read anything from the genre, but the idea of them seemed to put me off. I guess I’m prejudiced for some reason. I love originality in the arts, and basing your story off a universe that was already created by someone seemed like a cheap and lazy thing to do. Obviously when I think of it now I do see there has to be some creativeness going on; even if the stories do take place in an already-created universe, the plot, characters, and everything else must be created by you. I also think fanfics in general have a laughable quality to them. Like for every good fanfic there is 99 laughable and poorly-written ones. It just doesn’t seem like a bastion of professionalism in my mind. There is also the issue with you only bagging fans that are already fans of whatever type of fanfic you’re writing: you write a Harry Potter fanfic no one will read it that isn’t interested in Harry Potter.

But obviously my mind has changed because I’m writing this.

I started playing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind a few months ago because a friend was also playing the game. It wouldn’t hurt to also start a game, right? We’d talk about our in-game adventures and started joking about a certain character she was playing as, who she described as “chaotic neutral.” Her character, named Pip, didn’t actually give a shit about saving the world: Pip did whatever the fuck Pip wanted to do. And for some reason the idea of a fanfic was joked about.

It was one of those ideas that both sounded like a great idea to do, but also like a terribly dumb idea. The more I thought about it, the funner it seemed to try, but seriously thinking about it would lead me to second-guessing. Making a fanfic would be wasted time, right? Totally pointless, right? No one gets famous or published from writing fanfics, right?

I was also reading a shitton of Hunter S. Thompson around this time.

So drunk one night I came up with this gem of an idea: a reporter from the mainland in the Elder Scroll’s universe would “transfer” to the province of Morrowind to cover “news stories” or some shit. He’d roam the land and report back on the local religion, news stories, bandits, and whatever else he came across. He’d be a smart-ass and drink and be skeptical of everything. Basically like Hunter S. Thompson but in fucking Morrowind. See? It sounds dumb as hell, but at least kind of a unique idea. Over time I realized this guy could stumble upon chaotic-neutral Pip attempting to save the world while constantly being distracted and, well, it sounds fun.

Around the New Year I decided, “Why the hell not?” I could YOLO hail-mary a fanfic story on Wattpad and see what happened. As stated, the more I think about it, the funner it sounds to try. It sounds exactly like what I need to do currently. It being a fanfic, I don’t think I need to feel like I’m writing a masterpiece. I can have fun with it. I can post once a week which will give me a little project to tackle on the weekend. I don’t have to worry about all the worldbuilding bullshit that I’m too terrible and lazy at: the world is already made for me! And for a video game I love, I can really sink myself into the world creatively.

So that’s going to be my new project and I’ll plop a link somewhere when I get my shit together. I hope to continue the two stories I’ve already been working on here, but those are hard to make progress on.

Introduction

It’s an introduction, what else is there to say?

Note: I’m creatively burned out. As much as I want to create something new, I find I have no inspiration currently. I’m pissed off about it, but what can you do? I’ve found myself editing chapters and doing the hellish work involved with trying to be a creative writer and while I despise it it needs to be done. This is the introduction to my Apex Story, and while it isn’t riventing might be a good way to get back to the grind.

This story is a fiction story, just to make that clear from the get-go. I remember hearing something about a book that was written — some nonfiction book — where the author who wrote about drugs appeared on Oprah or something. Apparently there was quite a bit of fallout over this because somehow it was realized that it wasn’t all true. Most of it, the structure, the tone, and the lessons were probably true to some degree but somewhere along the line the author fucked up and exaggerated a bunch of stuff. And so he got demonized by marketing a fictionesque book as a nonfiction book. He didn’t quite suffer in the way he had written and got shit upon for it.

This all seemed stupid as hell to me. The line between a nonfiction biographical book and a completely fictitious one is tenuous to begin with with reality informing the fiction and nonfiction possibly being “artistically flourished” to some degree. Why, I thought, wouldn’t you just call the book a fiction book and save yourself the trouble? You could write an autobiography as true as anything, call it fiction, and you’re free to exaggerate or mess up the fine details all you want with zero repercussions. There is no liability in writing a fiction book because it’s understood to be a creative work. Even if it isn’t fake and you add in some flourishes that really didn’t happen, no one will care. Hell, people don’t even like nonfiction books and label them as “boring.” So to save myself the problem of writing a “factually true” story I’ll just say it’s fiction and let the reader determine what is real and isn’t. But probably most of it is real because I’m not a very creative writer.

This book is intended to be a collection of memories, stories, and amusing occurrences from one of the stupidest jobs that I have ever worked. The job was stupid in a way that was different than the rest: I worked at a Target distribution center and that job sucked because the work was mindnumbingly boring: I had to stand in aisles literally for hours at a time while picking products during a twelve-hour shift. I also worked at a Sam’s Club and that job sucked because the company is shit and part of Walmart: just imagine how working at Walmart would be. I also had to deal with the general — and entitled — public. Corporate would shit on management who would in turn shit on you and the average customer would also shit upwards on you. Because shit rolls downhill. Because the customer is always right and their shit rolls uphill for some reason. This is the usual complaint issued by any standard retail or fast-food worker. I’ve noticed that past a certain age, some people just don’t deal with the public anymore. At least not the general public. I think people just get sick of it: they finally realize they don’t have to put up with peoples’ shit working for minimum wage pay. Although I do feel bad for the old people you see working fast food or retail; you know they made some bad life choices and are paying dearly for them.

I also worked at a McDonald’s and the “general public are a bunch of fucks and that’s why I hate the job” applies there. Nothing new to note here.

In contrast, Apex Logistics sucked for a whole new reason that was new to me: the company was incompetent. My fellow workers would fuck things up, management would fuck things up, upper corporate management would make zero sense with their demands, HR (human resources) was clueless, and you couldn’t get a firm answer about any questions you had. They talked a tough game but failed to actually follow through with any of it. “We’re a team and if you don’t want to work as a team you can leave now,” they’d say. But then if you didn’t act as a team nothing would actually happen. Shit like that. Endless shit like that.

The types of people you meet at any job are what makes it either terrible or enjoyable. Most places have such a wide variety of people you’re bound to meet quite a few along the spectrum. There are the cool people that you have some indescribable bond with, there are the people you despise even if you can’t explain why, and there are people you are indifferent about. Apex was no different and had some interesting, cool, and unique people that worked there; I’m sure many of them still work there. Apex was unique in that the people at the ends of the “coolness spectrum” were strongly at the ends of the spectrum. I’m talking very end of the inevitable bell-curve that depicts distributions. Three standard deviations above average in terms of coolness and three standard deviations below average in terms of terribleness.

I guess I also intend this to be a farewell to the place — a sort of obituary for me working there. Inevitably when leaving a job you feel a sense of defeat. Either you quit out of an inability to continue working there or you are fired; either way it’s a negative feeling. (I haven’t been able to quit a job yet for “bigger and better things” yet.) As a way to cope or to process my feelings, I tossed around the idea of writing a book about the place; a way to capture the unique people that I met there, or to bitch about how awful of a place it was to work, or to just give the place a sendoff. A sort of “farewell” to Apex Logistics.But remember this is fiction. If I quit, or haven’t quit, or Apex Logistics doesn’t really exist, and there is no Rockford, Illinois, then you won’t have to worry. Because as true as this all sounds, it’s fiction. It’s made up. There is no Bumblebee. There is no Tuna Fish, or Grizzly Bear, or Elrod. Forklifts don’t punch holes through semi trailers and tug tractors don’t get stuck in the mud. There is no such thing as a Boeing 767. And if it did exist, it really doesn’t hold 24 pallets on the main deck.

Rote Routine

A typical day avoiding a mental breakdown.

Wake up at 8:52 a.m. despite my alarm being set for 9:00 a.m.. Forget to turn the alarm off until it actually goes off at 9:00. Pavlovian reaction upon hearing the alarm sound. Dread. Anxiety. Depression. Lay in bed feeling greasy and dirty and strung out from having so little sleep. Imagine it feels similar to how a cocaine junkie feels coming down. In bed until 9:25. Put clothes on by 9:29. Right on schedule.

Go upstairs and drink a Bang energy drink. Or coffee if Bang is not available. Pee. Sit around dreading the day until 10:00. Try to use the bathroom at 10:05. Nothing happens. Put on boots at 10:20. Try to use the bathroom at 10:25. Nothing happens. Scared to possibly have to use the work bathrooms.

Get in car. Check mirrors. Seatbelt. Drive. Stop at traffic lights as they turn yellow just as get near them. See lifeless zombies stopping their cars next to me at the red lights. Drinking coffee. Caffeine. Cocaine? Stalk the parking lot for a parking spot that’s acceptable. Park. Readjust car because it’s not parked perfectly straight. Get out. Smoke cigarette. Watch people walk into work. Look at their faces. Happy. Sad. Hungover. Suicidal but smiling. Dread the day. Wonder why the sun is so goddamn bright. Or if it’s cloudy wonder why it’s so dreary/depressing and miss the sunlight as I forget how blinding it is. Walk into work ten minutes later.

Sit in a van for an hour. Scowl at coworkers. Hear the sound effects from cheap mobile games. Earplugs. Unload an airplane. Sit around for another hour. Load six containers into the plane. Wait 30 minutes. Load one container into the plane. Wait 5 minutes. Load three cans into the plane. Wait 10 minutes. Load five more cans in 4 minutes with management screaming at us that the plane is due out in 7 minutes. Sit for another half hour before the plane actually leaves.

Walk to car. Open door. Sit. Seatbelt. Shift. Drive. Listen to songs that don’t fit my current mood but unable to find a song that does. End up at McDonald’s. Order a #9 meal, large fry and large diet-coke please? Thanks. That’ll be some amount that I don’t listen to because I use a credit card to pay. Pull ahead to the second window please. Hand card to lady. Hands card and receipt back. Crumble receipt and throw it in the passenger seat. Get drink. Get bag of food. Say “Thank you.” Lady says “Uh huh.” Rolls her eyes as the automatic drive-thru window closes. Drive some more and pile food into my face. Wonder why the fries are burned. Wonder why the fry box is only 75% full. Feel bad about eating the food. Have anxiety about needing to use the bathroom at work in the 6 remaining hours I’ll be there. Have to pee. Too lazy to go into a convenience store to actually pee. Go back to work. Park.

Find another parking spot. Sit in parking lot. Finish soda. Dump ice onto the ground. Unzip pants. Look left, right, and behind. Piss into the empty large diet-Coke cup carefully. Open door and dump piss onto parking lot. Wait 15 minutes. Get out of car and smoke a cigarette while standing in the piss puddle next to my car. Pretend not to know this fact as coworkers arrive. Walk inside. Wait an hour. Unload/load a plane. Wait an hour. Unload and load another plane. Wait 30 minutes. Leave. Drive home. Park at home. Sit in car listening to depressing music wanting to cry but being unable to cry for some reason. Feeling emotionally constipated. Think “Is this all life is?” Feel so hollow and pointless about thinking that that I also think there’s no reason to sit in the car and feel bad about it. Wonder why I can’t cry. Think about how much money I’m making. Think about why I’m making this much money in the first place. Cry.

Fumble with keys. Unlock outer door. Fumble with keys again. Unlock inner door. Take boots off. Take socks off. Insert socks into boots to be used again in 12 hours. Fill mug up. Microwave water for 2 minutes. Insert chamomile tea bag into hot water. Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar and honey each; the vinegar sounds terrible but really ties the flavors together. Drink tea. Play Morrowind. Autosave. F5. Get killed by endless cliff racers. Wonder why I never had adventures in real life.

Go to bedroom. Light a candle. Undress. Read a book. Tired at 12 a.m. but awake at 2 a.m. Unable to sleep. Grab phone. Check social media over and over and feel dirty about doing so. Wonder why no one texts me. Try to sleep. Remember something that happened two days ago and think about it unnecessarily. Anxiety. Think of something to write about. Grab phone again and writes in Google Docs. 3 a.m. and awake in 6 hours. Wonder why I am this way. Go upstairs, take a single diphenhydramine pill. Go back downstairs to bed. Scared of falling asleep because I’ll be teleported directly to feeling miserable again. Just a little more time please? I don’t want 9 a.m. to teleport directly to me yet. I don’t want to teleport to it either. Let’s stay apart. More anxiety. Dread. Fear. An endless, circling carousel. A few random disjointed and unconnected thoughts drift in and out of my head along with some faint colors.

The alarm goes off confusing and terrifying my dreaming brain. Dreaming of elephants in Africa. And zebras too. What’s that sound? It’s an alarm. Oh. Pavlov again: Terror, Fear, Dread. Reality slides back into focus. 9 a.m. I shut it off. And I’ll lay in bed until 9:25. Then I’ll put clothes on, and I’ll drink a coffee and then…and then…

A Conversation with Her

She tells me things I need to hear.

I’m lying in bed dreaming. Currently awake but dreaming. We’re all dreaming all the time though.

I feel the universe working its way through me in this moment. It’s there in all moments it’s just that we’re never aware of it. I’m lying on my back staring at the ceiling with a river flowing through me. The gentle hum of my body, like when you hold a garden hose and can feel the water coursing through it. It starts in my chest from my heart and flows outward through my arms, legs and head. Lightning bolts of liquid energy flowing outwards into everything around me.

It’s all right here within me. I’m at peace. I’m happy. I’m nervous because I need to let it work. I need to let it speak through me. I need to be its nervous and terrified mouth. A way for the ideas to get into the universe. A gift from the universe to the universe.

The dream brings you back as a kid. All the wonder, all the joy, all the love, and all the curiosity. I’m floating on my bed in a Sea of Love, the universe gently rocking me to a place I’ve been before and a place I’ve never really left. There’s the hum of bloodblow and a thump, thump, thump and when I move I hear water flowing around in my head. There’s a pale red glow all around me and I am here as I’ve never been before but always have been.

And I am a part of her, the child and mother as me. She birthed me and I am with her always. She takes care of me and loves me. She feeds me. She lets me play. But she allows me to make mistakes and feel pain because that’s how you grow as a person.

The blonde lady shimmers in and out of reality. Here but also not here. All around me. I am her and she is me. She talks to me but no physical sound is heard. It’s only to me that she talks with right now.

“Why are you scared?” she asks. She now floats above me as a vaporous entity buoyant on the ether around us. Facing me near the ceiling she hovers. Her blue eyes stars in the sky twinkling in mine. We lie parallel facing each other, me looking upwards and her looking downwards. Her blonde braid dangles down towards me like God reaching towards Adam to give him life, my arms passively folded across my chest.

“Everything,” I say.

“Why? You were never scared. Never fearful. The Mother is always with you. Within you. She won’t let you stray.”

“I know, but I don’t know. I can’t grasp the feeling. I have it now and surely in a few hours it’ll be gone. The universe will stop flowing through me. It’ll stop buzzing and humming within me. All there will be is the darkness, the fear, and the feeble and anxious pitter-patter of my heart.

She smiled and sent love through me.

“It’s just like you to be grasping, to always be looking for a place to hold onto. But there is nothing to hold on to. You’re in a boat floating down a river, constantly afraid that it’ll tip over. You keep grasping and holding onto it for some idea of comfort, of safety. But you’re still in a boat floating down the river. There isn’t any reason to grasp. You’re always in danger, but also perfectly safe.”

“Give me some comfort. Make me understand. Let me understand.”

“Know that you are the universe thinking of itself. Right now. If you are confused the universe is also confused and if your mind is clear then the universe is clear. You’re not in the universe or a part of it, you are it! Everything is as perfect as can be, right in this instance. Go ahead and look around. Feel the moment. It’s all right here. All the misery to behold, but all of the love to behold as well. Everything that has existed, will exist, exists now, and will never exist is hopelessly right here in front of you. And to see it you only need to not look too hard for it.

“Listen, have faith in the universe. Have faith in me. Why are you always trying to understand things? To alter things? Just let them be. In a way, let go of the boat or raft that you keep clinging to. And once you let go of that, don’t be tempted to grab onto another boat or raft, or ever a piece of driftwood in desperation. Just float along with the current.

I rolled over and grabbed a notebook that was next to the bed. I furiously started to scribble broken words and sentences down. Go with the flow. Boats on a river. Don’t grasp. Don’t cling. Be yourself. Perfect inaction. Have faith in the universe.

I glanced up where she was floating above me and she was gone, physically that is. Despite this, she spoke up. A voice that was as real as anything is, but not physical. There was no sound but there was still a voice.

“You’re grasping again.” she amusingly said. I nodded and shrugged. “By writing down and solidifying these ‘guidelines’ you falsify them. Now the opposite of what you’ve written is true. Focus on self-improvement, focus on making an impact in the world you live in, realize the universe is a cold, cruel, and terrifying place.”

I ripped the page out of my notebook, crumpled it up, and tossed it against the wall. I started to cry. Nothing made sense. Nothing was ever going to make sense and the fact that this bothered me so much also made no sense.

“Write that down,” she said.

“What?”

“That nothing makes sense.”

“Why?”

“Because you finally seem to be finding your way in the correct direction, James.”

“I’m not going to write that down.”

“See? You are making progress!”

“Let me instill some more wisdom while you’re here. While you’re listening to me. Channel these thoughts and maybe write them down. Claim them as your own. Could it be that you’re already where you want to be? You think you’re stumbling through a cave blind and in the darkness with your hands stretched out. But this is only because your eyes are closed. If you only had the courage to open them you might discover that you’re on top of a mountain. In the crisp, clear, cold, and truthful air. Take a breath, can’t you tell? It’s not stuff, moldy, musty, or cave-like in any way because you’re on top of a mountain.

“Sure there are people above you and further along the summit path than you are, but you have your own team to take care of. What if people look up to you and you only lack the courage to see this for yourself? What if you’re further along the path then they are and it’s your purpose to guide them? What if by not recognizing this you’re doing everyone — including yourself — a disservice. What if you’re a leader? What if you have a job to do? What if you’re given a task that only you don’t feel capable of doing?”

“Is this what I’m supposed to do?”

She appeared next to my bed as ethereal and beautiful and she always is, was, and will ever be. She seemed to be amused by my question.

“You’re not supposed to do anything!”

“So what was all of that you just said about?”

“Oh, mere hypotheticals and such. Just me asking questions. But how are you supposed to find answers if you don’t ask questions?”

“So what are the answers to the questions you just asked me?”

“That is for you to decide.” She looked around. “Well, my time is up.” She held her hand out for me to grab onto, as if to help me get out of bed. “And it’s time for you to wake up.” I grabbed her icy hand and she forcefully yanked me up. I sat up in my bed with the sun pouring sunbeams into my lap.

It was time to go about my day and for once I felt happy about it all.