Urban Exploration (Part One)

The old factory sat downtown against the river clustered amongst the other abandoned buildings. They didn’t mean anything anymore, relics of an economy long forgotten but whose ghost still remains in America. Everyone in town knew of them but not directly. In memory they only appear as vague and ghostly shapes around the peripheral of actual memories. Countless wedding pictures and social media posts show these ghostly, grim structures hiding in plain sight across the river, but nobody takes notice.

The factory wasn’t special — just one of many — but it was the one we scouted out one weekend night and it became special to us. It was perfect as far as abandoned factories go, tucked away from the main streets, dark and secluded with the street lamps far away. As we wheeled to the side of the building we noticed that the windows, while boarded up nearest to the ground and shattered higher up, were not that high. We’d just have to find a way to get up to them. Riding around to the opposite side of the building we discovered a tree growing, one large branch probing directly into the building, with the single plywood sheet smashed into the interior. The tree was leaning towards the opening almost as if it knew we wanted a way in.

She climbed up the trunk, carefully grabbing the few branches to access the window while I watched our bikes. No one was around so I took a drink of our mutual vodka and waited for her report.

“It’s fine,” she said as she clicked on her flashlight and peered through the smashed window. “It leads to a small room and there’s a table right under the branch.”

“Very cool,” I said.

“Are we doing this now?” She asked.

The alcohol was coursing through both of our veins, I could feel the pull of the adventure, but we could wait. And we should’ve waited. This evening was meant to be an aimless drunken bike ride and only in the midst of the factories had we talked about exploring one. We were just poking around, seeing what could be accessed, and had lucked out; we actually found one to plunder. There’d be other days to explore the abandoned corpse, there was no rush, and next time we could prepare.

“Maybe we should come back next weekend. We could bring some supplies or something.”

“Come on, chicken shit. What ‘supplies’ do we need anyways? We have our phones for lights, and climb up here and give me the vodka. Let’s do this!

She had a point. Maybe I was only being my hesitant self? Another way to pass up the adventure and succumb to my anxiety; adventures are always in the future for me. I took another drink and climbed up after her.

It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust from the dim light of downtown to the utter darkness inside the factory. I turned my phone on and shone the light inside. My eyes followed the bright circle of light as it darted around the room. There was a table a few feet below the window strewn with old papers and file folders. The back of my mind vaguely noted that none of these papers were printed. Handwritten scrawl all over the pages, numbers and codes that ceased to have meaning to anyone alive except some old retiree living somewhere in the world.

We both climbed down onto the table and then to the floor. Filing cabinets lined one wall while desks took up the rest. All useful machines, typewriters, phones, and whatever else had been in the room had been removed. Papers covered the floor and a few broken lamps layed sideways with their bulbs smashed and glass glittering in the pale light.

An old wooden door led to a hallway that ran in both directions. Across from us was another “office room” (at least this is what we called it). This room was the same as the last, littered with the same cryptic papers and trash, although the far wall was all dusty glass. We walked up and peered into the blackness of the factory floor. Some large machines remained, old, decrepit and long being useful to anyone. Our lights didn’t shine far and we didn’t know what the rest of the floor contained, shrouded in a darkness that the little ambient light from the few holes in the roofs couldn’t dispel.

We walked down the hallway and entered another room along the outer wall like the one that led us inside. This room wasn’t totally dark. A solitary oil lamp sat on the floor. We both looked at each other and crawled our lights around the room. There was a pile of blankets a few feet from the lamp in a corner of the room. It looked like another heap of junk, except that it moved.

We gasped and stared at each other in the dim reflected light from our lights. Eyeing the pile closer we noticed there was a shaggy head of hair peeking up under the covers. The bum coughed, rolled over, and tucked himself into his nest, apparently still fast asleep. Our senses came back to us after this initial shock. We noticed the pipe of empty cans and bottles of beer and alcohol as well as a few cans of food. Ravioli. Beans. Soup. Old bread and fast-food bags also littered around the nest.

We nodded to each other and silently left the room, retreating back to the windowed office room.

“That scared the shit out of me. I didn’t expect anyone to actually be here.” She said.

“I about pissed my pants. But it is an old factory. There’s probably homeless people all over the place.” I said. “Should we leave? I think we should leave.”

“No. There’s this whole building to explore, we can’t leave now. He’s sleeping anyways and didn’t notice us so we’re fine. We’ll just be very quiet, okay?”

“Sure. I guess.”

“Gimme the vodka; stop hogging it.”

I pulled the bottle out and we took drinks from it.

“Well, you ready?” She asked.

“Sure. Let’s see what…”

Footsteps on the floor above us and we froze. It didn’t sound like a single person either, maybe two or three. They didn’t seem like they were scared of making noise either, their footsteps being confidently loud and booming in the silent stillness of the building.

“How about now? Are you ready to get the hell out of here?” I asked.

“Let’s wait. Maybe they’ll…”

The footsteps moved across the ceiling above us and down a flight of stairs in the distance. The sounds echoed from the end of the hallway looming in the distance.

We shut our lights off and hid up against the wall next to the doorway. If anyone looked in our room maybe they’d miss us?

Her courage was greater than mine. She peered around and out of the doorway. There were three people, one carrying an oil lamp and the other two had, well what did they have? She couldn’t clearly see.

They stopped at the room with the bum, and a voice spoke up. “Will he work?”

“Yes,” another voice replied.

“Do you think he’ll fight?”

“No. He’s passed out drunk. Get him.”

The figures walked into the room and we heard rustling and grunting. A raspy voice seemed to be mumbling and questioning something and was silenced by the sound of fist against flesh. There was more mumbling and grunting, this time with an edge of pain to it.

“Good. Get him upstairs.”

The figures helped the bum limp his way along the hallway with something held to his neck. It could only be a knife. The footsteps faded into the silence of the building, into the silence of the night, and once again transformed into those threatening steps on the ceiling above us.

“We’re leaving now, right? Let’s get out of here. Fuck all of this.” I said. “Unless you’re still bold and courageous for some reason.” I was joking; I wanted to leave.

She grabbed the bottle out of my pocket and took a drink bigger than I’d seen her do thus far. “Let’s check it out. Why not? He’s in trouble, it’s obvious, and maybe we can help him.”

“What kinda trouble do you think he’s in? They can’t rob him, he has nothing, so…?”

“Come on. Let’s go.” I followed sheepishly as she led the way through the darkness towards the stairway.


My first therapy session…

“So what brings you in today? What’s going on?” She smiles knowingly behind her glasses. A plus six-foot-tall lady who towers over me while walking or standing. Luckily sitting down we are closer to peers, but not really. Her: The Help, The Knowledge, The Cure. And me? Utterly Fucked Up; a flawed and defective human unable to function at a basic level in life.

“Well,” I sit back and think. I pick at my fingers nervously. I shake in my usual way although a bit more driven by anxiety over the situation. “Well, I think…I think I struggle with depression.” She raises her eyebrows and nods, allowing me to continue on. “I hate my life. Something is wrong. Something I’m not consciously aware of. Others seem more…functional than I am? If that makes sense. Everyone seems okay with life and…I’m not.” I shrug and smile the smile that I always wear when talking about serious topics; a mask which I happily wear to drive away the inevitable pressing questions. If anything life is a joke and you need to be able to laugh about it.

And was I even that dysfunctional? I didn’t feel depressed or suicidal at the time. No, I had taken the first important steps to getting help and that meant I was probably not depressed at all, right? Not dysfunctional. I felt fine at the time; the depression was false. It was a lie. I was looking for attention, something like the school shooter’s desperate attempt at asking for help, the bridge jumper’s way of screaming to be noticed, but if I made the effort to find help didn’t that imply that I was functioning at a normal level? Was I a fraud even coming here and talking to her?

Something about the last two months stirred in my mind. The haze, the blur of it all. Sitting in the yard drunk off of ten beers and crying didn’t seem right — normal people didn’t do this (or did they?) — but everyone was unique, right? Maybe it was normal. Or that I was normal and everyone else was fucked up. And was debating jumping off a bridge in the early morning hours after work normal? Probably not. Something in the past few months caused me to make the desperate phone call for help, even being as socially awkward as anyone could be. The phone call itself was the sign that I needed help. I couldn’t even call the internet company to negotiate a lower monthly bill, so would I really call a number hungover and jittery and tell them I suffer from depression and that I Wanted to Talk to Someone? No, I probably wouldn’t. But I did, and this was a sign. A symptom of desperation. Maybe I did need help after all.

She peered at me through the glasses daring me to go on; there was always more to the story and everyone was hesitant at first. Please tell your story Defective Human and I’ll listen; it’s what you’re paying me for, her eyes said.

As if acknowledging her silent cues I said, “Okay, fine. I, uh, I think I hate myself. I hate everything I am. I know I’m supposed to love myself and I totally agree with it in theory…but I don’t. I don’t like me. I don’t want to be me. Sometimes I want to scratch my skin off and escape to another body — the same ugly bastard greets me in the mirror every morning — because I just can’t take it anymore. I overthink everything. Everyone hates me: at least I think so. I’m pretty sure of it actually. And I have nothing to offer the world. I don’t have any gifts — nothing that makes me unique or special — and I hate myself.” I put another fragile smile on my face and shrugged. It’s all a joke, everything is a joke. Maybe I got that from my dad.

She cleared her throat and looked at me from the clipboard she was violently scribbling notes on. I imagined what it said: Total nutcase, crazy, lack of self-esteem, possible alcoholic, severe past family issues, bipolar like no one else before, anxiety, fear of social rejection, McDonald’s after work? Maybe. But no; Taco Bell sounds much better!

She smiled knowingly over the glasses again and finally said something. “If you could take a stab at it, why do you think you feel this way? What specifically are you unhappy with in your life?”

I looked down at my shaking hands and thought for a moment. I looked out of the window at my parked car. I watched the clouds creep across the sky. I watched an old man hobble to his car. I wondered what he was suffering from. Was he too old to be a Vietnam veteran? PTSD? Scarred from the war fifty years ago? Or some other problem, maybe alcoholism to cope with the war? I scratched my head. My mind locked up as I felt her glare on my face. I fidgeted a bit to look casual. I looked at the scuff marks on my shoes. And why are there blankets and pillows on the couch I’m sitting on? Was I supposed to be lying down?

This seemed to be endless but I eventually came to a conclusion. I looked at her with a blank and helpless look and shrugged. “I have no idea. But four days ago I was, well, this probably doesn’t mean much, but I was…”


What I’ve learned is that any session that doesn’t leave you crying in a parking lot behind a fast food restaurant wasn’t productive. Some sessions you have don’t go anywhere. You should be okay with that. You’ll get there.

That was the comment she left on my social media page. The old “she,” the past “her,” not the new one. The new “her” doesn’t say much although I still crave anything from her. Four years later and the cycle repeats, stuck in a rut and unable to escape.

Although I disagree with her. The session wasn’t productive at all — I felt more lost than usual — but here I was crying in a park. Where was the fast food? Where was the enlightening moment? After finally getting help wasn’t I supposed to feel better? When was the magical moment supposed to happen? When was I supposed to be happy, or at least functional, in this thing called life? The more questions the therapist asked the more answers I lacked. I had no idea why I did what I did. My actions didn’t make any sense, especially to me. I knew other people to a higher degree than I knew myself. I have no idea why I’m writing this now at 1:05 in the morning trying to tie it all together: nothing makes sense. At all. Even the bare trees in February don’t make sense. Why were they there? I was seeing a fragment of the world in this tiny city in America, but was I even really here? It felt like a dream, a terrible dream, with time fixed that I couldn’t escape from. The dream was reality, the place you escape nightmares to find comfort in. But when reality is a nightmare what else is there for you to wake up in comfort to?

I thought of her for a bit randomly and without thought or reason. Maybe she was right. But maybe I didn’t care about what she thought anymore. And this made me more depressed somehow. And then back to my old habits. What does she think about me? Does she approve of me? Am I cooler now because I’m seeking help? Is it honorable to admit to your problems? Does she sympathize with my struggle? Is she impressed that I’m writing consistently now? Does she randomly think of me like I think of her? Or am I some past apparition that is just a ghost in her past, some fragment in her imagination, some shadow in her dreams?

And no progress. I am me with no escape. Thirty years of living with the same person and you’d think you’d grow to like yourself being stuck with yourself for so long. It’s the opposite. Every year I spend with myself I hate myself: my roommate of depression and gloom. He is stubborn. He is bitter. He is depressing. He can’t help himself. He is as ineffective at life as his mother and father. He is insecure. He is brutal. He has no self-esteem. He farms approval from everyone else and is pathetic. He can’t function in life. He lives at a basic level only surviving day after day just trying to pass time. He harms himself in some grand quest to transcend himself. He tries to escape himself despite himself. He wants to love what he hates which turns out to be himself and everything he is. And despite his best intentions he is inevitably trapped inside a prison that he cannot escape.

I looked down at my arm blurred by tears and started to scratch. Desperately trying to escape myself. No escape and only pain that I can’t avoid despite my dissociation. It’s always a part of me, the pain. And this is me. Stuck behind bars until I die. Escaping into reality that is outside the nightmare.

The Virus (Part Two)

A typical trip to the store during a pandemic.

Note: This is a continuation of The Virus (Part One). I orginally planned for this to be a two-part story, but it looks like it’ll be a three-parter.

Who is infected? Who isn’t? You can’t tell: treat everyone as a hazard. The six-foot rule? No, give people ten or twenty feet, as much as you possibly can because your life is at stake. The virus is small, invisible, and deadly. Walking corpses of the future pumping respiratory failure into the air with their still-functioning lungs. I picture the air currents and the wind stirring the invisible death into the air, swirling and making beautiful unseen vertices mixing virus and atmosphere together.

A man is riding his bike along my side of the road. I’m upwind of him, and picturing the air leaving his mouth and swirling around his cheeks and chin, around his neck, and into the slipstream he’s dragging behind him. He’s not a threat with the air currents today. Any death he might be carrying blows the other way and I’m safe. As safe as can be in this world at least.

The rest of the trip to the dollar store was uneventful, at least as uneventful as you could expect in these times. A few gunshots and screams rang out in the distance, punctuating the silence of our new world with reminders of the horrors occurring nearby. A drive-by shooting a mile ahead on the road I was walking along; I could see the car slow down and the crack crack of gunshots delayed by five seconds, and the small group of people walking on the side of the road fleeing and collapsing. I couldn’t tell if murder was involved from this distance.

And clouds of smoke rose up to the east, near downtown. More fires, more rioting, more unrest. It was all so uneventful that I didn’t pay it much mind. This was the world now.

Finally I arrived at the store, but as I reached the front corner I noticed something. Blood, a lot of blood on the sidewalk and road that led around the side of the store. The blood smeared towards the back as if someone was dragged away; the streaks leading around the back corner of the store.

My choices were laid out in front of me in a mere fraction of a second. Continue on into the store and pretend that I didn’t notice the blood, cower my head and flee, or investigate the scene. My heart started pounding and I began to shake with adrenaline once again filling my body. Fight or flight? Decisions had to be made even if adrenaline cripples logical thought. Before I realized it my knife was out and I was turning the corner to the back of the store. The choice was made, but seemingly not by me.

The path of blood led to the store’s dumpster area, a tiny fenced-in area to hide the trash the store accumulates daily. The gate was slightly propped open and the path of blood welcomed me through the gate. One new problem now; there was a second path of blood leading from the other side of the building, two streaks of blood from each side of the store. What awaited me along with the pungent smell of trash and refuse?

I slowly peered around the gate with knife in one hand and pepper spray in the other, my body permanently shaking from what might greet me. I was relieved to find two bodies, one with their neck slit wide open and one with a myriad of gunshot wounds in the chest. Relieved because dead bodies weren’t a threat to me, only a sign of a threat, a threat that wasn’t in my immediate area. The shaking still continued though; the mystery still hadn’t been solved.

A weapon, a gun, anything? The man whose neck that was slit open — both of them armed guards popularly employed to stop robberies and hostage situations in these troubling times — had no gun on him, with his holster strangely empty with the strap open. The other man, the one with the gunshots, still had his weapon. I quickly changed my gloves and took the firearm. It would serve me better than it would serve him. Crouched down, I noticed bloody footsteps leading to and from the dumpsters and back around to the front of the store.

Another conflict arose within me between fighting or fleeing, but the new weapon in my hand urged me on. I took a guard’s gun which was a crime itself, and what if I was charged for these murders? Nothing to worry about though, more crimes were more important to investigate even if the law could eventually catch up to me. Once all of this shit was over they could charge me. That was later, in the indefinite future, and I was determined to survive until that day.

Once again, before I knew it I was standing next to the double glass doors at the front of the store. The world was silent — too silent — and time seemed to stand still. I could feel the sun creeping slowly across the sky, my shadow passing as a sluggish sundial on the sidewalk. More choices — act or flee — but here I was: why run now? Everyone fantasizes about these do or die moments where logic doesn’t apply; what you think you’d do you’d never do and my intuition to flee was countered by this chance encounter to finally do something. Face your fate. Confront the demon in the store whose bloody footprints lead directly to his lair, because the alternative was boring everyday life. Escape it even if it means likely death.

The first door opened quietly as I gently eased through it. And the second door? One of those damn bells to notify the store employees when someone entered. Even though I tried to open it slowly, the bell still jingled making a piercingly loud sound in the silence of the world. No sound answered the bell in return. Everything was silent, still, and oppressive.

But not totally silent as I discovered upon entering the store. Strange muffling arose from behind the counter. I stood there for a moment to gauge the layout of the store and listened for any sounds from the beast that might be lurking in here. Still and silent. Only the rustling behind the counter gave my senses something to latch onto. I glanced over and an employee was seated on the floor, gagged and tied up with the look of sheer panic on her face. She appeared unharmed and nodded her head towards the back of the store, with unintelligible grunts accompanying each motion. The beast was back there, she was saying.

More oppressive silence. It was lurking, hiding, stalking me. I crept forward with my finger on the trigger ready to defend myself and the helpless employee if I needed to. Creeping forward step by step until I reached the end of one of the aisles where I hid on the other side of the end cap. 

This time faint footsteps were heard. Cautious footsteps at the opposite end of the aisle. I looked around trying to formulate some plan of attack, some plan for defense, shoot to kill or shoot to wound? Too many thought racing through my head to make sense of anything. And…and above the door was a mirror: one of those spherical mirrors that allows you to see nearly the entire store in a tiny glass ball. Distorted perspectives but the human eye is sensitive to motion, and at the end of the aisle I was lurking at, a shape moved.

I waited until the shape was halfway down the aisle and peered around the racks to get a glimpse of whoever was stalking me. Gunshots immediately rang out in my direction, some missing down the aisle and shattering into the main door while others slammed into the shaving behind me. This man was unhinged, not even paying attention or deciding if I was a threat or not. Instant firing to kill, reckless firing, and my mind was made up: Kill or be killed. There was no reasoning with this person. Shoot first and enjoy your life if you still had it after time ceased to be frozen.

More creeping from the man towards me. I cleared my throat and said in a weak and shaky voice, “Alright. Let’s talk about this. Okay?” There was no reply besides the footsteps creeping towards me. In the mirror he was three-quarters of the way down the aisle, about fifteen feet away from my location. In the distorted mirror I could see his arm extended with the firearm poised to fill my body full of lead.

“Come on, let’s talk. I’m not a cop. I’m…nobody.” No reply. Unhinged. Unreasonable. Off the rails. And he was almost here.

I shot out from behind the endcap with my arms extended. The man with wild eyes seemed surprised, as if he could sneak up and kill me and I wouldn’t bat an eye or fight otherwise, the finger on his trigger poised, but I was quicker. Filled with adrenaline from the past ten minutes of stopped time, my body was as tense as a compressed spring, and at the tip of the spring ready to snap was my finger. The trigger jarred back and forth an indefinite amount of times before time unfroze and the moment was over. The man lay on the ground ten feet from me, slightly quivering extremities until all motion ceased.

And I realized I had killed a man. A fellow human being. Kill or be killed, right?

More footsteps sounded from the rear of the store, somehow quieter than the man’s careful steps moments earlier. I held the gun up again, unsure of how much ammo was left, but there wasn’t time to do anything about it. Bluff if necessary; the gun looked fully-loaded anyways. Recite the mantra again: Kill or be killed.

Around the end of the aisle shuffled a girl, maybe five- or six-year-old. She looked at me, down to the man on the ground, and then looked back at me. She walked over to the man and sat down cross-legged next to him. There were no tears or cries or shouts or curses, just a glazed look on her eyes. The same glazed look the man on the floor had.

“Da…daddy?” she asked the man bleeding on the floor.

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Anna of the Woods

Strange things happen while camping in the woods…

Note: Hopefully my writer’s block is over. I’ve been finding a ton of inspiration and motivation lately: use it while I have it, right? This is a mostly fictionalized account of my time trying to live in the woods.

I was lost for sorts. Not physically lost but mentally lost. Lost in life. Depressed. A drunkard to cope with being lost. Being drunk lets you feel okay with being lost, with having no idea what you’re supposed to do, because it shrinks reality into the present. All you must deal with is the here and now and people are always happier when they pay attention to the here and now. The trouble only begins when you dwell on the past or look forward to the future, traveling the x-axis too far. Regret, anger, helplessness, dread, and anxiety all seem to come from either looking backwards or forwards too much or too desperately.

To find my place I set out for the woods. That was the plan. I was drunk again and it seemed like a great idea. I gathered all the supplies I casually thought about over the past few months in case I ever became crazy enough to actually do it. Cans of coup, a can opener, tent and sleeping bag, a few tiny cans of Sterno, rice, cans of beans, a knife, cigarettes, everything I could think of I put into my car and set out. And alcohol of course. And some drugs in the form of my trusty cough medicine dextromethorphan, DXM. Something to help oil the gears within my mind. Something to let my mind expand outward along the y-axis of whatever you’d call it. Space. Time. Peace. Nirvana. Whatever. I’d felt it countless times but it always escapes grasp.

I went to a local park; an isolated park, not too popular but also not totally forgotten. It was a popular area for disc golfers as there is a course there, but disc golfers are there to golf and not to hike. That was part of the appeal, to hide in plain sight in a park populated by disc golfers who didn’t care much for exploration in the woods. Up a path into the trees I went for a quarter mile in dark, then turned off and walked another few hundred feet. Located close enough to the path for convenience but far enough away that I was fairly hidden. It took three trips to haul all of the supplies to my new home.

I sat in the tent and cracked open a beer. The trusty thought that I always dwelled too much on reared its hideous head: So now what?

I texted some friends and no one replied. I tried to start a fire but the wood and twigs I could find were soaked from days of rain. Even the air seemed chilly and thick with too much water and a faint mist seemed to envelop the woods. Not that I could tell because it was dark; only the lights from the city reflecting pale off the clouds provided any illumination. The tiny candles I had did little to push back the ever present darkness around me.

I was alone. Utterly alone. I checked social media for signs of life and found only ghosts, only the faint images of real life that people wanted others to see. Memes shared, political opinions posted, happy family pictures and dinners. Picturesque to a tee. No, there was no life there at all, and if anything this made me more depressed. Trapped in my mind and isolated left me gasping for anything to hold onto. Some sense of peace. There was no answer from the woods. Only the scraping of tree limbs in the wind replied. Maybe a creature sounded in the dark, but they stayed far enough away from the deadly human trespassing in their domain. Silence. Loneliness. And the time crept ever so slowly. It was only one in the morning. So, now what?

I thought as I drank and made no progress. The same issues over and over. The same flawed person thinking their regular flawed thoughts endlessly. But maybe I needed to go deeper, really get down into the nitty gritty of my mind. Have an experience. Steal some insight forcefully from the universe as if it was mine by right. I popped open my cough syrup bottle and began to drink. The stuff was horrendous and I drank beer and medicine back and forth, desperately trying to clear my tastebuds from the twisted flavors of each of them.

I did some math about how much of the sticky, bitter stuff to actually drink. I came to about half a bottle, but as boozed up as I was wasn’t very confident in my math. Who the hell knew. I guessed. I’d either end up not feeling anything or transcending reality. The stuff tasted disgusting and after 75% of the bottle I gave up the whole project. I wasn’t feeling anything and it was time I tried to get some sleep. My math was probably wrong so I put the cap back on and regretfully laid down for the night.

Sleep. Sleep? No. Music. More infernal music, something I had heard in the past ages ago. Or maybe the future. I sat up and looked at the candle feebly flickering in the tent. And. Fire. Fire. That’s what was missing tonight. This morning. Time didn’t mean anything — the world simply spun and only us humans put meaning on it — and that was fine. Everything was fine. But, fire. Fire makes us human, right? There I was in the woods as a prehistoric human, nothing more than a caveman who happened to have a phone and internet with him. I didn’t have fire. Until I had fire I wasn’t enlightened. I could never be at peace living as a slovenly creature in the woods.

In the tent I said aloud to no one in particular. “I want fire. I will make a campfire. If it’s the last thing I do, I will have fire.” I stood up, grabbed my cigarette lighter, a beer, hobbled a bit, and stepped out into the damp and chilly air.

Sticks. Wood. Kindle. Start small with dry stuff and build up to larger branches. Until you had logs. A self-sustaining fire. A fire hot and fierce enough to burn anything liquid thrown into it. Sure the branches were wet, but with a blazing fire they’d dry and burn like everything else did in the world.

I gathered my piles into categories based on how large the branches were. Twigs, here. And there, larger sticks. And here, branches. The only thing missing was grass, something small and dry that would easily light. But I had paper towels and a nearly empty case of beer; maybe that would suffice? I grabbed the towels, emptied the box, and started tearing the shreds of paper into smaller and smaller bits. I would have fire. It was the meaning of my life in the all-consuming present.

Onto the ground they went into a small pile. I then made a tiny tent of twigs and smaller sticks on top of the pile. I rolled up a tiny bit of paper on the end of a stick and dipped it in the liquid candle wax: a tiny homemade torch. It took fire easily. And this went into the bottom of the tent of twigs.

And fire! It smoked, glowed, sputtered, and then went out. I hopped onto my knees to blow on the remaining feeble embers only to have them die. I tried again. And again. And there was no fire. I was still a dumb caveman who’d never be enlightened and wise. I’d never cook meat, have crops, smelt metal, or build cities. Left in the woods to die and discovered thousands of years later like Homo Neanderthalensis.

I stood up, looked around, and nearly gave up. A tiny bush next to fire seemed to taunt me but I didn’t know why. It was a strange plant, a bush that was only a bush only when you looked at it. Because when you looked away and viewed it out of your peripheral it took on a humanoid appearance. This bush was something human, or humanlike, and it taunted me. It stood over my pile of sticks that refused to burn and made them refuse to burn. It’s name, because it did have a name, was Anna.

I stared at the bush again, knowing who it was (but not what), and said, “Anna, please let me make a fire.”

She stared at me silently, reverting into a form or a bush depending on if I looked directly at it or not.

“Come on. Why? Why do you do this to me?! I just want to make a fire.”

I set back to work. Anna wouldn’t stop me.

More timeless time passed and nothing happened. I came close, once or twice, where flames licked the sticks for nearly ten minutes before it smoldered into nothing.

“Anna. Anna, why?”

Reality came back in waves where I realized I was talking to a bush. A plant. Nothing more and nothing less. I was in the woods trying to build a fire and I couldn’t and I was talking to a plant. Begging the plant to let me make a fire. I felt like I was losing my mind. Nothing made sense. Who was Anna and why was that the plant’s name? Why was I stumbling around? Why did the bush appear so lifelike at times? My thought came back to an old Stephen King story I had read. Something about a hotel room that a totally skeptical guy wanted to spend the night in. And in the room he slowly goes crazy. The room itself was a malevolent being that degrades your sanity causing you to question everything. Until you lost it. Until you went mad. Until the room killed you.

And, what?

I remembered old stories about this park: many people in my city say it’s haunted. My cousin, a supposed ghost hunter, claims she’s seen ghosts in this very park on countless occasions. Right where I was trying to spend the night and seek some solace. There were no ghosts, obviously, and I was a skeptic. Maybe it was just her imagination? There weren’t any ghosts here.

But what if there was.

The woods did seem very silent and malevolent. And I was losing my mind. Was it that far-fetched to believe that I was surrounded by a horde of ghosts or worse, demonic beings that wanted to claim me as their own? I started to panic at the thought. Anna, the bush three feet from my tent, was one of them. A spirit of some long lost and forgotten soul who for some reason haunted in the park I was in. She probably died in a fire, which explained her stopping me from making mine. Even in death she was scared, or even protective of me. Or not. Maybe she was trying to drive me insane, to get me to hang myself off a tree? Or do something crazy. What would happen if I chopped my hand off with my hatchet? Where did that thought even come from? What would people think and say if I came out of the park after one day and had to be hospitalized and institutionalized for hacking my hand off? What if I was going crazy?

No. No way. It was the drugs. Didn’t I drink a bunch of cough medicine ages ago? But, what if it wasn’t the drugs? What if they only allowed me to perceive the unknown? As my mind raced I desperately tried to get a hold of it and keep it under control. Think happy thoughts. I gave up on the failed fire, got into my tent, and finished off the last few beers of the twelve pack.

I awoke a few hours later once again feeling lost, this time mentally. I questioned where I was and what I was doing there. Rain was soaking in through my tent that I was in, my sleeping bag was damp, and I was freezing. My head hurt — the familiar feeling of the hangover — and time would only make it worse. My mind turned back to the previous night which felt like a dream. The demons, the demons that weren’t there but seemed to be there at time, had haunted me and now they were gone. I opened the door to my tent and looked out. I was in the woods and I was certain of my place in space this time. Birds were chirping, the wind wasn’t blowing, and the only sound was the rain in the middle of the forest. Despite my brutal confusion and hangover, there I was. Maybe I wasn’t lost.

And Anna stood by the failed fire. Still a tree but as I looked away there was a person there. I was sober. I wasn’t high. But…the bush was a human. A person. A spirit. Something. I stepped out of my tent and grabbed a couple of beers to think about the situation. I didn’t feel threatened, just confused with this presence still there. After a beer and a half I walked over and grabbed my hatchet which I tossed aside early in the morning into a pile of mud for some reason. I wiped the blade off and it glistened as well as it could under the cloudy and dreary day. I walked up to Anna.

“Anna. You need to leave. You’re disturbing my peace. This whole thing, this whole adventure, was only meant for me to find peace. So, please leave.”

Anna stood there.

I sighed. “Alright, have it your way. I’m sorry.”

I swung as hard as I could drawing all the strength from my body. I waited for a cry or a shout or anything from Anna, but there was nothing. Just the dull plop plop plop of the hatchet striking branches over mud. Eventually Anna toppled over right on top of my aborted bonfire.

And as damp as it was the night before, and as much as it was raining at the time, the fire started to smoulder and burst into a large blazing flame. Here was my fire, here was my peace, here was me transcending my primal spirit.

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The Vacant Lot

A bike ride past a vacant field filled with memories.

Note: Instead of working on the actual “coherent” stories I’ve been trying to write, I’ve been reading the older stories I’d written years ago. They’re not too bad, and it’s fun to tidy them up a bit. This is one of them.

Without a clear goal or plan I turned left at this street and right at another. I was a free spirit, riding in whichever direction I fancied at the time. The way I took was dictated by emotion and past memory: I remember going down a certain street in high school, or a girl I used to know lived down a street which I blindly turned down. Memories were everywhere — the time was different and sometimes the scenery was different — but the memories still lingered in some way even though they were horribly nonexistent in the present.

I rode by the park we used to play football in, years ago in high school. I wondered if we would ever get people together to play again. Maybe as a ten-year, twenty-year, or even a thirty-year reunion. We could be fifty-year-olds trying to play tackle football at the old park we used to play in. I knew we wouldn’t, and at most maybe a friend or two would meet up someday and throw a football around for nostalgic reasons. But those games, no, they were forever gone. No one ever knew at the time we were playing the last football game that we’d ever play.

The street I was on along the park also had other familiarity to it. It took a few moments of thought — some tying of the strings of my memory — but I finally connected the dots in my head: this was the street my ex-girlfriend and I had rented a house on. It was long ago, not terribly long ago — only a few years — but I was immensely changed since then, making it feel like ages had passed. I felt decades older and wiser even though I’d only gone around the sun two and a half times since. I had no goals or plans that day, so I continued on down the street. It’d be nice to ride by the old house and reminisce.

As I got closer to the house we had rented I realized something; the houses that were along this street were gone. I remembered years earlier there had been a flood, these houses which bordered on the creek had become lost causes, and the city moved to purchase and demolish them. Her and I were together when the flood happened, and being alongside the creek allowed us to see a large part of what had happened. We were on the higher side of the creek and our street didn’t flood; our house wasn’t afloat. Around us were houses seemingly boats in endless water: drifting in a lake that had appeared out of nowhere from the clouds and the rain one August night. The vacant lots allowed me to see the next street over, unimpeded by trees, houses, or any other obstruction and it seemed very strange. Only the creek which had caused the flooding was between me and the street to the north. The creek seemed harmless and nothing like the demon that I knew it could be if fed well enough.

I continued on and finally arrived where our old house was, but something didn’t seem right. I glanced back at the street sign to make sure I didn’t mistake what block I was on, and it was the block, but where was the house? The vacant fields of grass that had stretched endlessly also stretched into this area completely catching me off guard. And further down the road, the field continued. Had the city demolished the entire area?

I slowed and eased my bike towards the curb at the location where I thought the house used to be. There was the same, bland grassy field and nothing gave away the hints of the past. But here, along the curb, was a tree: a single tree between the sidewalk and the street. As I parked under it, I glanced up and felt something. It was a tree, a tree that was unremarkable in every way possible, but something in my memory moved. This was the tree I had parked under for years straight, never really looking up to examine it but seeing it so frequently made an imprint on my memory. It was a ghost, an image of a peripheral that etched its way into my mind. Never noticed but always there. It felt familiar, like an old friend or acquaintance, and I knew this was where the house used to be.

I looked at the field with determination and yearning. Behind me was slightly lower where a driveway used to be, and imagining the memory of the property fit like a puzzle to this sparse field with a creek in the middle of it. Here was where the driveway was, and here was where I put our garbage out on a Wednesday, and there was where the next door neighbors lived, and over there was where I’d sit on the steps and think about us and how we’d never work.

I frowned as I examined the vacant field some more. The memories were both good and bad and they randomly came at me with no rhyme or reason; they just appeared as ghosts of the location. 

I thought of the house, and where I happened to be currently. There was a pile of rubble of the old house somewhere and I wondered if anyone thought of the memories they held. There was a chunk of concrete out there in the world that I walked on daily, and a board of wood that creaked every time we went up the steps, and the walls that watched us smile, cry, scream, and yell as the days came and passed. They existed somewhere and in some form out in the world without anyone but myself knowing their history.

Reality slowly creeped back in as I stared into the air. I was standing there next to a field and, well, I was on a bike ride that day. Feeling the outside world pressing in on my senses again, I mounted the bike and kicked off from the curb that her car tire had rubbed on countless times. I imagined that maybe there were bits of rubber from her car on my shoes as I sped off down the street. But that was the past that was past and this was the neverending present and it was time to get on with life.

I moved on from that day, from that leisurely bike ride, without much conscious thought about what I had seen. Going to work, sleeping, eating, and generally existing were enough to fill my time, and I didn’t think of the lost house very much. But as much as I’d have liked to think it didn’t weigh on me, it must have, because my mind would somehow turn to the image of the empty field with the creek behind it, and it would seem to occur when I was alone, trying to not think of anything at all. As I tried to fall asleep, I’d see the field again, and sometimes the house that used to be there. I thought of her, and wondered what she was up to. The thoughts were never strong enough to give me pause, to keep me awake at night, or to make me think deeply; they would randomly appear and then after a few thoughtful moments, they’d drift away into the oblivion from which they came.

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Clubbin’ in The Skooma Den

Pip the Argonian goes on a violent rampage in The Skooma Den.

Note: I don’t usually post chapters from my Morrowind fanfic here, mostly because it’s over at Wattpad, but I think this chapter came out fucked up enough to serve as a stand-alone story. If you’d like to read more of it, here’s the link.

The skooma den only a few buildings down from The Eight Plates didn’t have a proper name: only The Skooma Den. It was known to everyone in the city certainly, but the official view of nearly every inhabitant of Balmora was to ignore its presence entirely. The locals who lived quiet and happy lives gave the place a wide berth, barely even glancing in its direction as they passed by. Imperial law enforcement didn’t want anything to do with it despite it breaking countless laws, mostly because their jobs were supported by it. The lowlifes that inhabited the place surely caused trouble elsewhere, usually minor crimes like thieving, stealing, or selling their drugs outside of the establishment, and the Empire was happy to crack down on those poor souls. This way they didn’t have to deal with cutting off the head of the monster whose tentacles inadvertently paid their salaries. And the local Dunmer house in charge didn’t want anything to do with the place either due to the countless higher ups within House Hlaalu having very important obligations to the building and its business. The pockets of corruption are always deep and widespread and it’s best not to get tangled into the web too much if you valued your life.

The inhabitants of The Skooma Den were the lowest that Tamriel had to offer the world. Those well over the cliff of addiction, those who had thrown all aspects of their lives away in chase of the ever fading high they couldn’t live without. In fact, the high was their life and they accepted it for better or for worse (mostly worse). It’s noble in a way to accept what your life is or isn’t and these people surely woke up one day, well down the skooma hole but still grasping desperately at a normal and happy life, only to finally accept their fate. Looking in the mirror they would eventually say a variation of this: I am a skooma addict: this is who I am.

The place was part skooma dealing, part partying; a safe zone for the skooma junkie to let their inhibitions loose with other like-minded individuals. The floor was littered with the corpses of old and busted glass skooma pipes and alcohol bottles, and no one seemed to care about walking around barefoot on the sharp shards. Skooma dulls the nerves and leaves you feeling wistful and undefeatable: to them the glass slicing their feet with every sloppy and misplaced step only seemed some abstraction of the mind because their minds were Truly Free. There was no need for physical distractions from their consciousness, at least the bad physical distractions.

And the back room was called “the orgy room” for obvious reasons. It was a constant naked, hedonistic, and fluid-stained room with no policy to participation at all. When you felt the urge to partake you went into the room and did whatever the skooma told you to do in the moment. And when you finally got your fill (were filled or did the filling, it didn’t matter) you left. No one cared anymore about the vague ideas of love or partnership. Everything was temporary and they all grasped at the temporary pleasures whenever they felt like they needed them.

One day an Argonian walked into The Skooma Den from the Balmoran streets. He had never been there before but had heard whispers of the place since he had arrived weeks ago. And he didn’t have a reason to go there or to not go there besides some vague curiosity. Pip, as his name was, didn’t do any drugs passionately and certainly wasn’t the type of person to find The Den an appealing place to be. That would require having purpose, the purpose of living your life as a lost addict. Even a twisted and flawed purpose was still purpose and Pip didn’t have any.

No one noticed Pip as he walked in, his scaly Argonian feet being immune to the blood stained glass that littered the floor. The addicts were all too blasted out of their mind to notice him. Pip looked around, slowly pulled out his two meter long silver staff from his back, and held it poised to strike.

Pip walked up to a man on his hands and knees screaming, occasionally looking at his bloody hands laughing for reasons only he was aware of. And then he struck him over the back lightly. The man giggled. Pip swung again, this time harder than before. The man laughed even more. One more strike from his club with as much Argonian strength as he could muster — enough to break bones if hitting the right spot at the right angle — knocked the man down to the floor, his hands sliding violently over the shards of glass as he collapsed. He rolled over, looked at Pip, pointed, and started laughing so hard he began crying. His body was dead to any physical pain.

Pip thought this was the perfect place for him. 

He walked into the central crowd of people smoking, talking, laughing, screaming, making out, whatever it was that the skooma addicts were occupied with. And he started swinging as hard as he could at anyone within reach of the massive staff. Surprised looks from the junkies: where was this Argonian before? Some people took the bludgeons from the Argonian as a friendly challenge — another skooma head looking for a fight — and tried to tackle him. Pip knocked them down viciously as each charged him. He wheeled and danced around the room swinging his club, knocking people down, raising bruises, removing teeth, and snapping bones like some twisted and graceful ballerina of pain, his club using the force of its length and angular velocity to inflict massive damage to anyone it connected with. The dance only lasted ten minutes before everyone was lying on the jagged floor, dried blood from the past mixing with fresh blood from Pip’s outburst. The blood was black in the strange red and blue lanterns that lit the smoke filled room making the scene appear as a dream.

Pip did the same thing in the orgy room, but this time the occupants seemed to take pleasure from all the pain, it all being the same in their state. Blood mixed in with the various fluids on the bed, chairs, and floor until everyone lay silent, bludgeoned to the brink of their lives during their orgy.

“Clubbin’ fun for Pip. Me do again tomorrow.” And he left.

Not that he killed anyone: Pip wasn’t that viscous. And not that he had any negative views of the skooma addicts. No, he only chose to beat these people within inches of their lives because he could. No one would notice, no one would care, their families and loved ones discarding them long ago. And they could always get healed, either via the Temple, the Cult, or from alchemists and Mages’ Guild restoration magic experts. As their drug wore off and the pain became impossible to ignore, they’d surely crawl, hobble, and limp their way to a healer and beg for something to be done to help them.

As Pip walked in the following day he was greeted with a cheer. They knew him this time and they couldn’t wait for their beating to begin.

“Come on, you can’t do shit to me today! Let’s have a brawl!” On Imperial challenged.

“You got me in the ribs yesterday, get my face today!” A Dunmer exclaimed.

“End my life; I am miserable. I want to die!” screamed one Khajiit in pure joy.

And Pip obliged them all (except the Khajiit), dancing like a ballerina for the second night in a row, beating them all to a pulp once again. Twirling, swinging, clubbing. Some people, before collapsing from the beating, even slipped a few septims into Pip’s robes. They were huge fans of him and his dancing.

Pip showed up for the third night to even more passionate cheers. But this time he was bored with it. Clubbing was only fun for a while and sadly for Pip these people enjoyed it a bit too much. It wasn’t spontaneous anymore. He had a crowd to please, an obligation. It was a job. It was required. And what would he do now that his two days of clubbin’ in The Skooma Den was over before they had even begun?

Pip silenced the expecting and elated cheers with only a few sentences.”Pip no club tonight. Pip no club anymore. Pip bored. Pip have mission to do. Ald’ruhn. Hmm. Pip go find Funny Head. Yessss.” He turned around and walked out of The Skooma Den never to return again, the disappointed howls, screams, and protests following him out the door and into the barren evening streets.

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“You Are Safe”

“What does the voice of Fear whisper to you?”

The lady on the podcast asked the question, a seemingly straightforward question that wasn’t straightforward at all when you get down to it. What was I scared of? Spiders? Not really. Heights? Kinda. But it was implied that she was asking about visceral fear. Not the anxious fear of being late for work, the fear of creepy bugs, or the offsetting disgust that you have when you see someone with rotting teeth but the Fear that lives deep within you. The Fear that you’re not even aware of carrying around, the Fear that only manifests on sleepless nights or during mental breakdowns.

“Fear speaks to you in logic and reason.”

She said these statements with a loving smooth and reassuring voice, a voice that was made to be reassuring on podcasts. A friend had recommended this podcast, a certain Liturgist episode. I was on my way to work and figured I’d give it a shot. There was nothing else to do on the way to work. On a singular, straight road for the next ten miles until I hit the river. Corn on both sides. As flat as can be. The clouds above me so far in the distance that they barely seemed to move. I was both flying down the road at 60 m.p.h. and not moving at all. Corn, clouds, soybeans, farm homes and grain silos. The dank smell of cow and pig shit wafting into my car via the heater. Soon I’d be on dissociation highway; it was Friday after all.

The fear of death?

The scariest thing people usually imagine is death. Death is as inevitable as anything else in the world, the most inevitable thing that anyone could have happen to them. As the church near my house states, “One out of one people will die.” This naturally makes it scary. Someone scared of spiders doesn’t live with the dread of an inevitable giant spider appearing eventually in their lives. Hell, if they’re lucky they could live the rest of their life without seeing another spider ever again. Death is inevitable. It is the final and unavoidable end. The Actual End.

Is death my Fear? No. I’m not terrified by it unless I think about it too much at night. I envision my car hitting a patch of rain water on an oil slick, spinning out of control, and flipping over killing me in the process. Am I scared of this? No. It’d be so fast where I wouldn’t even be aware of it. Only feeling the helplessness of it and going along for the ride.

I’ve felt this way before. The small amount of times you actually face possible death give you a glimpse into what the impending doom is like. The human mind is a screwy thing and I vividly recall one time where I was riding my bike to work for the first time last year. I had ridden up a hill and was deathly tired and exhausted to the point my brain stopped working. Physical exhaustion begets mental exhaustion, the higher parts of my brain weren’t processing like they usually did. And while crossing a busy intersection I somehow thought of only looking one way for traffic; my brain blanked out and I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that vehicles drive both ways along the road. Before I knew what was happening I was in the street being greeted by a very loud, threatening, piercing horn from a truck. A large truck. I knew this because of the horn; a deep, loud horn that you hear from semi-trucks, garbage trucks, and trains. Not the meep, meep of a compact car horn. Primitive brain felt utter terror while conscious brain had the vivid thought of something like this: I’ve made a terrible mistake. This is it.

I looked left and the garbage truck was hauling full speed at me doing at least 45 m.p.h. I couldn’t even think. The world kinda slowed down and I fully accepted how this one tiny mistake and all the other tiny choices in my life led me to this singular moment of being killed by a garbage truck. Just one key mistake, one minor oversight in my exhausted mind meant my death.

And I wasn’t scared. I accepted it. I didn’t even have time to accept it, it just was in that moment. It was a cold fact that I wasn’t scared of: this is how it feels to die. I know it’ll be quick and painless. A quick flip of a light switch. On and then off. Light and then dark. Instantly falling asleep.

I’m not scared of death. Not scared in a way that causes me too much anxiety and dread; I know when the moment comes it’ll just be there and it’ll happen and I won’t be scared. So what is my Fear?

“It assumes the language of Love itself.”

Love itself. I repeated it in my head over and over trying to make sense of it. The idea that Fear masquerades around under the guise of Love. What was love? A self-love? Me trying to protect myself, backing myself into a corner, out of Fear acting as love. Self-preservation. Security. From a paralyzing lifelong insecurity given to me from childhood?

“Fear says, ‘Give me symbols…give me something I can rely on.’”

My mind dances and wanders to places that are dark against my will. Loneliness: why doesn’t anyone see me as a friend like I see them as a friend? Do they? And if they do, why can’t I understand it?  Why, despite all conscious thought, effort, and exercise, do I think everyone fundamentally hates me? How can people make friends so easily while it takes me literal years to open up? Another conscious thought that’s defied by my emotions. I can’t shut them off. Depression: why is life so unfulfilling? Why is it that when I do find something fulfilling it always wanes? Anxiety: why am I always on edge? Why is my fight or flight response constantly engaged? Why do I feel I’m waging a constant war against everything I seem to be? Why do I think so much? Why do I analyze so much? What can’t I let things be the way they will be and be happy with everything?

“Love says, ‘You Are Safe.’”

I am safe. Safe. From Fear. This paralyzing Fear. But the fear is so internalized, a part of myself and how can you be safe when it’s you and your mind that you fear? The main enemy in the world, the main antagonist in your own quest is yourself and all of your insecurities and problems. How are you ever safe from that? Ever? How do you feel safe from yourself?

I am safe: perfect in my own little way despite being unaware of it. An awesome person to everyone else except myself. Conscious thoughts that can’t force their way into the subconscious. A tiny little unique gift of the universe to the universe and all the beings in it. Logically accepting the fact but unable to retain it into your soul. Skin crawling with your own self-hatred and inability to love yourself. I don’t want to accept myself because there is nothing worthy of acceptance. A human pile of flaws that everyone else is too blind to see even though you show them every single day. A certainty that you’re both not accepted by people because you’re a terribly flawed person and being upset that people aren’t accepting you because of your flaws. Please accept me even though I don’t accept myself. Come rescue me from myself if you would.

How do you feel safe from the worst thing in the world, the number one threat to your sanity and existence: yourself? Does she know this? It seems she does; there’s a tone to her voice that seems to know my deepest and darkest secrets. The soothing and reassuring voice that implores me to discover that everything is really fine despite any outward appearance. That the Universe itself is constantly embracing me. That she’s aware that the demon I’m fighting is really myself, and despite feeling safe in the world in general and from others, the thing I’m really scared of is the shit that constantly plays in my head. It’s the opposite of her voice: a cold, harsh, terrifyingly truthful voice saying you are not enough, you are flawed, you will never be happy, you will never find yourself, you will never get anywhere.

“Give me only this moment.”

And so I speed down the road beginning to lose myself. Dissociation comes early today, still miles away from the road that slithers along the river. Feeling like a puppet, a dream, a disconnect with existence itself. Too many thoughts in my head here and there, not enough ways to shut them off. No alcohol because I’m going to work. No calling in because then people will know my problems and ask questions. I’ll never be missed but what if I am missed? More anxious thought fueled by Love and Fear. The overthinking. The questioning. What if those people who don’t care about me will somehow realize my problems and notice me in just the perfect way to think I’m strange? To think I’m insane. To know I’m not all there up in my head. To think I’m not a sane, happy, and regular person. And then I’ll lose them with my own unexplainable actions, once again being the primary threat to myself. Constantly self-sabotage. Constantly fucking things up.

“Love says, ‘Open your arms and fly with me.’”

My hands start to shake and I start to cry. I don’t even know what I’m crying about. Nothing makes sense. Not even the not making sense makes sense. Why can’t anything just fucking make sense? I can’t do this, I can’t go to work. But what else can I do? Sit on the side of the road for the next few hours breaking down? Go to a park and isolate myself? What good will that do? I’ll feel even worse: lost, forgotten, and lonely. As much as I’m positive everyone hates me, I still need to be around them. Curse this social creature that I am. I want to be cold and dead and lifeless, showing up to work like a robot going through the motions. But I can’t. I pull the car over to think. To think about something even though there is nothing to think about.

“Truth has the power to transform Fear.”

Fuck, I want to get out of my head. I need to get out of my head. Just for a moment. Please? Let me the fuck out of my head for just an instant; I don’t want to feel this way. I want my brain to stop. Why won’t the thoughts stop? Where is this safety at? Where is my safe spot? Where can you run to escape yourself?

“You were going that way anyway.”

In the end there is no resolution, no grand realization, no clear way forward. This story doesn’t have an ending. Crying on the side of the road and feeling terrified of yourself eventually passes with time. It turns from sharp self-hatred into mild self-loathing and finally into an empty acceptance. A hollow sort of pain. An empty black hole where your heart pitifully and dutifully beats because what else is it supposed to do? It’s in this wreckage that you find your way forward. The path isn’t clear — in fact it’s hidden — but it’s there. I have no choice. This is my life. I can’t escape myself. I’m temporarily safe from the demon that shares my name. I put the car in gear and set off once again for work. Just another day. Another crisis averted for however long until the next one. And I’m tired and exhausted. I don’t want another crisis. I just want to be safe. And despite the incessant imploring over the car’s stereo I don’t feel safe at all. The next hour, day, week, or month the monster lurks around the corner to attack: Myself.

“Love says, ‘You Are Safe.’”

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.

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?

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…