Rite

Boos begin when a cello slips into the background of the piece, a solo disjointed note, the first of many to come. They are discomfited, they are annoyed, this is not what they came to see.

Conducting, he hears them. Pushes their unplanned discord from his head. Continues.

There is an argument beginning where the crowd grows poorer. They dislike what they are hearing. They dislike what they are seeing.

He winces at the noise. But he will overpower them. Soon the theme of his piece will rise and meet any challengers.

They seem to hear him, growing steadily louder. No longer paying attention. Brawling in the aisles.

The orchestra plays on. It cannot do anything else. It rises and swells and begets noise upon noise upon beautiful noise.

Someone starts a fire. That is it. The police and intermission arrive simultaneously.

He looks out on the heaving, brawling audience. The police swinging clubs. He had hoped they would listen, that it would hypnotise and delight them. Something awful, something new, something unlike anything before it.

He sprints to the back door. Throws it open. Angry, but anger turns soon to bitter sadness. He begins to weep as he walks aimlessly through the anonymous back streets.

It begins to rain but he does not turn around.

Dream

When he is thirteen, before he can even be rightfully called a man, he falls asleep and wakes up in deep in a forest, the sort of forest drenched in a thick haze, where light filters down to lush undergrowth and disappears. He will later discover, when he is in British Columbia, that this is a rainforest, but he doesn’t know this yet. He is lost, he knows that, but unafraid.

He sees her at the edge of his vision, just a glance. She is beautiful, the sort of beauty composed of opposites so well put together you don’t realise they’re opposites until much later, the dark and light superposed wonderfully, magically. Perfectly assembled for this dream-scape.

She is moving away from him, and in the peculiar logic of dreams, it seems to him worse to lose her that to become more lost in a place he has never before been.

Moving through the undergrowth, she almost out-paces him at every turn, but still he follows, deeper and deeper into the growing gloom.

Then finally he breaks through into a sort of clearing and she is staring directly at him. It seems for a moment all he can see is her almond eyes, deep brown, liquid, radiant.

He wakes up to his own bed, his own room. Every detail of the dream fresh in his mind, he vows never to forget. The years roll by, he becomes older and more prone to believe he’s wise, but he re-vows time and time again that he will never forget. And he never does.

He grows older but he still looks for her face in crowds. He spends ten years looking and convincing himself that this girl or that girl has inside themselves something that makes them like her. He is wrong, and he is wrong, and he is wrong again.

Then he sees her.

There is a moment when his heart simply refuses to beat, when all the blood in his body seems to have rushed to his head and stayed there, when the world spins down on its axis and time stops and all there is in the world is her.

But she is, of course, on the periphery of his existence, and when he manages to strike up a conversation she slips away. Over the ensuing months, she keeps moving away from him, an in the peculiar upside-down logic of real life, he decides to let her go.

She disappears and he settles for a simulacrum.

His life becomes a dream he can’t wake up from. He folds himself into the masses and tries to forget her, and sometimes he is successful. Sometimes fails desperately. He keeps himself too busy to think and finds his mind takes over and he is again elsewhere in dreams.

He awakes in the rainforest night after night. It is empty of life, empty as the distant reaches of space, oppressively silent. He calls her name out, for he has found it out, silence broken and flung into the air like a flock of birds. Nothing. He wakes up. Nothing.

In the years proceeding he finds someone. He falls in love or something like love or something she will come to call not love at all, though that will be after the fact. He settles on her. He settles for her. She leaves him, leaves him, leaves him, leaves him fraught with the ever-present dread that she will leave him. Finally, he leaves her, like a coward he leaves her, or she leaves him and it is all over and there is nothing but ashes and fall-out remaining.

Deep in the ashes of it all he dreams, he remembers another her, deep in a forest. He remembers finding her. He realises everything is not lost.

When he is twenty-five, before he can rightfully be called a man, he wakes up and understands that it matters, and that it always has mattered. He can’t convince himself otherwise, though he has tried.

It is as if he has emerged from the ocean and can see as he was meant to. She has always been there, even when she was not there.

One day, she touches his arm ever so slightly, so shyly, so impossibly, and he somehow knows what she is and will be. He gathers her into his arms and looks down and it seems for a moment all he can see is her almond eyes, deep brown, liquid, radiant. There is in him a flash of untamed fear that he will wake up. But he never does.

The Story

He steps from the plane and the pieces of his life fall at his feet. They are broken, awkwardly and impossibly twisted, tumbling to the pavement in a place he has never before seen.

In the taxi that takes him to his apartment he imagines the rest of the world gliding by in still motion, as if everything has been arrested, as if time has stopped and all that’s left to be seen is a montage of moments left unfulfilled.

There is a man outside the building selling fruit. The man offers him an apple. He declines the apple, declines to meet the apple-seller’s eyes, climbs the steps to his new home and turns the key.

The apartment is less furnished than he had been led to believe. A chesterfield and a bed, that is all. The clothes on his back and a keyring with one key, that is all. This is the new person he has become.

He uses most of the last hours of the day and most of the little money he has to purchase a computer. He sets it down at a local cafe and begins to write about anything. Nothing comes to his fingertips. It’s the same here as it was there, only without the things he thought he loved.

She catches his eye and smiles at him. He isn’t used to this sort of brazen introduction. He sends a brief smile back at her and resumes writing nothing. There are words on his screen, but they don’t mean anything. There are sentences and phrases, but no meaning, no plot, nothing to hold them together.

He watches her leave the cafe, hears the rhythmic click of her heels hitting the side walk, sees the coffee or tea or something balanced precariously along with books and a bag. He watches as she steps into the street, watches as the car that is moving too fast to stop strikes her. He sees her hips crumple, her body twist awkwardly and impossibly. He knows she is dead.

He presses forward with the crowd of horrified onlookers. A page raggedly torn from the spine of one of her books crumples as he steps on it. It is streaked with her blood. Soon it streaked with his vomit.

As he retches, a phrase catches his eye. A sentence, a thought. And like that, he has his story.

Runner

I wake up in the morning and I am running and I won’t stop until I fall asleep again. I slough the covers and run to the washroom and take a shower and brush my teeth and throw my hair into something like a style and before I know it I am making breakfast. Flipping eggs and frying bacon and spreading butter on freshly popped toast and scarfing it down all the while hating myself for craving the calories. I have counted them and the number hangs in front of my eyes it hovers in the air it won’t leave me along as my legs begin to itch and I want to move again I want to be on the go I want to be running.

I break through the door like I have just attained the speed of sound like I am passing through a vapour barrier like I am a gleaming metal machine screaming through the thinnest air. When my feet hit the pavement I am no longer human I am instead something that cannot be stopped like a mess of chrome and wire and electronic impulses. I suck air into my lungs I flex I streak forward I scream I make the muscles stretch and creak until I am again human and burning and panting and sweating and I am finally at work.

He calls and we have a conversation full of action verbs and short nouns that pop when you say them that sound like firecrackers going off. When I hang up the phone my legs are itching again and I can barely contain myself as I launch myself into the fray into the mass of people all running all the time. I am the finest I am the best I am their finest and also their proudest child. I am everywhere at once making things happen never running out of energy taking short liquid bursts from a plastic bottle I will crumple into a sharp ball and toss perfectly into a trash can ten feet away to the applause of my coworkers my superiors my subordinates my admirers. A plastic bottle and then another and then another and then another and some sort of energy bar that looks and tastes like sugary cardboard.

Ten hours lapses into night and I am running back home again I am passing the same storefronts the same people nodding hello the same streets the opposite way. I break through the door as if it isn’t there and I am home. I call him and we say things that people say to each other we talk for a half hour and finally run out of things to say and hang up the phone abruptly as if we have both realized the words are superfluous anyhow and we will not see each other’s faces for another month and this fact depresses us both. When we finally meet for one of our brief dalliances rendezvous flings romances we will run out of things to talk about and chaste ways to touch each other and fill the rest of the time with what we won’t talk about later except at angles and in ways that neither of us will acknowledge.

I begin a whirlwind dinner marathon the calorie count once again going into the positives but just barely just enough to keep me alive and running. I feel my stomach where I keep feeling my stomach every day my stomach and it is the same size the same bit of baby fat and I hate it. I keep taking down the mirror and covering them with towels accidentally so I don’t have to see my naked ugliness the ugly nakedness I know is there anyways the naked ugliness I can see when I close my eyes when I am not running when that calorie count goes too far into the positive. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know I know I know this is not healthy that this is not right and that I am obsessing and that I will one day feel my kidneys heart marrow skin vision shot through with rot and falling and failing and that I will die. In the meantime all I can see is the road ahead the road that I am running down that is running me down that is gradually coming to an end. It is my private vice my hidden disease that I can look the picture of health yet barely eat anything yet keep running running running running.

He doesn’t know my parents don’t know my sister doesn’t know no-one knows except me and my mirror and my legs and my shoes and my scantily clad cupboards and fridge. Before bed I distract myself by running out in the cool night air beneath a sky strewn with stars pounding pavement until I can no longer remember why I hated myself despised something what was I was thinking it no longer matters.

I fall into bed like it is Easter Island and I am made of stone and in my dream I am running away from something and not sure what it is though I am successful I am perfect I am all the things I want to be it is something something past something I cannot remember something that is chasing me and running me down as I feel my skin marrow kidneys synapses heart liver muscles shot through with rigor mortis and I can no longer move and I am staring it in the face it knows me and I know it yet when I wake up I can no longer remember what it was.

I wake to the sound of waves on a beach or static or thunder or something and I slough off the dream like sheets.

Untitled

All the great themes have been revised and re-revised a thousand times. There is nothing left to be invented. No devices lie uncovered waiting to be picked up. The revolution has happened and happened and happened again.

There is nothing but a single desk lamp. Perfectly formed, lighting its patch of workspace exactly as it was designed to, functioning according to its schematic; it is the saddest lamp in the world. No drama lies hidden in its gunmetal and moulded plastic. It will function: Someone will turn it off and on and off and on again until the day it finally gives up the ghost. It will be replaced. Perhaps it will be replaced long before that day. Someone will decide it is too this or it is too that or it does not match this or that bit of décor and some landfill will inherit its husk. It will be casually tossed aside in any case. It was not made to be treasured.

It is brilliantly and beautifully lighting a typewriter whose letters now barely deign to show up on the paper it formerly so furiously devoured. They still make the oil that lubricates its well-worn machinery but no-one remembers how to make that crucial bit of ink. Soon it too will become an artefact, perhaps even a treasure. It will transition from usefulness to another more sublime existence: It will become something of a museum. You see this, this is how we used to write.

The pages beside it haven’t been touched in years. They pile up one after another after another and no-one dares move them. They grow from the floor and desk and chairs as if planted there and left in the dark like mushrooms to cover every surface. Dense with ideas and fragments of conversations, one might gather them into a book with too many themes and too many characters. One might read them quickly like scanning faces in a crowd. But they weren’t written to be read.

For instance. A city street. The sounds of night time and I am alone. It is better this way. I have crossed the tracks and seen your freight train barrelling past. I have continued. You have continued. There is nothing left to say.

These are the words of a thousand people and of one person. They are a wide brush to paint so many walls which one could name as Oh that was Opportunity, Oh that was Love, Oh that was Death, Oh we ran parallel for a while and then diverged. The hidden artist always has one face and one particular expression but of course you will take his painting and apply your own to it. You may read the pages and sense yourself in them when of course you are not.

He is in the bed across the hall under a different lamp that has been passed down through many generations. It requires a device of its own to connect it to the electrical grid. It requires and adapter, it is that old. He is lying there with his eyes closed but of course he is not asleep.

If he were to burn them the bonfire would go on for days. This is the constant question he asks himself: To light a match is so little effort: To destroy those measured hours would take a mere flick of the wrist.

Those uniformed men might dig through the ashes and gather phrases. They might say, Oh he was writing a novel, Oh one should not keep so much paper in one room, Oh perhaps this was once a typewriter.

If he were to burn them the bonfire would take everything with it. All his memories. They would scatter into the wind and the ground and the lungs of his neighbours. He would never be able to turn to a page and vaguely recall, Oh yes I was there, Oh yes I said that, Oh what was I thinking?

He is beginning to believe this is a good thing.

Watchers

What shall we do with him, the Watcher intones with a shake of the head. What shall we do with him.
I do not know, says another, but we have to do something. Anything, really.
Shall we teach him a lesson, asks yet another. Something to stick with him. Or in him.
Something obvious, the first replies.
No, something that befits his occupation. Something… ambiguous.
Or, says the first, both.

My first stroke of what I like to call bad luck comes as I am driving under an overpass. While driving to work, merrily minding my own business, traffic slows to a crawl. I curse the sudden deceleration and my decision to go in late. Frustrated, I turn up the radio loud enough that I am unable to hear the metal rending above me as guardrails disintegrate. A large chunk of granite has come loose from its moorings, has separated from its flatbed fellows, and has inexplicably and inexorably bounded tip over tail from truck to tailgate to pavement and finally come to rest on the hood of my car. I am miraculously unharmed, as my car is idling in the centre lane. My car is the exact opposite, completely totaled, the hood crumpled, the engine burst at its seams, the fenders scattered across the freeway.

At first I am under the impression that I have been hit with a meteor and that I will immediately become famous. I am under this impression until it resolves that meteors are not made of granite, and were they made of granite, would almost certainly not be in the form of a fractured human face. When I find out at the precinct that they believe the head is part of a pre-fabricated statue of Eris, I am equal parts amusement and disbelief.

I do become famous, for at least one news cycle, until it becomes apparent that the particular statue of Eris which cut tragically short my Corolla’s legendary Japanese lifespan has been stolen from a museum. Suddenly my car becomes a symbol of the destructive power of human greed and imported automobiles. It becomes a target upon which to drop all manner of vitriol. I become rather embarrassed of the incident.

This seems a story one might tell to ones grandchildren. A close brush with death. An unexpected hood ornament. Such a story might be passed down from generation to generation, were I not the last of a long line.

My second bit of bad luck seems to have doomed me to be the last of that long line forever. In my haste to create for myself a career impervious to downturns in the economy, it seems I have forgotten to beget for myself any seed. My forest is barren of seedlings. I am a lone patch of oak, soon to be felled. I come home that day, much too calm for my own good, enceinte with mortality, determined to have Stella, my girlfriend, enceinte with my escape from that mortality. My Darwinian instinct to further my own bloodline finally rises to the surface, escaping the educated urban trappings that have kept a foot on its head for so long. My genes long to be set free to propagate into the world.

I have forgotten ever wanting a child. I have also forgotten that I was quite a jackass. I come home to an empty house, the furniture removed, picture-sized unsullied bits of wall revealing their nakedness, Stella gone, and only a refrigerator remaining. It is stocked with beer, none of which I trust. She has not left a note. She has simply not left anything all. Everything that can easily be removes has, it seems, been easily removed.

I call my friends to find out where Stella is, but they won’t tell me a thing. They seem less my friends than ever, and I recall that they are all Stella’s friends, that I don’t have any friends. I begin to remember I dislike most of these people; the ones I can stand are inert to the point of coma. They tell me things like, Oh, she finally left you. She’s been thinking about this for years. They say, Yes, well, what did you expect, working those hours? Ben, the most honest of the circle of emotional butchers, is more direct. You’re sterile, he says. You can’t get it up. And you’re a bit of a self-important moron, too. No wonder she left. I am not pleased to find out that Stella has passed that bit of misinformation around like a golden football.

Later on that night I find out that I am most certainly not sterile, that I most certainly can get it up, but I do not have a video camera handy and do not think these now former friends of mine would appreciate that particular gesture. I lay on the hardwood floor where a spectacular rug once bode its time looking expensive and collecting depreciative stains. I don’t undress or shower or cover myself with anything. My clothes are gone, the showerhead is gone, the lightbulbs are gone. The sunset is particularly spectacular, as if to counterbalance my life with its ostentatious colours. I am not impressed. As I fall asleep, it ocurrs to me that there is another day just around the corner though this does nothing to comfort me.

Do you think he has it yet, a Watcher asks.
No, another replies. No way he’s got it. Keep at him.
Let him recover for a day, the first Watcher says in his infinite wisdom. Then we can hit him when he tries to get back up.
Not particular sporting, another Watcher snorts.
When, the first says, have we ever been sporting.

Crickets, pt. 2

Eventually you get used to the crickets. They’re everywhere, invisible, but everywhere. You wake up to the sound of crickets, you go to sleep to the sound of crickets, you work all day to the sound of cricket, and when you finally get home, the sound of crickets bounces off every wall. I hate the word “cricket”. I hate the sound. Even though I barely notice them these days, sometimes they drive me crazy.

The crickets aren’t as bad as Them, though. Crickets don’t change much, always playing the same tune. They sometimes sound like opera, sometimes like machine guns, sometimes like a woman breathing into your ear.

The little man in the mirror can talk to the crickets and to Them. He tells me what they’re thinking, what they’re saying. I often think this is rather strange, but the little man in the mirror is a strange fellow. He has a dog’s head and can do things I can’t. Maybe I’m too big or too human something. He only appears on that side of the mirror, never this side. He tells me its too cold over here, even though he is covered in fur. But he still talks to me through the mirror, keeps me company when I’m shaving.

“Have you thought of a name for me yet?” he asks as I am cleaning stubble out of the sink. / “No,” I reply, as if this is obvious. “Why do you need a name?” / The little man shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says. “They say I need one.” / They. “Who are they?” / He frowns. “I told you yesterday-” / “I didn’t see you yesterday,” I interrupt. “You were gone.” / “The day before yesterday,” he tells me. “I told you the day before yesterday.” / “I don’t remember. Tell me again.” / “You have a very bad memory.” I don’t, of course. I just want to hear him say it again; sometimes I lie to see if he’ll say the same thing twice. I’m not entirely sure I can trust the little man in the mirror. When he smiles, it’s feral, like a German Shepherd. / “Them,” he replies, sighing, as if telling me these things again is a great burden he must bear. “They tell me that I need a name. They tell me that you’ll give me one.” / I think about this for a moment, while putting away my razor. “What will happen if I don’t?” / The little man in the mirror shrugs again. “Do you want to find out?” / “I suppose not,” I reply. “It’s not a big thing, giving you a name.” / “It is to me,” he says, shortly. Then he walks off to the side of the mirror. I wait for a few seconds, but he doesn’t come back.

I flip the light switch and the bulb begins to power down, buzzing. It flickers and goes out.

There’s a knock on my apartment door, which of course means the bun lady is here. When I swing the door wide open the crickets let out a burst of noise as if annoyed. It echoes in my head as I say, “Hello,” to the bun lady. / Hello, she replies in her own way. Would you like some buns? / “Of course,” I say, accepting the basket. “Would you like some money?” / For you, she says, smiling kindly, no charge. Her teeth are very sharp; I can see them gleam as her mouth stretches out wide. Her mouth seems to go from ear to ear. / “Thank you,” I reply. The bun lady makes the best buns in the world and never charges me. “Would you like to come in?” / No, she says. Perhaps someday, but not now. She is looking at me with that thing in her eyes, that thing I sometimes think is desire. / “Oh.” Sadly. I would very much like to talk to her someday, and make her a meal. / You will make a good one, the bun lady says. I do not know what she means, but she has stopped smiling and is looking down the hall. I must go.

Edith walks past after the bun lady leaves. “Talking to the bun lady?” she asks, looking at me sympathetically. Edith has an odd way about her, always looking at things as if they are to be pitied. / “Yes,” I say, nodding. “She gave me more buns.” / Edith gazes down at my hand holding the basket of buns, and says, “Of course she did, honey, of course she did.” / But I do not like Edith, so I turn and walk back into my apartment. I close the door, and when I look through the tiny telescope, she has moved on.

Later, I eat the buns without butter — where can you get butter these days? — and they are, as always, delicious. I begin to feel drowsy off with the food in my stomach, and I crawl into bed. I doze off to the sound of crickets. In my last moments of consciousness, I know I will wake to them as well.

I dream of a world without sound.

A woman is smiling at me, a woman I know instantly as my wife, putting on a jacket. She mouths I love you, see you at six. When she leaves the house, opening and closing the door behind her, I catch a glimpse of the sprinkler watering the lawn. It moves in beautiful silent precision, thwack thwack thwack, until it reaches the end of its orbit and reverses rapidly to begin again where it started. A calm spring day. I see this in under a second. When I feel my son grab my leg, I am somehow not surprised. He is in the habit of grabbing my leg, because he is too short to grab my arm. I ruffle his dark hair without looking, careful not to get tangled in the curls. I am immensely happy in this moment, though I am aware that I do not have a job, and need to get one. But first, breakfast.

The crickets begin humming as I get out of bed, wiping the grit from my eyes. There is nothing to eat here, though I am ravenous. I think about all the food in that other kitchen, that place I can only go when I am elsewhere in dreams.

I stop by the cafe, walking from my apartment in the half-light of morning. Julie serves me with her usual silence; she is unlike anything else in the world, and I love her more than I should, I know. But I can hardly help it. She is good coffee and good food and an unusual lack of noise.

When I have stirred a bit of powdered cream into my coffee I ask, “What would you name a little man with a dog’s head?” / She blinks at me, as if I have said something odd. “I – I – I -” she says, her lips moving as if there are more words in there. / “You must have multiple personalities,” I say, making a joke. / She turns her head away, and her body follows, the void where she was standing suddenly filled with noise. They are laughing at me, not at my joke, but at something else. I am not sure.

I take the crickets home with me, it seems. As I reach my apartment building and push open the doors, they reach a crescendo, and I become annoyed with them as I haven’t in a long while. I enter quickly, padding my way over scuffed carpet to the elevator. Inside, the fan clicks and clicks and clicks as it spins, pushing more dirty air into the dirty air.

The bun lady is standing in front of my apartment. I approach, and she reads the question in my eyes. / I know, she tells me, the faint smell of embarrassment about her. I don’t usually come here this early. / I unlock my apartment door, nodding. “Yes,” I say, still nodding. I am not sure what to say. “Yes.” / I need a favour. She smells of embarrassment still, but in her eyes is that something I call desire. A little something. / “You want some dinner finally?” I ask her, knowing full well I have nothing to give her. / Yes. No! she replies. Just a little something. A finger. / Confused, I say, “A finger?” / Whichever one you like the least. / “Second from the middle on my left hand,” I tell her, pointing with my other hand. “I’ve never cared for that one.” Later, I cannot recall why I chose that one. / I may have it? she asks, grinning her sharp-toothed grin. I may have it? / “I suppose,” I say, not quite sure what she means. / She is very quick, lifting my hand and biting the finger off. Perhaps I scream as she does this, perhaps I do not scream because of the shock. I can see my finger tucked into the corner of her mouth. Thank you, she says. She begins to run off, and almost as an afterthought drops a basket of buns on my floor like an offering.

The door across from mine opens and Jessica looks out, chewing on a pencil. “What’s going on?” she says, looking up and down the hall. I am staring in blunt horror at my hand, where a finger is missing, the stump where it was cauterised as if an iron had been pressed against it. “Are you all right?”

“My finger!” I squeal. I almost scream it out. Jessica, I realise, is wearing very little, just a slight robe, a funny sort of thing to notice when you’re in excruciating pain.

“You’ll be fine,” she says, laying a hand on my arm. “You’ll be fine.”

The pain abates for a moment. Jessica has dulled it, has made it go away. “I’ll be fine,” I repeat, nodding idiotically.

I close the door as the pain roars back. I lay down in bed and beg Them to make it stop. But They are apparently busy doing something else. When I think about them, I can almost hear a bowling alley. I have not thought of bowling alleys for a long time.

Much later that night I lapse into some sort of delirium, and dream of a world without pain.

New Sesame Street: A View Into the Future

Different-Tempered Oscar the Alternate-Accommodation Person peeked over the lid of his recycling bin to see his friend, Size-Challenged Avian-American, strolling down across the park. Oscar couldn’t help remembering the dangerous street he had once lived beside, relief flooding him as he looked over his gentle green park.

“How’s it going, Size-Challenged Avian-American?” asked Oscar.
“Well, thank you, Different-Tempered Oscar,” Size-Challenged Avian-American replied. “Have you seen the Carrot Stick monster around?”
Oscar was shocked. “You know it’s offensive to call him a monster, don’t you?”
“Oh, right,” Size-Challenged Avian-American sighed, obviously embarrassed by his lack of consideration. “Have you seen the Carrot Stick Non-Standard-Body-Type Person?”
“No,” Oscar replied. “Maybe you should ask Count von Unconventional-Liquid-Diet von Count when you see him next.”

Just then an enraged man with a bazooka over his shoulder and an AK-47 in one burst onto the scene. “I’m sick of this idiotic trip you’re feeding my children!” he shouted, shooting Oscar in the head. “You’re Oscar the Grouch! And that’s okay! You live in a garbage can! And that’s okay too!”

He turned to Size-Challenged Avian-American, who stood looking stupidly down the barrel of the AK-47. “You’re a big bird! You’re fat! That’s fine! You’re a bird! There’s nothing wrong with that!” BOOM. Big Bird disappeared in a ball of fire and charred feathers.

Looking down the street, the man spotted the Carrot Stick Non-Standard-Body-Type person. “You’re a monster!” He shouted. “You know why? Because you look like a monster! You eat cookies because cookies taste good and every sane person like cookies!” Cookie Monster slumped against the wall, a hail of bullets perforating his hide. Stuffing began to leak out.

“One, two, three bullets,” the Count said, emerging from behind a tree. “Four, five, six bullets.”
“You know what your unconventional liquid diet is, Count?” the man asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t care,” said the Count. “Why are you shooting people with seven, eight, nine bullets?”
“I’m the repressed man underneath all this pablum and bullshit!”
“That’s a naughty word,” the count said, wagging his finger.
“You drink blood. Did you know that? And that’s the only reason I’m leaving you alive. You haven’t had your fangs removed yet.”
“One, two fangs,” the count said, idiotically. “One, two fangs.”

The Crickets

Eventually you get used to the crickets. They’re everywhere, invisible, but everywhere. You wake up to the sound of crickets, you go to sleep to the sound of crickets, you work all day to the sound of cricket, and when you finally get home, the sound of crickets bounces off every wall. I hate the word “cricket”. I hate the sound. Even though I barely notice them these days, sometimes they drive me crazy.

The little man in the mirror can talk to the crickets. He tells me what they’re thinking. I often think this is rather strange, but the little man in the mirror is a strange fellow. He can do things I can’t. Maybe I’m too big or something. He only appears on that side of the mirror, never this side. He tells me its too cold over here. But he still talks to me through the mirror, keeps me company when I’m shaving.

“Have you thought of a name for me yet?” he asks as I am cleaning stubble out of the sink. / “No,” I reply, as if this is obvious. “Why do you need a name?” / The little man shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says. “They say I need one.” / They. “Who are they?” / He frowns. “I told you yesterday-” / “I didn’t see you yesterday,” I interrupt. “You were gone.” / “The day before yesterday,” he tells me. “I told you the day before yesterday.” / “I don’t remember. Tell me again.” / “You have a very bad memory.” I don’t, of course. I just want to hear him say it again; sometimes I lie to see if he’ll say the same thing twice. I’m not entirely sure I can trust the little man in the mirror. / “The crickets,” he replies, sighing, as if telling me these things again is a great burden he must bear. “The crickets tell me that I need a name. They tell me that you’ll give me one.” / I think about this for a moment, while putting away my razor. “What will happen if I don’t?” / The little man in the mirror shrugs again. “Do you want to find out?” / “I suppose not,” I reply. “It’s not a big thing, giving you a name.” / “It is to me,” he says, shortly. Then he walks off to the side of the mirror. I wait for a few seconds, but he doesn’t come back.

I flip the light switch and the bulb begins to power down, buzzing. It flickers and goes out.

There’s a knock on my apartment door, which of course means the bun lady is here. When I swing the door wide open the crickets let out a burst of noise as if annoyed. It echoes in my head as I say, “Hello,” to the bun lady. / Hello, she replies in her own way. Would you like some buns. / “Of course,” I say, accepting the basket. “Would you like some money?” / For you, she says, smiling, no charge. Her teeth are very sharp; I can see them gleam as she smiles her wide smile. Her mouth seems to go from ear to ear. / “Thank you,” I reply. The bun lady makes the best buns in the world and never charges me. “Would you like to come in?” / No, she says. Perhaps someday, but not now. She is looking at me with that thing in her eyes, that thing I sometimes think is desire. / “Oh.” Sadly. I would very much like to talk to her someday, and make her a meal. / You will make a good one, the bun lady says. I do not know what she means, but she has stopped smiling and is looking down the hall. I must go.

Edith walks past after the bun lady leaves. “Talking to the bun lady?” she asks, looking at me sympathetically. Edith has an odd way about her, always looking at things as if they are to be pitied. / “Yes,” I say, nodding. “She gave me more buns.” / Edith gazes down at my hand holding the basket of buns, and says, “Of course she did, honey, of course she did.” / But I do not like Edith, so I turn and walk back into my apartment. I close the door, and when I look through the tiny telescope, she has moved on.

Later, I eat the buns without butter — where can you get butter these days? — and they are, as always, delicious. I begin to feel drowsy off with the food in my stomach, and I crawl into bed. I doze off to the sound of crickets. In my last moments of consciousness, I know I will wake to them as well.

I dream of a world without sound.

The Kghavyxu (part one)

Part 1

Wind-whipped and obscenely wild, the mountain range stood as if it had been anchored to the ground for thousands of years, though Anachronist was fairly certain it had not been there for more than a few hundred. This far north the terrain was uncertain of itself, jutting out from itself strangely in countless places, but even these mountains could not have been formed by any natural cause. No, they rose from the Kghavyx plains awkwardly, strangely, as if someone or something had simply deposited them there. Where the plains were blanketed in scrub grasses and low brush, the mountains were cloaking in a thick tangle of trees that reached almost to the snow-covered caps, an utterly foreign forest that seemed to be spreading out from the mountain.

A plain that would soon be forest as well, the face of an entire continent irrevocably changed with the range’s arrival. As he strode toward them, Anachronist imagined the sheer power that could cause an entire range of mountains to be created. Or, even worse, moved from… somewhere else.

The shiver that ran through his body, he was almost certain, was from that thought, and not entirely effected by the unending cold of the northern plains. (this sentence is awkward, change it)

“They call this summer,” he remarked to the Mask, who trailed behind him, moving silently in his wake. “I imagine the winter might test even a god’s fortitude.”

The Mask, busy scanning whatever it was she could sense on the horizon, didn’t reply. She raised her crossbow. “Stop.”

“Curse your lovely eyes. What is it?”

She pointed slightly to the left. “Smoke. A dwelling, or a camp over the rise.”

Anachronist grinned. “Ah, the fabled Kghavyx shepherds, perhaps?”

“Perhaps.” Her mask twisted into an expression of mock disgust. “I suppose you’ll want to go meet them. Crazy fool.”

“To test their mettle,” he said, picking up the pace once more. “And maybe even mine.”

They crested the rise in silence, to find it not so much a rise as a hill overlooking a deep—or what passed for deep in the plains—valley. A valley filled with sheep. Several fires dotted the fringes of the valley, surrounded by a dozen or so tents.

“I imagine you’ll find shepherds here,” she said.

A nod. Another grin, a little crazier this time. (show, don’t tell, change this wording) “Yes, I imagine so. Unless these are wild sheep, the fear of whose ferocity chills my blood.”

The Mask slipped a quarrel into her crossbow, mounting it with a strength and speed that belied her slender frame. “Your weapons,” she prompted.

“Let’s make it a fair fight,” he said. “My hands versus all things metal and pointed.”

“Your death,” shrugged the Mask. Anachronist’s answer was an almost girlish giggle. “We’ve been seen.” (not sure this fits together right… maybe break into two lines)

He could see movement ahead. Then off to one side, and the other, and, when he looked back, behind them. “Good. They’re quick.”

Something hissed through the air. The Mask ducked, and Anachronist saw an arrow embed itself in the grass at his feet. He nodded, impressed; the arrow had come from one of the figures in the distance, figures approaching, longbows drawn. The shepherds, it appeared, were not entirely the pastoral sort.

Then the flurry. The Mask dodged and wove between the arrows that didn’t quite seem to reach Anachronist, moving with what he though was remarkable grace. She left trails in the air, she was moving so fast, seeming in more than one place at a time.
Anachronist, on the other hand was in more than one place. He called on Elnomia Sercc, and it answered, thrumming deep inside him, bursting to life like a slumbering fire disturbed. Crackling with unseen energy he… divided. And divided and divided until there were ten, fifteen, twenty Anachronists all streaming and flowing around the Mask.

The arrows passed through all off him, a hail of them, while the Mask danced faster, and then streaked forward, a blur carving a path of broken grass toward an advancing archer.

Whose head jerked back, arterial blood arcing through the air. He was still folding in on himself when another archer cried out and stumbled backwards, hands clutching at a quarrel embedded in his eye. The shepherds began to panic then, firing arrow after arrow at where the masked assassin had just been, as archers began dying with ever-increasing rapidity.

The last one with a knife angled up between the ribs, lancing into his heart. As the Mask jerked it loose, the man’s eyes widened; he began to say something, cut off suddenly as she dealt him a kick to the head. His neck snapped like small thunder.

Then there was only one Anachronist, his multiples disappearing like they had been simply shut off. “Well, that was fun,” he announced cheerfully. (More action? Show off Anachronist a bit more?)

A man seemed to rise from the plain in front of him, crossbow mounted, a cap of grass falling to the side. He released the quarrel, an arms-length from Anachronist’s face, and flung himself to the side, screaming a war cry.

Anachronist plucked it easily out the air and hurled it back. The quarrel buried itself in the man’s open mouth. Chunks of flesh and bone exploded outwards, the impact driving the man into the grass.

“A pre-dug grave,” the Mask remarked, returning, looking down at the pit the archer had risen from. She began cleaning the blood off her knife and hands with the edge of her tunic. “How thoughtful.”

* * *

He was turning a hare over a fire on a spit when the Mask returned. “Anything?”

“No,” she replied, laying down her quarrel beside the fire. “Some tracks, but nothing particularly fresh. Well, except for that.” She pointed to the impaled animal.

“A man needs to eat,” Anachronist said.

“A god doesn’t,” the Mask pointed out. “But I suppose you miss eating, being a sentimental fool.”

“I have,” said Anachronist, “endeavoured to number the times you’ve called me a fool today. I needed seven of me, all counting on our fingers.”

“You’ll need a small army of you before this is over,” she replied, snapping off a bit of hare and tasting it gingerly. “And this tastes like Take’s own frostbitten toe.”

“I ceaselessly plumb my memory to find where I asked your opinion.”

“You asked me along on our little venture here,” the Mask reminded him, “which of course means you’re entitled to my opinion.”

“A dubious honour I bear with great ambivalence.” He rotated the spit. “How long till we’ve cleared these ridiculously badly-built mountains?”

“Tomorrow. We’re almost through now, which is a miracle in itself.”

Anachronist slid the hare off the spit. “I can feel the paths leading left and right,” he said. He began gnawing on a leg. “In circles. And the skeletons!” he said, between mouthfuls. “I would very much like to know how the Kghavyxu, the great agnostics, the blessed unbelievers, the worshipers of iron, the cave-dwellers, deserving greater invective, almost, than this hare which seems to have been fed wire and twine its entire life, came to have a series of mountains filled with arcane sorcery protecting their land.” (starting to sound a bit too much like Croup and Vandemaar)

“They probably died out during that sentence, and we’ll never know,” (zing!)the Mask said dryly. “Or perhaps they’re not as agnostic as they once were.”

“They don’t worship me.” Anachronist tried to suck the marrow out of one of the boned. “Which is all that matters, really.” He grimaced. “And this does indeed taste like Take’s frostbitten toe. I’m not entirely certain what I was thinking.”