There was a sandwich waiting for me on my breakfast table in the morning, so from the jump off I was amazed and energized. I guessed she’d forgiven me, which was pleasingly ahead of schedule. It was my favorite sandwich, eggs and sausage, but I couldn’t eat it. I’d cheated on my wife, and the impact of this betrayal hit me in my soul, looking at the sandwich. I decided that I couldn’t eat through the guilt, so I went to apologize, tearful and loving. When I opened the door she tried to stab me, talk about a crazy morning.
Hanging on a ledge by my fingertips, I jeopardize myself like this, and I know this, but I’m not worried.
I could die today and it wouldn’t really make a difference.
Not to me anyway, and they would all get past it eventually.
Probably, really they’d be better off, and let’s face it so would I.
Imagine all the heartbreak and pain I wouldn’t have to experience, and all the disappointments I would never visit on my loved ones.
It would be simple, and I’d never hurt anyone again.
But I’m only ten, and it’s my birthday party.
He doesn’t know if he’s ready, but he has his assignment and the time is now,
the moment for man-making is, stepping into the air holding pack and saber,
no fellowship partner or dog, he is all alone in the night heavy with sweat,
the contract is a death to bring, he must find a wolf and claim its head as his,
all of his friends have done it, if he wants a wife he needs to prove worthy,
dodging rocks and hurdling logs, in the distance he sees a torchlight,
he mouths a curse and spits thick, turning around escaping into darkness,
fires frighten wolves to vanishing, he knows from his father’s words,
“as darkness spreads all around, teeth fill in the space between trees,
watch yourself with your feelings, they are all you will have in the dark.”
Seeming to have direction, he loped from the flame, to grow his length from light,
as the fire faded from view, he groped the stillness, willing his thoughts to settle,
his eyelids shut around him, he achieved silence, but someone struck a flint,
a dim light through the brush, he this time ran for, his knife out and face afire,
whoever they are he thought, he would kill them, finally he would be a man,
he knew society would wonder, they would ask, “where is your trophy head?”
and he would respond simply, “I cleaved but one,” hanging a soul from a chain,
sneaking quiet near the light, he was almost to it, suddenly the flame snuffed,
and thus he was alone again, he whirled about, stabbing his blade in the air,
when four torches circled him, he stumbled feebly, he felt the cold ground rise,
“did you bring enough coin?”
This new voice sounded thick and travelled by experience and rum,
there were four men holding torches emerging from the wood,
each held a fire to his right and dangled a wolf’s head to his left,
a voice slid through the night like warm poison syrup,
“Raise your silver slow, boy,”
the salesman spoke an offer that cut the boy’s pride at an artery,
“The price is twenty for the head alone and seventy for the full pelt,”
“I carry no silver tonight, man,”
the boy holding his knife spoke with a dumb and haughty pride,
“My blade carries a death to the unholy but I’ve brought no coin,”
“You’re just a fool then, kid”
the salesman spoke on spewing a rueful mockery and contempt,
“Go with your god but when you fail you will search for my torch,”
“I am a righteous fool, sir”
the boy took this talk for a verbal joust and leveled his lance high,
“And if I find your torch I promise that you will die that night,”
The torchbearers riotous laughing, they fell as pins tipped over,
“I too was once a child,” came a voice behind him, “I was stupid,”
a pain swept through his knees, he was knocked down looking up,
“this is a lesson learnt,” the boy saw dark shapes, “learn it well,”
weighted leather fell with a thud, the blackest night shot through
the boy was in a red mist hanging from a string,
acid rain melting him down,
shink like a descabbard blade,
daytime comes in a great wave that heats his eyes,
the boy is a furious painful hate, directed at himself completely,
“You are like a soft egg,” cursing the reflecting pool, “a dead fool,”
he held his knife in suicide posture, ready to sever his own arteries.
“Stop!” a voice burst from the sky, “you’re not serious, you can’t be,”
“Idiot!” another came from behind, “an idiot with heart and derring-doo,”
The salesmen emerged, stalking slow and grinning deeply at the boy,
only a pair of them stood, Jackal and Horshoe with two sinister smiles,
“chance” said Jackal with a start, “or divine providence some would call,”
“yeah,” and Horshoe was giggling, “it’s the lucky day they would say,”
The boy sat on a log, making scales and seeing what options are best,
and dawn shone bright, the world is a game with ease of advantage,
Competition, hope and greed, they taught, or would,
“if today be my first lesson I will sop it and smile,”
the boy knelt, palms upturn, mind opened, wanting,
“I drop to knees and supplicate myself completely,”
Jackal cackled, and there was no other word for it,
his teeth sounded like knives, “that’s dangerous,”
moving like smoke he continued, “do you know?”
“he knows,” Horshoe contended, “sure he does,”
clapping the boy’s shoulder, lifting him skyward,
This is a thing people talk about, and confidence is what they call it, so psyche yourself up. You stare at your own eyes looking back out of the bathroom mirror. Her name is Christina and she’s in your Virginia Woolf class and she likes you, so go out and take hold of that knowledge. Do what needs to be done.
This is what you say to yourself, holding your own eyes in the mirror, but the words aren’t solid. This is your second year back at college after the accident, and you’ve got nothing to show for it, female-wise. Not a kiss or a caress, but now is the time to make it happen.
You are charming. Your voice doesn’t make you sound like a retard OR your voice does make you sound like a retard but you can overcome this because you are very smart. You are riotously funny, and this is because you are extremely quick and clever. You need confidence, because when you are confident words tumble from your mind like pebbles, and each is more seductive than the last.
“HA!” screaming a joyless cackle into the dorm bathroom mirror, a couple dudes you don’t know hurry out of sight. After they do you squeeze out a small amused giggle just for yourself.
Your feelings are never hurt when you see people’s smiles melt upon hearing your voice, because you have empathetic reasoning, and you’ve heard recordings of yourself.
It’s disgusting; you sound like a retard and you know it, which explains why shopkeepers in small-town Iowa are so fucking helpful all the time. Smile at yourself in the mirror and it’s genuine, because you know that those who know you, like the friends that enjoy your company understand that you’re not mentally handicapped. They know that you’re whip-smart and you make them laugh all the time.
That’s what’s gotten a hold of Christina, it seems. She comes to speak to you, almost via a beeline, every time you enter the same room.
So here’s what you do, after class on the way to the Union for lunch, just tell her how you feel. She’s been sending signals all week, you’re pretty sure, so she probably feels the same. Okay, maybe not the same exactly, but she’s gotta give you a shot. Think of it, in a business-type sense, the risk to her is minimal, so why wouldn’t she take a chance?
Passing the bent and beckoning trees on the way to class, you’re feeling chuffed, and you should be. Chuffed is a very good word. It means like puffed-up, you think, and it sounds like it. It evokes one of those old cartoon birds with the massive chests that are always grabbing Daffy Duck by the neck. The word and this image of it are flowing through your mind while you head to class.
You’re seeing the steeple of Davis hall crest the top of the hill now, and you can feel your pulse quicken. This is scary, and you have a few minutes till class starts, so you sit on a cement bench in front of the hall and collect yourself. Oh shit, Christina’s here and she sees you, and she approaches.
In an instant, you try to sketch out what to do. Calm down, a centering voice seems to say from the future and the past, let her speak first.
“Ready for the test?” She says, clutching at the shoulder strap of her backpack. You imagine that this might be an unconscious indicator, almost like she’s playing with her hair, which you’ve been told told previously is a sign of unconscious attraction. Could this mean that she’s somewhat nervous also?
You try to seem confident and in control. “Yeah, I kinda like essay tests.” This is a lie, as all tests suck, but you do tend to perform well on essay tests. It’s way easier to disguise how little you’ve actually read on essay tests. If the question is on Mrs. Dalloway you’ll just parrot what Hankins said about Septimus and you actually loved A Room of One’s Own, so you’re not too worried. “I like them better than short answer or multiple choice, anyway, how’re you feeling?”
Christina looks at the ground, an adorable smirk or grimace on her face. A muffled “Meh” sound escapes from her lips as she pulls them tight against her teeth. “Me too, I just hope she doesn’t ask about Waves.”
“Yeah I couldn’t even make sense of that thing,” you look to the distance, portraying a charming apprehension. “I don’t even really know who the characters are.”
“Yeah me neither,” she chuckles adorably. She’s comfortable with you, or seems to be, so you try to go deeper.
“Yeah, but I think she’ll have mercy on us about that, I don’t think we’ll need to talk about Waves.” She smiles and nods, so you take your chance. “So—um, I wanted to talk to you a little, so—uh, don’t hurry off if you finish the test before me.”
There’s a flash of panic on her face, you’ve seen it many times before and it portends doom. But this one, Christina the understanding, pushes past it and smiles again, restoring your confidence. “Okay! I won’t finish before you but if I do, I’ll wait for you here. Ready for the test?”
The teeth in her smile alight and beckon you towards the classroom, and you think she might have even winked at you. This is a good sign, better than you’ve ever seen before, and you think it could finally happen this time. You’ve thought it before, man, but this one could be your first real girlfriend.
You know you’re shooting yourself in the foot even considering that, because you’re 20 years old now, and it’s weird to have never had a girlfriend. It’s embarrassing but the fact that you’ve never had a girlfriend doesn’t matter, because she’s cute and hot and she really likes you.
Test’s over, you probably did okay, but now comes the waiting. Christina’s still in there, of course, so you look for a spot to post up. This is tricky, because you want to find a spot where most people who come out won’t notice you, at least at first, so you can introduce yourself when it seems most appropriate.
You take a spot under the branch that hangs just above the entranceway stairs. You pull your feet up onto the bench, wrapping your hands around your knees and clasping them together. You close your eyes and your checks feel the denim covering your thighs as you press your face into your legs.
You try to focus and calm down, but you are rudely interrupted.“Hi Andrew, how’d you do!?” Leslie saw and chirped at you, raising her hand and grinning.
“I don’t know,” you say, and then you see her lips start to purse expectantly. “How’d you do?”
She drops her bag onto the bench next to yours and takes a seat. She sighs theatrically, “I don’t know,” she drops her head to the side. “I think I got some good points in, like about the inner lives of the characters.” She sits down, lowering her head to your level, but you’re still just watching the door.
You try not to look at her or make any expression that indicates you’re about to say something, but she keeps looking at you anyway. “Yeah that’s the kinda thing she’s usually looking’ for, I bet you did fine.”
She grins and nods, almost losing the tiny hat off her head. “Thanks,” she says politely, laying her left hand over her right and patting her own lap a few times. “This was a fun class, right?”
You didn’t really understand where her question had come from, but she looked up at you after she asked it. You answer “It was totally a fun class!” because it was. At Cornell College you do the one-class-at a time block schedule, which to your taste is perfect for english and social studies classes, which is all you take.
One of the few advantages to the after effects of your traumatic brain injury is that you don’t have to take science or math classes, yay! “What’s your next class?” you ask without thinking. You curse yourself silently.
“Europe: 18-whatever to 19-whatever. It’s a history course.”
“Eh,” you say. You see a group of five more students come out, leaving only a few left. You know you don’t need to talk to all of them. You could let a a few go, but you’re unable to stop your mouth. “I got world religions next, been looking forward to this one.”
She seems puzzled, though a smile slides over her lips. “Oh, um—“ she chuckles faintly as she seems to search the ground around her for something specific. “You interested in world religions?”
You think about it, why does it sound interesting? Unable to come up with an actual answer right away, you instead gave her the joke you’d previously developed in your room, alone. “I’m just really curious about Zoroastrianism. It sounds awesome.”
Leslie began to say “Yeah I find it pretty. . .” but then you lost track of what she was saying because Christina finally came out of the main door of Rorem Hall. You excused myself from Leslie, giving no real excuse, and started to stalk toward Christina. You kind of notice Leslie’s face looks slightly crestfallen, but your mind is elsewhere.
You make sure not to intrude on the conversation between Christina and one of our classmates, waiting until they say goodbye to approach. When you are just within within speaking distance, Christina turns and greets you first. “So you said you wanted to have a conversation, maybe after the test?”
The little voice in your guts wells up and pours out of your mouth, sounding cheery and energized. “Yes! —um, I mean yes, yes I did, shall we?” You step aside to usher Cristina down Cornell College campus’s pedestrian mall. “So how’d the test go? For you.”
She rolled her eyes slightly as she answers your question. “I don’t know, not well,” she looked at the ground in front of her. “So what’d ya wanna talk about?”
“Well,” you said, pausing then, for a long time. This is the hardest part, and it hasn’t worked yet, so you realize that you should just get it over with. “In these weeks of class I’ve gotten to know you and I think we’re great together, so I was wondering if you wanted to get a bite to eat sometime soon.”
Watching her face, you know the instant the sound from your lips hits her ear that her response will be in the negative. “I’m so so sorry, but I’m actually graduating in a couple weeks, and I don’t think now’s a really good time to start something new.”
Disappointment washes over your face like cold water, but there’s relief also. Your hopes have been dashed, but at least it’s not your fault. “Yeah,” you say, lowering your eyes. “Yeah I guess, I mean I understand.”
You do understand, and that’s probably what makes it worse. “I’m really sorry,” she says, and as you look into her eyes, you can see that she feels real regret.
“Don’t worry about it,” you say, even though your stomach feels flattened. You smile at her. “Okay, anyway I’m really sorry, but I’m sure we can be great friends.”
You could be bitter, but you’re not, because this is the fault of no one. You and Christina did feel that spark, but this time, wouldn’t you know it? The gods were against you. So you say “Absolutely,” and you embrace her, but not in the way you want. She pulls away from you and you head back to your room.
Sitting in your desk chair you realize you’re not thinking about Christina. You are satisfied that the connection the two of you share is real. If circumstances had not been so inconvenient, you believe, everything would have been different.
Flash forward 5 months
It’s a new day, and you’re ready to start your senior year. Junior year was a bust, but you need to forget that. You got out there, you tried your hand, you came up with nothing, but this is a new year and today is a new day.
You get your shit together and head out for the first big breakfast of the year, excited to see some of your friends. You and D-Money can talk shit about whatever, you can discuss Trixie’s new speed run on Super Mario 3 or whatever, and maybe something new can start to drift into your life, who knows?
That’s what’s exciting about these first meals of the year at the union, the thrill of the new. So you’re excited, you slip on your new Achewood T-shirt and your White Sox hoody and you brave the bluster striking out for the cafeteria.
The spring dawn is hidden behind a curtain, its noise softened by a mat of clouds. You put on your spring jacket and put in your headphones playing “Earthquake Weather” by Beck. You break through the front door of the student union feeling very cool, but as soon as the iced-over heels of your boots hit the smooth tile of the floor you flop flat on your back. Landing with a slap that announced its pain loudly, instantly softening afterwards.
You can hear footsteps and rasping voices. In the distance, you hear someone laugh. Fuck. You grin as you try to erect yourself smoothly and confidently, but instead you stumble foolishly and plop onto the soft lobby furniture. Your eyes are closed, as you dread opening them.
Eventually you open your eyes, and you are pleased to see no one. “Okay?” You hate that quasi-question, coming from some invisible stranger. Less an inquiry and more an inquest.
“Yeah,” you cough feebly, using it more as punctuation than anything else, as if it represented a comma. “Yeah I’m fine.”
It must seem pathetic, the sight of you struggling your boots off and slowly tying on ratty gym shoes. Since your brain injury your right hand is basically retarded, so that makes fine motor control troublesome. You don’t see anyone who seems to really recognize you, and your spill may not have been as catastrophic as you thought. Anyway you make your way into the line for the cereals.
You step towards the plastic tubs of sugary bubbles and grab a bowl. You grasp the scoop and fill your bowl with a combination of Sugar Smacks, Honey Nut Cheerios, Peanut Butter Crunch, and Frosted Flakes. You put this mess into a big bowl and drown it to the top in skim milk. You stare at your concoction, grinning as you point yourself toward what had been your normal breakfast table last semester, and that’s when you see Christina.
You stand stunned for a moment, trying to come up with an emotional reaction that would be explicable. You smile, and sit down across from her. You will not be afraid of this moment, for this is probably one of the many moments that will amount to a personal self-respect.
“So,” you pause real long after this first syllable. You watch her mouth, held open, it seems embarrassed. You figure that’s probably as it should be, if the universe is just. Thinking about what you’ll say next, your lips crack a smile and you show your teeth. “What’s up?”
You’re proud of your question, because it’s pretty noncommittal, but it can be delivered with spiteful flare. “Yeah, uh,” she speaks nervously, clutching at her waist. “Sorry.”
What the fuck does she mean by sorry? You think you should play it cool, not revealing how hopeful you’d been. You’d really thought she could be your first girlfriend, and the memory of that hope warms the poison in your blood. “Sorry?” You press the tray down swiftly onto the table, so that all corners clack onto the wood at the same time. You try to think of something clever to say. “So what class are you in?”
“Now,” she says, pausing while she acts embarrassed and looks at her own shoes. “Now I’m a Junior.”
This is devastating, and you take a seat as if you need to. “You’re a year younger than me?”
“Yeah,” she crosses her left hand over her right and lays them on her lap. “Sorry about that, but you understand, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
It wasn’t until you were stomping back to the dorm that you began to think of a retort. The best one you can come up with is “Fuck you.” That wouldn’t have satisfied you anyway, but it does enough that you can make it back to your dorm room without breaking down.
Once you open the door and step into your room, you sit on the bed and turn to watch Lost on your computer. How could you be so stupid?
You smile, reclining back onto a stack of pillows and lacing behind your neck. Realizing it’s not so bad, and Christina’s an unfunny bore anyway, and you wonder why you cared so much. Then there’s a knock on your door.
“Hello?” you say, no longer tortured, as you’ve begun to realize Christina was a passing fascination.
“Hey, I looked for you at breakfast, I heard you were here.” It’s Leslie instead, and a gleeful relief washes through you. You open the door, and Leslie takes the seat in front of your computer. “I heard about what happened with Christina at breakfast. That’s tough man, sorry.”
Without even hearing my response, she’d already started to speak. “Yeah fuck her.” Then suddenly with rib-rippling rhythm, you cackled for a time, nervous about what you were finally considering doing. “Hey do you wanna go out?”
You wince slightly, because you know this is ill-timed. You still have hope though, because you’re pretty sure she’s always liked you, and she’s pretty cute now that you think about it.
She has red pigtails and a patch of light red freckles that run from a spot on the back of her neck right to the center of her chest, massing together like a river. Your eyes trailed this pathway of freckles until she speaks.
You’re watching her face, knowing that you would be able to tell what her response would be. Her face droops, and so does mine. “Sorry,” she says and looked at the ground. You idiot! You curse yourself for missing what was a golden opportunity to get with Leslie. “Yeah,” you say, purposefully pausing a significant stretch of time, “So, I’m kinda going out with Kyle now.”
You think you know Kyle, he’s the guy who snorts Adderal and cleans his apartment all night. But he’s a nice guy, and you don’t have the energy to be angry anymore. So you recognize, the game is over now, and you’ve lost. Motherfuck it all, especially yourself.
But at least this experience shows you that you at least have something alluring on your side. So there you go, and if you’ve gained nothing, you at least have hope.
3. Hail the Queen
The dawning of what we called Era #1 was sad and bloody
we lost many friends and family those days to beyond-the-wall
beyond-the-wall is a new term people use for everything
the feeling of love and attachment to what we still have
there is no more sex in our society except when it’s illicit
I believed in The Queen like we all did when we turned away
we showed our backs to the eaters knowing they were gone
if we stopped believing in them they’d go away from us
so we focus on some of those I’ve seen outside the Mall Palace
pleading wailers and bleeding aborters is all they are anyway
that’s what they said but I’ve been down there before and I know
the truth of the suffering holdouts and the hope they have
the hope that we could come together new from the rubble
I have the same hope but I know the future in what I will do
Era #1 must crash to an end like the Second World War
and we will parade the Queen’s Head around and into the fire.
I must do it out in the courtyard so everyone can see
at the Year 6 celebration whenever that is I will stab her
day and night’s difference means nothing to us anymore
we are off the calendar now as the Queen dictates the date
dawn and dusk are both dead is something we say now
“Just like everyone else!” is a chant often raised in taverns
Civilization’s over and everyone’s already dead so what?
this is symbolized by question marks in every sad alley
Angelica tells us it’s time for the dawning of Year 6!
she opens the liquor stores to a great rush of people
but less great than expected and horror drapes her face
for as she turns to me a shiv goes into her stomach
the crowd gasps and tries to erupt but no one is sad or mad
the multitude move as a great whooshing gust of flesh
so I raise my reddened hand holding a blade above the crowd
“SHE’S DEAD!” screaming and expecting a rousing cheer
instead the silence was stark as it set out over the shuffling mass.
the rousing cheer I’d inspired was angry and had a plan
I smile and welcome the dawning of a new day again
“Shut up mom,” Gregory said over his shoulder as he opened the house’s front door. “I’m goin’ to the swamp.”
“Be careful,” his mother called after him, choosing to ignore the insult he’d paid her. For her, whatever time Gregory spent out of the house was a gift.
Careful, Gregory chuckled to himself considering the word. Fat lot of good that’ll do. Gregory was a fatalist, and because all things died and would die, he enjoyed seeing life spring from death. Plants and animals died and decayed everywhere in the swamp.
When he was in the swamp, he thought about all that would happen to him after he was dead. Inside these caverns they would have meetings and parties, eating their way through his skin from the inside.
It occurred to him that these organisms that lived inside of him would die too, and be eaten by larger and smaller organisms than they were. It was all the cycle and he knew that the life he’d led was but a droplet of a fragment of the whole, and it didn’t matter anyway.
Gregory’s life had been but loneliness and pain. Rejected by those he’d once called his friends, shunned by his family, and finding all elements of his world completely abhorrent, he intended to drown himself.
He knew just where to do it, and how. Overland swamp, the lush patch of what was mostly shallow marshland, had one small body of water that was roughly forty feet wide and eighteen feet deep. He remembered being brought as a child to the swamp by someone he’d once considered a father.
As disgusting as the memory seemed now, Gregory could not deny its usefulness. He remembered once upon a time when someone he’d called “Dad” had shown him the pond’s best fishing perch. One of the trees nearest its edge had a great branch that extended over the center of the water, from which he now intended to plunge its depth.
He’d brought a backpack that held his supplies, which included a 25-pound stone boulder, means to fasten the boulder to his ankle, and an ordinary garden trowel. First he used the trowel to dig a small hole in the ground, into which he buried his clothes and the backpack. When he died, he wanted to decompose as quickly as possible, and for that it was best to be naked.
Gregory lifted the heavy stone up above his shoulder and crept out onto the great branch, careful not to drop it too soon. He’d fastened the massive rock snugly to his ankle with a length of biodegradable twine only three feet in length. He’d considered his suicide for a long time, and this seemed like the way that the swamp would get the most benefit.
First of all, being tethered deep in the center of a forbidding swamp, he figured he wouldn’t be found for a long time, maybe ever.
And second, he tied himself to the boulder with a type of twine that he knew would eventually disintegrate, allowing his body to float to the surface. Floating lifeless on the surface of the water, his corpse would then could become shelter and sustenance for any other form of life that happened upon it.
Gregory felt that this, more than anything, was his purpose.
As soon as he’d crept out far enough over the swamp, he checked the twine to make sure it and all his ties were strong enough, and dropped the stone into the water. As the rock fell and sought the bottom of the pond, Gregory remained fastened to it.
After he reflexively struggled against the pull of the twine tether around his ankle for several minutes, Gregory settled and let the swamp take him in, but he did not die.
He struggled and unconsciously gasped for air underneath the surface of the water. His lungs filled with water and a living green sludge. “The Spirit of the Swamp,” as Gregory would come to term it, slid its way into the empty recesses of his body. Gregory stopped living.
Fifteen minutes after he’d committed suicide, Gregory’s eyes flew open and searched the water all around him for answers. Why was he not dead? He breathed, he knew it, but without lungs. Each cell in his body seemed to expand and contract in a way that would be impossible to describe, and it made him completely happy.
The happiness he felt was in the calm knowledge of his connection with the universe. He opened his eyes, and seeing that he was still tethered to his suicide stone, reached down to untie his ankle. As he swam over to dry land and trudged out of the water he heard his footsteps land in wet squishing sounds.
He beheld in his reflection on the water, finding that all of his skin now appeared quite green. Upon closer inspection he found that there was a thick moist carpet of moss covering all of what used to be skin.
Gregory shrugged, and realized that he was not simply in the swamp, but of the swamp. This is my home, and I must protect it, he said silently to himself. As he repeated this mantra he could feel that with each step the knowledge of his new body grew.
Following intuition he headed slowly through the swamp, becoming more accustomed to the reach of his senses. Soon it was as though he could feel every piece of life in the marsh.
Towards the northeast corner of Overland Swamp, adjacent to the high school, he could almost hear the plaintiff cries of a young girl in distress. When he reached the source of tension, he saw Becky, one of his young classmates in the high school, scrambling through the trees as fast as she could. The front of her shirt was torn and a streak of blood trailed from the edge of her mouth to the back of her neck.
Behind her, traveling a bit faster than she was, the new young chemistry teacher, Mr. Bringhold was in pursuit. His pants were undone, his shirt was also ripped, and his mad smirk opened, revealing unbrushed teeth and omitting a lustful growl.
Mr. Bringhold apprehended Becky after not too long and threw her on the ground. He leapt on to her, yelling a vicious cackle into her ear. Becky screamed in horror, as the adult male teacher she’d once trusted snarled, “You wanna play with me, bitch!?”
Gregory set upon the teacher, knocking him to the ground alongside Becky and landing on top of him. Wordlessly he pressed on Mr. Bringhold’s shoulders, looking down into his eyes as his screams of horror were quickly muffled.
The verdant, strong-smelling moss seeped quickly from Gregory’s nose, eyes, and mouth, falling onto the chemistry teacher’s face and plugging each of its orifices. The moss at first simply muffled Mr. Bringhold’s screams, but as it spread down the inside of his esophagus, it drew into every pore of his body. The moss drew tightly together, blocking out all oxygen and suffocating the would-be rapist to death.
Becky, who’d at first been relieved that her attacker was being subdued, was now terrified, and raised her hands up as if to defend herself.
“Please,” she whimpered.
“Don’t worry,” Gregory surprised himself finding that he could still speak with his own voice. He thought about why he’d done what he had just done, then spoke five words that would become his calling card. “The swamp will remain safe.”
After authoring his mission statement, this new burgeoning guardian of the marshland turned to leave. Just then he was caught off-guard by Becky’s voice. “Gregory?”
Gregory was taken aback that Becky remembered his name, but he was something else now, and would need a new name. He paused, thinking of what this new name would be. He thought of what he loved about the swamp, what it taught him, and just how he’d come to his new powers.
“Call me The Fatalist,” he said, before turning back into the forbidding recesses of the swamp. Becky ran home, never intending to tell anyone of what she had seen.
You thought you’d stared up at that sad white paint for the last time a year ago, didn’t you? You really believed the lie you scribbled on the wall, that this complex wouldn’t swallow you again, and that you had it beat. There’s no winning against this place. The hospital is a living organism and it has your number. You were smiling, laughing, the first time you left, and now you’re crying and you’re back. You’ll wear their pity like a bloody carpet.
And you’ll know it’s all your fault, that’s what’ll make it sting. Not the injury, that comes from some infected scar tissue in your abdomen, but the true pain. The true pain comes from flashbacks of Carmen, how she helped you recover emotionally, and the love you feel for her. After you almost died in a car accident, rehabilitation was daunting, but Carmen was there to help. Every week, she would come over to your house and watch House. You fell in love with her then, in those hours spent glancing at her when she chuckled.
Lovely, sweet, dusky eyes peer up at you from a smiling face, and you’re caught.
You thought you could be someone to Carmen, but she helped you, you didn’t help her. When you tried to kiss her what else was she gonna do? And you were crushed, fucking flat Stanley crying like a little bitch. And you can’t even stop thinking about her.
This is a pediatric ward, so there’s dead and dying little kids in every direction, but you’re not even sad about that. Deep down in your core you’re sad about one thing, and it is pathetic.
What, when Carmen began spinning behind your pupils, you called it love, but the bad kind? You know there’s no such thing as unrequited love; you know that’s not fair. Obsession is real, devotion and doe-eyed obedience are real, but you can’t call these things love, because it’s not fair to. How much do you even know Carmen? Yes you know her better than before the accident, and that time in the bookstore you felt like maybe she liked you, but you should’ve known that that was just pity. Pity is the most horrible thing in the world, because it is not emotion; pity is only judgement and classification.
Those that would pity you look at your life and say to themselves “There but for the grace of god go I,” and they move on, which would be fine. The problem comes when cripples like you try to hit on normal people. Everybody was just lying on the bed at Clark’s because we were all tired and high, and it wasn’t anything; but you saw Carmen lying next to you and you tried to kiss her, God.
And now she’s in love with Kirk and it doesn’t even matter, because she’s human and you’re fucking gross. You can tell yourself that hole in your throat is cool all you want, but it’s nasty and it makes people uncomfortable. It’s like you’re showing off, Mr. I’ve-Been-To-Hell-and-Back. Look at me, I’m better than you because I know what it’s like to need a wheelchair and see a hospital ceiling all day, but that’s bullshit. What could Carmen love in you? Fuck, what could Carmen like about you? Admiration though? What’s that? She admires you for what you went through, and that’s sexy? That’s attractive? That’s endearing? You know it doesn’t even matter, anyway, because she’s just not into you.
But that’s all just slings and arrows, and everybody’s got those; you’re not special, you’re fucking typical. You can lie there feeling sorry for yourself but around the bed next to you are new parents watching their infant child die. You’ll probably never know pain like that, and you think you’re hurt. Even with all that you’ve seen and been through you’ll never have to see that kind pain up close. They seem nice; a little boring maybe, but that doesn’t mean they deserve this. That baby might have been bouncing around and giggling a short time ago, and now it’s in the hospital. Or maybe it never bounced or giggled. Being in the hospital makes me consider these things..
What will you be when you go home after all this?
All you did today was watch the clock with bated breath like you were hoping for something, but you were just waiting for your parents to show up towing their sad eyes, and when they did it wasn’t any help. Your dad came and he was like “Let’s go get a board game or something.” and you said yes because you saw hope in his face. He wants so bad to see you smile; he wants to hear you joke, so joke, you say, you’ll really try to.
Last time you were in the hospital you and dad actually walked to a video store and picked up some Yes, Prime Minister, and that was so funny. You can remember sitting on the hospital bed and laughing your asses off, and Fawlty Towers too, and when dad would take you out on walks sometimes and he would jog and tilt the chair back. Going fast like that was simply fantastic, like you didn’t even know that the shadow you were rolling in was from the hospital. it was just sharp and cold and bitter and wonderful. It’s strange to think but you miss those times, when you were learning how to walk again, and when you could feel progress.
But you can’t do that now, it hurts so bad to walk. Every time you take a step you feel like nails are being pried out of your abdomen, wrenched by the tool on the back of a hammer.
So you were wheeled back to the game room with dad and what did you expect? All it was was a bunch of sad children in bandages playing stupid board games and giggling, but their giggles didn’t sound whole. In those little minds, even if their consciousnesses don’t realize it, score is kept and they’re way behind. Those little kids know that their friends aren’t in the hospital, but that’s really only the beginning; they don’t even know that this is supposed to be the time their discovering girls; they don’t know what it means to miss that, and that’s probably worse than seeing it pass by. You watched it pass by, so you at least have someone to blame. Obviously blaming yourself isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing at all, you guess.
God, Hannah, when was that? Fourth grade? And you’re remembering that? Thinking about how that should’ve been your first kiss, and maybe then the whole story would’ve been different? You know, if you access your reason and really think about it, you know that it wouldn’t have made any difference. If while working on building the model Navaho town hall or whatever, you know that if you’d said “fuck it” and leaned over puckering it wouldn’t have been what you’d always imagined. Face it, she’d have recoiled.
Even when it actually first happened for you that wasn’t real, not like it would’ve been if you’d created it, it was made for you and dropped in your lap because even before the accident people pitied you. Some new fellow freshman friend set you up out of the goodness of her heart, with Lin. You and Lin sat on the bench swing discussing what you each felt in your heart about the tenderness in human voices and the art in utilitarian craftsmanship or something, you can’t even remember, but it seemed important.
Lin just felt like home, and you loved talking to her. You can remember sessions of kissing and rubbing over the clothes and over the sheets of Lin’s bed, you felt like that was what it was all about. That was your mistake; you were too satisfied; you didn’t think you would have to do anything. When she said she’d prefer to stay friends, you smiled and said “that’s cool.” And when you tried to reconnect with her after your accident it was like she didn’t know you and who could blame her? But you deserved it, the way you acted when you were first getting to know Lin was shameful.
So when dad wheeled you to the game room the letters on the boxes were all laughing at you, or that’s what it felt like anyway. At first you were like “I kinda wanna go back,” but then he looked sad so you said “Okay, Connect Four.” Who knows what it would look like to have your heart in a game of Connect Four, but your heart wasn’t in that one.
You must’ve looked real pissy grunting every time you slid one of the pieces into place, because as soon as you finished like 2 games dad was like “Alright wanna go back to the room?”
“Yeah, lets go.”
And as soon as you got back in bed dad was like “Sorry, I just thought maybe we could have a little fun.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” and you raised your chin to look into dad’s eyes. You know it’s really a shame you can’t cry anymore, because that might’ve been a really good time.
And then when he saw you look at the mattress he put his hand on your shoulder, “How ya doin?” he asked like he didn’t know.
Not too fucking good dad. I’m in the hospital again, my stomach hurts like hell, and the girls, the girls hurt worst of all. “Fine. I mean, not fine, it sucks, definitely, but it’ll be over soon, so, ya know.” What the fuck? Where the fuck do you get off Mr. Tough-Guy? Everyone knows, though; everyone knows it’s just a fucking act, you’ve got no one fooled.
“All right,” the words slid out of your mouth like ash, “I’m doin alright”
Now it’s been a week and you’re still staring at the ceiling and the baby’s crying so you get up. You know what? Now, fuck this, that’s what, it’s time to walk. Grab the walker it’s not so hard, grab it with both hands. It’s right next to your bed and when you grab it it doesn’t slip away, it’s yours, and fully it is.
Okay now move the walker to the front of you. It’s a machine, it’s supposed to make a crippled bastard like you walk, so walk. Alright, for the first leg we’ll go to the window. You won’t even do any more than that, will you? Oh boo-hoo it hurts so much, that’s psychological and you know it, nothing hurts anymore, you push through that shit. And you won’t cry. Yeah you guess you can’t cry, but you wouldn’t cry if you could, because you’ve got more in the tank than they all have put together; they’re all jealous, they wish they could be given this kind of strength, but you know, they’d have to earn it. They’d have to earn it through pain and disability and rehabilitation, and then they might remember what joy is. They would know the joy of walking around and talking with Carmen on Halloween at the zoo.
That joy, whatever happened afterwards, will always be there. When you looked in her eyes she did love you back, and it had to be special for her too. You reach the window and look out; you can see the black, but there’s specks of light too, and it’s not so bad.
You can see the stars and they’re beautiful and fuck the pain, because it means nothing to nobody, so fuck it. Smile now, that’s right, show those motherfuckers who’s the boss of who—you can’t tell me what to do!—that’s right because what’s even trying to tell you? Thousands of dollars, hundreds of man hours spent just to make sure you can think and talk and walk so what are you gonna do? No, you’re not gonna lie down and throw that pillow over your head and cry; because you’re tough, that’s why, and you’re not gonna let pain tell your legs not to move you to a better place.
When you see Carmen again your head will try to fool you again, but you won’t let it will you? So what if you keep thinking about her? She’s a major figure from the past it’s only natural, the way of the world. You’re the doting skinny pale best friend of the spicy Latina, that movie came out like 7 times in 1982. Maybe you’ll find someone who excites you like you’re alive like never before and maybe not, who cares? Unoriginal people with nothing to offer anybody would care but you’re not one of them; you’re a hero and an artist, and that’s why you’re gonna turn around and do it again. You’ll walk through the pain again, while it disappears, or shows you that it never existed in the first place.
Here’s what winners call the wall. They don’t mention it’s made of nails but who cares, you said you’re the toughest son of a bitch that ever lived so fight through that shit, beat it into the ground till it coughs blood and its mother comes to save it. You’re passing your room again and your bed looks better than ever before. Maybe something good’s on TV now? Who cares so you turn left and get ready to face the pain again. TWO, say it out loud in your mind, TWO!
Fuck two, why not three? Fuck three, why not five? Fuck five, how about fucking EIGHT!?
Wait? Who’s this talking? No nurse, I’m fine. I’m just walking around the hospital I don’t need help. No I don’t need a wheelchair I’m not goin anywhere, just makin laps. Why? You know I’d never really considered it, just feels good I guess. Yeah I guess it did hurt yesterday but I’m fine now. Feels good because I’m free and I can do anything.
Almost, almost. Almost! TEN, done, you can lay down now, you beat it and it’s never coming back.
I woke up a week after the surgery and my stomach didn’t hurt anymore. It was thanksgiving, and on the way out I saw that couple from the other bed in my room walk through the doors carrying their baby, the baby was laughing.
In an instant, the earth will open below you, and you will be swallowed into the agony and horrible congestion of the reality that exists for all of us the same. In accepting this as an inevitability, which all of us must do, the appropriate thing is to gird your loins and paint your face.