Wonderland

Written by Alexander Greco

May 24, 2019

I was new to this. It was my cousin who got me started. I told her I needed money, and couldn’t find a job. Instead of giving me any of her money, she taught me how to “fish”. She taught me how to pick up clients—how to present myself, how to tell which guys were likely to be clean, and which guys wouldn’t beat on me. She let me borrow her, um, toys and, well, practice—which is good, because I wasn’t very… practiced.

I was afraid of all the men at first—afraid of what they might do to me, of how this could go wrong, afraid of who they might all be—but none of them were ever mean, or abusive, or malicious in any way. I suppose I was still always afraid of the men, but they were mostly blue-collar workers who couldn’t find a girl who wanted them back, or white-collar men who had wives and children they didn’t want to think about for a night. They were almost all balding and quiet, and unsure and fidgety, and nervous and quick. I was only so afraid of them for so long.

Well, anyway, after almost a year of doing this, I met this Man at a bar. I dropped a few hints, just how my cousin taught me, and I had him hooked quick. I was surprised. He was handsome, and looked well-to-do—not the kind of guy I’d expect to, you know, be with girls like me.

So, we went to his hotel room. I sat down on this Man’s bed. He gave me a glass of water to drink, and said he needed to use the bathroom. I nodded and thanked him for the water. While he was gone sipped at it pretty conservatively. I was a bit nervous, and really only drank it to be polite. However, after ten or twenty minutes of him being gone, I’d finished the glass

I looked around the hotel room looking for anything to distract my nerves while I waited for the Man. My eyes fell on two bottles sitting on a table next to the bed. One had a red label, the other had a blue label. I picked the red one up, but couldn’t recognize the name—or even pronounce it. The other one, the blue one, was some sort of Benzo—I had known guys who liked them, and a few who had tried to give me some.

I set the blue bottle down just as the Man came out of the bathroom. He walked toward me, and gestured to the bed. I sat down. He sat down next to me and pulled a small, plastic bag from his pocket. I recognized it—Cocaine.

The man pushed the two bottles aside, and laid the bag on the table. “Come here,” he said, excitedly.

“No, thank you,” I replied.

“Come on,” he said, opening the bag, “you ever done it before? You’ll love it.”

I hadn’t done it before, and I didn’t really want to try it. His tone was still cheerful, and I hoped he would stay agreeable with me if I refused. “Please,” I said, “I’d really rather—“

The Man whipped around to look at me. “I said, come here.” The cheerfulness was gone. His eyes were cold. He didn’t care about me at all. He was just here for fun. So, that’s what I’d have to give him.

For a moment, I hesitated, not knowing what to do. Then, I got up and knelt down beside the table. The Man had poured some of the powder onto the table, then pulled a dollar bill from his pocket, and rolled it into a small tube. With his finger, the Man made a small line of powder. He leaned forward, put the tube into one of his nostrils, put a finger over the other, then inhaled the powder into his nose with the dollar bill.

“Ooh, damn,” he said, leaning back, “oh, shit. Here, try some.”

The Man handed me the dollar bill, which I took. Then the Man sectioned off another line of powder for me. As he did this, I noticed my body feeling strange. Something felt… changed. But then the Man was done. “Come on,” he said.

I figured the strange feeling was just my nerves, so I leaned forward, put the end of the dollar tube up to the powder, just as the Man had done, and inhaled. I sniffed only a small amount of the powder, but the sensation took me so off guard that I pulled away instantly. I sneezed, blinked, and shook my head. The Man laughed. I didn’t like his laugh.

“Come on, girly, finish it up,” he said.

I complied, hesitantly. I leaned forward, and inhaled the powder as quickly as I could. Same as last time, I pulled away as soon as I was finished. I felt buzzed almost immediately. Everything was a little lighter. I was happier, my nervousness was gone. I felt wide awake, happy to be here, and energetic, like I had just drank a few cups of coffee. The Man was laughing again. This time, I did like the sound of his laugh.

“There you go, good girl,” he said.

I smiled when he said that. I don’t know why, but I liked it.

“A little more,” he said, dividing some more with his finger, “before we get the show started.”

While he was sectioning off his little portion, I noticed the strange sensation again. It wasn’t nerves, I knew that now, I didn’t feel nervous at all. I liked the feeling—though, I liked everything at that point. It was just that… Well, something was different. I don’t know—I don’t know how else to describe it. Something was different about everything, but there was only a slight change 

The man finished his line, and had already divided one for me. He handed me the bill, and I was far less hesitant this time. “There you go,” the Man said, “chase the rabbit.”

I did what he said. I reacted almost the same—it was disorienting inhaling the powder, and it didn’t feel right going in my nose—but now I was growing far more energetic. Hyper, I was hyper. And happy. I don’t know if I had ever felt happier. I felt almost like a child.

At this point, the strange feeling I had noticed before seemed to lurch forward from the corners of my perception, and began filling my body. First, it was some sort of euphoria—like the feeling you get when you’re outside, on a hill or in the woods, and a cool breeze blows by. You forget for a moment where you are, what your worries were, and something about this breeze is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever known.

I turned and looked at the Man, and he seemed to far away. I knew he was looking at me, and I could feel his hands on my body. They were herds of sensations, like herds of antelope or bison, running across my body—if my body was a field, or a savannah in Africa. He smiled at me, and my thoughts laid down in a field—I could feel grass, bushes and flowers at the back of my thoughts. I smiled back at the Man, and something indescribable flowed through me.

When I smiled, it was like the moon had been melted into a cup of glowing fluid, and poured into my veins. I thought the sun started setting in the room, or at least that it was twilight. I don’t know why. It might have been the light, or the colors. But it also felt like summer. It was warm in here, I could feel everything in my body without thinking of it, it was just there. But that’s not why it felt like summer. It was out of school and down the road. It was somewhere we were laughing.

The Man was kissing me, I realized. I thought our mouths felt like whales swimming in the deepest oceans, except it was Summertime still, even in out oceans. But I had never felt whales before, how would I know? I was moving—a sky full of stars proceeding across a hundred years of nights. Then I think my dress came off my body.

The breeze passed and calmed down. The flowers went away for a moment. The warmth was uncomfortable now, clammy and humid. I looked down, and the man’s hands were beneath my bra, groping my chest. He was on his back, I was straddling him. What was I doing? I looked down at his hands, and it all looked wrong.

Something soured, and whatever music I had been listening to before went cold and sharp. The air clouded with violent fluids, racing through my thoughts. I looked at the man’s half-undressed body. He was some sort of animal, I thought. And I didn’t know him. I didn’t know this person at all. Why was he doing this to me? There was nothing human in how he touched me, nothing but an animal in his eyes.

He shifted his body, and I realized he was already inside of me. I hadn’t felt him enter me. I didn’t know. But there he was, to the hilt.

The Man smiled again. It was all wrong. His smile was too wide. His teeth weren’t human. His eyes opened up like sinkholes at the same time they shrunk into black pebbles. He laughed, and the air cracked like splintering wood as a house fell around us. “Having fun?” he asked.

Fun. He wanted me to have fun. He wanted me to enjoy this.

The Man has his way with me. He gives me money, and he leaves. I buy my food—or else I starve—and then I come back to the Man for more. He has the money: he has me. And I’m supposed to enjoy it. I’m supposed to love it. I’m supposed to let him smile at me and let his stranger’s hands crawl across me like herds of cattle and swine, and I’m supposed to smile back.

Was that what he wanted?

His smile grew wider, and his face distorted. His eyes sunk into dark pits, and his grin threatened to consume me. His smile wanted to eat me, eat my skin, eat my thoughts, eat my name.

I pushed myself off of him, and jumped off the bed.

He sat up in bed and stared at me. He said something frustrated, but the words danced into shapes I couldn’t read.

I backed away from the bed, and looked around for my clothes, but nothing was familiar anymore. It was all the same—it was all right there—but it was all something different too.

The Man was trying to calm me down, but I doubt he really cared. Two other men stepped out from the bathroom and started walking towards me. It didn’t understand it—had they come from Nowhere? I saw one of them step next to the bed and grab the blue bottle. Some gear far inside my mind clicked into sense. I didn’t hesitate. I turned around, opened the door of our room, and burst out onto the walkway outside.

I was only wearing a bra, but that didn’t matter. I heard footsteps coming after me. We were on the second floor of the motel. In front of me there was a metal rail, then a wooden fence down below. Beyond that, trees and bushes. There was only one way forward that I could see.

The men were coming to the door, I had a couple seconds at most. I leaned onto the rail, put my feet on top of it, and kicked forward with my legs.

The men were yelling somewhere behind me, but I didn’t understand or care. My torso cleared the top of the fence, but my legs didn’t. My shins slammed on the top of the wooden boards, I tumbled forward into the branches, and crashed through a bush to the ground. My body hurt all over, but it wasn’t a normal hurt. It was a storm of sensation—lightning crashed all over my body, and a dull thundering throbbed through my body.

I got up off the ground, and something told me to run, so I began tearing blindly through the trees and the brush. My body was wracked with pain­—my shins screamed at me with each footfall—but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t even be bothered to care that it hurt.

An animal—a dog maybe, or bear, or an ape; something big and heavy and warm—was sitting in the back of my thoughts. It was making some sort of noise at me. It was barking, grunting, or roaring at me, but it was silent at the same time. From its mouth came branches of a tree, covered in vines and lichen and moss, and from each branch, small twigs like arms with searching hands.

It was the thing in my head telling me to run. I trusted it, so I ran. As I ran, I could hear it whispering things to me. I trusted it, so I listened. As I listened, I could feel its warmth spreading through my body, soothing me. I trusted it, so I embraced a rushing sort of calm.

These trees I ran through were no more than a small patch of woods—maybe a half mile deep—that emptied out behind a few square miles of suburban maze. I could hear the men far behind me as I approached the other side of these trees. In the corner of my eye I could see the rapid bobbing and swaying of their flashlights through the trees.

Though it was night, I thought I could see everything clear as day. No, seeing wasn’t the right word. I just sort of knew, like my eyes were telling my arms and legs secrets, even if I couldn’t see what the secrets were. I knew where everything was, or maybe everything put itself where I knew it should be, and I didn’t trip on anything or run into a single tree or bush.

Once I made it to the edge of the trees, the men’s flashlights had closed half the distance to me. There was an open field that stretched two or three blocks to my left and right, and across the field were homes. I turned left, and ran across the edge of the field, just along the tree line. I kept looking behind me in my peripherals, and as soon as I saw the flashlights emerging near the edge of the trees, I came to a stop, and stepped back into the darkness of the trees.

Two men emerged from the tree line, with two flashlights. Together, they formed some sort of monster with wild, disembodied eyes that illuminated the ground around them. They split apart, and the one monster became two. They each turned their own direction down the field and began walking—one down the right side, and one toward the left side, toward me.

I watched the man coming in my direction. As I did, the whole air seemed to hum—quiet at first, then louder and louder. The night sky above all the houses seemed to shimmer, like the air was made of indigo spider’s silk that a million painters brushed over the suburbs. From my peripherals, I saw movement all around me. Green trails of trembling sensation—sensation I could see in front of me—snaked through the air and through the trees, and small marbles of red and yellow thought rolled through the air and down the trees. However, I didn’t turn to look at these. I kept my eyes fixed on the Man.

The air around him shimmered with a blue color. Then it got darker, and turned into a violet. The violet closed in on the Man. The violet charred and congealed onto the man’s body like a new skin. This violet light turned into an oily black suit, encompassing the Man’s body. A new body grew from his back, with hind legs so he could pad along on all fours.

The Man was something new now, an oily, black creature with a single, shining white eye, which beamed light from the end of a bent and craning neck. Its skin bubbled and churned like boiling tar. Its limbs swung like frantic cat’s legs across a roaming pocket of void.

Where it walked, the ground moved to avoid being trodden on by the one-eyed creature. The brushstroke skies seemed to lift themselves up where the thing passed, and the grass and dirt disappeared around its feet. In this way, the creature walked across Nothing, and its pitch body could only be seen against the suburban houses, because Heaven and Earth refused to touch it.

Soon, it came by me. It was never closer than thirty feet, even when it was right in front of me. A ringing noise came from the thing’s body, and at the same time I felt invisible hands clawing at my thoughts. They all came from the thing, I knew that, as if I knew it in a dream, and they were the ringing noise—though it didn’t make sense, I knew it to be true.

As if in defiance, I felt the branches of all the trees around me crowd into the back of my head. I heard them whispering things—though they were not whispers in a language as we knew it. They spoke in words made of shapes—edges, bodies, and curves—intonated with shifting angles, and articulated with spiraling geometries. These branches were crowding my thoughts—a whole tree, perhaps, was inside of my head.

The branches pushed away all of the creature’s hands, and cleared my head from all its ringing. The creature kept walking, never noticing me, and went further and further down the field. For a moment, it was just the tree and I. It was still speaking to me, and now I thought it was speaking in colors, colors that vibrated and climbed through your head like ladybugs and crickets climbed through leaves and twigs.

For a moment, something much larger than both I or the tree seemed to fill my body. It sort of came from the tree, but it was more than the tree at the same time. They were hundreds and thousands of glowing worms, or snakes, or roots—it was an entire forest of them, an entire glowing forest—but they all formed one cohesive feeling, one cohesive body.

Then, the tree retreated from my thoughts. It slowly climbed out through the back of my head, back into some wilderness, and I was left alone at the edge of the trees. I looked to my left and to my right, but I didn’t see either of the men. I looked around at all of the houses. A few had clotheslines in their back yards. I thought I could see a white dress in one of the nearer ones. I looked around once more, to make sure I didn’t see the men anywhere, then I sprinted across the field to the backyard of this house.

The men didn’t come out of hiding from anywhere, and I don’t think anyone saw me. I stepped up to the clothesline, and saw that there was indeed a white dress hanging outside. I grabbed it, and pulled it over my head and down my body.

When I’d finished, I looked around the yard to make sure I was alone. Then I walked carefully between the house I had stolen the dress from, and the house right next to it. On the other side of the two houses, I checked to see if the streets were clear. They seemed to be. I stepped carefully out between the two houses, through their yard, onto a sidewalk, and across the street.

I knew there were some more woods on the other side of this suburban area—much larger than the small strip I had passed through. I could take a shortcut through those woods that would take me only a few blocks from my house (I knew my way around, having been invited to several of these houses on nights when mothers and children had gone out of town).

After I crossed the street, and stepped onto the sidewalk of the next block, an odd sort of calm came over me. Everything in my head was quiet, except for this cool stream of—I don’t know—existence? Being? A small, clear pool of living, and that was all I could hear. Around me, the incandescence of the streetlamps and the colors of the night sky seemed to form this landscape of light around me.

Black and white contrasted in dancing tableaus. Reds and yellows blended in rivers running across the road, up the trees, and across lawns. Then, like a lord of these colors, the indigo sky descended upon them with rich blues, violets, grays, and blacks. From the windows of some houses, I saw lamps inside their windows, and these lamps were like small angels beaming out white-gold, electric ecstasy in every direction through the night.

It was like this for quite some time—though I couldn’t tell you how long quite some time lasted. A few blocks down, I could hear a small storm of chirping. Then, further down, I saw a tree that had grown up alongside a streetlamp, so that the light of the street lamp cascaded through the branches of the tree. In this tree, and a smaller one next to it, there had to have been at least a couple hundred small birds, if not more. I was close to the woods now, and, though I didn’t know where the two men were, I felt safe here, so I decided to stop.

They were all chirping together. There was no real rhythm to it, no pattern I could extract, but something about it fascinated me. I walked up to the tree, and stared at them. It was beautiful­—the light piercing through the branches, and the birds flapping energetically in the dark—but it was the sound that entranced me. The bird’s chirping consumed me—it was all I could think. It was all I could feel, and all I knew. The sounds churned in my head, and something rose out of it.

On the edge of my thoughts, I swore I could understand what they were saying. There was something meaningful about the noises they made. They were all talking to each other. Maybe not how humans talk to each other, but talking to each other nonetheless. Some melody, some song, some harmony they were forming in unison that spoke back to them all—the voice of the flock speaking back to each bird, as each bird joined in articulating the voice of the flock. What were they saying?

Something broke my train of thought. Out of some instinct rather than logical thought, I turned and looked down the street to my right. There, I saw not two but three men. My lover had reunited with them.

As we saw that we saw each other, they broke into a run after me. I turned and began running as well. I was only a couple blocks from the woods, and the men were still almost an entire block behind me—if I could just make it to the forest and to my apartment, I would be safe.

Tonight, I felt as though I could run faster than I had ever run before. My body didn’t get tired, or maybe it didn’t care. I was scared, I suppose, but I felt this fire inside of me as well—something brave and fearless, naked and free. I soared across one block, and the men had hardly made any ground on me. I soared across the next one, and then ran through someone’s yard, past the other side of their house and out into the woods.

How beautiful it was—like a wall of living truth and growth. The darkness between the trees reached out to greet me, and I fell into its grasp. I couldn’t tell you if I ran or not—I seemed to soar more than anything. My body and my thoughts fell into a kaleidoscope of branches and leaves, of colors reaching out from the night, and music playing in the darkness.

The cool breeze I had felt came back, and it lifted me like air beneath a bird’s wings. The whispering of the tree came back, except now it exploded like a symphony of music from my chest. I leapt over roots and rocks, and felt the ground carry me like a parent carrying a child.

Something went wrong, however. I couldn’t quite understand what had gone wrong until I crashed into the ground. I must have tripped over something, I suppose, but nonetheless I had fallen, and fallen hard. I couldn’t breathe—the wind must have been knocked out of me. I crawled up to a nearby tree, and leaned against it. There, I waited for my breath to come back. My right ankle hurt horribly, I don’t know what happened to it.

After a short while of panic and pain, I could breath again. At first, I gasped in air, but then it slowed, then slowed, and slowed some more until I was calm again. My ankle was wracked with pain, and it felt wrong.

I sat up, and tried putting my weight on my feet, but my ankle hurt too badly. I collapsed to the ground, panting and terrified at first, but then I calmed down. Something in me accepted it all. Something in me understood it all. Something in me saw it all.

When the men finally found me, the song in my chest had started playing again. I looked at the men, and the song told me who they were. It told me about the lights they held in their hand. It told me about the guns at their sides. It told me who I was, and it told me why that was okay. I could only halfway hear the men, because I only halfway cared about them. “…we don’t have to… …right away, do we?”

“No, no. I… …she’s contained… …won’t be mad if we take our time.”

I was a deer in the jaws of Man. I was a doe being masticated by a crop thresher. I was a prey animal in the salivating mouth of a machine.

I heard a belt buckles clatter, and a new reality descended upon me like a pack of wolves.

And I didn’t care.

I don’t know what they had done to me, I don’t know what they are doing to me, I don’t know what they have yet to do to me, but my song was playing in the wind in the trees in my head. Whatever has happened, whatever is happening, whatever will happen, I became what is becoming what will become fearless. I am that has, I am that is, I am that will, and I am another tooth in the mouth that eats me.

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The Art of Lauren Power

Written by Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

Lauren with her children’s book, “A is for Art”

Hailing from Houston, TX, Lauren Power is a mother, an art and art history teacher at Waltrip High School, and the creator of uniquely beautiful and grotesque artwork. In much of her work, Lauren aims at pairing vivid colors and imagery—such as animals, flowers, and women—with dark, unsettling, and at times disgusting imagery—intestines, bones, brains, hearts and other organs. However, her pieces have a wide range of style, subject matter, and medium—ranging from painting, to digital art, to tattoo work.


Eye in Mouth
Watercolor
2018


Lauren’s art blends the technical work of realism, experiments with color theory, and elements of surrealism to create these oddly intoxicating images. All at once, her art hits us with the mesmerizing beauty of nature, the strangeness of dream-like visuals, and a train wreck we can’t look away from.

“I’ve always enjoyed flowers and highly saturated colors, but I often pair them with internal organs or dark backgrounds. I feel my work can be both hideous and beautiful at the same time, but that’s mostly what interests me. The contrasts we experience in this world of the pretty façade hiding a sinister ulterior.”

“Kiss of Death”
Oil on Linen Canvas
2019

Lauren’s work blurs the line between the things we love and adore, and the things we fear or loathe. In her piece, “Kiss of Death”, she molds a severed heart into a face with seductive lips, and frames it with dark and cool tones, which contrasts attraction and revulsion.

“…originally [I] had sat down to paint a rose. While sketching, that rose evolved into deadly nightshade flowers and I kept thinking about that type of toxic love that tricks you with her beauty, but will ultimately destroy you. This heart is both seductive and deadly, contrasting the vibrant greens and lush pink.”

Lauren—who has been happily married for nearly 10 years—created this piece to show how some people fall head-over-heels for people that eventually hurt them. Sometimes we become entranced by someone we hardly know. Other times we fall in love with a false identity that someone has created, or we fall in love with a false identity that we fabricated in our heads. Whether through this person’s manipulation, their card-castle of lies, or through seeing the person with sober clarity, these relationships eventually collapse.

In other pieces, we see an outpouring of emotion, and the inner tension we often feel as we bury our emotions deeper into our psyche.

“Rainbow Guts”
Watercolor, India Ink, and Gel Pen on Paper
2019


“Rainbow Guts” is about the insecurities and anxieties that wrack us from the inside out. Whether we feel worthless in the eyes of others, or feel like those we love and care about don’t love us back, we often find ourselves wondering if anyone truly accepts us as who we are. And even beyond this, life is filled with doubts and hurtles and uncertain times.

For the most part, we try to shield these troubles and insecurities from friends, family and co-workers, so as not to worry them with. However, this often comes at a cost to us, as the more we bury our emotions, the more our emotions strive to burst forth.

“The week I made this, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. This is what I imagined you would see if you cut me open and looked inside—a twisting mess of color and confusion.”

“Dreams”
Multimedia
2015

In “Rainbow Guts”, we see a small storm of different colors, and often when we bottle ourselves up, even the things that make us happy, content or excited become muddied up with our anxieties and frustrations. It becomes difficult to differentiate between our fears and our desires, our love and our hate, and our doubts and our hopes. When the storms of emotions inside us become too much, often the best way to get rid of them is to let it all out and find some way to express the convoluted thoughts we have. (Meditation and morning runs help too.)

With “Electric Heart”, Lauren uses grotesque imagery to create a sense of masculinity, and frames the heart in black, which gives it a sense of detachment or isolation. This grotesque and isolated heart stares up at the world above it, or perhaps at the world outside of it. Oftentimes men have difficulties expressing themselves, or repress their thoughts or feelings. However, the feeling of being isolated inside our own minds is something universal. We often feel vulnerable when revealing how we truly feel or think.

“Electric Heart”
Water Color and Gel Pen on Paper
2019

“I inherently like pretty things like flowers… …but I often try to combine them with masculine elements. For me, hard elements like bones or grotesque things like internal organs seem very masculine to me… …I feel like the grotesque represents all the things we hold inside, that we internalize and compartmentalize. That is an inherently masculine activity, concealing one’s emotions inside, whereas the feminine is more open and up front about feelings.”

What fearsome, repulsive, or hard personas do we put up to shield our vulnerabilities inside? For a lot of us, it’s almost instinctual to conceal our inner selves. We don’t know how to drop our hardened, angry, absurd or serious personas, and reveal our true dreams, doubts and ideas.

Beyond her work with the grotesque, the surreal, and the introspective, Lauren has experimented with various mediums, and with her use of color theory. In addition to traditional oil and watercolor, and drawing, Lauren uses alcohol markers, gel pens, microns and India ink. Lauren has even tried her hand at tattoo-work, and has written a children’s book.

“Garden Skull”
Alcohol Marker, Watercolor, and Micron on Paper
2018

With “Garden Skull”, Lauren uses a mix of watercolor, micron pens, and alcohol markers to create a haunting and beautiful skull.

“I just love the graphic nature, saturation, and blendability of alcohol markers. I was previously super involved in watercolor, but couldn’t get the clean saturation that I now get from copics and Prismacolor markers.”

In “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mixes alcohol markers and microns with gel pens. What I personally liked about this piece is how the linework, the colors, and the places where she used gel pen all seem disconnected from each other, like they were physically laid on top of each other, but not actually the same image. And yet, despite this, they still complimented each other a formed a dazzling whole.

“Smokey Eyes”
Alcohol Marker, Micron and Gel Pen
2019

While working on this surreal and glamorous piece, Lauren found that “Smokey Eye” emboldened her sense of creativity.

“My past really lied in traditional painting and realism; I was enjoying the excitement of something outside of that comfort zone. I love gel pens specifically for their saturation and ability to create high contrast highlights. I fell like they give my work a sense of sparkly otherworldness.”

With “Jessica Rabbit”, Lauren plays around with form and color to produce a portrait that is strange, yet still beautiful. Lauren emphasizes this woman’s eyes and lips, while de-emphasizing other aspects of her. Lauren also matches typical hair and skin tones with more vibrant colors, which gives a sense of realism, yet also causes the colors to pop in a way we wouldn’t see in real life. This makes the subject seem more natural than the original Jessica Rabbit, but still surreal compared to someone in real life.

“Jessica Rabbit”
Oil Paint on Canvas Panel
2019


“I have a background in traditional realism painting, but lately I’ve been pushing my color theory and style… …my reference photo for this piece was actually a very soft pink. She had brown hair and was overall very regular. I enjoyed punching up the complements of turquoise and red in this one. I have a tendency to draw giant chins and small eyes, so I tried to do the opposite here to stylize the figure.”

With both “Jessica Rabbit” and “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mentioned an influence from digital art, saying, “…I do draw inspiration from their ability to stylize the figure, emphasizing eyes, saturated colors, blends, and sparkly highlights.”

However, Lauren still prefers physical mediums over digital art.

Rainbow is my Favorite Color
Gouache on Panel
2019

“I’ve been super inspired by digital art, but have more enjoyed seeing its translation in my traditional paint medium. I feel a closer connection to paint and brushes than I do a stylus… …when I actually attempted digital art, I felt very disconnected.”

As with many other things that’ve been changed with digitization, many people embrace digital artwork, but many people still prefer physical, tangible art. Of course, many artists who work with physical mediums still admire the work of digital artists, but for artists like Lauren, nothing compares to holding a paintbrush and watching a canvas come to life.

On top of all this work, Lauren found inspiration from her 2-year-old daughter to create a children’s book. Lauren’s book pairs each letter of the alphabet with a wide variety of different images and color schemes, ranging from a fauvist Jellyfish to a living Ukulele. This helps young children associate abstract letters with visual representations, and gives them something fun and creative to flip through.

“I initially made it just to print for myself and [my] daughter, but decided to publish it with Amazon KDP. I really only thought my family would end up buying it, but my friends are so supportive, they promoted it so widely that people I didn’t even know were purchasing it and leaving reviews. I even had some people ask me to autograph their copy, which really tickled me.

“The Letter R”
Alcohol Marker and Micron
2019
From “A is for Art”

“I wanted a book that focused on visuals and aesthetics. I wanted my little one (she’s 2 and a half) to have to sort of guess what each letter represented. There’s some pretty out there references like Z for Zap and Q for Quiet. It is currently my daughter’s favorite book, she calls it the mommy book, as it has my picture on the back cover.”

Though much of Lauren’s work focuses on the ugly and grotesque, the real and surreal, Lauren also draws inspiration from her daughter, her loving husband, and the beauty of the world around her. The inspiration that Lauren takes from the world, she also gives back out to her family, friends, students and fans.

If you haven’t seen the rest of her work on Instagram, I would highly recommend checking it out (@artistlaurenpower), and you can find her students’ artwork on Instagram as well (@waltripvisualarts). If you like her work, let her know and give her a follow. If you’re interested in her book, you can find it at www.amazon.com/dp/1790918030. Lauren has also designed graphics for tee-shirts, which you can find at https://www.teepublic.com/user/artistlaurenpower.

“I ❤ You”
Dropper Paint
2018

What Do We Know (2.0)

By Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

What is real? What’s just fantasy?

What is fact? What’s just theory?

What is true? What’s just fabrication?

What do we know about the world we live in, the people we live with, and the person we are?

Light comes in through the cornea, and is refracted into your pupil, then through a hard lens, where the light is focused into the retina. Our retinas capture this constant bombardment of trillions of light-waves/particles, and process this light with millions of special nerves called rods and cones. These rods and cones convert light stimuli, which are picked up by the optic nerve, and sent to the brain.

Your brain processes the optic signals with the limbic system first, where our brain scans for threats or rewarding opportunities. The limbic system first “communicates” with the Automatic Nervous System, which governs our fear response, our fight-or-flight instinct, and our sexual attraction instincts. If there’s an immediate threat, such as a snake on the ground, or a potentially rewarding opportunity, such as a person you find attractive, your brain and body begin responding before you know what you’re looking at.

Finally, the processed light-signals are sent to our neo-cortex, where we consciously “see” the light.

Similarly-complex sensory systems detect what we smell, what we hear, what we feel and what we taste, and this is the foundation of how we understand the world around us.

These senses alone are nowhere near what you need to actually understand what’s happening around us. Humans have an incredibly weak sense of smell, we can only detect a narrow range of light waves, our easily-damaged ears can only hear a certain range of sound, and we only see so far, or so close, with limited clarity. The parts of our brain that process these signals can misfire, or misunderstand what it’s looking at (optical illusions).

In addition, our senses alone don’t tell us how a thing works.

We only began to understand gravity in 1687 with Newton, then with Einstein in the 20th century, and we still don’t fully understand how it works.

In fact, we don’t understand how most of the universe works.

27% of the universe is made of Dark Matter, which constitutes 85% of the total mass in the universe. 68% is Dark Energy.[1] That’s 95% of the universe that we don’t understand. All the stars, planets, black holes, comets, asteroids and space debris make up only 5% of the universe.

But let’s go smaller.

The universe is much so much bigger than what we experience normally, we at least know what’s happening on Earth.

Do we?

As a species, we’ve all but mastered mechanical, electrical, optical, thermodynamic and nuclear physics… To a degree.

We now know vast amounts about of biology, evolution and genetics… Relatively speaking.

We have a deep and accurate understanding of psychology… In some ways.

And we’re more informed about the world around us than ever before…

Except we’ve learned enough to see how little we actually know.

We now know enough about quantum mechanics to know that the subatomic world is bizarre and nonsensical, and often violates “laws” of nature, such as the Law of Conservation.[2]

Not only does it violate the Law of Conservation, but quantum mechanics is incompatible with Einstein’s Relativity, and has led to decades of scientists trying to reconcile the two.[3] Decades later, we still haven’t reconciled the two.

Do we at least understand how people work? Why we are the way we are? Why we act the way we act? How we’ve come to be who we are?

Well… Yes and no…

To a certain degree, we understand how humans work. We understand what our bodies are made of, how our muscles, bones, cardiovascular system and so forth work, and how our nervous system works.

We understand that genetics and the environment affect our physical and psychological development.

We understand that genetics, our brain, past experiences, learned behaviors, hormones, psychological states, emotional health, and physical health all play roles in our behaviors and decisions.

We understand how evolution has shaped and changed us over billions of years into modern humans, and how epigenetic adaptations on the individual level.

We have a pretty solid, foundational understanding of how the human body works, but this foundational understanding has shown us the vast amounts of our genetics, biology, physiology, and psychology that we don’t know.

Let’s take something as simple as hair. We have hair follicles in our skin. They grow using nutrients from our body, and they grow according to chemical signals from our nerves.

However, everything is also controlled by our genes. Everything from the follicles, to the structure of each hair, to how fast each hair grows, is coded by genes. And, there can be multiple genes that code for the same thing. You can have multiple genes controlling the color, length and coarseness of your hair, or one gene that codes for several different traits. These genes can be turned on or off, they can perform different functions based on the hormones in your body, and they can also code other genes.

However, genes are only one part of the equation, and things like your diet or how often you exercise can affect individual traits. Everything in the body is interconnected, and it’s highly

We’re only just beginning to know the ins-and-outs of our body.

There are still mysteries to evolution, unanswered questions, and long-debated ideas.

There are still mysteries about genetics, how genes work, and how genes affect our anatomy and psychology.

And there are still mysteries about the brain. We’re still trying to understand all the ins-and-outs of brain function, of how we think and process information, and why we behave the way we do.

Consciousness is a perfect example. We still don’t even know what consciousness is, or if consciousness is real or an illusion. We don’t know why we’re conscious, or what causes consciousness. Yet, consciousness is one of the most important aspects of being a human.

But what about the basic world around us. What do we even know about something as simple as a desk-lamp?

It’s an object that “stands” on our desk. It has a “lightbulb” you can put in or take out. You can “turn it on” to make light come out of the lightbulb.

But how does it stand without falling? How is it constructed? What materials does it made of?

What even is a lightbulb? How does it work? Why does it work the way it works? What is it made of? Is it incandescent? Is it an LED bulb? How does an LED work?

Yes, you can take the time to answer all these questions, even down to what metals and gases are used inside a bulb, and the reasons why they are used, but can you do that for everything? And can you do that for everything all the time?

What is the desk made of? How is it constructed? What materials? Why does it even work?

What about a flash drive? Or headphones? Or your computer?

Why are we able to look out a window and see what’s outside? Why does one flower look prettier than another flower? Why are the walls of a room painted the color they are, and, for that matter, how does paint even work?

Yes, we can stop and explain everything around us, but how often do we do that? How much do we actually know, from one person to the next, about the fundamental objects of daily life? How much do we take for granted when we walk out the door, or even when we wake up in our bed?

Jordan Peterson has a great explanation of this. A car is a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next, until it stops working. As soon as it stops working, it becomes a chaotic-object-of-anxiety-and-ignorance—a terrifying monster made of valves, wires, pipes, pulleys and gears. But as soon as the car gets fixed, it transforms back into a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next.

Even more basic than basic objects around us, do we even know what’s going on half the time?

What’s happening on the other side of the four walls around you? What’s happening next door? What’s happening down the street? What’s happening in the next town over? What’s going on in your state, or your country, or the rest of the world?

Unfortunately, we barely even know what’s happening outside our front doors.

When we do see something happening, how much do we actually know about it?

If we see two strangers arguing, do you have any clue what it might be about?

What’s going on in those people’s heads?

What’s going on in anyone’s head, for that matter?

A friend of mine explained something called a “black box” in computer programming. A black box is a piece of code where you can see what information goes in and what information goes out, but you can’t see what happens inside that code. For example, you input X into the black box, and the black box outputs Y, but you don’t know why the black box took in X and put out Y.

Humans are a lot like this.

As I’ve already mentioned, we’re complicated motherfuckers. We barely know why we do the things we do, let alone why other people do the things we do. We barely even know basic information about people and their lives.

What was someone’s upbringing like? How did their parenting, their early experiences, their education, their environment, and so forth affect their personality? What’s their health like? What matters to that person? What does that person go home to each day? What goes on in that person’s head?

Even things like what a person ate on a given day, how much they slept, or the state of their gut bacteria on a given day can alter their personality.

So how much do you know about the person you’re talking to?

How much do you really know, and how much do you make up, or assume?

How often do we make assumptions about people we know? How often do we make assumptions about who they are, what kind of person they are, and the reasons why they behave how they behave?

How often do we project an easy-to-understand, cookie-cutter identity to a person? How often do we then treat them as if they were a cookie-cutter person, instead of treating them as the complex, dynamic human they really are?

The problem is, we can’t do this for everyone.

We can’t take the time to deeply understand each and every individual we come in contact with. We have to make assumptions about them.

At the very best, we have to make educated guesses about a person, but even these guesses can be way off the mark.

Let’s take it a step further.

How do we know how we know things?

How can we be sure we know what we know?

How can we be sure we know anything?

It seems almost stupid to ask (“You just know, you know?”), but it’s really hard to pinpoint how we can be sure of what we know.

Even asking, “What does it mean to ‘know’ something?” is a rabbit hole in and of itself.

We only know what our brain tells us to know. We only know this because our brain tells us we know this. Our brain can be wrong, our brain is forgetful, and our brain is biased. Our brain can be lazy, tired, confused, misguided, and deliberately irrational.

Beyond that, how sure can we even be about the things we “really” know.

There’s a thought experiment about a brain in a jar (which may or may not have originated with HP Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness”).

Let’s say you’re a brain in a jar, with all these wires hooked up to your brain. These wires send signals telling you what you see, what your body looks like, what you’re doing, and what emotions you have. As far as you know, you’re a person walking around in the world, doing your thing, but in reality, you’re a brain in a jar.

This sounds sci-fi-ish (it’s one of the ideas behind The Matrix), but there’s legitimate speculation in the scientific community about Simulation Theory. Simulation Theory states that we may be in a reality simulated by a computer-like technology, or some higher form of technology that transcends our knowledge of physics. We could be living in a computer-fabricated universe, dictated by lines of 6th-dimensional computer code.

We are reaching an age where our technology and our computing power will be so powerful that we ourselves might be able to create our own simulated realities. We already have virtual reality goggles, we can already create computer-generated realities and interact with these realities (video games), and people like Elon Musk are already creating technologies that can directly link our brains to computers.

What’s to say a civilization before us, or a civilization “above” us, or an indescribable entity in some multi-dimensional tangent of our own reality, hasn’t already created technology that can simulate a universe?

What’s to say some civilization hasn’t created our universe in one of their computers, and has made a simulation that is so sophisticated it replicated consciousness and physics? (Except it starts to fuck up in black holes)

We kinda don’t know.

Many great minds have pondered, many great minds have searched for answers, and many great minds still haven’t figured it out.

We simply don’t know. We don’t know a lot.

We know some things. We know coffee makes people (not all) hyper. We know some people shouldn’t eat gluten (actually, probably no one should eat it, but it’s whatever). We know monkeys and humans both get weirded out by direct eye contact.

We know the Earth spins, and we basically know why, but we don’t really know why gravity works, and we’re still arguing about how gravity works.

We know humans only live for a short amount of time, and then we die, but we know this is controlled by genes and our biology, and we’re starting to be able to control our genes and our biology, but we know enough about genetic editing to know we maybe shouldn’t fuck with our genes until we really, “really”, really know how our genes work.

We know enough to know we don’t know much.

We know enough to know the world is a crazy god-damn place. We know enough to know humans are crazy motherfuckers. We know enough to know the universe is stranger than fiction.

And beyond that, we don’t really know.

Which can be scary to think about. It can be terrifying to know that our world may not be what it seems. It can keep you up at night, thinking about all the people around you that you barely understand. It can be anxiety provoking to think about what will or won’t happen tomorrow, or in the next week, or in the next year, or what will or won’t happen before you die.

But it’s also kind of fantastic that we don’t know.

How boring would it be if we knew everything?

Einstein isn’t one of the greatest historical figures ever because he knew exactly how the universe worked. Einstein went down in history because he explored the unknown, even to his death. He relished in the things he didn’t know, in the things he couldn’t explain, and devoted his life to uncovering the secrets of the universe.

We don’t like spoilers because we want to find out the end of movie for ourselves.

We don’t like people telling us what to do or how to do it because we want to figure it out on our own.

We don’t like learning about the same thing over and over again, because it doesn’t get us anywhere.

It’s okay not to know things. It’s okay if there’s a little bit of fantasy in our reality. It’s okay if life is more theory than fact. It’s okay if we have to fabricate a few details along the way (so long as we can un-fabricate them at some point).

It’s okay, because what we don’t know is far more interesting than what we do know.

We don’t know where this ride’s gonna take us, and that’s half the fun.


[1] https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-area/what-is-dark-energy

[2] https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae605.cfm

[3] http://m.nautil.us/issue/29/scaling/will-quantum-mechanics-swallow-relativity

Forest in My Attic

By Alexander Greco

April 5, 2019

Hours after I planned to begin, hours after the sun had risen above the horizon, I lowered the stairs to my attic. At the top of the staircase, I stopped half inside the attic, half inside everything else.

The Sun beamed through the left-hand window. Outside I could see the forest surrounding my Father’s house. Dust covered everything up here, most of which hadn’t been touched in years. It was a mess up here, a chaotic city of boxes piled against dressers, cardboard towers leaning against bookshelves. Dust covered the city like the snow of an ashen winter. Some parts of the attic clearly hadn’t been explored in years, where some objects were almost invisible beneath a couple decades of dust.

For a moment, I stood still and stared around the attic. For a moment, the attic seemed to stare right back at me.

I had no idea where to begin, or what I might find. Everything in the attic was an accumulation of my Father’s forty-year stay in the house. I had moved in when things first started going downhill, about five years ago. His life slowly came to an end two years ago. Only now did I finally force myself start cleaning the house out, deciding what to keep and what to throw out.

I looked around the attic once more, mentally preparing myself for hours of digging through old memories. I sighed, then stepped forward.

My first steps across the floor were slow and cautious. One wrong step, and who knew what might come tumbling down. One moment of incaution, and-

Shhhf.

Something had moved.

I looked around. There was nothing.

Probably a rat, I figured, or a mouse. And god knows how many spiders, cockroaches and cluster flies there up here.

No… No, no, no, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to deal with

I turned almost went back down the stairs. I’ll call an exterminator, then maybe I’ll hire someone to haul all this stuff downstairs.

But then I stopped, and looked around one more time.

Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have looked away. Maybe I should have kept going, closed the ladder, and never looked back, but I didn’t. I looked around, and I started catching sight of things I’d completely forgotten about. Stacks of books my Father owned, old furniture, and ancient relics from childhood.

Old memories began wrapping themselves around me, and I tried pushing them away. Just leave, call the exterminator, and come back to this another day.

Then my eye caught a lone box on the floor, only a yard from the ladder.

 “PHOTOGRAPHS” was written in sharpie on the side.

I studied it for a moment. Then took a short step to where it lay on the ground, and knelt down to it. I studied it like it was some curious yet potentially dangerous specimen I’d found in the jungle. I almost stood up to leave, but I wanted to know, “What memories are in this box?”

I picked it up, and the bottom fell out a few feet into the air. Half a dozen 6”x8” albums crashed to the floor. I jumped back, and cursed, “Fuck,” at the sudden calamity.

Then everything settled into a new, stable chaos. The box was empty, and the albums were still.

Again, I almost left. I almost called it a day, right then and there.

But maybe, I thought to myself, I should at least pick these albums up. I set the box down, and knelt at the pile of photo-albums, beginning to re-stack them. At the bottom of the pile, one of the albums had completely opened. I glanced briefly inside. They were pictures of my friends and me, pictures from high school.

I’m not old, I’d say—early-thirties—but people I saw in those pictures were so much younger than the people we’ve become. I honestly don’t know who a lot of these people became.

I flipped through the pages, and wondered how much Joey has changed, or Mike, Kris or Drew—how much they’ve all changed; everyone I knew. Who did they all become? Who are they now? What are their lives like?

Then I saw a picture of Mary, the last we ever took. The one after we’d both graduated from college, after we hadn’t talked in months. We took that picture, ate dinner, hugged and said goodbye, then never talked again.

And then all my memories of her pulled themselves out from the old closets of my mind, like ocean Leviathans being reeled in on 30-pound poles. All the peaks, and all the ravines. All the steps forward, and all the stumbles down. All the nights out, and all the days lost.

Everything we did together, all the thoughts we shared, constructed itself like an architecture of memories. Words we’d spoken that built bridges between us, and dreams we painted onto a shared canvas.

What secrets did we share in our dreams? What cities did we walk through that will never have a map? What people did we meet that will never have a name?

Something moved again.

I looked up.

No.

Mary was standing in the attic. She was looking at me. Looking into my eyes.

I blinked, and she was gone.

No… No, this is impossible—I must have just imagined it—this is impossible.

She had been standing there only a moment ago, but now she’s gone. She had been standing there, standing by my… By my father’s…

My father’s old hunting bag.

No. I stood up. I didn’t want to deal with this, I didn’t have to deal with this. I’m going crazy just being up here. I need an exterminator. I need to hire someone to do all this for me.

I flew down the attic stairs. I didn’t even bother closing the attic up, I just kept walking through the second story, down to the first floor, and out the front door.  The moment I was outside, walking out into the trees surrounding the house, I lit a cigarette and took a long drag. I kept walking, and walking, and walking away from the house. I didn’t want to think about what I saw, I just wanted to fall into the trees.

These woods had been my father’s woods—a whole square mile of it my father bought in the 70’s. It was on the outskirts of the suburbs, and in the suburbs, the city at the center of us all kept encroaching on us, so these woods were like a last bastion of something old and natural. They’d been my father’s woods. I guess they’re mine now.

I kept walking, and walking, and walking away, but I was still in my father’s forest—my forest.

 Autumn had crept into the world, slowly and subtly until its presence was undeniable. The forest was a small world of silent giants carrying a canopy of green, yellow, red and orange on their shoulders. Beneath the giant’s feet were roots dug into soil, roots cracking stones beneath the earth. Worms, beetles and mice burrowed beneath the grass. Deer eat the grass, wolves eat the deer, vultures eat the wolves, and time eats the vultures.

I kept smoking cigarettes. Each one, I put out on the sole of my shoe, then put in my pocket. I wouldn’t dare leave them in the forest. I wouldn’t dare drop them on the ground. Not even the vultures would eat them.

My father was somewhere in that world now, buried in rock and roots, rivers and grass. Buried somewhere where the world dies, only to feed the dying giants above.

I never made it anywhere near the edge of the forest, I never made it to the deeper trails and through the deeper glades. Eventually I stopped, and sat down on a tangle of knotted roots. I lit one last cigarette—I’d gone through three already—and stared into the forest. I tried not to think about the attic, or my father, or going back to the house. I tried only to stare.

But then I turned back toward the house. What had I just seen?

Was that real?

There wasn’t any answer—not from the woods, not from the grass, not from the dirt, not from my head. The grass churned with the air, the birds chirped, and the air danced across my skin, But there was no answer.

I stood up, and turned toward the house—well out of view through the trees.

It doesn’t matter. No, it wasn’t real. It was your imagination, that’s it.

I have to go back soon. I have to… I don’t know, I have to do something. I’ll call pest control, that’s what I’ll do.

When the house came into view, something seemed odd, but I couldn’t tell what it was at first. The front door was open. I didn’t remember leaving it open. Closer now, and I could see colors across the windows.

Ribbon? Tape? What was it?

And… And there were colors coming out the front door? I started jogging up to the front of the house.

Yarn trailed out from the front door, across the wooden patio, and onto the grass and dead leaves. Yarn of all different colors, and string, twine, strips of silk—what the hell happened? It didn’t make sense—nothing made sense for a moment. Then I saw something run by the windows of the second floor, then through the front door I saw something run across the living room.

Kids. A bunch of dumbass kids tearing up the house. That was my rationalization. I don’t know what they were doing, I don’t know how, but I didn’t care. I would get them out of the house, and I would clean their mess up. I forced myself to be mad, forced myself to be furious, and walked inside.

And the moment I stepped inside, I wasn’t furious anymore. It wasn’t kids. It couldn’t be. The yarn, the ribbon, the string and the twine were everywhere.

All across the walls, coming down from the ceilings, wrapping across the floor, and tied in chaotic nets through the air. Like fauvist cobwebs, ribbon, string and silk covered the walls, and like a surrealist’s spider-webs, all the string and silk and ribbon wove in and out of each other through the air, forming an insane cloud of color between the walls.

Thud thud, thud thud thud

Something ran across the floor above me. There were voices, people talking.

I looked across the ribbon-strewn ceiling, then around the rooms of the walls, and then to all the doors and hallways littered with yarn.

My heart thumped in my chest, and I could feel my palms getting sweaty. What the hell had happened? What was this? Who was upstairs?

I turned to the staircase. It was almost completely clogged with webs of twine and silk. I studied it nervously for a few moments.

THUD THUD THUD THUD.

I whipped my head up to look at the ceiling. Someone had run across the floor upstairs.

I looked back at the staircase. I had to do something… I had to find out what the hell happened, and who the hell was upstairs.

Slowly, calmly, I approached the staircase—evading hanging webs and bridges of string as I did. I stopped a foot away from the bottom of the stairs. There was so much hanging between the walls—I could avoid getting touched by most of it, but I’d have to come into contact with most of it. I don’t know why it made me so nervous, but I hesitated there for a moment before plunging in.

There was a moment where I wondered if this was real or not—like the moment before you dive into cold water, and wonder if you’re actually diving into cold water.

But as they brushed across my skin, the ribbon and silk and yarn all felt real. This schizophrenic tunnel of craft-supplies felt real—felt tangible, physical, material. There was a part of me that had been wondering whether this was   Along the way up the staircase, I began to notice photographs dangling from the webs. Photographs, then newspapers clippings, and then lines of text cut from books, cities cut from maps and definitions cut from dictionaries.

They were all hanging from the string and yarn, like they were apart of some arts-and-crafts mobile, or the creation of some conspiracy theorist. What the hell was this? What had been made in my father’s house? What was this filling the halls and filling the staircase? What happened?

Someone—a child—I think -ran across the top of the staircase. They flitted into existence one moment, then ran into oblivion the next, but I could still hear their footsteps pounding away at the floor. No…

Had children done this? Was this the work of small kids? With many careful steps and uncertain maneuvers, I made it to the top of the staircase. Immediately, I noticed small movements that seem to fill the second-floor hallway. Crawling all across the yarn webs were mice, bugs and spiders… And they were all carrying objects with them.

I saw small mice carrying little nick-knacks with them—pens, miniature figurines, keys—bugs rolling marbles and dice across silk bridges, and spiders preying on toy soldiers caught in a twine web. They all maneuvered through the webs, around and across photographs, and between pillars of newspaper clippings.

For a few moments, I tried to digest what I was looking at. I tried to digest the sight of all the bugs crawling across the silk bridges and yarn spirals, with all the little objects they carried on their backs and in their mouths, and all the mice running through the air like naked tight-rope walkers. But several moments later, it still didn’t make sense. Several minutes later, I still couldn’t understand what I was looking at. It seemed so obvious though, it seemed like everything was right their, like all the pieces of the puzzle had already been put together, and it was just the image the puzzle formed that didn’t make sense. My eyes travelled to the end of the hallway. The staircase to the attic was still open. Mary was standing at the base of the staircase. She was staring at me.

No. No, she couldn’t be real, that couldn’t be right. That person standing there, that can’t be a real person, that can’t be…

“Mary?” I called out.

Mary didn’t move. She kept staring.

I put my hand out, almost as if to wave at her. “Mary,” I spoke, “is that you?”

Mary stood and stared a moment longer, then turned and walked up the stairs into the attic. “Wait!” I called out, “What’s going on? Where are you going?” But she wouldn’t stop.

She disappeared into the attic.

I hesitated only another moment, then plunged into the hallway.

As quickly as I could without tearing the webs of yarn and string down, I made my way down the hallway, toward attic. The webs got thicker the further I went. Only a yard or so from the stairs, the webs were so thick that there was no maneuvering around them anymore. I had to push through thick mats and nots of fabric, ridden with crawling creatures. Mice investigated the back of my neck before scurrying back to the webs. Cockroaches and water beetles crawled across my arms and hands. One spider stepped like a manic dancer across my face before I swatted it away, and god knows how many other spiders had found their home on me.

Finally, my hands found the staircase to the attic, and I swung my feet onto the bottom steps. As I climbed the staircase, the webs only got thicker and thicker toward the top. I was immersed in the fabrics—my entire body—and all across my body was a crawling, scampering, skittering sensation—my scalp, my ears, my lips, my nose, across my chest, inside my pants, and down to my ankles—but I couldn’t see the things crawling across me, and I couldn’t do anything to stop them.

The webs suffocated all light, and the clutter and fabric grew so dense it was like digging my way up from the bottom of a landfill.

Then suddenly my body burst through a membrane of fabric and photographs. I was gasping for air, as if I’d just emerged from underwater, and I pulled my body through the writhing fabric into the attic.

Laying on the ground, I looked around the attic. Networks of yarn wove through the air in complex patterns and structures. Photographs and newspaper clippings dangled from the material like cosmopolitan leaves. The entire attic was a thicket of chaotic material, with a clearing at the center—surrounding the entrance of the stairs—but otherwise there was nowhere to go in here.

Mary was nowhere to be seen.

There was no path to the windows. The only other way out was back down the crawling hole next to me.

There was no path to anything in here.

I sat up and looked around. No path. Nothing. No where to go. No path.

Then my eyes caught sight of something.

No. That wasn’t true. There was one path.

It led to my Father’s old duffel bag. It was my father’s duffel bag he used when he went hunting in the midwest. He would carry the few changes of clothes he brought into the wilderness, his compass, a map, knives, and other small things he brought with him. I crawled across the floor of the attic, hand over hand through to the duffel bag.

It smelled like oiled leather. Gun powder from spent bullet casings. The earthy aroma of dried leaves.

It reminded me of him.

I never went hunting with him. I was afraid of guns. But I can’t count the number of times I wish I’d gone with him.

My thoughts travelled back to when he’d be gone. My mother let me rifle through his things in their room. There was his bed and his closet, his flannel and his coon-skin hat. In a dream I had when I was a small child, I crawled across his floor at night and into this same duffel bag. I wormed my way through the contents until I came out into a forested mountainside. In the dream, my father was there, waiting.

Next to his duffel bag, I saw a pile of old drawings I had made when I was a child.

There was an old picture of mine where the moon was keeping me safe as I slept. When I was a child, I used to think the moon followed me overhead. The moon was alive and thinking. No longer. There’s a picture of a half-man, half-deer person. I’d shown it to my father, and told him he’d meet the deer person one day in the woods.

So many ideas I had, so many creative and beautiful thoughts. Elves in the woods, dancing in whispering glades. Towering monsters that stalked forests in twilight hours. Aliens lost from space, trying to survive on our planet. So many small ideas from when I was child. From long before my father’s disease had taken hold, long before he had passed on.

Something moved behind me.

I turned around. Standing in the center of the room, in the clearing of strings and yarn, stood my father.

It was as if he had never died. As if he was still here with me. No. He was there with me. He looked at me with watery blue eyes and smiled. Every wrinkle cracked across his face with stark detail, and every line was so beautifully human.

“Dad?” I asked.

He only smiled.

Standing up, I took a step toward him into the attic, and stepped into the forested mountainside.

I was in the attic still, I knew I was, but… I was in the forest with him.

My father beckoned me over to him, and I walked with him through the forest. We walked together through this dream, and then we began walking through all my other dreams. He knew the way through all the moonlit cities, where shadowy creatures flew across the sky, and knew the paths up spiraling architecture—bent and contorted as they pierced into the starry heavens.

We went into the castles from various nightmares and spoke happily with the ghosts and the vampires, like long lost friends. Old, hidden caverns and buried temples were rediscovered. We admired these galleries of secrecy like children in a museum.

There were beaches we walked across. Waves crashed against our ankles, and soon we were walking into the ocean. Fish of all colors swam by. We stepped through the streets of coral reefs where eels snaked across winding alleyways and dark tunnels.

A coral reef bloomed around us into walls of buildings, with windows from old shipwrecks, and statues from drowned civilizations. The city in the ocean became every city in the world, and the people of the city became every person I’d ever met. I looked around, and it was still my attic, but the attic was so vast now, so infinite. Time was nothing, and for brief seconds we visited infinity together. The cities we visited, the people I met, the dreams I had, and all the memories forgotten; all were right there, right in front of me.

All of it was right there, right before my eyes.

All the thoughts I had never shared, all the ideas that fell apart and were lost in my head. All the people I hated, all the people I loved, and all the people I passed by without a second thought. We were all standing in my attic, we were all walking through our memories of each other, we were all talking in this forest with my father. There in the attic, I could hear every word and every sentence we’d ever spoken—every movement of the eye, every posture we ever held, every movement we ever witnessed.

All of you. I could see all of you

There in the attic, I could see all of you, and you’re all pulling on me with fistfuls of yarn.

And you were all me. You were all pulling these strings in my head, and you made me all I would ever be. Every word you’d ever said is all I am. Every memory of you is all I am. Everything that you are is all I am. All I could ever be is all of you, because all we are is pieces of each other.

I saw all of you, and I saw the truth. I saw myself, and I knew what I was looking at. I saw all of us, and I knew exactly where I was.

Then it all began to slip. Fall away. In my dreams, I was alone. The vampires slept in coffins I couldn’t open, and the ocean cities were abandoned. In my memories, we never spoke again, and I never found out if any of us had quit smoking. In my childhood, I deciphered all the rational truths, and the moon couldn’t keep me safe anymore. In our forest, you all turned your backs to me. In my attic, you all walked back into the pictures in the boxes.

I ran after all of you, yelling for you to stop. Bookshelves of all our stories fell down around me. The bedrooms of friends I sat in collapsed brick by brick. Kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms of family—blood or no blood—crumbled with age.

I scrambled through all the wreckage, chasing after you all. Secrets glittered in the debris like small gems, but I couldn’t stop to pick them all up. My lost thoughts peered from ruined classrooms I couldn’t go back to. Wherever I looked, I couldn’t find my old memories, or those old feelings I’d felt.

“Come back!” I yelled, pulling on all the strings.

But you all turned away, and now I can’t picture your faces in my head.

“Wait, come on! Where are you going?” but you wouldn’t answer.

You all disappeared somewhere, and I can’t see the lines on the map telling me where.

“Come on, Please! Please! Come back!” I screamed, reaching out for them.

But I couldn’t believe that the moon watched over me anymore, try as I might.

“No, tell me again! Just tell me one more time!” I called out to all my old thoughts.

I couldn’t believe that there were fairies in the forests, dragons in the mountains.

“What did I lose? What was in my head? No, no, what was it? What was it?”

And, despite all my effort, I couldn’t remember the truths I’d known as a child.

In my attic, you all left me to the dusty relics and lifeless debris. In my attic, you all disappeared into the walls, filed down the creaking, wooden stairs, and climbed out the windows. All the webs of strings pulled themselves back into the cracks in the floorboards. I wanted to stop them, I wanted to pull them back, I wanted to dig at the wooden floorboards until my fingers bled, and find wherever these strings led to.

I didn’t know who I was looking at anymore, and it didn’t make any sense. I didn’t see the truth, and I didn’t know the answer. I looked around for everyone, but everyone was gone. I looked around, hoping I was still in a forest of people at the bottom of the ocean, but no. I was here. I was in this attic. I was alone.

It was evening now. Yellows and oranges were streaming in through the right side of the attic. “Damn,” I said to no one, “damn it all.”

I looked out the window, and imagined going outside for a cigarette. “Damn. Damn, damn, damn this place.”

Something moved.

I turned.

Mary stood there in the attic. Staring at me.

I stared back.

Not even meaning to, I blinked. She was gone.

All of it. All that I had seen. All that I knew now, all the places my father had taken me, and all the people I had met. It was almost too much.

I looked around the attic—completely normal again, with no strings or lengths of yarn or ribbon—and imagined myself clearing this room out.

I didn’t know where to begin.