Horror-Tober VII: Zombies / Walking Dead

Written by Alexander Greco

October 25, 2020

“They just want to calm your fraying nerves

They just want to be your comforters

They just want to clear your aching head

They just want to calm your fraying nerves

They just want to be your comforters

They just want to wake the walking dead

The walking dead”

Mark Lenover, “The Walking Dead”

The Analysis that Became a Rant or The Little Article that Could

It might have been the pot, it might have been the acid, or it might have been the mushrooms, but I remember at some point in my nebulous collection of psychedelic adventures, zombies finally made sense. I figured them out.

I don’t like the word “zombie” though. “Living dead” is getting better—it’s a nice oxymoron. “Walking dead” though… they got it right with that name.

See, “Zombie” is too abstract—it’s not connected with anything tangible, it’s just a funny sounding name that we associate with mindless, autonomic bodies brought back to life.

“Living dead” is better because it hits closer to home. We have deeper associations with the words “living” and “dead”—they mean more to us than “zombie” ever will. But, there’s something wrong with the name.

“Walking dead” on the other hand hits it out of the park. It just nails it. Why?

It does the same thing that “living dead” does—it anchors the name and the idea of the creature into something more tangible than “zombie”­—but then “living dead” goes wrong with the “living” part, because we instinctually know that part of the name is a cheap gimmick.

It’s clever, for sure, but we know the zombies aren’t “living”. “Living” for us as humans is something natural. We associate it with “the lights being on”, with a “soul” in the body, maybe even a ghost in the shell (wink, wink). And so, we look at the dead body moving on its own, and we know that it’s not “dead” in the normal sense, but we also know it’s definitely not “living” in any sense.

But, “walking dead”, that name works. You don’t have to think about walking at all in order to do it. You can literally walk in your sleep, it’s so easy and mindless to do. Walking is just your body moving in a pre-programmed way and it literally takes no effort at all—just try thinking about how you actually walk, I’ll bet you don’t even know how walking works.

“Walking dead” implies something that’s just robotic, mechanical, thoughtless or instinctual. It basically calls zombies objects capable of moving (and eating, of course). There’s nothing there. The body moves, but it moves like silt moves in a riverbed, or how snow falls from tree limbs or rocks fall down slopes—there is no thought: it’s purely mechanical.

That term, “walking dead”, removes any sense of agency, animacy, life or consciousness from the zombies: they’re corpses that move; they’re objects that walk.

But, what does this mean symbolically?

What are the walking dead?

They’re mindless people-shaped objects that incessantly consume anything and everything around them.

They’re the hungry, unthinking corpses that stalk the few conscious survivors of the undeath plague in herds.

They’re the masses of thoughtless, mechanical animals made of rotting flesh and decayed nerves.

They’re the shambling costumer, the bottomless, indebted consumer, the TV mind-slaves;  they’re the drones, the sellouts, the zealous recruiters of self-dissolution; they’re the frenzied finger-pointers, the inquisitors refusing to look in the mirror, the self-anointed priests of popular opinions.

They’re the walking dead: they’re programmed, they lack self-reflection, they lack the ability to judge their own actions or beliefs, and they lack an understanding of where they’re beliefs and behaviors even stemmed from—more importantly, they even lack a desire to understand.

This idea—this symbol—reflects so succinctly the collective behavior of “the masses”. It’s the idea of herds of people who lack self-reflection or any deeper level of consciousness (perhaps the lack consciousness altogether) and who act on basic instinct and primordial, emotional drives.

So what is the point of the zombie or zombie survival flick?

I began this article with a quote from one of the greatest unknown lyricists, Mark Lenover. Here’s a quote from one of the greatest known lyricists:

“Run desire, run, sexual being
Run him like a blade to and through the heart
No conscience, one motive
Cater to the hollow”


“Screaming feed me, here
Fill me up, again
And temporarily pacify this hungering”

Maynard James Keenan & Billy Howerdel, “The Hollow”

The zombie narrative reflects humanity’s social reality in that a vast majority of the population is turned “off”—the lights aren’t on, no one’s home, some thoughtless machine is pulling levers behind the scenes—while a small minority of people are survivors.

Perhaps the plague, virus, disease, etc. is society itself—the pressure of millions of people-shaped objects wanting to turn you into one of them—wanting to consume you and degrade you to their mindless level. Perhaps it’s culture, or a specific kind of culture which infects people, or maybe it’s a natural symptom of a society.

So, what about the survivors? Who are they?

What do they represent?

They’re the people fighting to survive the thrall of society or culture—the people who fall prey and become another walking dead are those who give in to apathy, lethargy or self-destruction; or they fall prey to some trauma—physical, social or psychological; or they are overwhelmed by the herd and succumb to the swarming mob of people-shaped meat-objects.

And why do the walking dead wish to feast on other humans? Specifically, the flesh of humans who are still alive? Why are they unable to or have no desire to sustain themselves off dead or undead human flesh?

Because people have no desire to kill and consume other people who are already a part of the herd: we have no desire to transform people who are already transformed, and nothing can be gained from consuming what we already are.

The people who survive the gauntlet of society and culture become targets for zealous conformists and mindless consumers. People don’t “consume” products created by people similar to them, people from the same socio-economic class as them, or people from that they’ve conformed to/with—the people who create the things we consume aren’t like the pepole consuming their goods.

The people who remain original, the people who remain conscious, the people who remain alive and passionate: these are the people the masses wish to feast on.

The herds of walking dead feast on Disney, Walmart, Amazon and others—and while the living may still use these companies, they do not “feast” on them, they are not consumers in the same sense.

The “herd-minded” consumer consumes to blindly satiate an instinctual hunger; the living, thinking individuals understand their actions, and they “consume” to fulfill a conscious, understood necessity, or to aid in assisting some goal.

So there are two elements to this: a hatred of life—an anti-life (an unlife)—driving people-shaped objects to destroy life; and then there is an absolute desire to consume that life. It is a hunger or desire to obtain something, which results in the destruction of the desired thing.

And the emotional kicker to this all is the endless nihilism and suffering of hope.

Those who survive remain conscious, remain thinking, calculating, rationalizing agents—they remain alive—and yet their life is infinitely more difficult because of this. They remain alive and conscious only to be conscious for their own unending peril, pain and hardship. So why continue? Why go on?

Why go on—why struggle so hard against the smothering night and the bitter cold—when one can just let go, become a part of the herd?

Why struggle against something that seems so inevitable? Why wage an impossible war? Why stand against the ocean of mindless walkers?

What is it that is so important about life that people are capable of weathering the most violent storms in order to maintain life—to keep the fire lit, and to carry and pass the torch into the lightless chaos of tomorrow?

The possibility of something better and the hope for a cure: the hope for an end to the infinite dark.

This is what ever zombie narrative inevitably teases us with, and this is what life teases us with: what if, one day, we could end all this pain?

What if, one day, we could cure the walking dead, restore humanity and restore a society into one that loves life and living? What if we could cure the disease of anti-life and mindless consumption?

That’s what keeps us watching, and that’s what keeps the fire lit.

“And these words changing nothing as your body remains
And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next
And our memories defeat us, and I’ll end this duress
But does anyone notice? But does anyone care?
And if I had the guts to put this to your head
But does anything matter if you’re already dead?
And should I be shocked now, by the last thing you said?
Before I pull this trigger, your eyes vacant and stained
And in saying you loved me made things harder, at best
And these words changing nothing as your body remains
And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next
But does anyone notice there’s a corpse in this bed?”

My Chemical Romance, “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”

Conclusion: Episode/Issue #1 of The Walking Dead

A good story reflects reality.

A good symbol reflects a deeper, more complex truth about reality that a literal description cannot.

Zombies, living dead, walking dead: a society moving in herds, which no longer cares for life nor its continuation, and seeks its annihilation and assimilation through mindless consumption.

The Survivors: the ones who rage against the herds of people-shaped objects.

A good narrative speaks in a language of symbols, characters, events and associations.

In the first issue of The Walking Dead comic series and in the first episode of the show, the protagonist, Rick Grimes—a protector and upholder of law, and thereby a protector and upholder of culture and society—is shot and put into a coma. He wakes up in a hospital to find the world in shambles.

He is weak and barely alive. The previously orderly, clean and sensible world he lived in has become a ruined hellscape, devoid of life. He finds that society has been overrun by the Walking Dead, and then finds that a small number of people are still alive.

He then begins protecting these people, these individuals, and upholding life itself.

Rick himself “dies” and returns to life—he goes to the abyss, the place of chaos and darkness, common mythological trope—and returns to the “overworld” or the “normal” world.

Here, we can take a literal interpretation of the story: he wakes up after an actual zombie apocalypse.

Or, we can take a symbolic interpretation of the story: he wakes up to see the world for what it really is.

He wakes up and realizes his own weakness and vulnerability; he wakes up and realizes how important life and consciousness really are; he wakes up and devotes his life to protecting and leading people, not dictates of society.

Perhaps Rick didn’t wake up and see a transformed reality; perhaps Rick woke up transformed and saw reality.

The Art of Miguel Pichardo

Written by Alexander Greco

June 6, 2020

COVID-19
Mixed Media on Paper
June 2020

Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, Miguel Pichardo’s artwork has an incredibly unique, psychedelic blend of surrealism, abstraction and Gonzo-style artwork, which span across a tremendous breadth of style. Miguel and I first got in contact with each other over a year ago when I wrote my first article on him, and since then, his body of work has grown tremendously. In addition to talking about his recent developments in art, Miguel and I talked about his own growth as an artist over the last year, and the influence spirituality has had on Miguel and his art.

Since the last time we spoke, over a year ago, Miguel’s artwork has been getting more and more attention, including a restaurant and cafes his art has been featured in, including the Jesus Wall Brewery Artwalk in LA, and a number of projects and galleries he’s been involved with. Notably, Miguel has been working with Puzzle Crazy, a puzzle-making company who has been turning some of Miguel’s artwork into puzzles, and Miguel’s art was put into in the Pacha Moma Art Museum as a permanent installation.

For any major art lovers reading this, Pacha Moma is an insanely cool museum that features some incredibly talented and imaginative artists (so it’s no surprise Miguel has been featured here). I’ll post links to them, as well as links to Puzzle Crazy, at the end of the article.

Another major aspect to Miguel’s artwork is his focus over the last year on being able to connect more with his art and art process on a more intuitive level.

Untitled
Acrylic and Marker on Paper
June 2020

“Currently what I been doing with my work is that I’ve been practicing letting ‘the flow’ take over and kinda in a way let it create itself. I’ve found so much pleasure and satisfaction through that technique. I’ve gotten countless commission offers, but I turned them all down for the reason that I am focusing my time on creating what I enjoy. 2019 was a very magical year for me, if you will. I learned a lot about myself, as well as directing myself where I want to be. So yes, the goal for the future to me is becoming more clear.

“[…] I used to do it and it would take me hours to get in that zone. And now that I understand better that ‘zone’ I can tap into it faster. Some people also call it the ‘flow zone’ like you become fluent with your craft. Which create real master pieces. I believe.”

This style of creating art becomes especially impressive when you take into consideration the amount of detail in each piece. The ideas seem to be pouring out of Miguel’s head onto his canvas.

Jazz
Acrylic on Paper
March 2019

I think one piece that epitomizes this improvisational style is Miguel’s painting, “Jazz”. Named after one of the most improvisational and wildly flowing styles of music, “Jazz” zig-zags, twists, curls and loops across the canvas like a vision of controlled chaos. There’s somehow both a precision and a wildness to this painting. Miguel talked a bit about “Jazz” with me:

“I love this one for its simple yet powerful composition. What this piece represents to me is just the vibe of jazz the motion the rhythm the emotion of it. This piece brought back memories of my buddie Grover who has passed away. When I was a kid, he would express to me how much he loved bebop. As I was creating this piece I had him in mind as well. At the time I was have trouble with pricing my work. I finally stuck with a price and the piece sold for the price of $2000 which for me was a sign to have faith in my gut feelings or my intuition.”

While Miguel’s style can vary quite a bit from piece to piece, in general, this wild energy of controlled chaos is practically a staple in Miguel’s artwork. Some of them seem almost alive with movement and personality.

Cosmic Siren
Acrylic and Ink on Canvas
June 2020

Once you get to know Miguel’s style enough, it’s impossible to mistake for anyone else’s style, but it’s still difficult to pin that style down, as it can vary so much from piece to piece. Some paintings, like his recent painting, “Cosmic Siren”, or his painting, “La Catrina”, have a heavy Cubist influence on them, while others range in style from Kandinsky-style abstraction to Ralph Steadman’s Gonzo-style of art. Still, Miguel’s art, though similar in many ways to these styles, blends these elements as much as it breaks free of any of these molds.

In pieces like “The Buddha” and “Enat”, there’s a mix of some realism, and then a sort of static or sheen of color—clouds, lines, splatters, constellations, swirls, sprays.

With “The Buddha”, the Buddha’s eyes have been replaced by twin nebulae of specks, spots, dots and blots. Miguel almost creates a new atmosphere, or a new fabric of reality in some of his pieces. Maybe he’s peeled back the mundane, crisp and clean surface of material reality, and revealed the chaos beneath it all.

“Enat” more deeply enters the realm of realism, though it depicts the ancient and somewhat abstract “Venus of Willendorf”, but even hear, there is that slight mushroom-haze of specs and spots and spatterings of color. This same messy atmosphere or peeled back reality can be found in a wide variety of pieces.

Miguel’s still life paintings, “Florero de Septiembre” and “Still Life Cacophany” are rich and dense with this atmosphere. In “Florero de Septiembre”, the air and the color of the background seem tangible, like I could reach out and grab the fabric of yellow-golden light, hold it like it was clay, or like the air itself was paint. “Still Life Cacophany” is an explosion of colors and lines coming alive with extradimensional energy. Here the blurred lines of slight realism and wild abstraction make the painting feel like its exploding both in front of you, and like the image is coming alive and moving in your head while you’re looking at it.

Magic Clown
Mixed Media on Paper
June 2020

And with others paintings, the fabric of reality seems to erode even further. “Magic Clown” and “Al Fin de la Jornada” are barely clinging on to any semblance of realism. Small threads of realistic detail tie them to something tangible, but a surreal madness has all but overcome the paintings’ subjects.

With “Magic Clown”, the edges of objects have frayed in many places, and in other places, complete chaos has poured out or emerged forth onto the canvas. The crown of the clown’s head is all but nonexistent, and some unbounded limbo-world is exploding out of it. In “Al Fin de la Jornada”, reality has given way to geometric forms blooming out of the subject’s neck, shoulders and chest. Their mouth has transformed into pillars and skyscrapers of lines and color that run off the edge of his face.

My Anxiety Yesterday
Marker on Paper
April 2020

When all semblance of reality breaks down, when humans people are little more than the colors and shapes of ideas of personalities, a psychic geometry of identity, we find highly abstract pieces like “The Sheriff in Town”, “My Anxiety Yesterday”, and “Una Noche”. Pieces like these show an almost final breakdown of reality, where anything tangible or bounded becomes almost formless.

Still, this doesn’t fully describe Miguel’s broad range of style. There’s collages of colliding faces and forms, such as with “Relajate”, or psychedelic fauvist art, reminiscient of Alex Grey, such as “Mama Pacha”. There’s jaw-dropping blends of styles, such as with “Look Forward”, and there’s even a painting of Patrick star losing his mind on acid with “Patrick Star ‘Woah’”.

I can try and articulate these things to you, and I can try to box Miguel’s artwork into this category or that category, but you’ll have to go look at more of his artwork with your own eyes to really get his unique style.

Much of this unique style comes from Miguel’s own spiritual connection to his work.

Spiritual Being
Paintmarker on Paper
June 2019

“This is one of my favorite pieces it’s titled ‘Spiritual Being’ which is basically a self-portrait of my spirit. The significance of this piece is basically the awareness of my connection to the great spirit and that I am a part of it and that I have complete faith in it. As well as gratitude. On the right side you can kinda see another face. Which to me is my spiritual mother. I believe she has always been with me guiding and protecting me

“[…] The hands up on the being (me) signify surrendering to god or the ‘light source’, which creates or births faith, which in many circumstances has brought me peace and understanding.

“The great spirit, or God, or source or the universe I believe to be everything literally. I believe that we are all connected to everything in many different ways. I believe there is so much that we can’t even imagine, imagining the entirety of ‘it’. I believe it is so complex that that we as humans cannot fathom in anyway. So yes, my belief is closer to Native Americans’.

“And yes, ‘Spiritual Being’ the piece was not planned in anyway. It just came out as I went. I built on it. And after I finished it I looked at it for a while and saw the significance in it..but as you can see on the piece . It is in mostly rainbow color and pattern. Which to me represents light. I believe we are in our highest connection with god when we are in light form. A rainbow is created by light. The half skull half human face represents that I am aware of what will happen after death. For I believe I’ve died already in this life once. That’s a long story. But what I experienced was the most significant thing that had ever happened to me hands down. But to answer your question yes. I believe My consciousness or intuition guided me in doing the piece. And the reason I found out after I did it.”

Untitled
Sticker

This spiritual connection is evident throughout much of Miguel’s work, which features a wide range of religious themes and iconography. These pieces include “The Buddha”, “Mama Pacha”, “Duality”, “Reborn”, and an untitled drawing with a Mother Mary-like figure. However, this spirituality may spill over into other pieces that might not be overtly religious.

In many religions, just as Miguel mentioned, the Great Spirit, the One God or Monad, the Source, the thing from which reality emerged is everywhere and in everything. From beautiful, cloudy skies to incomprehensibly large galaxies to city streets and empty parking lots. This Spirit fills everything in the universe, permeates it just like atoms and molecules, and likewise, this Spirit might be filling each of Miguel’s pieces of artwork.

In addition to spirituality, Miguel discussed the inspiration for one of his pieces, “Waiting in Time”, and how he’s changed throughout his life:

Waiting in Time
Mixed Media/Collage on Canvas
April 2020

“This one is titled, ‘Waiting in Time’. What it represents is an adolescent me waiting for answers to all my questions. Closure to all my doubts. Around the time I was working on the piece I was receiving some of those answers and closure. And that’s one example on how 2019 was very mystical or magical for me. I was finally using consciousness to bring in what I was waiting for. Even though there are many other favorites of mine.

“[…] I feel like yes, I have changed a lot since that way of thinking. The state of mind I tried to portray in ‘Waiting in Time’ I now understand why I went through all those challenges that I went through as an adolescent which were like karmic cycles repeating so that I can understand more about ‘the afterlife’ understand not anchoring yourself to materialistic state of mind, or to practice living without ego. Which I haven’t accomplished. I believe I now understand and need to start practicing that life style more and more. So that’s the current position I feel I’m in. I feel like I’m entering a new chapter in my spiritual life.”

What I love with this painting is all the tiny details and shapes that comprise the image as a whole. It’s almost like there’s no solid image or figure here, it’s just a formation of fragments of images—even in the landscape around the younger-Miguel and the sky in the background.

I don’t want to put words into Miguel’s mouth, but, for me, it’s like the collection of memories coming together into how we remember the person we used to be. It’s all the photographs in our heads being taped together into a collage that forms a single, solid person, but it’s still a haze. Miguel in this picture seems hazy, maybe only halfway there. In fact, his face in this picture is only halfway there. It’s half normal and half almost alien or monster like. The mouth is almost entirely inhuman, and the teeth look almost like a mismatched collection of wrong shaped, wrong sized pieces, stuck together because there was nothing else to stick in.

“Waiting in Time” as a puzzle (it’s a metaphor within a metaphor)

There’s this puzzle we’re trying to put together of who we once were in order to figure out who we are now (coincidentally, you can buy this painting as a puzzle from Puzzle Crazy).

There’s this puzzle, and at the end, it gives us the image of our identity. The pieces are all made of memories, little bits of emotions and old sensations or feelings, and thoughts we had that we halfway recall. If you pick up all the pieces of who you once were, you get to put them all back together the way you want. Become someone new.

One of the last things we talked about was art pricing.

Miguel mentioned a bit about pricing his art, so I asked him if he had any advice for other artists who are looking to start selling their work:

“Pricing art. There is still no real set structure in pricing art. Just like the freedom of expression is so vast, so is its pricing. If you know a little about the art market, you know paintings have sold for crazy amounts. But basically, there are is way a lot of artists have used to price their work, which is by square inch. So, like $2 the square inch. Which is what I do, but sometimes I price lower or higher depending on the piece, but for the most part that’s how I do it. And as time passes the $ mark increases as well as my popularity.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard
February 2019
The King and Queen
Aerosol and Acrylic on Canvas
June 2019

“I guess I’m still kinda new to all this stuff. I feel I still have a lot to learn, but at the same time, I’ve learned a lot in the time I’ve been doing it. Keep in mind, I’m a dad, and my time is divided. And my advice to other artists is just do it. Do it all. We have Google and social media. We have it all in the palm of our hands. Haha all you need is the initiative of starting and finishing. Things are gonna go wrong just like everything else: there is its good times and bad times. Just keep pushing.

I would also say ask questions. If a gallery doesn’t wanna show your work, don’t feel bad keep going! Always practice optimistic mentality. That will help with longevity, and also invest, invest invest. You gotta water the tree before it gives you fruits haha.”

There’s a lot to be learned from Miguel. He’s a father of two children, and, before Covid-19, was working a full-time job, and still managed to find time to make this insanely cool artwork (so shut the fuck up with whatever excuses you have). He’s stuck to his artwork, and keeps consistently growing and developing his style. He’s open to branching out into venues and ways of showing or selling his art.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard
February 2019

Possibly most importantly, Miguel’s style is genuine, authentic. There’s no mistaking this style, and Miguel incorporates the things he finds most meaningful into his artwork, especially his spirituality. Miguel’s art comes from somewhere deep, beyond the rational, waking mind. It’s like he opens up this faucet somewhere deep in his unconscious or in his soul, and all these thoughts and emotions and images come spilling out onto canvas. It’s brilliant to see, and if you haven’t checked out more of his artwork, you need to.

You can find Miguel on Instagram @9ichardo. If you want to check out the Pacha Moma museum, they can be found on Instagram @pacha_moma. If you want to buy one of the puzzles made with Miguel’s artwork, or check out some of Puzzle Crazy’s other work, you can find them on Instagram @puzzlecrazyuk, or look them up on Etsy at www.etsy.com/uk/puzzlecrazyGB.

Please give them all a look, follow them if you enjoy what they do, and support artists and other creators in whatever way you can.

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.