Silence Pt. 2

Written by Alexander Greco

June 8, 2019

On our way through the suburbs, we started talking about normal things. I think we wanted to temporarily ease our minds about everything going on, so we started talking about kids, husbands, wives, children, jobs and politics. Paul was recently divorced and worked as a software designer. John worked as an EMT and Mary was a professor at a community college. I learned that the older man’s name was Abe, short for Abraham, but that he liked Ahab better than either. Ahab had been an engineer working for several companies over the last three decades. The other woman’s name was Catherine, and she worked as an HR representative for the Wal-Marts throughout the region.

I had begun telling them about my job as a contributor to a magazine, when we heard a gunshot. It wasn’t too close—I’d guess about five or six blocks away—but it stopped us in our tracks as soon as we heard it. There were other people out and about, most of them looked as confused as we were, and they all stopped and turned as well when the gunshot went off. All was quiet for a couple seconds. No cars. No sirens. No talking. I had never been in a city this quiet before in my life.

People began looking at each other. I heard some murmuring. John began to ask, “What do you think that—“

Bang, bang… Bang.

Silence.

Quite a few people began walking the other way. Although there were no more gunshots, the nearby threat of them struck fear in everyone. It certainly struck fear in me. I asked, “Should we go back?”

“No,” said Paul, “the police station is only a couple blocks away, we should be fine.”

“But what about those gunshots?” Mary asked.

“We’ll be alright, that was pretty far away.”

Everyone else seemed to quietly accept this, or at least they didn’t vocalize any argument so, we kept on walking. We turned around the corner at the end of the block. Diagonal from us, at the corner of the next intersection, was the police station. There was a crowd of people gathered around it. I guess everyone had the same idea as us—to find the nearest authority and try to figure out what was going on. This also meant that everyone else around here was having the same problems as us.

When we came up to the crowd—it was maybe only twenty, thirty people—we asked the first few that were closest to us what was going on. They said they didn’t know. “One of the officers came out a while ago saying they’d try to get some answers,” said a man in the crowd, “they’re not letting anyone in right now or anything.”

“Is anyone else’s phone working?” I asked.

“No,” said a woman, “nothing’s working.”

“No cars? No radios? Nothing?”

“Nothing,” the woman repeated.

“Nothing” didn’t make sense to me for a second. How could nothing be working? What did that mean? That… That couldn’t be right. Everything was working just yesterday. “So,” Ahab began to ask, “what are the police doing? What’s anyone doing?”

The woman was about to answer, when some yelling and jostling within the crowd caught all of our attention. We looked to see two people shoving each other, knocking each other into everyone around them. . The people who were smart and quick enough began moving out of the crowd, but others began joining in. It all began happening too fast. Someone began throwing punches. Someone got thrown to the ground.

Luckily we were already on the edge of the crowd, so we started backing away easily, but then someone in the brawl got shoved out toward us and careened right into Ahab, knocking him to the ground. We pulled the man off of Ahab, and the man got up and began running away down the street. Ahab had hit his head on the asphalt and was bleeding. He was still conscious, but he looked like he could barely tell where he was at.

John and Paul dragged him a few yards away to the sidewalk behind us—away from the brawl. “Abe!” John said. “Abe! Can you hear me, can you—”

Bang, bang.

Two gunshots exploded through the air. We all looked up to see the crowd of people breaking up. “Go home!” someone was yelling, “Go home and stay home! Do not leave your houses unless you absolutely have to! Go home before we start arresting people!”

The crowd dispersed enough that we could see a police officer standing in front of the station. John stood up from Ahab’s side. “Officer!” he yelled, “Officer, over here! Please help us!”

The officer heard Paul and looked over at us. For a second, he looked like he was going to ignore us and go back inside, but then he seemed to realize what was going on. He jogged across the street to us and stopped in front of Ahab, who was groaning and looking worse with every second. “What happened?” asked the police officer.

“Someone fell out of the crowd and knocked him over,” Paul answered.

“I’m an EMT,” said John, “I can help him, I just need some first aid supplies. Do you have anything?”

The officer looked between us all, as if sizing us up. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if he would help us at all, then he said, “Yea, we’ve got plenty. Come on, we’ll bring him in.”

John and Paul helped Ahab to his feet. However, Ahab could barely walk on his own, so John and Paul essentially carried him across the street, with Ahab’s feet moving in time. At the station, the officer held the door open for us, and we all filed in. “We’re bringing in someone who got wounded,” the officer called inside, “help them find medical supplies.”

The two men carried Ahab inside, and we were led in by the Police Officer. Inside the building, it was dark. There was light coming in through the windows, and they had lit several candles here and there, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that this station—this bastion of law, order and authority—had no electricity in it. The presence of the police officers set my mind at ease somewhat, but they were all bustling around in a frustrated way that unnerved just as much as it comforted me.

“Does anyone know what’s going on?” I asked the officer as he led us inside.

He shook his head as he ushered us quickly through the station, arms over us protectively. This was something else I found both comforting and unnerving. I was glad to feel protected this way by the officer, but it unnerved me that it was at all necessary. “No one knows what happened. At first we thought it was the power grid, but that was a pretty dumb idea.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Cars don’t need a power grid. Cell-phones rely on the grid for signal, but not to turn on. Batteries aren’t working. Nothing electrical is working.” The officer led us into a sort of waiting room with chairs we could sit on. “Someone said something about a solar flare, but no one knows enough about silence here to do much more than bullshit.”

“About silence?”

“Science, I’m sorry, science.”

“So… So what’s going on?” I asked. We were sitting down now.

“I told you, we don’t know—“

“I mean what’s going on aroung the city? What are you guys doing? What’s… What’s the plan? How are you guys going to start fixing it all?”

The officer shrugged. His body language said he had work to do, but he’d indulge me another couple answers. “We got in touch with some electricians and an engineer. They’re checking the lines and the electrical stations around here. The plan right now is to try keeping the city from collapsing onto istelf.”

“How did you get in touch with them if you have no electronics? Or, if none of its working? And what do you mean, ‘collapsing in on itself’?”

“We rode bikes. We’ve been riding bikes all over the city, there’s nothing else we can do right now. And people are starting to go crazy out there. You’re lucky we let you in, this is probably the safest place in the entire city to be.”

“People are going crazy?” I asked.

The officer nodded, then spoke, “I have to go. You two stay here. I won’t be too far if you need anything. You and your friends can stay here at the station for a while.”

The officer left the three of us there in the waiting room, baffled and alone with each other. We sat down together, but didn’t say much. I couldn’t stop thinking that the rest of the city might be falling apart outside. Everything we relied on had all of a sudden collapsed around us. I felt I might start going crazy too. I looked at Catherine and Mary. They looked like they were feeling the same way.

The three of us sat in silence for a little bit, but soon, Mary began talking to us. I was anxious enough that I immediately focused all my attention on a trivial conversation about our lives.. Yesterday, I might have only halfway listened to her, while the other half of my mind kept wandering back to thoughts of a glowing screen. Today, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the contact. I hadn’t known Mary very well before, we had a few, short conversations every few weeks or so, and that was it, but I found that I liked her pretty well, given the circumstances. The same with Catherine. I hadn’t known her at all before this, but I found that I liked her quite a bit.

Mary and Catherine seemed to like me too, and they seemed to like each other. Oddly enough, for three people who had never talked much or at all in real life, we got along pretty well. Maybe we were substituting each other for texts and comments, but it was working. We were slowly but surely filling the holes in our rapidly beating hearts, and forgetting that the world might be coming undone.

A few hours passed by in conversation and a few awkward silences in between. We would have short bursts or long storms of conversation, but nothing more than a half an hour of talk. It was as if none of knew how to keep a conversation going. We managed to pick the conversation back up at least, without too much hesitation in between. Still, the day dragged on and on. The conversations slowed, and grew duller and more fragmented.

Sometime later—past noon, I guessed—Paul and John came back with Ahab. Ahab’s head was wrapped up, and John told us he had a concussion. Ahab could walk on his own now, but it was slow and uncertain. He came into the waiting room and sat down next to Mary. John said they were going to go to a nearby hospital and see if they could get some painkillers for Ahab.

“I want to go with you,” I said, almost without hesitating.

“What?” Paul asked.

“No,” said John, “you should stay here at the station. We talked with the officer who brought us to the medical supplies, and he said there’s already a lot of chaos brewing in the city.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, feigning bravery. The truth was, I had to get out. I had to do something—anything. “How far away is the hospital?”

“It’s about five blocks away,” said Paul.

“No, you shouldn’t go,” said John.

“Who are you to tell me to stay?” I asked. “I’m an adult. If I want to go, I can go.”

“Let her come with us,” said Paul, “it’d probably be safer.”

John didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then he relented. “Fine, you can come with us. But,” he said, looking at Mary and Catherine, “I need you two here with Ahab to make sure he’s alright. If anything happens, get one of the officers. They should know at least a little bit about emergency medical care.”

“Alright,” said Catherine, nodding. Mary nodded as well, but didn’t say anything.

Then, Paul, John and I left. We found the officer who let us into the building and told him what we were going to do. He told us that was fine, and that he’d let us back in once we returned. Paul thanked him profusely. Then the three of us were out the building and walking down the street. There wasn’t anyone outside. I assumed that everyone realized this was something of a state of emergency.

We walked past the station and down to the next four-way intersection. Here, we took a right. About halfway down this street, there was an abandoned Pawn shop that had been broken into. This troubled me, but I only thought of it as odd at first. Someone just being opportunistic and looting for whatever random things they could find in there? Rings? Guitars? TVs? Maybe some DVDs or power tools? Then I remembered all the guns, knives, and even swords and other weapons I’d seen in pawn shops. I got even more worried.

We passed up the pawn shop, and, almost instinctively, I reached for my pocket. My hand was in my pocket when I caught myself, and I pulled my hand away. I began to wonder how ingrained my cellphone use was in my brain. Were there withdrawal symptoms? I had heard of people being truly addicted to their phones and tablets. I used my pretty often—I wouldn’t have called myself addicted, however—and I was already missing it.

After about twenty minutes of walking, we took a left, and the hospital was down at the end of the street. Outside, there were dozens of people. Most of them were sitting around, smoking or talking. Some of them looked like doctors. Others looked like patients. Others were just normal-looking people. It was a strange sight.

When we approached the hospital, we saw that the doors were open, and people were rushing about inside—almost as frantically as the police officers. A doctor smoking a cigarette looked up at us as we approached. He looked exhausted, miserable, and not in the least bit excited to see us. “Are you guys out of power here too?” John asked the doctor.

The doctor nodded and took a drag on the cigarette.

“How’ve you guys handled it?” John asked.

The doctor shook his head slowly. “We haven’t. We can’t. There’s no way to handle it.”

It slowly dawned on me what it meant to lose power at a hospital.

“What happened?” John asked.

The doctor took one last drag on the cigarette, then put it out on the metal bench he was sitting on. “We lost power at midnight. We lost over a dozen patients in the first hour. We lost almost thirty by sunrise. Forty-two in total.”

“Forty-two?” John asked, aghast.

The doctor nodded. “And it’s only a matter of time before we lose more. We’ll probably lose someone else in the next half-hour. There’s no life-support, no heart monitors, no computers, nothing. If we had enough people, we could keep tabs on everyone at once—at least check heart rate and blood pressure, and distribute some sort of life-support manually, but there’s not enough people. There’s no way. We can’t reach out to anyone, we can’t transport anyone somewhere else, we can’t do anything except give pills and wrap people in bandages.”

“Holy shit,” John whispered.

The doctor stood up. “I have to go back in,” he said, “what are you three here for?”

“We’re looking for some pain meds. Our friend had a concussion, his head’s gonna be killing him soon.”

The doctor shook his head. “We can’t give anything out right now.” Then he pointed down the street. We all looked to see a Walgreens a block away. “That’s your best bet. It never opened, but the doors weren’t locked, you can force them open. We’ve been sending people there all day.”

John nodded. “Okay, thanks.”

The doctor nodded and turned around to head back into the hospital. “Don’t bring your friend here,” he said without looking back at us.

We walked down the block to the Walgreens. As we approached, we saw that the sliding doors were already open. A man emerged from inside with a white bottle in their hands. He looked at us for a moment, and no one really knew what to do. The man nodded cautiously, then turned and walked off down a street to our left. We entered the Walgreens, and found that it was completely silent inside.

It didn’t take long to make it to the back of the store, where all the pharmaceuticals were. “Should we really be doing this?” I asked. “Isn’t this wrong?”

“We have to do something,” said John, “Abraham’s head is going to be killing him soon, and all that stress is just going to make his condition even worse. We need something to take the edge off, maybe a light sedative if he can’t sleep”

John skipped the aisles of over-the-counter bottles and went straight to the walled-in area where the pharmacists kept the real drugs. We found that the door had already been busted. “John,” I said, “we shouldn’t go in there.”

“Why not?” asked John.

“It’s wrong, and it’s probably very illegal. Let’s just get some ibuprofen or something and go- something harmless and over-the-counter.”

“I know what he needs,” said John, entering the pharmacist’s room, “and this is an emergency—the doctor said it was okay.” Then, John disappeared into the room, and we could only briefly see him moving around through the windows in the room.

It shocked me how quickly John reverted to stealing prescription medicine—it hadn’t even been a full day since this all started. It shocked me how quickly things had slid into chaos, and how quickly everyone seemed to be going crazy. It’s like people had begun to forget who they were yesterday, and that we were all civilized twenty-four hours ago. I looked at Paul, and he looked just as worried. When John emerged carrying several bottles, I asked him what he had gotten, as I thought he only needed two things.

“Well, I got a couple types of painkillers, I got some Xanax, some Ambien, and plenty of anti-biotics. I figured we could use what we needed for Abraham, keep a bottle of anti-biotics for ourselves, take some Xanax, and give the rest to the police. They’re letting us stay there, and I’m sure they might need some of all these. We could just say the hospital gave us—”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked, “Some Xanax and… and keep the anti-biotics for our—“

“Angela,” John interrupted, “we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know what might happen. We can’t abide by normal rules right now, and I’m sure anyone would agree with that. This isn’t the same city we lived in yesterday. Things aren’t normal, and we can’t pretend like they’re normal until they are normal again.” John began walking to the entrance of the Walgreens. He walked past Paul and I without looking at us. “Then we can pretend everything is normal.”

He was right. I looked at Paul. He was about to say something, I could tell- something to comfort me. But I could also tell that Paul believed John, and I knew that I had begun to believe John. I shook my head. “He’s right,” I said.

Paul nodded. We both turned and followed John out of the Walgreens. We made it back to the police station without any trouble. We gave Ahab a small cocktail of pharmaceuticals, then everyone but me took a Xanax. When John offered me one, I thanked him and put it in my pocket. I didn’t feel right taking something that was stolen. Then John brought the Xanax, a bottle of painkillers and two bottles of anti-biotics to the police. He kept a bottle of anti-biotics, painkillers, and Ambien for us.

The officer he handed them to seemed uncertain at first. Then John said that they were from the hospital, and that he thought the officers might need some. He also said it was a way of repaying them for their help. The officer seemed to like that. The entire time, the two of them were playing their respective roles—the EMT, the good-guy and the civilian, and the man of authority, the upholder of law and the mediator of justice—but, in the end, they were just two people bullshitting their way through survival.

John came back, saying that the officers would let us stay the night since it was getting late and they didn’t want us having to walk back home in the dark. So, we all ended up going to sleep here in the dark. John, Paul, Mary, Catherine and Ahab all fell asleep pretty quickly—I saw John pull two more footballs from his pocket and disperse them to Mary and Catherine, and they fell asleep minutes later.

I, however, had much difficulty falling asleep, however, and stayed awake for several hours. I frequently thought about the emails that must have been piling up—unless the entire world had shut off, and there was no one on the planet who could send me emails—and I thought about how nice it would have been to check my phone. I distracted myself from these thoughts, and all my other worries, by watching the officers. It was my only form of entertainment. Eventually, around midnight, I began to drift of to sleep. My eyes shut on their own, and I was lulled into a comfortable sleep.

Silence Pt. 1

Written by Alexander Greco

May 31, 2019

Three minutes. I told myself to keep my mind silent for three minutes, and then I could stop meditating for the day. Just three minutes of silence. Then, I quieted my mind. I listened to my breathing. I felt my body sitting against the ground beneath me. I listened to the groans of all my subtle aches and pains. I let my emotions drift through my mind, and noticed how anxious and frustrated I was. Then I imagined it all dissolving, and that I was alone with my consciousness.

I was alone. And I was quiet. And I was at peace.

And I remembered deciding to start meditation after the editor-and-chief of our small-time newspaper emailed me. It was something along the lines of, “Angela, I’m sending this as a warning in advance. You’ve done great here for the last few years, but you’re starting to fall apart a little. What’s going on? You’ve had three weeks of poor decision after poor decision. I don’t want to call you in–I don’t want this to become a ‘thing’—but I’ll have to if this keeps up.”

How do you respond to that? How do you deal with that? What do you do after that? I guess you get better, somehow—obviously—but what do you do to get better? I didn’t even know I’d been making “poor decision after poor decision”, no one had told me! And…

And I have to let go of that for right now.

Return to quiet.

Return to peace.

Return to being alone, and imagining myself dissolving.

I imagined that I was sitting with the silence, as a sort of friend and companion. I breathed in all my worries, where they filtered through my lungs like tarry particulates…

Then breathed out all the worries, retaining only peace and goodness…

Then breathed in all the worries…

Then breathed out.

Then breathed in.

Then breathed out.

Then a stray thought entered my mind.

Something trivial—something about a YouTube video I‘d watched the other day.

Well, I guess it was more the memory of the video popping up in my head, not so much the thought of the video. I could hear the two girls in the video talking in my head, then laughing. I think it was about Yoga?

Yoga would be good today—Yoga and meditation. And museli and dates—Ah! What a day that’d be… …but the carbs. Oh, the carbs! What if I slowly gain more and more weight eating more and more carbs? But museli and dates, those have good carbs, right? Fiber and whole grains, and good sugar. Is there such a thing as good sugar? As good carbs?

It doesn’t matter. We’ll think about it later.

Breathe in… my lungs expand with a windy whooshing sound…

Quiet the mind.

Breathe out… with a groaning relief of pressure.

Silence.

Breathe in…

…the worries, the anxieties, the troubles…

…breathe out…

…retaining peace and goodness…

…Breathe in.

Gently bring yourself back to a state of calm and quiet.

Gently.

Quietly.

In.

And out.

In…

Out…

And silence…

My dog. I forgot to feed my dog this morning.

Shit, that’s an important one. I need to do that this morning before for work. I should do that sooner than later, before I forget. I almost started standing up to go feed my dog, but then I remembered, and sat back down. In and out. In and out.

In and out.

I had listened to a podcast once, with the host and his guest talking for almost half an hour on how hard it is to get into meditation. They said for a while it’d be tough, but then you get to some sort of breakthrough, or you notice it getting easier, or you work out your own routine or technique or whatever—something personalized that works just for you. I wonder what’s not working for me? Because I keep getting distracted. I’d been sitting still for seventeen minutes, and I probably couldn’t keep my mind silent for more than thirty seconds. Seventeen minutes after I started meditating, I realized I’d wasted seventeen minutes, gained nothing, and had three minutes left to be “productive”.

I began meditation because I’d been having a slew of issues. I guess the tipping point was work, but really it was everything—it was a life riddled with problems like worms in an overripe apple.  It was not being able to sit still at work. It was not being able to focus while I wrote. It was acting anxiously around co-workers. It was making impulse-buys at the grocery store. It was getting on my phone at all hours of the day. It was—

Dingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingding—Tngk.

It was my wind-up alarm going off. Three minutes was over. That was that.

I sighed… Then… I sort of gave up for the day and stood up.

Before I leave, I’ll grab some food, maybe start listening to a podcast, and—oh! My dog! I still need to feed my dog. I hope he still has food left—he should, I bought some not too long ago (right? Didn’t I?). But I need to go to the grocery store anyway, I was almost out of milk, so I could grab some more then. Ooh, and after work today, maybe I could…

I opened the refrigerator.

The light didn’t come on, no Freon-infused air came out, and there was no sound of internal humming.

After a moment of hesitation, I closed the door. I walked around to the back of the refrigerator, and it was still plugged in. Huh.

I turned and looked at the microwave. There was no time on the microwave. There was no time on the oven either. Something had happened to the power, I suppose, but I wasn’t too worried. I figured I’d go check the breakers downstairs. My cellphone was laying on the kitchen counter, and I grabbed it before I began walking to my basement.

Along the way, I thought I’d check the time, maybe see if I got any Facebook notifications, see if anyone I subscribed to on YouTube posted something neat. But, my phone wouldn’t turn on. Strange. I thought I charged it overnight. It should be radiating with life right now. Maybe it was just turned off?

I held down the power button down. And I held it down. And I held it down. And I stopped at the doors to my basement. My phone wasn’t turning on. My heart dropped, but I consoled myself—I can just…

I can’t charge it. My power is gone. And I can’t go into the basement now, my only flashlight is on my phone.

Dread rolled through my body. I tried to calm myself down, tell myself how silly I was, but it didn’t help. I even felt like I might start panicking. What the fuck do I do now? My car! My car has a USB port. I’ll just turn my car on, plug my phone in, let it charge long enough that I can use the flashlight and check the breakers, then call someone and head to work. I walked back through my house, into my living room, grabbed a USB charging cable, my keys, and walked out the front door to my car.

When I pressed the button to unlock my car, nothing happened. I pressed it again, now coming to next to the car, and nothing happened. I put my key into the door lock and turned it. The door unlocked. I sat down in my car, put the key in the ignition, and turned the key. Nothing. Nothing happened. My heart skipped a beat. I told myself that nothing bad was happening, that this situation would sort of magically fix itself

I turned my key again. The situation wasn’t magically fixed.

I kept turning my key and turning my key, but the car refused to turn on. Finally, I reached down and pulled the little lever to pop the hood, then got out of the car and walked around to look under the hood. I knew next to nothing about cars, but upon first inspection everything seemed fine. I checked the battery terminals, and they seemed to be on pretty tight. I looked around at all the various parts, but I didn’t know what to look for. It seemed fine. That’s the best that I could say.

Dazed and panicking, I closed the hood. I tried not to worry. I tried not to begin stressing. I tried not to freak out and have an anxiety attack. I told myself it was silly to do a thing like that—I’m an adult, a modern adult, and I don’t have anything to worry about—but I couldn’t console myself. Then, from the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw them all. I looked up.

My house is at the very end of a cul-de-sac in a nice, suburban neighborhood. My street—my cul-de-sac—is pretty long. There’s quite a few houses on it, with quite a bit of distance between all of them. From where I live, I can see all the houses on my street without having to turn my head. From where I stood now, I saw people from at least half of the houses standing on their front yards, their driveways, and on the street.

It might be an overstatement to say my jaw dropped, but it was ajar when I regained any sort of self-awareness. The sight of all these people frightened me. From where I was, they all looked as dazed as I was. I almost didn’t want to approach them, as if doing so might be an admission some dark, unknown truth pressing against me at that moment. Terror—actual terror—crept through me. Something was going on, and I didn’t know what—andmy car wouldn’t turn on, and I had no power in my home, and my phone was dead.

Then, a thought occurred to me. Maybe they know what’s going on. Maybe they’ve got it figured it out. Surely they’ll have the answer, and, besides, we’re all adults. We’re all grown-ups here. We can help each other out. We’ll be alright.

Among the people around the cul-de-sac, I saw a small cluster of five people, and I recognized three of them. One of them, a guy named Paul, I knew rather well. Then there was a couple, John and Mary—whom I had talked to a few times—and I recognized the other two people- an older man and middle-aged woman who both lived alone -but I didn’t know their names. I began walking over to them. I was still anxious, but I knew there were other people dealing with all this—other people who probably knew what was going on (whatever was going on).

Paul noticed me when I was about twenty yards away and began waving at me. I waved back, then the rest of the group turned around and looked at me. Their faces told me they shared my worries. When I was within twenty feet of them, Paul called out, “Do you know what’s going on?”

I slowed for a moment and almost stopped, then picked the pace up again to reach them. I shook my head as I approached, then stopped about six feet away from their small knot. “No,” I said, “I was hoping you all might know about… Whatever… Whatever seems to be happening.”

We all looked at each other for a few seconds, and, in the silence of that moment, everything felt incredibly real and deceitfully fake at the same time. I broke the silence, trying to get on the same page as everyone. “Is the power out at all of your houses?”

They all nodded.

“What about your cars?”

They nodded again.

“And your phones?”

Reluctantly, almost painfully—almost tragically—they all nodded.

Wheels in my head began to spin. “So, none of you know what’s going on at all?”

They all shook their heads.

“None you can go anywhere unless you go on foot?”

They shook their heads. “Or bike,” Paul added.

“And you can’t get in contact… With anyone?”

Once again, they shook their heads.

Panic began to creep into my nerves again. I felt cold and hot, and confused, and angry and scared, and lost—like I didn’t know where I was anymore. “What… What the fuck?” I said, “Why? Wha… What’s… What the hell?”

Reality seemed to fall out from beneath me. How could these other adults not know what was going on? We were all well-educated grown-ups living in a nice, suburban neighborhood—how could we not know what was going on?”

Paul spoke up, “We were talking about walking into the city, seeing if we could find some cops or something. Do you want to come with us?”

“I have to go to work,” I said.

“How?” asked Paul.

I hadn’t thought about this. I panicked even more, thinking that I might miss work. “I don’t know,” I said.

“So, come with us,” said Paul, gently and cheerfully. I think he could tell I was stressing out. I think they could all tell.

“But, I mean… I have to go to work.”

“I think they’ll understand­,” said John, “especially if this is happening in the rest of the city.”

“Come with us,” Paul spoke with a smile. “We’ll figure this out.”

I thought for a moment, then slowly nodded.

“Yea,” I said, “sure.”

We talked for a little while—talked about where we might go, how we’ll get there, who we might see, what might be going on—and then eventually set out for the city. This was good. We were all adults, working together. We had a plan; we were going somewhere with the purpose of… Of figuring out what was going on and finding… Finding someone, anyone, who might know how to fix any of this… So that… So that I could go to work, then go home, then watch YouTube videos about Yoga, then set the alarm on my phone for 5 AM, and then go to sleep We were good.

A Glimpse

Written by Alexander Greco

May 10, 2019

The monk walked me through the sunlit hallways of our retreat facility. It was a sprawling wooden building, something like a minimalist’s fortress-temple in the middle of the woods. My guide was a young Tibetan man around my age who’d immigrated to America, and began working at these retreats while still studying Buddhism. I got to know him a little while we talked at the orientation, several days before I went on the five-hour drive to the middle of the North Pacific forests. Now, however, there was no talking between us.

The monk walked me through the compound, silently weaving through a honeycomb of stained wood and white painted walls. I tried to keep track of our path through this building, but I quickly lost track of where I was at. Eventually, I was brought to the door of my room—the small, squarish space with one small bed, a nightstand, a clock, and a window. No lamp, no mirror, no personal bathroom—nothing.

The monk opened the door to my small bedroom for me, and I walked inside. The monk held up two fingers. I nodded. The group meditation would begin in two hours. I closed the door behind me, then turned to my room and looked around. There wasn’t much to look at. I took off my backpack, and sat down on the floor, not entirely sure what to do.

I folded my legs, and shimmied around a bit, until I felt I was in a comfortable position. Then I closed my eyes. And I sat there in silence.

I was very self-conscious of myself there. I’d only been practicing meditation for the last year. I’d never gone to a retreat like this before. The fact that I was here, sitting on the ground. It filled my mind. I was sitting still, in a building full of people I don’t know. On this hardwood floor, in the middle of the woods, in complete silence. For ten days. Somehow, this was all supposed to “work”.

My mind stretched across those ten days, watching a small fraction of infinity unfurl. For ten days, I would be that small infinity, stretching on. For ten days, I would be completely silent. For ten days, I would be completely silent, in a building in the middle of nowhere, with complete strangers, all of whom were also silent. That was my existence.

In an effort to ignore the hardwood floor,

And then I wondered about why I was even here. I was here to, what, clear my mind I suppose? I was here to solve all my problems, right? I was here to fix myself, to be a happier, more wholesome person. I was here to live a better life.

I was here to be silent, to clear my head out of all this garbage, yes, yes that was it. I was going to come here to clear all that bullshit out of my head. Erase it all—that’s what meditation is for, right? It’s for clearing all the stress out, erasing the anxieties.

Yes, that’s what I was here for. That’s what I’ll do. And so I sat. And I sat. And I sat.

Breathing, yes, listen to your breathing.

So, I inhaled, and I exhaled. I inhaled. And I exhaled.

And I listened to each breath, fighting the urge to count the breaths, or make some inner commentary on how a certain breath sounded. I listened to each breath, and I felt my body as it moved, and I felt the room around me.

And I realized for the first time since I’d driven up here that it was rather humid here. I didn’t think there was any air-conditioning here—it was all open-aired, somewhat Bohemian or New Agey—but I suppose that was supposed to be the effect. Take it all in.

Just take it all…

In…

All the humidity, all the clammy hands, and all the sticky hair. All the muscle groans and strained spine, and all the ringing ear and itching nose, and all the distant insect sounds and pollen-filled air. It was all so clear, and all so simultaneously focused, and all so simultaneously distracting, and all these distractions were all so good at making me twitch or reposition, or think, and rethink, and monitor, and worry, and wonder, and walk through thoughts I’d thought days ago, wondering always, and wondering, always, “Why?”

And why was I in this room?

Yes, yes, I know, I’d gone through the list myself. We’ve gone over this, to clear this trash from my head.

Then why aren’t you doing that? Look, you’re thinking, you’re not supposed to be thinking.

Then stop!

Hey, calm down, it’s okay. Calm down, we’re here to get rid of the stress.

Right, right, you’re right.

Big breaths.

Big breaths.

In, out.

In, out.

Clear your mind.

Yes, I’m clearing my mind.

Okay, good, good.

Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind.

And for moments, there was silence.

I listened to my breathing. I felt the sensation of my skin. And I quieted my mind from all the internal clutter.

I could feel the thoughts threaten to erupt—like a violin bow coming dangerously close to the string—but I did not think any thoughts.

Oh, but how they silently hummed, and how the tear of a squealing note almost escaped several times. How the thoughts tried to be thunk. How the long tensions threatened to erupt.

If only I could think just one thought, I thought, and maybe just pay attention to that thought. Focus, right, and don’t think about anything else? So I sat and thought, well, what one thing would I want to think?

Bills? Love life? My life goals? What I want to do next week?

What was the most important thing I could be thinking about?

Well, I could be thinking about any number of important things, and god there were so many important things to choose from—and so many important things that overlapped in ways where you couldn’t think about one without the other (and god, were those things the worst!—those nests of spiteful misfortune and bad luck, where filthy, diseased hydras lurk in swamps of modern grievance).

Car insurance, rent, scholarships, grants, loans and debt and bills and credit, and repainting the bathroom walls so it wouldn’t come out of my deposit, and my statistics class I’d be taking when the semester began, and the spot where my hair has begun to thin (I’m only barely 21 now), and did all the booze and late night cigarettes do it? Was it all the stress, compounding onto one another? And wouldn’t all that stress affect everything else I had to do? Wouldn’t the raised cortisol, the difficulty sleeping, the straining brain, and the constant drag of anxiety ruin the rest of my life? And what would my mom think? What if I don’t do well in classes? What if the last few years were simply a fluke, and it would all fall apart spectacularly in the next year? One stumbled test, and I might be reeling for the rest of the year—who knows what might happen? Who know what rock I might break my ankle on? Oh, god, a broken ankle. Imagine an actual broken ankle. What in the world would I do? Who knows what river current might drag me down while I’m still padding through this mess without a boat? And then what would I do? What would I do for money? Where would I live? How would I live? How would I pay for the necessities of survival? How would I keep my hair from thinning if this whole world simply collapsed?

What a monster. What a hydra.

No. No, I shouldn’t think of those things. I shouldn’t dare think of those things, not while I’m here—not while I’m trying to get rid of the stress.

But maybe you should meditate on those things, maybe you could discover some deep, dark secret about the meaning of life—or something.

No, that’s not how it works—you don’t focus on the negative, you don’t get distracted with thoughts, you don’t stress yourself out.

What do you do then?

You stop worrying.

But there’s so much to worry about.

That’s why you’re here, to stop worrying, so you can go back to normal life, and…

And find all the same old worries.

Yes, perhaps, but you’ll be better equipped to—

To cope with them? To deal with them? To think about them?

…yes.

What sort of plan is this?

It’s our plan, now sit and meditate. Come on, we’ve been meditating for a year now—we’ve been trying so hard—why can’t you meditate here? Why can’t you do this? Why can’t you—

We’ve been half-ass meditating. We came here to get better at meditation.

Right, right—that’s right! We came here to get better at meditation, so we could meditate better once we went back.

And look at how well we’re doing.

It’s only been [I opened my eyes and looked at the clock]—

It’s been twenty minutes. Of sitting.

It’s been twenty whole minutes? [I was still staring at the clock]

Twenty whole minutes.

But… But we’ve barely been meditating.

Yeah.

Like… No, really, we’ve barely begun.

Twenty minutes.

What will we be like in 10 days?

What will we be like in another twenty minutes?

I was in fact silent now.

My brain sort of stopped. I felt a small amount of panic. A somber, frantic sort of remorse.

I’d already fucked up, hadn’t I?

I’d fucked up from birth, I was sure of that now.

This life had been one long tunnel of fuck-ups leading to this fuck up, I’d realized that.

I was born into the mouths of the hydra. At the hospital, they must have been smiling in wait between my mother’s legs.

Two heads bit onto my feet and pulled me out. All the others wrapped around my body, and they’ve been constricting just tightly enough that I’ve been gasping for air, but I can’t do anything to stop them.

And now, you can’t even sit down to meditate.

Well, give it a try, I told myself, we have ten days to figure this out—we’ve only been here twenty minutes—

Half an hour.

—and we’ve been practicing for a year—

Half ass practicing.

Ten minutes passed by? [I looked back at the clock]

Yupp.

How? What happened?

You were thinking.

But… but I wasn’t even thinking about anything that mattered. Why… What am I doing?

The hydra squeezed until my spine cracked. A numbing, irritating, cold, hot sensation rose from my pelvis. I could feel it spread like wings near my kidneys, and a hellish winter breath billowed up my throat and into my head. My eyes watered from the chill and the burn, and the gripping, grasping, constricting pressure of a thousand worries. I couldn’t keep the rain from raining.

It won’t leave me alone, will it? There’s no escape.

No, maybe there’s not. But we’re here now. We’re right here, in this room, sitting on a stranger’s floor in a stranger’s forest. So, try.

And, so, I did.

I sat. I closed my eyes. And I didn’t think.

For a long time, I could still feel the great beast engulfing me in its gnashing, burning, frigid pressure. Its teeth lazily tore at my body like a pack of wild dogs. The furnace in its belly burnt my eyes, and the rain wouldn’t stop raining. But I just sat there, and let myself feel it.

I felt my body. I felt myself resting on the ground. I felt my chest rising and falling, rising and falling. And I felt the world smothering me in its infinite coils.

And then I felt the air against my skin. I watched the light hitting my closed eyelids. I mapped the movements of quiet sounds.

I sat there, feeling the world, feeling myself, feeling whatever my mind thought I should feel. And I sat there for second after second, minute after minute, feeling and watching and waiting, and giving in to the world I felt. Perhaps, I thought, if I did this long enough, I might feel the Earth spinning in the void. If I watched myself long enough, I might watch myself sleep in the soil. If I listened long enough, I might hear the sound of nothing.

And suddenly, I felt the coils no longer.

I was silent.

And all I saw was black. All I saw were the back of my eyelids cutting the sunlight of the rest of the cosmos off from my pupils, severing the beams of oceans of photons. All I saw was the flesh of the back of my eyelid, staring back at me.

And I decided to embrace the silence—that’s all I could do really—and fill myself with it, and feel myself in it, and watch myself feeling it.

But there was still nothing.

Only silence.

Perhaps a calm.

But not a happy calm.

Not a victorious calm.

Not an enlightened calm.

Just less blustery winds.

And I still wasn’t sure what I was doing there.

But I embraced that.

And, nonetheless, I sat.

And sat.

And sat.

And stared at my eyelids.

And then I tried something different.

I decided to focus on the darkness inside my eyes. I tried to focus on the silence in my ears. I tried to focus on the emptiness in my head.

All my attention of the world around me waned, and my awareness of the world inside my head blossomed. Slowly, the reality in my head eclipsed the reality outside my head. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly the moon crossed over the Sun.

And there was only the silence, the dark, and the emptiness, with fringe coronas of an external reality.

Everything was still. Everything was empty. Everything was nothing.

Silence.

Pure, pure silence.

And then, there was a humming.

A ringing.

A keening.

A crashing.

A baying.

A billowing.

A howling storm inside a vast empty cavern—a numb, midnight-blue, frigid hellfire of silence.

And then it went quiet. And there was nothing there.

Nothing…

And then…

I saw something.

Eyes. Staring at me.

I opened my own eyes. There was just the room around me. Nothing more.

I closed my eyes again. And I was in the void of my head. And there I saw the eyes again.

Violet and indigo, and ultraviolet and gamma-ray eyes. They were glowing eyes in the dark, staring into mine, beaming into the holes in my skull like two supernovas focused at my retina—beaming a crashing river of thoughts into my head. It was so much information, all streaming into my thoughts, or perhaps it was my thoughts streaming into my thoughts, wreathing in quilts of the color spectrum that danced and hummed and shook and shattered.

It was the Truth. I don’t know how I knew; I don’t know what told me so, I don’t know why I believed it, I don’t know what caused me to believe it, but I knew it to be so.

I saw the Truth staring at me with indigo and ultraviolet eyes. I saw myself staring back at me. I saw my self in and of myself. I saw my eyes looking into my eyes. Between my eyes and my eyes, between the black holes staring into our black holes, where all the light disappeared into our retina, was an infinite space. Between my self and I was an infinite mirror, an infinite, lightless pit, and an infinite, empty space. There, in the space between our eyes. That was the Truth.

Something greater than myself, something greater that I was a part of, rose in the space between our eyes. It was a vast thing, a voluminous thing, a cascading and rampant thing. It was the hydra, but it was something more. It was a machine that grew between my self and I like wildfires and swarms of ants—a machine made of letters and numbers, and the crawling insects that formed the shifting architecture carried grammatical nuts and bolts, and division rods, and axles of integration, and the wildfires carried seeds of trees in screaming hands of industrial decorum. My skull bulged at its limits—squeezing diamonds of quilted thought, pushing at the cage around my brain—as I witnessed the mechanisms of gods and daemons and artificers of cosmic muse, and of the architecture that remains ignorantly omniscient and blindly omnipotent.

For a moment, only the briefest moment, I was my self, and I was the universe staring back at its self through an astronaut’s suit of carbon, iron, calcium, oxygen, lipids, proteins, and strings of chemical archives.

And then I opened my eyes.

And I was in my room again.

There was a knock on the door.

It was time to go meditate with the others.

Pillars of Flesh

Jason stared at the corkboard above his desk. One of the flashcards he’d pinned to it was tilted so it leaned down on the right and up on the left. He held the cared against the corkboard, pulled the pin out, then inserted the pin a smidge further to the left. When he let go of the card, the right side swung down even further, and the left side tilted up even higher.

That’s not how that’s supposed to work, he thought to himself.

He repeated the process, holding the card against the corkboard, pulling the pin out and putting the pin back in even further to the left. The right side dropped even further, and the left side moved even higher. Jason stared at the flashcard. What first seemed like an easily-corrected oddity to him now seemed utterly wrong.

Jason sat there staring at the board, almost terrified to try fixing it again, but, eventually he mustered up the resolve. He held down the card, pulled the pin out, then pushed it into the top-left corner of the card. When the right end swung straight down, Jason jumped out of his chair and backed away from the desk.

Something was wrong. Not the normal, fixable sort of wrong. It was as if some rule that governed reality had been broken.

Jason scanned the room. Something about the windows seemed strange. Jason’s bed appeared to be standing on solid ground, but it might fall to the ceiling at any moment. Then Jason turned to look at his bookshelf.

When Jason looked at his bookshelf, a wave of horror overtook him. He couldn’t read any of the titles on the book bindings. They were all just shapes and lines—squiggles and sharp angles that should have been in English, but they could’ve been in any language now. They were titles he should have known, titles he should have been able to remember without reading them, but he couldn’t tell what any of the books were.

There was a knock on the door. Jason whipped around, almost yelping at the sudden sound, but then he was relieved. It was probably one of his parents, and they’d be able to help him. Jason walked to the door and opened it.

Jason looked where a face should be, but there wasn’t a face. Jason didn’t know what was there. He only saw an arrangement of shapes and colors—curves and colors and shapes and patterns—and Jason couldn’t understand what he was looking at.

Then the arrangement of shapes and colors began making sounds, but it was all nonsense. As far as Jason could tell, all the sounds he heard were disjointed scrapes, hums, clicks and hisses—some absurdist symphony of strange mutterings.

Jason’s mind reeled trying to make sense of what was happening. Something Jason couldn’t begin understanding was at his door, making noise at him. Panicked confusion galloped through Jason’s head. He slammed the door, locked it and stepped away from it. The thing on the other side started making even louder noises. Their pitch warped and churned into a tumbling of dissonant emotions.

Jason ran across the room to his desk. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out small, foam ear-plugs he used when he studied, twisted them, and pushed them into his ears. They expanded, filled his ears, and soon Jason couldn’t hear the sounds coming from the other side of the door. Jason then went to his bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. He sat down on the floor and tried to calm himself down. What’s going on? he wondered. What’s happening?

Nothing made sense. Nothing, not a single thing around him. He looked around his bathroom, and only knew what the cabinets, the shower, the toilet and the sink were after he stared at them and pieced together what the shapes and colors meant. That thing is square and brown, with a small, white sphere on one side. It must be a cabinet. And that thing there is… That thing is…

Jason was now looking at the mirror, only the mirror wasn’t a mirror. It was a whole different dimension of the room he was sitting in that had exploded into the wall. It took Jason minutes to understand what he was looking at. Once he finally understood that it was a mirror—though only logically, he had no intuitive grasp of what he saw—he stood up and looked at it.

In the mirror, Jason saw another arrangement of colors and forms—like the one he’d seen on the other side of the door—except this one moved when he moved, blinked when he blinked, stared where he stared. It’s me, he thought. I know I’m looking at my own reflection, but… I can’t see myself. Then, Jason noticed a fork of red streaming down the arrangement. He moved a hand to his face—which also moved in the mirror—and touched the red.

Jason looked down. It took a moment to realize the segmented pink-white-red-tan pillars of flesh emerging from the warped square of similar, wrinkle-carved flesh was his own hand. He noticed there was red on these pillars of flesh now. What was it doing there? It came from his face, hadn’t it? Why was there red streaming down his face?

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.

Here At the End of Our Days

By Alexander Greco

I look out my window to the beautiful city my people have made, stare at the marvels of our age, and yet this feeling won’t leave me alone. In the streets below, I see my people moving like a tide of drifting ghosts. My lips mouth the words, “Brothers, sisters.”

I look out at our star and whisper, “My people.”

Walking away from this view, I move from room to room, trying to escape the sight of the city, hoping that will ease the unrest in my body, but there is no escape. I find my bed, but sleep will not come. In the mirror across from my bed, my large, dark eyes stare back at me. I look across the thin landscape of my hairless, bone-white body, and briefly amuse myself, thinking of how grotesque I must look to my ancient ancestors

I’m average height for a woman, a little over seven feet tall, and I’m one of the few females who still have wide hips. Ages ago, they would have said I was perfect for child-bearing, but people don’t talk like that anymore. I’ve joined the many who’ve given up on having children. Being born seems like too cruel of a fate to enjoy the idea of motherhood.

In the mirror, above my reflection, is another window. I sit up in bed and turn to look out this window. My dark eyes move from building to building, tracing the forms of spiraling, stalwart architecture that stand like titans against the horizon, and I cannot rid my head of these thoughts. I look for the subtleties of my people’s long, distant history in the curves of our towers, and I cannot forget this will be the end of our history.

Somehow, we’ve managed to live this long. We’re certainly not the people we started off as—the slow progress of evolution has made sure of that -but, since the farthest point of our prehistoric times, when we hunted the Ge’Herut of the northern plains, and through the hundreds of thousands of years since, we have survived. We have survived, but now, we face the death of our star.

Our species, shifted and evolved as it has over time, has seen may rises and falls. We’ve seen nuclear winters, solar flares, meteors, and countless wars. Some have been for food or water. Others were for oil and land, then, once we entered our succession of technological revolutions, they were for control of information and communication rights. Some wars were just for power and hurt egos.

Nothing ever finished us off, however. We managed to come back, even when we’d completely fallen. We learned to live in the ruins of our old cities, reverse engineer relics of a dead age, and recollect our histories, our sciences and our philosophies. The lights would go out, and we’d find new energy sources. Food would be scarce, and we’d genetically engineer animals with more fat, people with better metabolisms.

We survived for so long, but it doesn’t matter anymore.

It’s over.

Our star had begun dimming a few thousand years ago. At first, our ancestors thought it might only be a temporary occurrence, or some error in calculations. This dimming had begun nearly thirty-thousand years earlier than they assumed it would have, but the calculations were verified over and over again across the world. Was there some factor that had been forgotten? Some supposed “constant” that had shifted with the growing universe?

We scrambled to create spacecrafts that might save our species, but nothing we made could carry enough of us away to do save the majority of our species. Some ships were designed as homes for a select few- a thousand, at the very most -who could reproduce and teach their children generation after generation until they found a new home. Other ships were built to carry frozen embryos of thousands of species, including our own, and trigger terraforming events on a suitable planet before gestating these embryos. No one knew if anything would actually work, however.

Terraforming, deep space travel, weather control, these were things we had only recently been developing, and we had far from mastered these technologies. As a collective species, as a united planet, we repeatedly launched the best we had into the sky and out of our solar system. We still monitor their progress through the cosmos, thousands of years later. We’re still watching, hoping.

Eventually, our star dimmed enough to begin drastically effecting the natural cycles of the planet. First, the water cycle was thrown entirely off kilter, and our weather began to shift dramatically. We could artificially stabilize these, to an extent, but it wasn’t enough. We couldn’t artificially create light from our star.

Plants began to die out. The hardiest grasses, shrubs and lichens survived, but, once fragments of the planet’s ecosystems began dying out, the rest of the life in that ecosystem would quickly collapse. Trees quickly disappeared, followed by large mammals.

The more adaptive species began to evolve with the changes, us among them. We had already grown taller, thinner, and quite a bit smarter, but we had also evolved to digest nutrients far more efficiently. We no longer grew hair- we metabolized all the nutrients that our hair would have grown from -and our core body temperatures dropped, we no longer needed as many calories for our bodies to function properly.

Once the dimming began, our bodies were ready to starve, freeze and still flourish. Our digestive systems could already break down most substances, even a number of formerly toxic ones, and rearrange them to synthesize whatever our bodies needed. Centuries into the dimming, we had adapted enough that we could eat a bowlful of mud and be fed for a day or so.

That’s all we really can do, there’s so little else for us to eat. There’s some lichens left. A handful of scavenging animals are still alive, and they find their own ways to manage. There’s still plenty of insects, and some birds who prey on the insects. In the ocean, there used to be fish, crabs, sharks and whales, but their food chain fell apart several centuries ago with the dying of the phytoplankton.

Perhaps the sea creatures of the ocean’s depths, those already suited to the harshly cold and lightless abysses, will survive. Maybe they will inherit the Earth, along with any surviving ants, spiders and cockroaches. Surely, anything else will die.

We still have our cities, our beautiful and godly cities. They tower into the sky, shining brilliantly, even in the dim starlight. We walk solemnly through our twilight streets. We walk silently through our cities as tall and pale parades of dark-eyed people. There is no small talk among us anymore, no passing comments. So little need be said anymore. Everyone already knows what’s on everyone else’s mind.

We barely feel the bitter cold anymore, as if it’s become a part of us. Our warmest days are comparable to the autumns of boreal regions when our climate was still stable. The cold is everywhere, the cold is present at all times, and the cold has become a part of everything. There is no escape from this cold, there is no escape from this dying light, there is only an acceptance of it. There is only letting the cold winds wash over us, and staring up to the sky, waiting.

The arts are still with us. In fact, they have become one of the only things we invest any time or resources in anymore, especially with so few resources required for anything else. Here, at the end of our days, our kind has finally found an appreciation for the soul, and the things that erupt forth from it. New symphonies of various musical mediums are made every other week, hours are spent reciting prose in city squares, and art galleries fill warehouses of space.

Just as the ancient explorers discovered the lost civilizations of prehistoric times, we discovered the far reaches of emotion and thought. We live with a present-minded reverence inside the long, melancholy notes of orchestral arrangements. Within a single phrase, we rapturously disappear into the most tragic of sorrows and herald the most ecstatic of joys. In paintings, we stare down long, endless hallways of thought, like staring at a dream through a telescope, and we sculpt the shapes and forms of our thoughts with clay, glass and cold steel.

Yes, if there were to be any evolutionary step for the last of us, it would be an enlightened capacity for emotion, and an intuitive understanding of the soul. However rapturous this may be at its peaks, we all fall into deep crevasses of despair.

What mattered anymore? Why care? Why care even about our own souls? What was the point of existence? What was the end to any of our means, except for a slow, cold death. It was in such a despair that I found you. It was in the pits of loathing and contempt for our universe that I reached out to you.

It was in the pits of a desperate agony that my soul screamed with all it’s might. “Hear me, someone! Please! Is there not more than this? Is there not someone, something, some higher entity that can hear me? Some ritual to be performed? Some prayer to be said that could save us from this final dying of the light?”

I was curled pitifully in the dim gray of my barren bedroom, wailing and screaming whatever god might be listening, when my soul reached its hand out to grasp at you. These wails, screeches and screams I produced were not uncommon to hear in the cities that still stood. They were not thought to be odd, neurotic, or some symptom of insanity. They were understood with more clarity than any word that could be spoken.

I lay on the floor, my body heaped up feebly against the wall. A dozen or so of my people had walked into my room- there were no locked doors anymore. They came not to comfort me, only to share this commonplace pain. Together, we huddled in the cold- not escaping it, only sharing it. Together, we screamed. Together, we shared each other’s grief, our fear, and our rage.

There, in the gloom, our souls rage out into the cosmos, yelling, “Please, please, there must be more! Please, someone hear us!” Together we were bright and brilliant, manifesting as one chord that struck into the dark. There, in the vast cosmos of thought and emotion, we found you.

Perhaps you are from another planet, or an earlier time. Perhaps you live in a dimension incalculable by our mortal-made instruments and mathematics. Perhaps you live in a universe parallel to ours. Wherever we found you, whenever it was, and whatever you, we reached out with our naked, despairing souls and met in your thoughts.

We stepped across a bridge where time and space were irrelevant, speaking to you as you slept and daydreamed. In the chaotic music of your thoughts, we taught you our histories, our sciences and our philosophies. In the cities of your imagination, we found the medium by which to recreate our grandest of architectures, our most revered symphonies, and our most magnificent works of art. We showed you the vastness of our culture, leaving behind an ocean of life where our last decades form only the surface.

Through you, through your imagination and the thoughts drifting to the surface of your conscious, we hope to survive. We hope to be remembered. Here, with you perhaps we have found something “more”. Perhaps we will live on.