I learned, a long time ago, that life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. Since I learned that, I’ve lived my life according to that principle- that the world is a cold and remorseless place and sometimes when things don’t work how you want them to, you have to go in there and smooth out the edges, and bend reality to your liking.
I guess the first time I learned that was when I was 22 and living out in the middle of Idaho, and I wanted to be seen by people for something. Wanted to be seen as kind of an expert on things. There wasn’t a lot to do in Boise. So I went to all the local bars, restaurants, stage productions- tried gathering information on anything I could, to fill my brain with the knowledge it craved. I read dozens of books on how to meet people, self-help guides from some of the leading experts in the field. But no matter how I tried to change who I was, whenever I approached some guy at happy hour, he would always get this weird look on his face and go talk to some other girl. It got so repetitive I almost grew accustomed to it.
When I saw Steve at the AST conference in 1998, everything changed. I could divide my life according to that one event- the moment I caught a glimpse of him behind a row of sparkling new AST monitors. He was a dream- a strong jawline, impeccably dressed, you could tell he had his mind set on a goal, he was going places. Up in the world. The kind of man I had been raised believing I was entitled to.
I lived with my aunt, she was a bitter old thing and most days I tried avoiding her presence, which permeated the lower level of our house. I wanted Steve to understand, if he agreed to date me, that I was my own person, with goals and ambitions as lofty as his. That if we were to become a pair, we would be the talk of Boise, innovators in the field. I checked out several books from the library on programming, just so that if the subject ever arose during one of our conversations, I would feel relatively confident on the terminology and lingo.
For several days straight I wondered why Steve wouldn’t answer me, why he wouldn’t bend to my will, why my efforts bore no fruit. My mind was as compressed as a ball of aluminum foil, and the logic of the game Steve appeared to be playing eluded me. They say everything in life, even the blatantly negative, is a learning experience, an opportunity to rectify one’s mistakes.
Steve’s death was certainly one of those negative events. If I had been there, I told myself, to console him in his darkest hour, sitting before the AST monitor, viewing my romantic pleas up close, he probably would have understood what he had been missing. But he was selfish, and put his own life over my happiness, and in doing so he taught me a valuable lesson- that nothing in life is easy. If you want something, it’ll be an uphill battle of persistence and confidence.
I quickly put Steve out of my head, became more resolute and iron-willed, and I no longer worried about whether men found me attractive. What they thought or said about me behind my back was without form and void. I lived a secretive and furtive life here on the Internet, investing in speculative bubbles before they burst, posting on forums under various pseudonyms, always with an inquisitive tone. I wanted something more in life, something beyond the confines of Boise, and my mind was like an absorbent rag- it continued soaking up the knowledge. Sometimes I feared my brain would spill open, it was carrying so many fields of study. I got migraines often, went to sleep at 9 P.M.
My aunt told me, “Chloe, one of these days I’m going to have a stroke. And I won’t be here to take care of you anymore.” We had tea in the evenings, which was usually our only real time of reconciliation, and I cared little whether or not she had a stroke. She had a circulatory condition which made her veins unusually pronounced, and she sat like a vulture over her food, a stringent buzzard to the carrion.
She died in 2000, two days after the new millennium rang in. I remember it because I had woken up and looked out the window and felt the rays of the dawn on the shag carpet, and when I opened the door there was a permeating sense of death about the house, and I knew even before I entered the room and gazed at her disheveled corpse on the sheets that the inevitable had come to pass. Time marches on, and none of us are privileged enough to escape death.
That was what I thought. I had been told that around Boise from a very young age, and I had never stopped to question whether it was really true, whether or not you could cheat death. I mulled this over as her cold dead buzzard pupils pierced past mine. Clearly, she hadn’t been as crafty as I. I pulled the covers over her and called the police, and I filled out the funerary paperwork and attended her funeral a month later, and as the Reverend read from his pocket-sized scripture I made plans for the future, and made sure that if I were to go out, it would not be with a whimper.
Finally, scanning pages and pages of local events, desperate to escape the now-empty property, looking for anything to do besides sulk around the lifeless hallways and staircases, I happened upon an advertisement for a speech which was to be given by a member of a secretive mystic group known as the Clade at the very same conference hall where I had seen Steve for the first and only time 2 years prior.
The speaker, Bayard Macey, was convinced that he had lived from the inception of the universe to its death, in various forms as various things, and furthermore that he had achieved this process multiple times over, and had essentially cracked the code to immortality. And anyone could do as much, he said, if they only heeded his call. I took one glance at his picture and decided that if anyone had the capacity to live forever, it was him. I immediately rang the conference hall up and purchased a ticket to the event.
It was surreal, I will admit, to walk into the same room where the love of my life had been standing, and not be greeted by a row of those familiar AST designed processors. The room looked very different with rows and columns of folding chairs set up in formation, all towards the stage. The ceiling was low and the lights were dim, and I grabbed a seat near the front, in the second or third row, to see this master conjurer, this immortal being.
The room went dark and he stepped onto the platform in an unassuming suit, and a fog machine backstage billowed cloud upon cloud onto his cheap business shoes, and then from behind the curtain came a device- a spherical glass-looking thing, with wires and buttons attached to it. This was the “Time Sphere,” a device which functioned much as other time machines did, with one crucial difference- the Time Sphere had been through so many paradoxes, according to the brochure we had been given at the door, and so many logic-defying self-fulfilling prophecies, that it was on the verge of complete failure.
It certainly looked that way. One side was badly scarred, microscopic cracks were beginning to form in the exterior, and Mr. Macey lifted the hatch and sat inside and rubbed his hands over the leather seat, which was similar to the cockpit of a fighter jet. I know because my aunt had taken me to an air show when I was eight and I had been able to sit in an authentic B-52 and I came to realize just how comfortable it was, how that comfort was necessary when your vehicle was careening around the sky at breakneck speeds, speeds that could bend the laws of sound and sight. Macey pulled a small microphone from his vest, looked at it, and then, with a dry wheeze, from within the time sphere, he said, in that ancient voice:
“Wow. You all showed up.” Polite laughter, some clapping, all people with dead stares and very little movement. It was like sitting in the middle of a wax museum. I was out of my element, though there was something about Macey’s disposition that kept me spellbound, held me to the cheap folding plastic seat and the artificial nylon rug.
“I’m on my way back to home base,” he said, grinning ear to ear with a kind of timeless bliss. “Charon. I make a lot of runs between Seattle and Charon, you know. Spread the word. Got to spread the word. My work is never done. I always run into some people who tell me I’m crazy. If I were crazy, I would have given up long ago. But I keep on. And I’ve learned a lot of things, through many lifetimes- one is that if people don’t want to believe something, you can’t convince them. How many of you have told your family, coworkers about this and they wouldn’t believe you?” A few hands shot up, mostly in the back, and he pointed at them, still concealed by the confines of that eternal device, and then something unexpected happened. His eyes glowed red, and he looked positively evil. The hands shot back down, silence fell over the crowd, and he calmed down and folded his wrinkled talons over each other as if he was a perfectly normal man and these were ordinary circumstances.
“I need a volunteer for this next part,” he said. “This will convince any of you who have doubts. Anyone at all.” Without really thinking I shot up out of my seat and spread my arms wide, feeling the energy of the moment take me into rapture. He lifted the hatch, scanned the rows and columns of seated individuals, and something inside his all-knowing mind clicked, and with his outstretched claw, he pointed at me.
“You. Yes, girl, you. Come on up.” I rose, rather levitated, onto the shiny wooden stage and he held my hand up and I smiled. “She’s going to demonstrate this for us! Now you all- you can take pictures of this, if you thought to bring cameras. I guarantee, after you all see this you can go home and tell your family off. Because this is going to make you believe.” He sat me down in the device and closed the hull, and I felt as if I were held in the womb of the universe, the break in the oven of creation. From outside came a few flashes and clicks as the observers shouted, and Macey tapped on the glass and asked if I were alright. I remembered how terrifying it had felt to sit in the cockpit of a jet, even if that jet weren’t going to take off with me inside it. I was about to journey into the cosmos. He faced the crowd and lifted his arms, this mad sermon alight with life, and then he whirled around with more energy than a man of his physique should have been able to muster.
“Where would you like to go?” he asked, politely. I had infinite possibilities before me. My brain began to ache as I considered them. He may have been of infinite age, however he was not of infinite patience. He tapped his foot and impulsively, I answered:
“1992,” I said from behind that protective barrier. “Boise, right here. 1992.” He appeared confused, as confused as I was when I said that, but I had said it and when you make decisions, you can’t always go back on your word. Certainly not in this case. So I stared straight ahead, hands gripping the rails on either side of the set, and before me the screen of the apparatus lit up with green computerized text, and Macey pulled a small device from his jacket and the crowd sat in petrified wonder as he raised it, and set his bone-dry index finger on a button on the oblong device, and in the blink of an eye he lowered it, and I could faintly make out the noise it made- the final noise I would hear in that iteration of the year 2000.
It is difficult to describe the process of being displaced in the causal ribbon. Suffice it to say that Macey’s voice echoed throughout the process, and when I arose from that technicolor soup of noise and pastel it was 1992 and I was standing in the middle of Boise as it had been a few years prior- before I had met Steve. Before my aunt had died. I felt rejuvenated, resurrected, and I believed then that with the aid of the time sphere- with the addition of hindsight- that I could live my life over again and avoid the mistakes that had led me to such a melancholic state of being.
I ran down the streets and observed just how much can change in 8 years. It’s a very gradual and nondescript ordeal, the transformation of one’s environment. However, the Boise I had left no longer existed. Here I was- here and now- to create a brighter future for myself.
My mood was ruined when I saw my 16-year-old counterpart standing on the porch, in that terrible fashion I once wore. It hadn’t occurred to me, until then, that her presence here was inescapable. Her clothes were gauche and without substance, her eyes were bitter as she beheld what she would eventually become, and I returned her gaze in equivalent contempt. We stood on either side of the fence for some time, I observed her like a snarling beast in a cage, and she observed me like some callous zoo-goer. The experience must have been eerie and jarring for us both, though more so for her.
“Who are you?” The question rolled off her tongue like citric acid, echoed over the reflective buildings and facades of Boise, which were now a deep amber from the setting sun. I wanted to snap her neck there and then, I hated the little thing so much. But I displayed tact and reservation. Without saying a word, I darted off in the direction I had arrived from and spent hours walking alone, downtown, with no means of returning to my own time and place. I was a castaway on the ocean of time.
Little by little, in that nocturnal summer ambiance, as the shops turned their lights off one by one and the trees by the edge of the sidewalk swayed gently back and forth, Macey’s voice found its way through the aether of years to me- filled my head until I could no longer ignore it or dismiss it as a figment of my overwrought imagination. I sat on a small green bench and Macey asked:
“Are you happy? Is this what you wanted?”
“Yes, it was. Well, it still is. I can’t say I hate it. I hate her, though. I hate them all.”
“Why don’t you do something about it, Chloe?” came his rustic drawl. I could picture him, even now, in the Charon lodge, pressing his fingers to his temples in that overstated business suit, taking the time out of his day to help me with my problems. He was a wise and venerable man. Even now, all these years later, that cannot be denied or ignored.
“What can I do?” I responded, quietly, muttering vague platitudes under my breath. “I’m alone here. Nobody to talk to. Not her. Not either of them.”
“You could kill them,” Macey said, reverberating throughout my skull. “That’s what I always do, when things don’t go my way. I erase people. In the name of my own interests. Time is like any other resource, Chloe, when you get right down to it. Exploitable, profitable, to be utilized for one’s own personal gain. If I can do it, surely you can.” And as this last statement reverberated into the darkness, my sights caught the corner drugstore- the drugstore which had gone bankrupt in 1995 but was here in 1992, still operating as always, trusty and reliable. Still open with lit windows and that chalk-white interior, for 5 more minutes. 5 minutes during which I could purchase certain drugs. Certain prescription drugs, for my aunt.
She was found the next morning, having suffered a quiet and painless death which was ruled by the police to be from natural causes. They never even looked for traces of the small white capsules I had dropped into her glass of bedside water the previous night when she and my former self had been fast asleep. And if I looked 8 years older, mysteriously, to them, they didn’t show it. Surely they wouldn’t accuse me of being some sort of impostor, Not after the trauma I had ensured following the death of my loved one.
My past self I had to use slightly different methods on. She was feisty, put up a fight beneath my hand. I worried that if she were to die I would be erased. Yet Macey had said that such issues did not matter, that time could be exploited at will with no consequence. She squirmed and writhed as I held her lips shut to ensure that no screaming came from her lips.
She barely objected, in fact, while I tied her, dragged her screaming and kicking into the basement, her eyes swollen and filling with tears. I looked into them and saw a bit of myself in them. That bit would need to go, I reasoned. Forever. She said nothing as I plugged in the screwdriver and it began spinning. I would expect her to say something, I hadn’t taped her mouth. But she only stared across at me, in dead silence, as we sat like some kind of mirror image on chairs opposite each other, framed only by a single lightbulb. She without free agency and I with.
I felt catharsis as the driver bore into her skull, an easy way to go. Lights out. One puncture wound to the brain. I treated it with epoxy from the carpentry table to ensure that no blood spilled out, then, in a long and giddy process that occupied most of the night, I took the shovel in the corner and used it to pry up the floorboards, placed my counterpart gingerly into an airtight plastic bag to prevent odors from wafting up, and then set the floorboards down again. Hammered extra nails into them, then covered the spot with a large crate. Truth be told, I was exhausted and sleep deprived when the police showed up and I told them about how I had found my lifeless aunt. Probably helped my performance, strengthened my feigned grief.
As Macey had assured me, no consequences came. I didn’t vanish from existence. The fabric of reality didn’t dissolve. I sat on the front porch sipping an ice-cold dollar tea from the gas station down the street, eating my favorite flavor of Pringles- which have now, for whatever reason, been taken off the shelves.
I felt akin to a goddess. Macey continued to speak through me, as he told of his adventures from the inception of the universe to its destruction. He told me of his infinite lifespan, his accomplishments in organizing the Clade, his many transgressions against preconceived temporal logic.
He had been born, he said, in Charon, Kansas, in 1926. It was a different 1926, however, and the one I had known was only the result of his action, his decisiveness, his will. He had grown from the dust bowl to a paratemporal deity. I could become a strange Goddess equivalent to him, he told me. If I trusted my decisions, displayed no regard for the welfare of those around me, prioritized my survival above all else, I would survive anything. But I could not display doubt. This, he assured me, was key. Doubt was the termite which gnawed at will, it weakened one’s resolve. To doubt one’s actions would be to undermine the efficacy of those actions. And so, with the assistance of the voice in my head, I resolved to have Steve. Again. Nothing was going to keep me from him now.
March 12, 1998 arrived and I woke up early in the dawn, put on my best clothes to head down to the AST conference. Though I was older now, close to 30 by my estimate, although birthdays were no longer a certainty, I felt as if the brisk walk was a ritual of sorts- an ordeal I had been made to suffer for the last 6 years. This was the payoff, the culmination. My second chance.
I even bought a watch for the occasion, timed it such that I would be in the hall 5 minutes earlier. Steve wouldn’t be pulled back by his friend, he would come over to say hello and then we would leave the hall. All that blood on my hands would be washed clean, all the pain and effort would be worth it. I would have everything my way, because I knew what was going to happen and could prevent it from happening as it had. I was on my way now. Yes, Chloe, Macey said from the deep recesses. Atta girl.
When I saw Steve amid the row of luminescent computer monitors I felt a wash of euphoria sweep over me, in rapture I approached him, waggling my fingers. He was every bit as approachable as I had envisioned. A wide smile spread across his face. I spotted his friend approaching from across the aisle so I put my hand around his back and moved him to a display where we would be alone.
“Who are you?” he asked. He had a gorgeous build, looked like a football player, with a full mane of hair and a precisely ironed uniform. Of all the conceivable permutations, I had been led here. This was the end of an inevitable process.
“Chloe,” I responded dreamily. “Chloe Richards. Just a local.” He shrugged and pulled away from me. I grabbed him again, by the collar this time, and looked deep into his mind- furtive, scanning, nervous. Had to end the uncertainty, because uncertainty bred doubt. Remember the tenets.
“Listen, Steve,” I said, and he flinched ever so slightly when he heard his own name. “If you’re here, and you want to know some of the best spots to eat or hang out, call me. Just call me. Think about it.” And with that I plucked a ballpoint pin from his shirt pocket and grasped his hand, inscribing my phone number onto his palm. He was mine now.
And then I left, without saying anything. Let him decide whether or not to contact this mystery woman.
I spent a long while that night reflecting on my method, gazing out the attic window at the nocturnal Idahoan activity. Tapping my fingers, waiting desperately for the phone to ring off the hook. Out on the horizon cars wound their way up into the hills, toward Dry Creek Valley or Shafer Butte, and the lights disappeared as they rounded the curves. I imagined the roads were timelines and the cars were people, and that I was witnessing firsthand, from a bird’s-eye view, the extent of temporal mechanics.
The phone rang and I answered it, and I waited with hesitant sighs. If Steve didn’t say yes, I decided, in that split second before he spoke, I would kill him.
“Hi, Chloe,” he said. Warm and friendly. “Just thought I would reach out. Listen, is there some place we could meet up? Tonight?” My mind raced. It was close to 11 P.M. Most places were closed.
“There’s this bench,” I said without so much as a second thought. “I’ll swing by your place and pick you up, and we can walk down there together. You’re at the Holiday Inn, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll be standing by the third entrance.” And just like that, the line went dead, and my mind raced with the possibilities of the future- the glorious future. The future which wouldn’t have been possible without Macey’s time sphere, praise the Clade. I put on some shoes and took the last bus to the hotel, skipped my way to the entrance where he was standing, leaning against the lock, hands in his pockets, casual and prepared. I slid my arm around his and we strolled through the parking lot and toward the street. I was in ecstasy.
He held my trembling fingers, visibly alarmed by my nervous disposition, the gathering crow’s feet, visible blemishes on the skin that in another time and place had been flawless. He had rejected it then, and as his lips began to open, in one terrifying instant I realized what he was about to say, and I froze on that small bench as the wind whistled through the trees in the dead of night.
“Chloe, I’m married. I’m sorry.”
I know, so far, that I’ve been descriptive in many of the things I’ve related, up to and including the murder of my aunt and alternate self. However, I remember very little of what happened then. Something about a rock. Not a very big one, merely one of those you see lining public thoroughfares such as the one we were on. I remember its heft and density as I clutched it with my fingers, icy cold and brittle. I remember something about the noise it made when it grazed his skull. Apart from that, however, I recall little.
I don’t, for instance, know what I did to clean the blood from the asphalt. I don’t know where his body is hidden, whether it’s down in the basement with the others or if I tossed it in a river or discarded it carelessly in the trunk of a nearby station wagon. All I can say for sure is that once more, Mr. Macey, my only true friend throughout this perpetual ordeal, kept me safe from the watchful and ever vigilant eyes of Boise’s finest. And for that, despite what came later, I am forever grateful.
I knew I had to leave Boise behind. Macey’s voice guided me, subtly. Colorado, it said. Move to Colorado, start a new life. Blank slate, clean slate. Nothing you’ve done matters, Chloe, it was all for nothing. So why worry about it? In a stupor, a kind of subconscious daze, I gathered my things. From outside came the glare of the police siren, passing through the neighborhood. Those all-too familiar popsicle lights on the walls. Had to run. Had to run farther than I ever had before.
It may not have been Macey’s voice, but rather a fragmented and internalized piece of my psyche, one with no boundaries or reservations. It sounded like him. Had that comforting musk. The tone of deep velvet armchairs and freshly baked bread.
I heard it as I ran, sack in hand, through the hills of Idaho, the grassy knolls and the dimly lit stretches of road, it throbbed to a further extent when I hit Wyoming, made my way on foot beyond the shadowy monoliths of Bridger-Teton by night, caught rides with grizzled truckers who would likely have tried something if I didn’t appear insane. No. I was insane, I’ll admit it. Rarely slept, only two outfits, subsided on junk food for three months straight as I made my way toward the site of what was to become my life’s work. I lay in ditches and listened to the voice in my head as he told me stories of the distant epochs- and all the while Xhyrre burned a fiery and all-consuming life in the heavens above, which rotated like a magnificent mural upon the ever-impenetrable nothing.
I knew the site when I saw it, it had been after ten days of hard trekking down the Poudre canyon, along the rim of the front range, coming upon towns with names which were foreign to me in this frame of mind- Berthoud, Campion. None seemed adequate for the task Mr. Macey had been subtly hinting at, and as I approached the area the idea took form, like a completed jigsaw puzzle, effortlessly it dawned on me.
“I have enemies,” he said. “My line of work, girl, you know. If you’ve ever had to deal with the IRS, it’s a bit like that. But they have a weakness. Surely you’ve read the stories about the dragons with the tender point at the neck, the giants with the bad foot or whatever.” We were sitting alongside Route 36 at around 9 P.M., and my eyes were drawn to the distant, sparkling lights of Longmont, which served as a beacon of civilization past the featureless crags and promontories which yawned up toward the sky.
“We hurt them whenever we write something down,” he whispered. “Take a picture, write a book. They scream. The little bastards actually scream, like mice. I ever tell you about the time my dad set up a glue trap? It’s true. Lots worse than the ordinary mousetraps, they die a quick and painless death with them for the most part. But the glue traps, they’re another matter. Dad came up to me with one, said, ‘Just watch here, Bayard,’ and I did. For hours I sat and waited, and eventually this little fucker came in sniffing, smelled his treat. And he lunged at it, and his paws got all sticky and his fur got entwined and he tried pulling out, tried as hard as he could, but the excitement worked him up into a fervor. Organs ruptured, his little heart went spattering all over the place. Kidney followed soon after, and stopped moving.” I didn’t respond, tried gathering my own thoughts, pressed my index fingers against my temples and rubbed them. The lights on the horizon began to warp and shift into varying hues of purple.
“That’s what these things need,” Macey assured me. “A slow death, make the bastards scream because they just don’t know what’s good for them. We’re pioneers of time, you and I are. Explorers on the new frontier. And the frontier is ours to desecrate.”
The next day I looked into the property, spoke to the Hygiene property office, picked up cassette tapes and VHS tapes and 8-track tapes and Helical Scan and Hi-8 and Super 8 from the Longmont thrift store and carried them in a satchel to the building, which had originally been some kind of corn processing plant but now stood vacant and empty, perfect for utilization in this new endeavor. By nightfall, the first shelf was completed. It was soon followed by three more.
I wondered whether or not the beings Macey had spoken of would approach me, and when. I sat awake at night, sleeping on the floor in the midst of that day’s haul. The people at the thrift store gave me strange looks as I made my daily trip to and from Hygiene, yet soon enough half of the Archival shed was filled. I was overjoyed, and didn’t have the faintest idea why.
I found a few like-minded individuals in Boulder one night, while strolling along Pearl Street Mall as a diversion. Asphasia and Scott were kind people, sitting aside a fountain which gurgled and sloshed, and I took advantage of their generosity and kindness. It was the first real contact I had made with anyone in over a year, and they were bored and tired of the present, and so I offered them a journey into the past. My eccentricities made a definite impression, and while I didn’t think they would volunteer with no pay to spend three hours every weekday at the Archival Building, assembling electrical systems and filling our bureaucratic forms, they were on the front steps the next morning, prepared for anything that lay ahead. I guided them like insects onto their work, and they were eager to oblige. It was almost eerie.
They asked, a few times, who the President was, and I told them he was funding this project. I was the President, of course, in theory, though Macey very well could have been. I took orders from him and he became less of a pronounced entity and more so faded into my subconscious, integrated himself into my head. I was second-in-command to him, and I believed that we remained as long as we did in part due to his vision, his clarity, his accounting for every contingency.
The years passed slowly and the new millennium happened once again and I took little notice of it. I spent some of what remained of my money from Boise on state-of-the-art computers, servers, and infrastructure. Not from AST, of course. They had lost my business.
Little by little the organization took shape, like a planetoid accruing debris to add to its own mass, and I remained in my office and waited for any problems to arise, and none did for the most part. I wondered who the beings Macey spoke of had been, and devised attack plans in my head, which I doodled onto notebook paper so I wouldn’t forget. Still attempting to remain in full control of my life, even if my life as I envisioned it had long since broken into a million tiny pieces.
The climate was different here, I soon realized. For our first winter we put in insulation and high-grade windows, and during many of the blizzards I and Scott and Asphasia sat around and they told me about their courses at CU Boulder, what they were learning, and I listened idly while outside the world became a blank canvas of snow and icicles. Scott’s speciality was local history, Aphasia was working her way up to earn a major in theater. She was particularly fond of the Shakespearean adage that all the world was a stage. She even kept a fridge magnet with the quote on her filing cabinet.
More volunteers followed, I ensured that their schedules were flexible and that their time was valued. Stringing them along was the key, letting them see just enough of my ends that they’d understand what it was they had to do. The pieces continued to fall into place, our organization was thriving.
I remember the first time I saw one of those things. It’s the sort of experience you never really forget. You have this jolt of adrenaline in your chest, starts pumping and palpitating, and you’ve overcome by a rush of intense guilt and remorse. That’s what they do, they inspire pity in you, because they are pathetic when you get right down to it, slovenly and without grace.
I had been expecting their arrival for some time, because the days were still and quiet and the noontime haze had gathered over the entire town of Hygiene, small little wooden shacks built from quaint oak where the locals spoke little and performed even less in the way of action. I remember Asphasia had been standing alongside me at one of the shelves in the middle of the shed, sorting copies of some defunct local magazine into boxes. All of a sudden, she looked at me, and I got a sensation on the back of my neck as if something had passed behind us. She felt it too.
She screamed as the box with the magazines was torn from the shelf and careened onto the floor, whereupon it burst into flame. She ran for the fire extinguisher and I, coughing into my elbow over the smoke and foam, tried consoling her while the tears ran down her face and she aimed at the cinders with a wavering aim. She understood, at least somewhat, that I was privy to the source of the event, and she felt resentment toward me because I would not make the information as clear as she would prefer.
“Asp,” I said, clutching tightly at her elbow. “It’s OK. You just dropped it, that’s all.”
“It’s a poltergeist,” she said. “Has to be. I saw a TV special about them once, they’re manifestations of a disturbed mind, energy manifest. Oh God, whose mind is it? Mine? Am I doing this?” She was a mess of nerves, so I brewed a cup of chamomile tea for her in my office, where she collapsed onto my futon, exhausted from the effort with the extinguisher.
“It’s not that,” I reassured her. “Not a poltergeist, anyway. I don’t know what that was, but it’s not you. You’re fine. Calm down. Breathe.” She took the cup and stormed out without saying another word, and we didn’t discuss it after that. She may have seen the Other from the corner of her eye, as I had, before it made itself invisible as they’re known to do. I can’t say for certain how much she was onto.
The following years were filled with all manner of events, from the execution of the Melrose Hypnofest to the numerous staff changes we went through, to the construction of the facility’s infrastructure. The Archive was featured in several press outlets, and I became less aware of who I had been in the previous timeline, it slowly left me and I forgot about the smell of my dead body festering beneath the floorboards. She was still up there, I realized. Even now, while my reputation grew and my domain broadened, the shadow of who I had been lay dormant, known to nobody save myself and Mr. Macey. It would need to stay that way.
The next time I encountered an Other, I had been at the Archive late, shuffling through some tax returns, mindlessly lost in my own reverie, and the thing had manifested itself through the frame of the door to my office. I remained completely still, hoping that it would leave if I remained dormant. No such luck. It was massive, and it looked even worse than how Macey had described it- covered in scales and bursting sores, little gray hairs over its mouth, from which protruded two mandibles coated in slime.
And then the arms. They made a distinct sound, like the bells attached to a cat’s neck, a kind of cracking sound that amounted to irrefutable evidence of their presence. The same noise I heard in cornfields when I was younger. Corn grows at such a fast rate that if you’re standing in a large enough group of corn you can hear it grow, little by little, inch by inch. As the thing’s arms thrashed and it ran toward me, I ducked under my desk and waited there in complete silence for around 5 minutes until it left. I assume it was probably blind or otherwise deprived of some sense to that effect.
It was then, I think, around 2005, that I became fully aware of the danger I had been put in, and wondered what Mr. Macey was thinking when he sent me here. Still, I held out hope that maybe he had some sort of plan for combating the onslaught. The frequency of abnormal events increased by the week. I even kept track of them in a little calendar. We moved on, some of us left. Aphasia in particular became less optimistic about her own future, her personality was altered significantly by her time here. Her once bubbly optimism was gradually usurped by a sour demeanor and a thankless dedication to my whims. I, too, was transformed in certain ways by the edifice which housed us.
I became more conscientious around temporal disturbances, made a greater effort to conceal them, not only from the staff but from my own head in a sense, to deny them, to normalize the rapidity with which they struck. Every shelf cracking open, every box ripped apart by unseen transdimensional hands, became an excuse to continue down the path I had chosen.
You’re probably wondering about the incident at the gas station. Call it luck, but that was the first time I spotted one of the bastards up close. It was staying close to the wall, letting out these pathetic gasps, and I saw her in there, mindlessly indulging in copyright infringement. Could have spotted the citrus emerald from a mile away. I had been using it until about 6 months prior to that night, until my laptop started oozing purple fluid from the monitor. Seeing the application out in the wild made my blood seethe.
I was impulsive, you’re probably saying to yourself right now. Acted on a whim, on a selfless spur-of-the-moment crusade, and in my line of work that’s foolhardy. You’re probably right. However, as I hope I’ve made clear, things don’t always go the way you want, and if they don’t, there’s really no reason in adhering to a plan.
I don’t know what became of her after I drove out, whether the thing got her. But I did try to distract it. Pulled out an 8-Track cartridge I had been concealing under a tarp in the trunk for an occasion such as this. It reared up on its hind legs, arms shaking. I guess I know what they really sound like. Aspen leaves. Golden coins fluttering in a sharp wind. It charged at the car but I led it around the block some, hoping it’d be distracted enough to get off the scent of the LimeWire.
I hope my effort worked, because the thing whacked my taillight with one of those malformed appendages and the next day I had to go in to get it repaired, and the guy at the shop asked me how it happened. I told him it had been a tree branch. I don’t think he bought it entirely. C'est la vie.
The resentment I held toward the things was partially due to Mr. Macey’s conditioning, and partially due to my own standards. The incidents just kept piling up, and with each one came a new challenge- one which I overcame using the resources at my disposal. It was difficult at first, although on my personal computer, behind a password, I created a file with a list of remedies and useful deterrents. They had weaknesses, I was sure of that. Silver bullets and wolfsbane.
Above all, I tried to keep the spirits of the staff happy. By 2007, we had grown to around 15 strong, and our server space grew as these volunteers from Denver and Boulder, many of whose names elude me, brought in free equipment and genuinely believed in the cause.
Then came the notoriety, what I would refer to as the golden period. We were covered in national magazines, featured as one of the best resources on the Internet. I was asked to drive all the way out to some studio in California to get some pictures taken. The pictorial declared us innovators and pioneers, selfless juggernauts who would sacrifice our time and energy into something so banal. It wasn’t, really, I told them. It was exciting, an adrenaline rush. Yes, they said in the monochrome soundstage with the pale screen behind me and the click of the Nikon ahead. Yes, it really must be like that. Polite laughter.
I feared these confrontations as each one increased the likelihood of our connection with the Space being found out in some official capacity. Keeping a secret is difficult, especially when one’s business model revolves around complete transparency. A group of tourists came by in 2008, apparently we had been added to Boulder County’s official list of desirable attractions. I politely dismissed them with a swish of my hand and the soft click of the screen door, told them that if they wanted to they could come back some other time, and warned the guide in no uncertain terms that if the Archive wasn’t removed from the list I’d go down to the county clerk’s office myself and have a word with them.
The publicity had another angle, too. Amplified the odds of the police discovering those dead bodies. I hadn’t changed my name. House had probably been foreclosed, debt collectors and real estate agencies trying to hunt me down. I hadn’t made the proper arrangements, had just left it up there on the hill to rot, and the bodies in the basement probably smelled, nobody could go down there without latching onto the rancid aroma of mildew-
My computer’s search history was filled with all kinds of research into the decomposition of a body, how long it took for bodies to become skeletons, that kind of thing. If the police found my hard drive they would be able to bust me for sure. Frantically, late at nights, my mind raced with a million possibilities, possibilities wherein I faced the consequences of my actions, which Macey had assured me was in all cases avoidable via flippant defiance of temporal logic.
Along the course of my Internet sleuthing, I learned of adipocere. When I retired to my lodging at the Hygiene Motor Lodge every night, which I had been staying at for nearly a decade by then, with few questions asked of me, I fell into a fitful torrent of dreams. During these episodes I ran my hands into vats of adipocere, felt its creamy slick texture along my flesh, arm deep in the stuff I squeezed it and grabbed it and painted my face with it. Became a real mess.
That’s what the Archive is, it’s adipocere. It’s a timeless grave where things go to die. Every file, every list, is engulfed in grave wax. It defies temporal logic, as I had. It can make something a hundred years long dead function normally, even if all actual life is drained from it.
And while my thoughts became consumed by adipocere the Archive itself decayed, fell into disrepair, and our staff fell from 15 to around 5, as it had been in the early days, and gradually we slipped back into irrelevancy and obscurity, there on the high moors surrounded by the foothills, an otherworldly landscape by night. Asphasia left in 2013.
She didn’t say anything when she did, just handed me her resignation early in the morning, which was reasonably well-written and concise. She stood by while I skimmed through it. Said something about her mind being occupied with other concerns, a feeling she didn’t belong. When I was done, I handed it back to her and she shambled out, all life drained from her, all her energy depleted toward the floppy disks and the microcassettes which sat untouched in the rows and rows and columns of memory.
I had created something, some sort of entity. In my sleep it took the form of a barrel, whose opening was like a mouth with gnashing skeletal teeth. Full of adipocere, an ocean of the stuff, crumbling and shifting, the wood of the barrel ancient and well-built, with metal slats to hold it together. It was a man-built thing, created by perhaps some ancient merchant in a faraway land, or a farmer who used it to water his date crops in the waving billows of the Fertile Crescent, which weren’t so different from the lands I found myself in today, environmentally speaking.
“[̲̅d][̲̅o][̲̅n][̲̅'][̲̅t] [̲̅f][̲̅e][̲̅a][̲̅r] [̲̅t][̲̅h][̲̅e][̲̅m],” it said. “[̲̅t][̲̅h][̲̅e][̲̅y] [̲̅c][̲̅a][̲̅n][̲̅'][̲̅t] [̲̅h][̲̅u][̲̅r][̲̅t] [̲̅y][̲̅o][̲̅u][̲̅.]” From its recesses came the soft noise of the substance sloshing back and forth in those dark, hollow corners. It was reassuring, a respite from the brutal stress I faced every day in my office, weighed down by submissions and paperwork. I had very few recourses left at my disposal.
“What do you expect me to do?” I asked the barrel. “I’m alone here, alone and afraid of what they’ll do to me if they find me. They absolutely can hurt me, I’ve seen them, they have those claws-”
“[̲̅c][̲̅a][̲̅l][̲̅m] [̲̅y][̲̅o][̲̅u][̲̅r][̲̅s][̲̅e][̲̅l][̲̅f][̲̅.] [̲̅W][̲̅h][̲̅a][̲̅t] [̲̅I][̲̅'][̲̅m] [̲̅a][̲̅b][̲̅o][̲̅u][̲̅t] [̲̅t][̲̅o] [̲̅t][̲̅e][̲̅l][̲̅l] [̲̅y][̲̅o][̲̅u] [̲̅i][̲̅s] [̲̅v][̲̅i][̲̅t][̲̅a][̲̅l] [̲̅n][̲̅o][̲̅t] [̲̅o][̲̅n][̲̅l][̲̅y] [̲̅t][̲̅o] [̲̅y][̲̅o][̲̅u][̲̅r] [̲̅o][̲̅w][̲̅n] [̲̅s][̲̅u][̲̅r][̲̅v][̲̅i][̲̅v][̲̅a][̲̅l][̲̅,] [̲̅b][̲̅u][̲̅t] [̲̅t][̲̅o] [̲̅m][̲̅i][̲̅n][̲̅e][̲̅.] [̲̅L][̲̅i][̲̅s][̲̅t][̲̅e][̲̅n] [̲̅c][̲̅a][̲̅r][̲̅e][̲̅f][̲̅u][̲̅l][̲̅l][̲̅y][̲̅.]”
It proceeded to tell me about the nature of the Others- that if I had never known about them they would never have been able to find me, that if I ignored them their presence would diminish, and that I could condition my mind so as to diminish the threat they posed, such that they could not injure or harm me. Mind over matter, raw human will over tangible opposition. The more I gazed at those deep folds of corpse fat, the more sense it made.
I bought books, incense, rituals and incantations on meditation and how to clear the mind. How to induce a trance state of near-catatonia, slow my breathing and heart rate down to five per minute, to change the sorts of brain waves I had completely of my own accord, switch from theta to gamma and back again. I learned how to distinguish between NREM and REM sleep, stuffed an entire corner of my office with neurological papers and spent hundreds of nights recording myself sleeping.
These sleep recordings were critical. Every day, upon my arrival at the grounds, I would play one tape of myself, recorded over the roughly 8 hours I slept each night. I spent 8 hours glued to the TV, watching in real time as my brain entered those subconscious realms, with the adipocere barrel and the hidden danger, trying desperately to spot any aberrations. There were none. My eyes flickered, at certain points they opened and my pupils dilated, however it was hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this was anything out of the ordinary.
I told myself that the Others were not real, that they were only a byproduct of my fevered imagination and that I was slowly losing my mind, and I had probably imagined Mr. Macey and the time sphere and all of it. I didn’t know how old I was, whether the time skip had elongated or shortened my life, and every time I tried brainwashing myself to stand in denial of the evidently apparent arachnid beings, my common sense kicked in and pointed out that they were a threat and that I couldn’t continue to function like this, in a nonstop self-imposed cycle of reprogramming and deprogramming, that if I were to survive I would need to ignore the barrel and accept my circumstances, accept who I had become through the process of life, whatever exactly my life had been.
I remember killing most of the staff in cold blood on that day in 2014. It’s more like watching a movie someone else made, really. I guess it was the hypnosis that did it. You might not put stock into hypnosis, might consider yourself immune to manipulation. Listen to a hypnotist right now, if you think that. Have them convince you that you can’t stand up or that you’re floating in space, that your tongue is melting into liquid or anything along those lines. See how immune you really are.
I had done it to myself, I think. Or Mr. Macey had initiated the process and I had continued it. I woke up, and instead of driving to the Archive as usual, I went to the Walmart in Longmont, bought a semiautomatic rifle from behind the counter. I remember it was unusually warm that day, though not unbearably hot, the crickets in the fields busily humming to themselves, the little guppies in Burch Lake happily bubbling to themselves. I tested the rifle on the shores of Burch Lake. It was quiet.
As I loaded it up I thought about how normal this was, that this was unavoidable, that there were no alternatives. Every contingency had been denied me, every road led to this one moment, this sense of being alive in the present. In the here and now.
I remember seeing Scott standing near the fax machine. He had been in a state of absolute complacency since Asphasia left to who knew where. Dear Scott, one of the first. Next to him the adipocere barrel sat, round and full and speaking to me through the blubber. Scott knew too much. Of course he had seen them, they were right there, right in front of his eyes. I remember that when I pulled the rifle out, he didn’t appear shocked, or startled, he just raised his hands and backed into the corner. For a few minutes, we just looked into each other’s eyes, neither of us saying a word, both of us connecting over the shared experience which was about to take place.
I remember, after every one of them had been eliminated, each one of their dangerous memories permanently destroyed, I went into my office and gathered up the hundreds of tapes I had filmed of myself sleeping. They were dangerous, too, they hinted at the existence of the things. I buried them, and the bodies of the staff, underneath the floor, using little more than everyday cement and my own unstoppable will. The barrel was behind the hole, and it murmured little. Then, when the mass grave was sealed up, when the final layer of concrete dried and everyone I had worked with for a decade or more had been permanently removed from history, the barrel gradually faded away.
I was standing beneath a highway underpass. It was Denver, I think, though I can’t be sure of where it was exactly. The area looked run-down and it was coated everywhere with the sound of overhead traffic, and there was a man standing about twenty feet away from me with a stupid haircut and a checkered shirt. He’s holding a camcorder over his shoulder, and smiling. He looks down at the ground, picks something up, lets it blow away into the wind.
I’m writing the same person. I’m in my villa at Orange Bay scribbling madly on a sheet of notepad paper. Something about lawsuits, responsibility, my hands are moving faster than I can keep up with them. I put the thing into an envelope, set it out on the front porch, hope it reaches the man with the camcorder as soon as possible, I never met him but he will find it. Need to forget what happened, where I was, what it was, all of it. As soon as possible. Drink a pineapple daiquiri, relax.
I was Macey’s patsy, the worm on the end of the hook. He is only immortal because he uses other people to sustain his immortality, and I used other people to sustain mine, but it all goes up to him. He lives forever and used me to keep them off his trail, as a diversion. I- and all my endeavors- were nothing more than a side trip off the main road. I have to hand it to you, Macey. You knew I was suggestible. You know when anyone is. You’re very good at that. You slip through the hands of the clock like a thief, and they’ll probably never find you. But they will find me. You counted on that.
I’m going over to the bar to pour myself a cocktail, hands are shaking so a little bit of the absinthe spills onto the wood grain, I wipe it up haphazardly using the corner of my shirt. Outside, the sun is fading and the waves are turning choppy. I can feel them, they’re out there. It’s a game of waiting now. Strata is growing, layering over itself in distinctly unnatural ways, sky is starting to look like static.
There she is. The dark lady.
She’s silhouetted on the shore, picking her way along the pebbles and reeds, clad from head to toe in an outdated turtleneck and slacks, straight out of a John Hughes movie. I remember I used to wear clothes like that, a lifetime ago, in high school. When my aunt was still alive, living each day as if it would be my last, before I understood just how undesirable immortality was.
She stops outside the glass, peering in at me, I’m sitting on the chaise lounge, chugging the drink down the hatch. Her reflection is difficult to make out, it’s faint. She puts her hands up against the frame of the door and they create little spots of condensation. She’s not one of them, but she’s probably on their side. I’ve heard her before, in my nightmares. Something about being caught during a singular moment in time, a time she regrets and doesn’t want to revisit.
I rise to my unsteady feet and tiptoe toward her, knowing that her presence here is an impossibility, that everything I’ve seen defies explanation, that if things went my way and this world made sense and I had any real control over it, I could explain who she was and how she came to be. I could devise models and formulas to predict when these entities arose and why. But there is nothing scientific here, just absinthe vapors and strawberry infusions, and I’ve always been a pawn at the whim of the tide.
“Who are you?” I stutter. Outside the waves crash upon the outcroppings of volcanic rock, the resort’s main building has gone completely dark, and the only indication of any human presence save my own is a discarded umbrella seventy five feet down the beach with a rainbow pattern on it.
“Joyce,” she says, and smiles. The kind of smile you see in a yearbook, or an old celluloid photograph, which indicates an obligation to express happiness rather than a sense of genuine satisfaction. “You know me, Chloe. Let me in.” The glass slips from my grasp and makes a soft thud on the carpet. Her eyes are so empty, so devoid of personage. They can shapeshift, can’t they? Mr. Macey said they can alter their form if you’re too impressionable. I squint, attempt to put myself into a frame of mind where she becomes arachnid. All I see is her grinning mug and behind it the rain starts up, in buckets it washes and erodes the shore. She’s getting drenched.
“Fuck it,” I whisper, unbolting the latch and sliding it open. If she did come here to wipe me, that’s all I deserve. That’s all anyone deserves.
“You remember me, don’t you?” She giggles as she brushes her hair from her eyes and approaches me, arms outstretched. I politely decline the hug and make my way back over to the chaise lounge. She pulls up a small plastic chair and folds her hands in her lap. Her nails are painted with a tasteless magenta, she’s clasping a small purse with a Memphis Group design on it. Trying to remember where I saw her, but I’m drawing blanks. As if on cue, she lifts her finger to jog my memory.
“On tape,” I scream, before she can interject. “You sat in that room- talked to me- you’re a fucking murderer! Get the fuck out!” My eyes bolt open and the next thing I know I’m at her throat, because I remember that night at the Archive, getting sucked into her world, becoming one with it. I remember the barrel and the tarp, and the look she had given me, that all-knowing soul-piercing stare.
She claws at my face, then grabs my wrist and forces me onto the floor. Without thinking, she grabs a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet and rams it against my left temple. For a while all I can make out is her face. It looks older than it did a moment ago, she has crow’s feet and her neck is less defined. It’s hard to make out if this is illusory or not, she probably is one of them.
“What’s wrong with you, Chloe!” she retorts. She sets me up on the tan polyester couch next to the potted palm I bought in the market square in Kingston upon my arrival. “Don’t you remember? We talked about this on the phone a week ago. I spent a lot of money to come here, the last thing I expected was for you to get nasty.” She heads over to the fridge and opens it, retrieving a stick of celery which she starts munching on with vigor. Put my fingers up to my temple, I’m bleeding profusely. Why isn’t she dialing 911, if she really means no harm?
A movie starts playing in my head, every bit as vivid as the tape which held her.
It’s 1993 and I’m 17 again. This is long before the AST conference, before I looped back. I lived a normal life, always felt unfulfilled but I really did take what I had for granted. In hindsight maybe that’s where I went wrong. I’m on my way to the convenience store because the old crone has asked for another pack of cigarettes, she always switches the brand up on me, I think it’s to deliberately confuse me.
The sun overhead is beating down, and for a while I consider heading over to Kathryn Albertson Park a few blocks away to hang out under the gazebo, ditch the mission to the convenience store and check out the birds. I have my Walkman on me, I’m listening to something on my headphones. A synthpop track, it goes in through my ears and fills my head and I’m kind of standing in place on the sidewalk instead of walking forward, swaying back and forth. It’s the sort of music the hag has discouraged me from listening to, she says I should focus on my grades. I’m so tired.
Joyce is on her front porch, she’s holding a glass of lemonade and watching me with interest. Those flickering eyes reflect off the surface of the cup she’s holding, she’s secluded there in a miniature jungle of shade beneath a wooden awning. It looks so cool under there, in the darkness.
“Hey, kid,” she exclaims, raising her hand. “Do you want to make a few extra bucks?” Confused, I take the headphones off, and she repeats her offer. For a while I consider it. I’ve never really spoken to strangers before, in fact I don’t get out much. I’ve seen Joyce a few times, mostly shopping at the grocery store, in the produce section. But I don’t know her, really. I don’t know who she is or why she would ask me, randomly, to help her with something instead of calling a carpenter or an electrician from the yellow pages. I am tired, though. So tired. And that shade.
“Cool,” she says as I make my way up towards where she’s sitting. “Now before we go back, I’m going to lay down a few ground rules. You don’t tell anyone about this. You do whatever I ask, and you don’t back down. Agreed?” I nod, thinking that whatever she has is probably pretty labor-intensive. She pulls out a crisp hundred-dollar bill and lays it flat in the middle of my palm. Without speaking, or displaying my awe, I put it in my pocket and follow her to the back gate, which she unlocks. It opens onto a placid noontime landscape, there’s a fence and trees on the outskirts, and mostly there’s a big lawn, and in the middle of the lawn is a large hole, three feet by five feet and maybe ten feet deep. She steps in behind me, and looking around with nerves as if to ensure nobody spotted us entering, she shuts the gate.
I walk slowly over to the vat, it makes a slight hissing sound as she pops the plastic lid off with those perfectly manicured nails of hers, sets the lid gingerly down onto the equally manicured lawn, and I near the orifice inch by inch.
Adipocere is what greets me, the stench of death amid acidic tones, a kind of lumpy fat substance, what appears to be some sort of long-dismembered facial remnant staring up at me from the depths, a mouth which has consumed its prey. And all around it the bubbles, rising and popping and seething, a dark pool of liquid destruction. She allows me to get a good look at what’s inside- a really good look, a better look than anyone else will ever receive- and then she closes it.
“You know what to do, kiddo,” she says. “Hoist it on in.”
With some effort, I manage to ease my trembling knuckles underneath the weight of the barrel, grip its sides and gradually lower it into the dirt. It’s surprisingly light, only ninety pounds or so. She hands me the shovel and some plastic bags to wrap my hands with, and stands there with folded arms and a wry smile as I shovel the dirt in, ounce for ounce and pound for pound, erasing a person, an entity, a name- from history and from memory.
Just like recording over a tape, the audio that was is no longer present, it’s dissipated into the aether. The visuals are new, the substance has been altered.
In the 1960s and 1970s, wiping tapes in the television industry was a common practice. Entire episodes of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from that period, as well as countless other programs, are impossible to view, all because they wanted to save money without buying new tapes. Record over the old ones, they said, it doesn’t matter, get it out as soon as possible, don’t worry about it. Wipe over it, reuse it, cover the hole, done. And now there are gaps. Very noticeable gaps. Memory holes.
It is 2022 and I am lying on the couch, and Joyce is there, standing over me, broken whiskey bottle held in those same perfectly manicured nails, as polished as ever, her eyes as bright as diamonds. I’m feeling the effects of blood loss, blood all over my shirt and all over the fabric, my temple has fused with the fabric, clotting up, but it’s still running, spooling out of me like a cassette deck gone haywire, my contents are unfurling and spilling, and the darkness is growing behind my cornea.
“Poor, poor Chloe,” is one of the last things I hear. “Too vindictive. I remember back in Boise, you know. I heard what they said about you behind your back. Always wanting things you couldn’t achieve, always outliving your capacity, never satisfied. I heard that, from your friends and the people you thought were your friends. Sitting out regularly, you catch a lot of private conversations. Idle gossip, murmurs of discontent. Nobody ever liked you, Chloe.” I contemplate my current being, in the present, in the here and now, and analyze with the last remnant of what was my mind the texture of the couch, the microscopic patterns formed by the thread, the temperature of the air is tested without much effect by my fingertips, which twitch a millimeter and then lie cold.
And Joyce is there, and in many ways she’s the same as she always had been, fading into static, the collective maelstrom of our deceptive primate recollection, the repository of terrible ideas and long-abandoned hope. She recedes an inch every hour, holding the whiskey bottle and speaking in that strange voice which only she is capable of, the one which simultaneously unsettles and excites.
I am headed for a different area of the psyche. I am en route to a large dark room with a circular opening.