1. Mounds of dead fish shift under my bare feet as I sidle along under the hot sun. The smell is somewhere between unbearable and apocalyptic, something with teeth, sky-high and rubbery, that holds me in its mouth. Any moment I expect to slide down a slick runnel triggering a fishalanche with my flailing and end up crushed to death beneath this stinking mountain. This is the death I've purchased. A slimy, scaly, fishy hell. Caviar dreams.2. A loud click of a plastic button sends another slide into the projector, roasting in the glare of a tiny halogen bulb. The heat remains. It's raining a fine, syrupy drizzle of molten incandescent glass, pooling in dazzling puddles on the roadway and setting fire to fences, to shrubs and tamed yard-trees, running down roofs and setting eaves smoking and smoldering. A heavy white dog sits panting, thumping his tail, steaming contentedly.3. Another click, another slide. It is suddenly very cold and very dark, a cavernous space filled with the hum of an electrical substation and industrial fans. The jarring cold hits my bones. I can feel them shrinking, the atoms that make them up cringing and bringing in their cloudy electron shells for warmth. My blood crystallizes and the stone floor lurches out from under my feet. Will I shatter when I hit? Why do I feel like laughing?4. I am floating now, warm and buoyant, swaddled in the ichor of a god. Stop here, I plead, before it all turns terrible. I don't know who I am praying to. I breathe in the ichor. It's sluggish in my lungs, like electrifying gelatin. My arms and legs unfurl, drift away from my protective huddle on teasing currents. Stop here and let me dissolve. But there is a sharp knock, like a kick to a leg that had fallen asleep, now awake and jangly.5. I can feel someone here with me, larger than life, holding me in the palm of a ghostly hand. I can feel my forehead touching a cold hard desk made of slate, my arms dangling in an icy breeze. I can't feel the chair I ought to be sitting in or my legs. There is light saturating my eyes, shadowed though they must be. Is the breeze the breath of the enormous presence? Where are my legs, cold and numb? I am being judged for what I'm doing.6. The presence, sourceless, is speaking. I can't make out the words, but they're like rumbling of thunder on a distant mountain. The voice is a judge's pronouncement, caring yet supremely disappointed, but it is a mish-mash babble. I focus on it, trying to make out the words, like trying to tune into a radio station at the spatial balance point between three or four different stations. I am falling into a hole I drilled into my own head.7. I shiver while sweat drips off of me, soaking my underwear, my jeans, my shirt, a striped sweater I wore a hundred years ago on a trip to the mountains where I thought I might try to learn to ski, but I hadn't brought enough money on the trip for lessons or lift tickets. I could only afford the room and equipment rental, and that's why I never went on the trip. Was I never there? Ah. The sweater is from my childhood. It smells of snow.8. Fire fills my mouth, then ice, then fire again, like biting on a bare wire connected to a fresh car battery. There is no pain, just unbearably strong sensation. My tongue curls up and back away from my teeth. I am warm all over like I've grown heavy fur everywhere even on my face. This air is stifling. I breathe in and fur bellows my lungs. The sensation in my mouth snaps off, leaving a hollow echo of itself. The memory must be deeper.9. I prick a tiny bubble of hope with a slender needle and time stops, poised at the brink of the onslaught of anticipation. Forward is left and backward is right, but I've slipped off the track, careening across an undulating slope. The sky is a dazzling cloudscape frozen at the edge of meaning. All I have to do is curve leftward to make the next second tick, to make the needle move along in the track. Time is a coiled spring, piling up.10. Here's a memory: three butter-yellow butterflies dogfighting over a hanging basket full of purple flowers in a bed of fern-green foliage in the high sun. Apple blossoms swirl in a breeze made fragrant by their passage, the drifting movements mathematically linked to the whirling flights of distant bird-specks against a backdrop of luminous cyan. Pendulous creaking of a porch swing's chains and a wheezing dog's snores add a soundtrack.11. The presence has returned, angry and confused. The sounds of its breathing fill my head like cotton wadding pulled through a metal pipe. Is it angry at what I'm doing or is it frustrated that this is taking so long? The memory I am hunting is years advanced from the sunny porch and the butterflies, but I'm on the right track. The white dog gets up with a whuff and trots into the future. I follow it with the chilly point of the needle.12. Another memory: a gathering in a house I do not recognize. There has been a funeral an hour ago. The men who were convinced to wear ties have loosened or discarded them. Tables have been set up with trays of sandwiches and a punchbowl and arrays of beers and sodas in cans and plastic cups, ice in crinkly bags in a chest. People laugh and cry. A television shows a football game to the numb. The chubby dog laps at a puddle on the floor.13. A vacuum tube gives off an orange glow, a comforting warmth, a smell of roasted dust, a bass hum halfway between B and B flat, and an aromatic taste of copper and tin. Transistors do none of that. Electrons used to trundle lethargically along, full of character. Now they just blip, tunneling past nanometer-wide discontinuities, flavorless. We've traded our sun for an LED, the experience of a dog for knowledge of one three-letter word.14. Here is the smell of clean sweat behind a wad of shampooed hair, lifted by a slender hand to expose the dripping back of a neck to a sultry breeze. I dig in the junk drawer of a pocket, past paperclips and safety pins for a rubber band, a tool of desperation to make a ponytail of dark, dark hair that drinks in gold and shines a glowworm's blue. The fat dog waddles in the grass, snuffling. This is not the memory, but I am close. Close.15. I can tell I'm getting close because I smell the smoke of burning tires, of cracked fruitwood trees, of rain on brick mortar. The wind is high, singing in the power lines. The grit of dirty air is in my teeth seasoned with the reek of crushed jeweled beetles. I am a monster for doing this. There is no question, no other way of putting it. I am destroying something beautiful because it's a beauty I don't have the strength to live with.16. The words live here, writhing and twisting like a snarl of uncomfortable snakes in a dusty burlap sack. A goaty rattlesnake smell wafts, old books ready to shed onionskin layers of meaning with sarcastic venom at the core. The sourceless presence approves of this as a fitting end to a cursed project, an electrocution of purpose and a much-deserved decline into spastic word salad. Should I kick this sack of snakes and take this reward?17. Not a chance. I am nearly done. Here is the memory: a quick late-summer storm, a wet hand gripping my own, a dog barking thunder, a truck downshifting, a wet dog on a lead tugging backward and forward, rain dripping into my eyes. Chartreuse-gray clouds rear back and prepare to pelt the world with hail. Scant seconds from this terrible beautiful moment to when the reflection of the world shatters like a cinder block thrown into a pond.18. You can plant both of your feet and close your eyes and feel the spin of the world carrying you along. Similarly, you can be yanked off your feet and feel the spin of the world fling you twirling into the storm-heavy, stormlit sky. You can feel the lurching impact punch your chest like a kick-drum at a concert or a broom whacking dust from a rug on a clothesline. You can feel that. I don't want to feel that anymore. I want it to stop.19. This is the memory: a broken sky, a broken road, a broken truck, a broken tree, a broken woman, a broken man. A leash is wound around my arm to take the strain off my broken wrist, dragging me along toward the end of the world. Rain blinds me. The beauty of the storm blinds me. The abstract shape the truck makes is nothing. The tree is folded, bowing toward me. A warning. This is the time. The moment. Here is where I press the button.20. I hit the button. I convulse dangerously with the jolt though my skull is firmly clamped. But I am finally successful. I have drilled more than a dozen holes in my skull, probing for the memory of when the world ends with the point of a stiff hair-thin wire. My skull is now literally a sieve, but I have found the memory, pinned it like a butter-yellow butterfly to a cork and killed it. She is still gone. But now she could be anywhere.



May 15, 2014 · Posted in fiction