Yes, you can lie.

Yes, you can lie.

But not to her.

As if being pulled backward through a tight, spiraling tunnel, a free-floating hand touches pointer finger to thumb while the three remaining fingers spread like feathers, a square television, those strings of lights that people used to, unsafely, wrap around flammable trees after the trees are parted from their outdoor roots and dragged indoors to die, those twinkling lights, an escapade, image after image flies swirling by, at first, glimpsed within the periphery only to come into sharp focus, alive, mocking. She hears a lullaby. Far away. ‘Time.’ She feels what most others can only see. Out there. ‘Space.’ She wonders if the paper that tears sheds tears shed. Here over anywhere. ‘And the will to rebel against both.’ Who, she contemplates, believes a liar?

Whether or not she refers to herself or to others, there is only one thing she consistently confirms, “The only truths are lies.” Of the lies she tells, there are favorites, and a particular favorite of the moment goes something like this:

In a far away place at a far away time, a girl named So Jeong lived in a small village seated in a mountainous valley. The valley, flanked by steep hillsides covered in the sorts of trees unlike those that change hues with the seasonal change from warm to cold and bloom with the seasonal change from cold to warm, instead, glow like hot flames always, begins to split at a point where the three peaks meet. From the place where the three peaks meet, the valley opens slowly into unknowing lands covered in apathy and cordiality. Despite this slow opening, the valley remains compact for many distances, and within this treacherous narrow, rests this small village in which she lived.

All knowable things stem from the point where the three peaks meet, and of those peaks, the middle-most peak, confirming the obviousness, stands tallest, reaches highest, pierces beyond the clouds, into the bluest of blue skies. As if hanging like a large bell from the sky itself, the middle-most peak reflects the blending of the bluest of blue sky against the fiery red and orange trees in a luxurious hue of a rich purple. At the base of the three peaks a small lake pools and gently releases itself through the narrow valley to the unknowing lands below where fields are covered in a soft, groundless, green grass. Groundless, not literally, of course but rather, the green grass grows in such thickness that the dirt within which the grass must, presumably, grow cannot be seen. Thus, with the height of the three peaks to the west and the flat, unknowing grasslands to the east, the village sits in the middle of time.  

As the story goes, she lived in this village among people who refused to speak of the three peaks, for the beauty of the middle-most peak was such that to speak of it at all would diminish its truth. Therefore, nobody born within the village ever spoke of the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, and most never even looked upon the face of the middle-most peak. Those who were caught looking in the direction of the majestic peak suffered great reprimands. Born, however, in some other far away land at an even further away time, a small boy, according to the villagers, she says, looked upon the rocky, snow-capped, ever-present, middle-most peak every single day for hours at a time, but even he held enough respect within himself and never spoke of the magic to which he bore daily witness.

This, of course, like all things, changed. Forced upon the villagers through forces unknown to them, strangers from the unknowing lands began visiting the village and speaking of the peaks, even the middle-most peak. The villagers, being the good citizens that they were, responded not to what these strangers asked. A stranger, she explains, would approach a villager and ask questions regarding the peaks, questions such as, “Which way is the fastest way to the middle-most peak? How do you reach the three peaks? Have I arrived at the place where the three peaks meet?” Being from the unknowing lands, these people, of course, knew not of what they spoke. Thus, most villagers simply ignored these unknowing strangers, while some responded with questions of their own unrelated to the strangers’ inquiries.

Of course, anyone who stood so near to the peaks as the villagers and the intrusive strangers could see the peaks for themselves, no matter, the villagers simply pretended as if they had no idea about what peaks these strangers spoke. For a time, the crowds of strangers plodding through the village grew and grew with no apparent reason. Since the villagers could not speak of the three peaks, none asked the strangers about the purpose of their expeditions to the three peaks. Within the shortest amount of time, she continues, the villagers could no longer stand the constant prodding, treading and overall disrespectful nature of these unknowing strangers through their immaculate, peaceful valley. What could be done, however? The irrationality of it all made no sense to the villagers, and so, within that first short amount of time, all of the villagers stopped speaking to the strangers all together. Message of the silent villagers traveled quickly, and soon enough, the strangers ignored the villagers in return. The problem of the strangers’ travels, nevertheless, still remained, and despite the strangers’ seemingly learned, new-found silence, the villagers’ anger began to grow in tandem with the growth in the number of traveling strangers.

Left within the conundrum as unwilling participants in the obvious cliche to refuse passage to any unknowing stranger but willing still to rise to action against these unknowing strangers’ flippant inattention to the villagers’ way of life and the calm of the valley within which they live, the villagers decided they needed to come up with a plan that would resolve this conundrum. What they chose might be of great surprise to those unfamiliar with the ways of the valley’s villagers, she confesses almost with warning. What the villagers decided could never be known for sure, since the pleasure of telling this particular story, she teases, revolves around the differing fabrication of the villagers’ decision during each retelling. Thus, in this account, the villagers agreed to do nothing, to continue ignoring the passage of each traveler who journeyed to the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet. Familiar with the terrain and the general hostility of the wildlands in the village and throughout the valley, the villagers soon gave no concern to the travelers, as the number of travelers who made the return trip seemed impossibly small. To their best estimate, perhaps only one in every ten travelers traveled back down through the valley toward the unknowing lands. Assumedly, the villagers thought that the few who seemed successful, those who were passed through the village on a return trip, were actually only those who turned around before even attempting to scale the middle-most peak. What the villagers did not know, however, was that, yes, most did indeed perish before reaching the summit of the majestic peak, but some were simply living at the top, waiting for some unknown thing.

How was all of this known?, becomes the next obvious question to which she gently reminds that a small boy, a foreigner himself, spoke frequently to each unknowing stranger about their travels, since, he, decided long ago, would look upon the middle-most peak and would thus, be willing to speak about the middle-most peak to those also willing to speak of it. Nevertheless, what he learned could not be expressed nor shared with the villagers themselves for to shed this sort of knowledge upon them would disrespect the very thing they held so dear. Thus, as each traveler passed, much was learned about the unknowing lands but was never disseminated through the minds of the villagers.

For an entire age the unknowing strangers traveled and made their way through the village. Soon, the small boy was an intelligent man, and an entire generation of villagers had known nothing else other than the consistent, burdensome flow of the strangers. As the story goes, in one iteration the unknowing strangers pass through the village until the end of time, silently traveling through the village on a quest still unknown to the villagers. In a different iteration, at the end of the age, an exodus took place when all of the surviving travelers descended the middle-most peak en masse over the course of just a few days, with not a single other unknowing stranger traveling through the village ever again. Either outcome holds a certain probability of occurrence, with an infinite number of other outcomes being equally possible, although less probable, which would all make sense to the villagers if they knew why the strangers journeyed. Thus, for the iteration wherein the strangers traveled endlessly forever, the number of travelers decreased greatly over time until only a handful of strangers were ever seen over the course of any amount of time, and life for the villagers resumed its usual pace with the ever so often sighting of a unknowing stranger who was consistently met with no attention at all. As for the iteration wherein the strangers descended en masse all at once, of course, the villagers simply returned to their lives, never reminiscing of the age when strangers routinely passed through the village.

No matter, the story that matters depends on the person who believes the lies that she tells, she tells. Thus, the story that matters, today, reveals a sojourner so interested in the lies that the truth shall fall upon eager ears, into a willing mind. When the iteration wherein the unknowing strangers travel forever through the village, becoming sparser in number as the age grows long, the excellence of this particular tale sheds light upon that wanton truth of this eager sojourner. Accordingly, she excitedly begins, that story was told to her through a woman born within the village, who not only knew of the event that happened so quickly and yet so unwittingly as the only witness, but also, the woman was privy to the particulars surrounding the subject of the story as [Name] held the prestigious title of friend. Luckily for the eager sojourner, [Name] willingly tells the story as such:

Near the beginning of the age of unknowing strangers who traveled through the village en route to the top of the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet but before the strangers began traveling, you would’ve seen a small boy, belonging to no one within the village, who appeared in the cool, damp, morning light of the sun that signified the change away from the warm season toward the cold. Impossibly small yet impeccably clean, the small boy went unnoticed for only a minute before a similarly small and clean old man stumbled upon the small boy. The possibility that the small boy belonged to someone in the village beyond the old man’s knowledge was small but there, you could see it. Thus, the old man walked the small boy into the village center where, within an instant, the majority of the villagers around the village center gathered to hear the words of the old man. Immediately, all of the villagers understood that the small boy was either lost or abandoned since not a single person recognized him. And so, being the small, narrow village that it was, a few villagers, including you, cautiously approached the small boy with a slew of questions only to be met with silence. As the world spun beneath the warmth of the sun, the boy sat in the center of the village center as villager after villager attempted to lure words from the boy’s mouth.

Unreasonably quiet, the boy sat, calm, studiously listening to the concerns whispered between villagers. Finally, the boy stood from his small perched crouch upon the ground and spoke that he lived there before some time ago in the future. You were confused by the words yet delighted to hear them, the villagers agreed upon a family, your family, who lived on the edge of the village where the hospitable grounds of the valley became treacherous hillside, to take care of the small boy, if only for the night until a more permanent solution could come to fruition.

To the small boy’s delight, the impermanence of the eventual situation became the permanent solution, thus, the boy lived temporarily with every household in the village, and over time, the small boy eventually grew to consider a small corner above the village laundry, where he worked for you ever since he curiously wandered into the space within the first week of his arrival, his home. Still attached to a handful of families around the village, the now young man popped in from time to time to share meals and share life, but the young man’s silence remained constant, never speaking unless spoken to or unless absolutely necessary.

Then one day, the young man began to feel something strange, a feeling with which he had never really coped. This feeling, this oddity wreaked havoc on him emotionally, and upon you as well. And soon thereafter, the young man, once impractically quiet became boorish and coarse, perpetually yelling almost screaming at things that were seemingly out of his control. When, for instance, the water at the laundry was either too cold or too hot to properly soak and wash an article of clothing, cries of agonizing frustration rang out throughout the village center. You were the only one who could console him. When, as another example, the seasons changed the young man felt hot during the cold season and cold during the warm season, the young man would strip down, bare assed, and throw his clothes into a heap and shout profanities of his disapproval toward the skies and at you sometimes. The small children merely laughed at the young man while you constantly, consistently attempted to shield the children’s eyes and ears from the hostility. This behavior, of course, caused tension between you and him and between the villagers who had raised the young man so selflessly and the young man himself. Fortunately, the angst and exhibitionism died as quickly as it had arrived, and within a short while, the young man was back to his usual, quiet self, although, according to you and some of the other villagers, something about the air around him had changed, but whether or not this was for the better, the villagers asked, but you could not say anything for certain. Nevertheless, the villagers remained warm and loving to the young man, and in return, the young man behaved himself in a highly respectable manner, ever trying to return the favor to you and all the village.

The strangest part to all of this, however, became the timing of the young man’s period of anguished outbursts, for within the same short while that the young man’s outbursts ceased, the beginning of permanent change within the village and its villagers itself was marked. Of course, only the smallest reminder could render the sojourner aware of such an event. Unbeknownst to the villagers, the first of the unknowing strangers were already making their way toward the top of the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, and so, as you and the villagers settled back into life in the wake of the young man’s placated fits of rage, a new swarm of irritants traveled toward the village to disrupt all the villagers once more.

The arrival of the first group of unknowing strangers created an unease throughout the village, however, the villagers themselves could not speak to the unease as it spoke of the middle-most peak, about which ought not ever be spoken. The young man, astutely keen on the unease of the villagers knew not exactly what to do at first and so, paid close attention to the unknowing strangers. It was at this moment when the young man decided that he would, in fact, do the only thing that he could do, which was to speak to the unknowing strangers about the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet. In all actuality, being not of the village, never had a villager looked down upon the young man for gazing, daily, at the face of the most majestic peak. Instead, the villagers would oftentimes look upon the face of the young man, especially when he was a small boy, as the young man looked upon the face of the middle-most peak. Through the small boy turned young man, the villagers chattered, they could glimpse but the smallest sliver of the peak’s majesty. And so, when the moment arrived that the young man struck up that first conversation with an unknowing stranger, the villagers looked on with great anticipation to see how the young man would react.

Disappointingly, the young man rarely gave any physical gesture or emotive expression to hint at what these strangers from the unknowing lands were doing, and as the respectful young man he was, the young man never spoke of the strangers’ travels as it would incite the inadvertent participation of a villager in a conversation about the middle-most peak. Thus, the young man took great care to speak with the unknowing strangers when the villagers were busy about the village, and he took even greater care to keep the knowledge to himself. Consequently, the young man learned much about the goings on in the unknowing lands, but still, he remained, happily, within the village, that was, until the day he saw something he was sure could not be.

The day was hot, and when considering the valley’s extreme altitude at the base of towering mountains, the close proximity to the sun made clear blue days, in the middle of the warm season, almost unbearable to the flesh. Nevertheless, the young man sat in the protective shade of a tree as unknowing stranger after stranger continued to pass through the village on their quest to summit the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet. It was on this blistering day that the young man saw something, rather someone, glowing in a halo of the most soothing blue light. Contrasted heavily against the fiery red and orange leaves of the hillside trees, the glow burst out, almost blinding the young man, which made seeing whatever rest hidden inside the bubble nearly impossible. Standing now, the young man looked around to see if anyone else within the vicinity seemed to notice this thing, hot aglow. Alas, there was no one else. Then, as the soothing blue bubble came nearer to him, the bubble calmed to a light, translucent gloss, through which the young man saw the figure of a woman.

Just as the woman looked up, however, and saw the young man, the young man began to realize the soft red halo forming around his self. Reaching out to touch the hue, the young man could no longer distinguish the halo from the world around him; the world, now overlaid with a hint of red, blushed. After remembering the woman the young man saw, before the young man could look upon the face of the woman one more time, the woman was gone, running down the pathway from when she came. The young man, frozen in disbelief, soon watched as the blushing world faded away to the clarity of his clear reality. Stunned, shocked, the young man felt his beating heart race through all of the possibilities, but nothing revealed itself as reasonable. The situation as a whole, the young man reasoned, was unreasonable. Despite this less-than-reasonable situation, the young man continued to sit, hour after hour, time after time, protected under the shade of a large tree, waiting, watching as the unknowing strangers streamed by, seemingly with no end.

After quite some time, the villagers began to notice that the young man had abandoned his post at the laundry, and so, approached the young man about his absence. Guarded and concerned with what the villagers might think of his account with the woman aglow in crisp blue, the young man gave up his perch under the shade of the tree that lined the path along which the unknowing strangers traveled with no explanation and returned promptly to his responsibilities in the village. His passive return, of course, lasted only a short time before the young man’s fits started up again. This time, however, the fits were focused and attentive to a specific issue with which he struggled within himself. The young man attempted to attenuate the fits through vigorous exercise and sexual exploits, but eventually, the weight of the matter slowly wore him down into the quiet, small boy of his childhood.

Here, of course, the young man dwelled for an unknowable amount of time, tucked away into the small corner above the village laundry, sleeping heavily, dreaming of lives long passed and of those yet to be lived, waking only to sip from a glass of water that slowly emptied, only to be refilled from time to time by the old man who first found the small boy, and upon waking, the young man would cry; he would cry the sorts of tears that salt the oceans beyond the unknowing lands, and then eventually, the tears would run dry as the young man fell back into a heavy sleep, becoming all the wiser to a truth that he knew but could not recognize until now. Now, of course, being then, way back when he first arrived at the future. At this point, you must deduce for yourself the words that he spoke that are recounted here:

[begin transcript]

I was alive once before a long time ago not yet happened. It’s an odd sensation really to awaken into a space, a place unknown at an age unfamiliar. Memory serves no man, but especially a man who went to sleep only to wake as a small boy, not even sleeping, but standing alone in a world that knew him not. He, the boy unfamiliar, realized quickly that the life he lives represented not the life he lived. As that small boy, the things I forgot wrap cautiously around that place within my mind no man can reach. But why?, ultimately always ends up being the question, a question asked by the fool who believes that he could ever know such a thing. At the very least, I knew that there are some things about which I could never know, about which I could never speak. How, for instance, did I wake as a small boy when the moment just before waking I remember being a man, an unfulfilled man searching for something, no, someone. The scent of her lingers all over my body, but not because we ever embraced each other physically, but rather, in the haze where time disappears through the absence of space, where space disappears through the absence of time, we become one, always one, together. As one, we are thrust through the present toward that place where time and space take shape once more, but our oneness is lost. I alone and somewhere newly old; she somewhere else, also alone. Fearless, however, would be the best way to describe this person with whom I am unwittingly tied. Absolutely, I feel lucky to have this, what would one even call it? A gift? A skill? A curse? Sometimes the limitations of language limit the mind. Even still, I wake; I search, but sometimes I wake and forget. I forget the essence of myself, the thing that makes me me, but what could that ever really be. What does it mean to be me, if the me in me can never be unless I know who it is to be me while unaware or unable to be that me in me as the torment of being dragged through every place at a rapid pace strips me of the I that I cannot know as the I of me?

Why any of it matters matters if I tell the truth, but the truth is something that I cannot share. Like she who is the liar, the only truth is that she lies. I too live the lies, the stories told by those who think they understand or at the very least, those who witness my disappearance. The problem, from the start, obviously reveals how much understanding, knowledge these so-called witnesses lack. I do not disappear. We do not disappear. Whether or not an observer or a person within my immediate presence can or cannot see me exists beyond my control. I cannot force anyone or anything for that matter to see the things that he/she/it simply does not or perhaps cannot understand to know. Thus, the understanding about who I am collapses, and to the minds that cannot comprehend such an existence, I disappear, sometimes only for a moment, usually, however, for forever. And now, the ambiguous disambiguates, or does it?

It can’t, obviously, apparently, circumstantially; the ambiguous must remain as such to the observer or else, the story lacks its essence. And the question becomes something else entirely, but what the question is, no one can know. But I struggle to keep this knowledge about the question to myself. If asked, I would tell, but then, to keep this question hidden would salvage the despair that she feels yet cannot name. We will each forget everything at least once, the old man tells me. No, not the old man from my village, a different old man, The Old Man. Ugh, I shall not tell. When the forgetting happens, which it inevitably will, all that can be hoped for is that it doesn’t happen to both of us simultaneously. Oh, but there is something here now. Someone calls for me in the distance beyond the motionless river, a body suggests that the matter at hand depends upon my leaving this place. I cannot leave, though, until I find her. And so, I determine that the best course of action means that I must interact with the world I know not, must make the necessary steps to understanding the unknowing strangers who began passing through the village only a few moments ago. The unknowing strangers, unknowing set the course for this village not mine on a path that the villagers also know not, but the beginning of a new age has assuredly begun, and I must not be here upon its close.

Thus, I sit under the protection of a large, beautiful aspen tree, perched within its branches, shouting to and at the passersby from the unknowing lands, all in a futile attempt to see but one person with whom I must connect. The sun rises, and then it sets repeatedly, scorching the flesh through the thinnest of air, and I perch upon a branch with despondence, a lack of hope in seeing the one person I need to see. But obviously, I do not know any of this while I am sitting there, questioning the strangers as they pass. Until one day, I see the oddity emblazoned in a translucent sphere of blue that eventually reveals a woman standing within the halo. I, too, am slowly set aglow in a vibrant red, and then, just as the woman saw me hot, flaming, she ran. I was ignorant of such events, and so, just stood there, upon the branch of my tree. When my consciousness returned to me, I looked around, and that there was a girl from my village, [Name], a friend whom I had known for the entirety of my life in that village, stood staring at me as if she had seen what I experienced. The emblazoned woman, when I turned again to look for her, was gone. And when I turned back to [Name], she was running back to the village.  What choice did I have then but to chase after [Name] since immediate action would be necessary to keep her silent about what she saw. I was absolutely unaware in that moment why I needed to keep her quiet, but I knew that I must. [Name] was convinced by the severity of the situation, and so, she promised to keep this particular event to herself. I know, however, that no one should be trusted with such sensitive information. For here I am now, telling of this occasion since [Name] blabbed her mouth about it to anyone willing to listen. But it’s like I say, [Name] doesn’t know the full story, nor will she ever understand its implications.

[end transcript, recorded by Unknown]

He always spoke of the event as if nothing about it seemed odd; he even asked that the specifics never be told. Yet, there he went, as usual, sharing everything he’d always specified ought to be shared. Perhaps he just likes to tell his life the way he wants to tell it. There’s no knowing whether or not any of it is true, except on the rare occasions when someone witnesses the event, the way the aforementioned or pre-described situation transpired, materialized. You, for the sake of the story as a whole, really should just move on with it.

And so, [Name] refrained from elaborating on the words of the young man who apparently had nothing more to add to her account of this particular event. No matter, within this village [Name] continues to live to this day. Very little is known about her, especially when considering her lineage through the upper-crust, as meaningless as that may be in a community such as the village embodies, nevertheless, [Name] could not be reached during the most recent travels to the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, but according to village legend, she could no longer resist the temptation to share the event regarding the young man. According to the remaining villagers who shrink in number with the waning of each new moon, [Name] told of an unbelievable occurrence that would explain the sudden disappearance of the young man. No one within the village, of course, believed [Name], and over time, [Name] grew tired and weary. Then, like the young man, [Name] withdrew from the world and eventually, the villagers assume, left the village in search of the young man.

The unknowing strangers continue to travel through the village toward the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, and to this day, the villagers endure in complete ignorance of the unknowing stranger’s reasoning. Every once in a while, rumors will surface about how the unknowing strangers are being endowed with gifts of great fortune as the loud words of the unknowing strangers fall inadvertently upon the ears of some villagers. The villagers, however, have little to no use for great fortune, for what would a creature who has everything it needs possibly do with more than it needs?

And so, as tales unfold within the dreams of great dreamers, she dreams on about a life in a land unavailable to her now, but that she remembers in the fully lighted force of tomorrow. She, of course, must return to the life of the now, no matter how much she despises the company. The strangeness of all of this happens to be, however, the fact that Attila leaves her no choice but to hinder the thoughts that require deep thinking. Where?, she begins to wonder but soon realizes she cannot humor. Into sleep she must return, retreat into the unknowing darkness where the possibility that anything could happen may happen, but more importantly, there, hopefully, she may mull over the thoughts that press upon her, desperate, assertive, allegedly of the utmost importance. She pushes them from her mind.

Can she, she wonders, hear the voice of Attila’s mind? How would she know, she supposes. The inner dialogue speaks, How can you ever know what you do not know? She responds to herself or to someone else, she decides, That same old question. It becomes trite upon its constant utterance. The voice within her, or perhaps not, she considers, speaks again, The situation would suggest that you can, in fact, hear my mind’s voice, or at the very least, we can speak to each other this way, easily. She thinks, But how to distinguish between the voices belonging to the minds of others and my own mind simply speaking to itself. The other voice contends, You cannot know what you do not know. She feels that pang of frustration. She cannot contemplate anything here. She wonders, Attila’s mind can only follow me so far, yes? The voice refuses to respond. Very well, she decides; Leaving this place prevails as the only reasonable answer. And then the voice speaks up, Where will you go at this late hour? She laughs aloud, The lateness of a place signifies its reliance upon the constraints of weaker beings. The voice laughs a gentle laugh of surprised gleefulness, and then the voice forgets that she has forgotten and speaks again, You cannot make green until you find him, of course. She knows not where the next thought originates from, but she allows the thing to fill her mind, Or unless he finds me.

Simultaneously the revelation hits her and Attila both, and she feels frozen in time as she hears the fast-paced footfall of someone, Attila, streaming down the hall. To where she can escape there is nowhere. Frantic, she steadies her mind to the stillness of impenetrability as Attila kicks in the door. Each knows that the other knows that they know that escape is impossible. Thus, Attila stands coolly, calm, as steady as she as they face each other through impenetrable minds. She, being younger and less experienced in the matter, blinks. Attila remains exact. Wise, no matter, she holds strong and steadfast in her dismissal and continued resolve to push every feeling aside; nothing rises that Attila may use against her. Attila, as master, reveals nothing. Locked in a stalemate where the fortitude of the mind matters more than life itself, the two unwittingly begin to intertwine consciousnesses with two others who also, at this time, are locked in a similar battle of the mind.

Surprisingly, Attila allows the feeling of this connection to rise to the surface of her mind. She hears the rise within Attila but holds steady. Soon they both begin to glow in a halo of radiant blue light. They look at each other. Both minds collapse into utter confusion. “But how can this be?” Attila breaks first. “You are the one who is supposed to know!” she retorts. Another moment more and they are both fully encapsulated into a world of opaque blueness. A crack. The clap of enormous hands. Green.

She & The [Old] Man

She & The [Old] Man

Landfill. Yes, she thinks to herself as she climbs over a large pile of, what seems to be, garbage toward the archway of the front door through which she needs to enter; landfill seems like the right word. The heap never lets up. “Excuse me?” she calls through an outstretched neck while still atop the trash mound. Rustling. A man pokes his head around a corner just far enough to catch a blurry glimpse of red hair. “Excuse me, sir?” The man cannot see her very well at this distance, but she does not know that. He can, however, tell that she is a she, by her voice, of course. “Yes? What is it? I think that you are quite late, my dear,” the man shouts from behind the wall, unseen. She begins to clamber down the heap. “It’s not ready anyway,” the man continues on, “A message was sent to you days ago regarding this exact delay. Why are you here?” She stands silently. More rustling. The man emerges from beyond the wall around which he was hidden and slides into the less cluttered room in which she stands. “Oh,” the man states in surprise after now having a look at her. He takes a step back and examines her from a safe albeit oddly close distance. “Hmmmm,” he murmurs. She feels the urge to take off her shoes. “Not yet,” the man instructs. “How long have you been here?” “I only just arrived,” she answers. “No, when did you arrive here here,” the man urges. “Yesterday,” she responds after understanding what the man was initially asking. “Oh, yes,” the man sighs, “Your arrival does make some sense to me now.” The man stops pacing, makes his way to a dusty, darkened window sill, sits and crosses his left arm over his torso as if hugging himself while simultaneously propping his right elbow on the arm so that the fingers of his right hand may stroke his face.

The sounds of another person ring through the corridor beyond the garbage heap. She turns to see who approaches. “Ah,” says the shining face of someone she does not know although she does feel as though she must know him, “I’m so sorry that I don’t have any work for you this session,” the shining face laments. “May I, at the very least, take you out to dinner. I really do wish I could’ve given you the work. I love to send my money into the hands of people I love,” the shining face exclaims a little too loudly. Confusion. “I,” she begins, but the man cuts her off. “She doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter,” the man shouts with a dismissive flick of his wrist. “Well, just come on by for dinner whenever you have a chance,” the shining face blurts out over the heap as the face continues its ascent up the stairs. The man, still perched on the dusty sill, wonders aloud, “Is she supposed to be here now?” “As opposed to when?” she whispers. “Where were you just before you arrived here?” the man asks, and then finally corrects, “the old man.” “I was walking through a dark corridor with …“ she starts, but the old man cuts her off again. “So you did receive my message!” “I received a message. Then I went to go pick up the package, but when I got there …” “That goddamn corridor!” the old man shouts. She knows that this old man has the answer to the only question for which she needs an answer, but she does not know the question. “Yes,” quietly now, the old man speaks gently, “I do have the answer, but I cannot help you until you know the question.” “Do …” she begins. “No,” the old man replies.

They share the space of the cluttered room, the old man still at the sill, she standing on one of the only bare squares of floor. Through the dusty window she can see the glittery sunlight force its significance between the tiny cracks where the dust has not infected. She looks down at her shoes; they are of the dirty sort with which she is less comfortable. She watches the old man think. The realization that she will, unfortunately, have to wait in this … filthy place for an unknowable amount of time dawns on her. “Yes,” the old man states. “There is a room over there that is less, as you put it, filthy. Come.” She carefully follows the old man into a much nicer room that’s filled with ancient technology and plant-based materials. The only pieces of furniture are a bright purple velvet wingback chair, a piano stool unaccompanied by a piano, a large dining table unaccompanied by chairs, and a small table barely large enough to house one large lamp. “No, there is no bed in this place,” the old man answers, “but there is food. Are you hungry?” “Yes,” she responds with curiosity.

She thinks about what it is that she even wants to eat. “It’s difficult to know such a thing at this point,” the old man interjects between her thoughts. “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think ‘food’?” Sandwich, she thinks softly in her mind. “A …” she begins. “Ah yes,” the old man concludes, “Good choice.” The old man leaves her in the velvet chair with knowing eyes. She feels … she feels …

It’s warm. Mox’s tree stands alone, distant in a grassy field lit by the sun’s evening glow. Air rushes by, caresses her face in a swirl of comfort. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath of the fresh air. Exhale. Clouds form. With the flash of cracking thunder, a storm billows instantaneously over her. The sun, darkened, retreats. Her eyes burn. The stream of a familiar voice reverberates throughout the field. Muted, faded, the green of the grass turns pale. She runs toward the tree as it, too, loses its vibrant saturation. Colorless, the grey-scale off of which everything now no longer bounces the sun’s magnificent light strikes her with a vomitous ache. She stops and keels over. “You cannot know that which cannot be known,” the wind whispers as it blows through her hair. She blinks a single tear from her searing, watering eyes.

Cold and stale air hits her face. She opens her eyes to see the old man standing before her with a plate and cup in hand. “How,” she mutters. “It’s only been a few minutes,” the old man answers, “Relax.” “I …” she begins again. “Mox cannot remain hidden for much longer,” the old man responds. She feels something. With a little understanding that her words mean nothing to this man (old man), she begins a thought, Why am I here? “I cannot know that which cannot be known,” the old man replies. “Focus on what you do know, without doubt,” the old man instructs as he hands her the plate with a rudimentary sandwich made of flat bread, an orange sauce and something else she prefers not to know, “And eat this.” But what is it?, runs cooly through her mind. “Bread and cheese,” the man states flatly. Oh, thank you, she thanks in thought.

“Now, tell me about this tree,” the old man demands ever so benevolently while making a seat out of a stack of books and other plant-based materials. It’s not a tree. “What does it represent then?” I’m not to tell details to strangers. “I am not a stranger.” I have doubts. “Very well, then. Does it have a physical location?” Mind clear, she sits silently and eats her sandwich. Then she wonders how she can keep her mind so free of thought, but wait, this is a thought she is having now. The old man chuckles amicably. “Interesting,” the old man speaks aloud. Silence. “I’ll tell you if you really want to know,” the old man offers. Tell me what? “How it is that you can keep your mind so clear.” Does it matter? “Of course not.” Silence.

“If not the tree, then tell me about the boy who brought you here.” What? “The boy you followed into the dark corridor.” But … “It’s okay, I’m very familiar with him. He is why you’re here, in my presence.” Then tell me his name. “Why should I? You don’t even know his name. It was a faulty test of my trustworthiness.” I followed my feet and ended up at his door. “He was upset.” Yes. “You were expected much earlier.” Yes. “What was the delay?” I have doubts. “Where were you before your feet brought you to him?” My home. “And before that?” But you know. “Her presence haunts all, not just you. Could you decipher the contents of the capsule?” Yes. “But I am a stranger.” But you already know. 

The room begins to expand as if it were a balloon filling with helium. The old man’s thoughts make wind and disrupt every particle of settled dust. Calm, she sits. Noisy, every plant-based material rips violently throughout the space. And then, silence. When the mind works at its optimum level, time stands still while every tangible object floats in the limbo between being known and unknown. Through the window now free of dust she can see the glistening sun through the outer glass of the orbital. This place the (old) man lives in, she thinks, rests at the edge; there’s nothing but a cold, dark vacuum beyond these walls.

The room again as it was before the old man’s mindscape, “Interesting.” I feel like I’ve never been here before. “And.” And yet, I do not feel lost. “Do you know who you are?” Yes. “Who are you?”

The He

The He

[New Chapter Sketch for the manuscript, Book II: Bromides]

“It smells like bread proofing,” I state in a soft whisper. “Shhh,” Ladybug shushes gently with a smile that could melt the heart of any cat lover. Looking around, I realize what it means. Of course, we could not have found ourselves in such a place of luck so as to be in the presence of freshly baked bread. Dreams need to be dreamt, nevertheless. We press on, slowly, through the immense downtown library, among the shoals of homeless who, forgotten or left behind by the system, are left to the only institutions within that same system that allows their presence. “It’s not so bad, though,” I attempt to clarify, relating back to the comment about the smell. “But to comment on the smell at all admits that a smell exists, which ultimately, at least here among those who hold this particular sentiment, means that the smell is bad, unless of course, among the company of those hunting for the perfect scene, eatery, with the same intention of being thusly able to consume the delicious thing smelled,” Ladybug explains. “That was deep,” I express, in genuine awe as Ladybug often finds itself within the throws of … cynicism. “You don’t need to understand everything to understand what is good, what is right,” Ladybug states, this time with a pointed finger directed at me, just below the brow between the eyes. I feel a bit cross-eyed. “Now, where is this damn kid?” Ladybug asks aloud to no one in particular. “I am asking you,” Ladybug rectifies. “Oh, well, how am I supposed to know?” I ask. “Cause you are why we are here. Je-sus, fuck-ing, christ, man!” Ladybug whisper yells. “If the Librarian sees you, you will die,” Ladybug warns. “Then we need to get up somewhere high so that if I am seen, the Librarian won’t be able to get me,” I offer. “Yea, sure that might work. Outside,” Ladybug instructs. We head back out into the cold.

Carefully, we find a series of trellises and steps up and around the backdoor, service entrance, and atop the HVAC system, we easily maneuver the totally mod, unfinished, exposed urban interior of the mid twenty-first century post-modern aesthetic. Ladybug stands atop the tip of my nose looking down, fluttering from side to side from time to time to reach a view from an angle I cannot supply. “There he is,” Ladybug whisper-shouts with a point toward a window on the far wall from where we are. “There, in the window, sitting with his manny,” Ladybug laughs; “Manny. Ha!” “I’m not sure if I can make it over there,” I admit. “No problem. I can easily fly,” Ladybug shrugs. “Just head on back toward the front door. I’m sure I’ll manage once I’ve convinced him. Or maybe just hang out here and watch out. And come a little closer. If I don’t come back up here to get you, then he’s made a run for it, so meet me at the front doors. If I come back to get you, then obviously, I’ll be here, and I’ll tell you what’s up. Okay?” Ladybug suggests. “Yea, sure. It’s no problem, except that your plan leaves me completely out of it, which means,” I begin. “Yea, they won’t know, but they don’t need to know everything,” Ladybug points in the vague direction of “everywhere.” “Fine, well then you’re going to have to tell Attila, or I will,” I counter. Ladybug feigns suffering, “Fine.” Just as it begins to flutter away, it looks back at me and says, “If he makes green, run toward him.” “What?” I ask but Ladybug either doesn’t hear me or pretends not to.

Carefully, I make my way atop the silvery, metal air vents toward the far wall where the windows ensconce comfortable, bench-like seating. I can easily see the boy in the window, and he seems upset for some reason. And he storms off. I try to follow from above, but there seems to be little to no way to make it all the way across to where the restrooms are. I hear the flutter of Ladybug, “He’s real mad about something. I wasn’t close enough to hear, but he’s gone.” “He’ll be back,” I state. “How do you know?” “He just went over to the bathroom.” “Oh,” Ladybug nods, standing upright in front of me now. “This is just me standing,” Ladybug clarifies. I nod. “Go back,” Ladybug demands. “Oh,” Ladybug nods, standing in front of me now. Ladybug gives me a stiff look. “There,” I point, seeing the boy emerge from the doorway into the bathrooms. “Excellent,” Ladybug jumps as it flutters away, back to the window where the boy will inevitably sit himself back down.

I feel like I have been sitting and waiting for quite some time now, and I cannot hope to see Ladybug from this distance, and the boy just sits there in the window, reading. Perhaps, Ladybug sits atop the book’s pages. I cannot know for sure. There really is little to nothing left to say about the situation at the moment, and I cannot know how much time will pass until something does, so I will sit here and wait, and as soon as something happens, I will let it be known, I say/think to no one and everyone.

The boy makes green. Made green. Is making green! I jump from the top of the air vent onto the top of the book shelves, and run along the top until I can jump straight at the boy as he attempts to vanish. Just as I fling my body onto the boy, grabbing him around his torso as tight as I can, I hear the shouts of Ladybug as it flutters into a safe tuft of fur between my front arms, “You’re a Lingerer, now!” As quick as we turn to light, the boy appears, as an adolescent or young man, in some … garb … of the kind you would find a person in while in a hospital. “It’s a psych-ward for the mentally ill, and I am a young man,” the boy-man clarifies. “Don’t mind her,” Ladybug interjects. “She is why we are all here,” the boy-man clarifies. “And where is it that we are?” Ladybug asks. “When,” the boy-man clarifies. “Right, of course. Are we on Earth?” Ladybug asks, in utter excitement. “Yes,” the boy-man answers. “Oh. My. God!” Ladybug exhales with a strong squat and simultaneous flexing of its upper legs upwards, while its middle legs flex inward, and its head screams upward through both blessed and cursed excitement. “Yes, both blessed and cursed. Did you hear that?” the boy-man asks. “Of course I heard. I hear everything,” Ladybug warns. But we still do not know when we are.

“Yes, right. So, when is it that we are?” Ladybug asks. “The Numerical Years, which roughly translate to the hundred years between 2020 and 2120,” the boy-man defines. “The now,” I accidentally whisper aloud. “Yes,” the boy-man supports. “How is it that you came by this Lingerer?” the boy-man asks. “It’s a long story, but it is why we are here. You, of course, know why we are here, yes? Please. Please know,” Ladybug pleads. “How would I know. I didn’t send for you, and if you weren’t sent here, then how did you get here?” the boy-man clarifies. “Is our arrival a signal?” Ladybug inquires. “Good question,” the boy-man thinks for a moment. “When were you before now?” the boy-man asks. “The middle-most peak where the three peaks meet,” Ladybug answers. “Oh, that’s impossibly far away,” the boy-man states with little to no actual tone of being impressed; “How did you get here?” “Through the corridor,” Ladybug answers incorrectly. “How then?” Ladybug asks. “We traversed through the corridor to find ourselves atop the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet,” I answer. “There’s a gap,” the boy-man offers; “You must be in the past or the future from whenever you were, but not yet at the moment right after when you were occurred.” “Why does this keep happening?” Ladybug laments, full diva, atop the surprisingly soft linens of the boy-man’s private sleeping quarters. “What has been happening?” the boy-man asks. “What hasn’t happened? I was late in delivering Dei,” Ladybug begins. “What?” the boy-man nearly whisper-shouts. “It was fine, but then immediately after that, the lorikeet, oh shit, where is that bird? Dammit! Well, first we were trapped in the circle’s corner, but now, it seems I’ve lost it all together,” Ladybug explains. “What else?” the boy-man asks. “Uh, well, then we’re here now, and we don’t know why!” Ladybug sighs as it rolls over onto its shell, distraught, burdened. “The why of a thing rarely matters,” the boy-man consoles.

Sniffling, teary-eyed, Ladybug rolls itself over, “What?” “What?” the boy-man asks, and then he turns to me, “He is fine. Just use he or him.” Frozen in the beauty of his IS-NESS, my heart races. He smiles, and rubs me behind the ears. I want to die in this moment right now. He chuckles. I will die now. He returns his attention to Ladybug, and I’m jolted alive. “What did you just say?” Ladybug reiterates. “The why never matters,” he states, when really he stated that “The why of a thing rarely matters.” Ladybug sits on its haunches. “So then what do we do?” Ladybug asks. “We wait,” he answers, with odd swiftness. “For what?” Ladybug asks, desperate again. “Who knows,” the he shrugs as he lies back on his bed, arms poetically crossed behind his head, feet crossed at the ankles, looking upward at the cloud-printed wallpaper that lines the five sides of the cube that is his personal living quarters. “Are you going to sleep?” Ladybug asks. “No,” he states. “What should we do?” Ladybug asks, again. “There’s no way of knowing for sure,” he states; “For now, you can familiarize yourself with this spacetime, or whatever, just chill.” “Ugh,” Ladybug exhales, exasperated, falling back onto its shell. “It’s not a shell,” Ladybug insists, palm atop its forehead, anguished.

“You wanna rest?” Ladybug finally asks. “Yes, please,” I lie. “Fine, just go be whatever. I’ll stay here with him, and if anything bad happens, I don’t know. Just, I don’t know,” Ladybug dismisses, on all sixes now, heading toward his (the boy-man’s) head, hoping it will get a chance to really talk to him. “Shut up,” Ladybug suggests with a wave of its hand. I curl up at his feet, although they smell an awful lot like another set of feet I’ve smelled, but that seems irrelevant. He’s warm, and he snugs me deeper into his knee pits.