He Arrives

He Arrives

Dawn, with a faint shimmer of sunbeams peering through the cracks between the trees, while the grassy, unkempt lawn begins to warm, he arrives. Aware of her forthcoming arrival later in that day, he knows better than to cross paths at this time. They cannot, as it were, make green just yet. The stakes are too high; they are identities all too fragile. He grows weary of chasing her down in order to travel through space and time, constantly arriving at places unknown to them, only to find that they must travel yet again with no knowledge about the bigger picture. This time, he decides, things will be different. Of course, they’re always different, and yet, the sameness of their situation continues to follow, forever, endlessly in a loop they now feel trapped within. He remembers the words of the old man’s warning. There’s no way of knowing when or where happens before, there is only what he knows … without doubt. And the order of his remembering suggests that he must be here now.

He stands on the porch of the Listmaker. Whether or not he has arrived at the correct house, he cannot know, until he knows. Knock, knock, knock, upon the tattered and torn, half-screen door that stands between him and the front door. He waits for the semblance of movement within the house. It’s all too possible that the inhabitant still sleeps at this early hour, hence the stillness and quiet within the house. He knows, however, that if he has found the Listmaker, the Listmaker ought to be awake by now. He attempts to look through the windows that line the front of the house, but they are all closed up with thick curtains. Still, he waits another moment and looks out over the property. Birds chirp to welcome the morning. Light twinkles through the trees. A cool breeze blows over the lawn as the overgrown grasses sway. Knock, knock, knock, he tries again, only to be met with more silence. A small twinge gnaws at the palm of his left hand. Lifting the hand to his face to get a look, he sees that there’s a ladybug on him, scratching at the inside of his hand. He takes a closer look. The ladybug seems to be grooming itself, rolling around almost as if it’s itching it’s back and washing it’s face. He keeps watching.

Then, the ladybug seems satisfied and shakes itself off, looks around as if deciding to where to trot off next, but instead of choosing a direction, the ladybug looks up directly into his face. “Hey,” he states casually. The ladybug waves a little wave. Shocked, he’s taken aback a bit. What the? Curious, he tries again, “Hi, there. What’s going on?” It looks to him as if the ladybug shrugs and then sits. The ladybug looks around again, seemingly deciding on something. “Can you understand me?” he asks and then immediately feels stupid. Nodding, the ladybug walks up his palm toward his pointer finger and then walks to the tippy tip of his pointer finger. Once settled upon the tip of his finger, the ladybug nods again and then gestures with its face to sort of either look or move in that direction, which would lead him over his left shoulder, off the porch and onto the lawn. This is crazy, he laughs at himself, but he already decided that he’d listen to this creature, despite the impossibility of the situation.

He steps off the porch and walks in the general direction of the pointing ladybug. Once he reaches the lawn, however, the ladybug motions to take a right, which leads him down the side of the Listmaker’s house. He sees a beautiful patch of flowering plants and looks down at the ladybug, assuming that is where it wants to go. He stops for a moment, waits for further instruction. The ladybug turns around and faces out, facing his same general direction, then points to the garden. Ah ha, he thinks to himself, proud. He walks to the patch of flowering plants, and as he edges closer to the garden, the ladybug pulls on the tip of his finger with a little halting motion. He twists his hand around so that he can look the ladybug in the face. The ladybug nods and then makes funny gestures with its front legs as if picking things off his finger. “What?” he asks, slightly confused by the mime. The ladybug points down. He kneels down. The ladybug points at the orange nasturtiums, turns to face him again and then makes an “x” with its two front legs. He laughs out loud, “Ah hahaha, okay. I get ya.” Slowly, he walks around the tiny patch, presenting each different type of flower to the ladybug as the ladybug promptly nixes each option with the “x” symbol it makes with its front legs. He chuckles at every dismissal.

Finally, as he approaches a cluster of tiny white flowers, the ladybug shimmies a bit, as if excited. “Yea?” he laughs as he asks, “Is this gonna do it for ya?” The ladybug turns to look at him and nods in confirmed excitement and then waves him off with the right front leg/foot. As the ladybug turns to jump off his fingertip, he whispers, “She’ll be here later. Can you lead her here please?” The ladybug turns around and stares into his eyes for just a moment before it shakes its head and drops it low in a somber sort of way. “Why not?” he asks, peeved. The ladybug remains somber, not looking at him. He guesses that the ladybug cannot make such a guarantee, and he knows that the likelihood of her recognizing the ladybug is infinitely small. He sighs audibly and concedes, “Yes, I know what you mean. Can you at least promise to try?” The ladybug cheers up a bit and nods enthusiastically. “Okay, thank you,” he states as the ladybug nods and turns out, away from him, toward the cluster of tiny white flowers, ready to take a leap. “Alright,” he begins in farewell; “Later,” he again casually bids. The ladybug shimmies its backside and prepares to launch and just as it begins to jump off the tip of his finger, the sound of a snapping tree branch cuts through the air. Stunned, he jolts a bit and then quickly checks on the ladybug. “Goddammit,” he spits aloud in frustration. There, atop the cluster of tiny white flowers, the ladybug lies on its back, wings spread wide and broken, dead.

He treads out from within the patch of flowering plants and stands at its edge, looking back toward the tiny white flower cluster. He can barely make out the speck of the ladybug. Whatever, he self-soothes. Clouds form overhead and threaten rain. From the side of the house that he currently stands, he sees a porch extending out from the back of the house. As the patter of scattered raindrops ease into a dull roar, he runs to the back porch that is luckily partially covered by a torn awning. He looks through a sliding glass door and realizes that he can see into the house since whatever blinds or curtains hang on the inside remain open. From this location, he can see the kitchen and the living room area that opens into what looks to be a study. Dark, he cannot make out anything too specific within the study, but the disheveled nature of the area makes him think that the Listmaker might be uncharacteristically unorganized. But then he notices the kitchen and living room areas are immaculately ordered. Every little thing seems to have a place, except that there are two mugs sitting on the counter that separates the kitchen area from the living area. He also notices that there’s a carton of almond milk sitting out, which seems odd, but since he doesn’t drink almond milk himself, he decides he doesn’t know if that’s common practice. Nevertheless, the two mugs stand out to him. A visitor? he wonders. Did she arrive early? Fuck. What’s with all the early arrivals lately. She’s totally out of sync or something, he considers.

He gives the glass door a knock, Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, and waits for a signal of movement. Maybe someone answered already, he thinks as he remembers, the fucking dead ladybug. Still raining, the droplets enlarge and turn into a straight-up downpour. He accepts that the awning will probably not keep him dry much longer, but to his delight, the falling water stops, almost all at once within just a minute. Parting ways, the clouds reveal the light of the sun and an uncomfortable warmth overcomes him. Knock, knock, knock, he tries again. He waits.

A sense of unease washes over him, and he can’t quite place the feeling despite the strong recognition. Breaking and entering into the house, he decides, however dubious, appeals to him greatly. Can he spare another moment, no matter, and wait a bit longer before enacting such drastic measures? Without a watch and with little to no sense of the relative time of when he currently exists, there’s no way of knowing exactly what time it is, he realizes. There’s also no knowing when she will arrive. All he knows is that he needs to speak with the Listmaker and be long gone before she appears. Pacing the back porch, he mulls the options. No matter how hard he tries to look forward, to catch a glimpse of any hint that may help him decide, he comes up blank. He seethes. Someone meddles with mesh and fabric, sewing in bits and pieces that help only the few, a self-serving individual who requires … something … something very specific, he concludes. Bound to the now that is now, he keeps pacing the full length of the porch, waiting, drumming his mind for the recollection of something … anything. The most recent words of the old man ring out in his mind, She will not be difficult to find because she does not know that she needs to remain hidden. And then a flash of understanding hits him between the eyes as he whispers, “Mox.” If Mox knows where she is, and the old man feels confident in finding her, then the old man can easily know what Mox knows. So where is Mox now? If I can find Mox, I can know what the old man knows, and then I’ll know what the old man wants. The unsettled feeling returns with full force and reminds him of a different time, a different life, lifetimes ago. He recalls the first time he encountered a Listmaker.

A long time ago, he awoke, thrown like what always happened during any other time after making green, into the middle of a life being lived. This, of course, was one of the earlier iterations when the sudden transference from one when into another thrusted his mind into a full-on spin, which caused a numbness starting from the crown of his head down through his entire body, lasting, most often times, around ten minutes. Unable to move or think during this time, he would simply stare out in a strange gaze, existing in the planes of nothingness. How to describe this process proves impossible, but nevertheless, he would, if he could, say something to the effect of, “If air could speak to the annoyance of constantly being pushed, shoved, and encroached upon.” Anyway, this one particular time, he was but a small boy child living in a village in the steep valley just below where the three peaks meet. There, within the village, a Listmaker lived, the first Listmaker he had met, not “first” as in the linear perception of time before a different meeting but rather, as first first within his existence. But that is all beside the point. As a small boy child in the village, he was an orphan (the kind whose parents left him for dead, as opposed to those whom Death takes, not that one is more or less tragic, the distinction is what’s important), running hither and thither, free to be wherever whenever he pleased. His appearance caught the peculiar attention of a specific person within the village, who, for all intents and purposes was this Listmaker.

This Listmaker lived on the upper-most outskirts, nearest the end of the official village ordinance, at the place where the river begins to flow through the village. Being well-known and seated among other peoples of prominence, this Listmaker became quite fond of him and he of this Listmaker. Most days, when this Listmaker had written the boy child into this Listmaker’s list, he would visit this Listmaker, sit and chat for hours at a time about nothing specific. He never really knew exactly what this Listmaker found so fascinating about him, but he found this Listmaker’s general nature fascinating. What he learned was how this Listmaker would write a list for each day to which this Listmaker would then adhere to, absolutely. Some days, at the boy child’s request, this Listmaker would sometimes make a list for him, and then the boy child would find that he, too, would be bound by the list for that day. He, of course, determined this strict process hilariously fun, a feature to his life that drew him ever closer to this Listmaker and this Listmaker’s precise skill. On other days, the boy child would arrive at this Listmaker’s house to find that this Listmaker already knew all of the questions he had planned to ask, and as each question rose to the surface of his mind, this Listmaker would simply answer each question before he uttered one word, essentially making the entire conversation quite one-sided. The scene of a young boy silently sitting in an armchair while this Listmaker spouted out seemingly random information must have looked serenely odd to any observer.

Some villagers enjoyed the eccentric nature of this Listmaker (although, unknown to them as a Listmaker), especially since, as a mostly garden-loving village, the villagers could always find a healthy ladybug population of which this Listmaker generously allowed the distribution. Many villagers, however, decided that this Listmaker and all of the surrounding hearsay made this Listmaker a person who ought to be generally avoided. Nevertheless, this Listmaker’s prominence within the village could not be ignored. Most failed to understand how this Listmaker grew to be a person within the upper echelon of intelligence within the community, and those who did understand this Listmaker refused to share the significance. This refusal to disseminate this Listmaker’s eminence confused the boy child greatly, so the boy child, as he grew, would try to convince the villagers of this Listmaker’s power. But whenever the boy child would visit this Listmaker, this Listmaker would kindly request that he cease his attempt to change the mind’s of the villagers. After the concise request, this Listmaker, without fail, would end each conversation about the boy’s need to convince others with these words, “Ignorance is not the fault of the ignorant. Ignorant people are fully necessary; they balance the intelligent. If everyone’s ‘intelligent’, statistically, there are still the ten percent who would be the intelligent, not including the distinction between the ten percent of the top ten percent, making everyone else, the remaining ninety, the ignorant, cycled forever, on a continuum with each new batch of intelligence birthing ignorance and filtering out the ten-percent that’s deemed intelligent.” And every time this Listmaker ended the small condemnation of his frustration at “stupid people,” the boy would roll his eyes, until one day, when the boy was no longer a boy, he looked at this Listmaker as a sorrowful revelation befell him and asked, “Why don’t you just write lists for everyone so that they can live better lives?”

With his question lingering in the air, this Listmaker consulted the day’s list, and then answered him with a question, “Would you want to write a list for every person who came asking for one?” “Yes,” he answered without hesitation; “If I could educate every person who came my way, I would, without another thought.” “Yes, exactly,” this Listmaker pointed out; “I, too, would educate every person who came my way.” And then that sorrowful feeling slapped him in the face again. He understood what this Listmaker said. He understood the truth this Listmaker explained. He understood the Listmaker.

Seated now on the edge of the porch, he sits and fondly remembers his first encounter with a Listmaker. Then, he remembers why he is sitting on the porch of a Listmaker now. He takes a deep breath and ultimately decides that he must break into the house. This meeting cannot be wasted. Thus, he stands himself up and walks to the sliding glass door. First, obviously, he tests the door handle. The door slides open easily to the sound of the frame’s sealant resisting the detachment. You have to be fucking kidding me, he laughs to himself. Slowly, he slides the door open just wide enough to enter through the threshold. Right hand on the glass door’s handle, the left braced upon the door frame, he pokes his head into the house, “Hello? Hello? Is anyone home?” He waits. Silence greets him. He waits a bit longer. A noise from the kitchen. He jumps ever so slightly. The refrigerator kicks on. “I’m coming in now,” he shouts out to whoever may be hiding. One foot at a time with a brief pause in between, he quietly enters and then slides the door shut behind him. “Hello?” he again shouts aloud.

Bright, straight and serious, the kitchen space beams in modernity almost to the point of futurity. Similarly, the living area looks so strict that it almost seems as if nobody could possibly ever sit on that sofa. To the mugs on the counter area that differentiates the kitchen space from the living area he walks since the pairing of the mugs stands out to him. Everything about the kitchen sits immaculately clean and ordered, yet the two mugs sit, still half-filled with cold coffee, dried droplets of coffee stain the countertop near the mugs. A bowl of sugar sits, exposed, the lid of which abandons the sugar to the elements. Warm, a carton of almond milk accompanies the setup. He examines the carton and reads: REFRIGERATE ONCE OPENED. He sets the carton down and looks around some more, but there’s really nothing else to look at within the kitchen. Scrubbed clean and shining white, the sink sits empty along with the dishrack. Figuring that there is probably not much else to be learned in the kitchen, he scans the living area. Again, the space is clean and ordered, not a speck of dust or creased cushion/pillow to be seen anywhere. Even the plants stand tall at attention, perfectly balanced as if rotated regularly. He moves on through the living area into what looks like a study.

In heavy contrast, dark, rounded and overly ornate, the study features a heavy wooden desk facing out through the window. A full floor-to-ceiling bookcase, also of dark wood and crammed to the brim with books, line the entire right wall of the space upon entrance from the living area. A wooden step stool sits in front of the wall of books, while a wooden, chartreuse-cushioned armchair sits in the small corner made of the small piece of wall shared with the living area on the left, when facing the corner, and the wall shared by the stairs to the right, the corner directly behind the chair, assumedly being centered with the countertop in the space beyond the wall that separates the kitchen space from the living area. A person wishing to walk from the living area into, what seems to be, the entryway must walk through this space and if in a hurry, might bump into the aforementioned armchair. As he examines said armchair, he notices that perhaps it sits a bit askew since the rug upon which the front left leg of the chair, if sitting in it, rests is curled up under the leg and a tiny scuff mark suggests that his assumption holds true. The other chair in the room tucks under the heavy wooden desk and greatly resembles the desk as if, undoubtedly, part of a set. Of the rolling variety, the chair lacks cushions but provides arm rests, and the chair itself rocks forward and back on some sort of spring attached to the spoked-style legs set upon a wheels and castors system. He pulls open the drapes. Not a single speck of dust relieves itself from the fabric. Sun shines through the room to reveal the extent of its disarray. On edge, he peers out through the window and eyes the property. He sees no one. Nevertheless, he remembers the backdoor and jogs through the house to lock it. Returning to the study, the room seems dramatically worse in the light of day.

A seriously chaotic mess, the room, strewn with slips of paper, full sheets of paper, pages of books, whole books, writing utensils and other stationery-related products, suggests some sort of malfeasance, especially when considering the general atmosphere of the other two rooms. Hanging on one of the walls, a clock reads ten minutes past seven. Unsure about the exact time but not knowing any better at this exact moment, he reads the time as being logical, given that his arrival had to have been sometime around half-past six that same morning. He rummages through the slips of paper. “Lists,” he whispers to himself. Sheet after sheet after sheet of list after list after list cover every inch of the desk and carpet much of the floor. At random, he picks a slip off the floor and peruses line by line. The paper upon which this list was written feels smooth, old, only slightly wrinkled. Taken as a whole, the slip curves on itself a bit as if it has been rolled up. Of course, he is fully aware of the Listmaker’s proclivities to make lists, and so, the nature of the elements within the room do not surprise him at all. What is surprising, however, is that the room seems devastatingly disheveled.

Where is he? he thinks to himself, remembering that he must speak with the Listmaker. He does not really have the time to figure out what happened here, unless, he realizes, whatever happened here was not intentional, and hence, the reason behind the Listmaker’s absence. He mulls a few options while scanning the room for any further clues. Imperatively, he decides that he will search the rest of the house, if only quickly to see if any other information about the Listmaker’s whereabouts jumps out at him.

Onward through the study, he stands in the entryway, behind the front door. He looks through the small round window out to the lawn once again, still, no one. A hallway lines the right side of the staircase and ends at a door with no knob but rather, has a horizontal, rectangular metal panel where one ought to push in order to make one’s way through the door that he assumes leads into the kitchen. Through the entryway to the other side of the house, another sitting/living area opens out into a dining room. Both rooms match the sleek, sterile modernity of the kitchen space and other living areas. He pokes a head into each room, but nothing seems out of place. Testing to see how clean the space actually is, he runs a finger over half a dozen, seemingly random surfaces and each surface affirms nothing but sheer, obsessive cleanliness. He sighs a deep sigh, the sort of sigh one sighs when things do not add up, no matter how hard one tries. Back to the entryway and up the stairs he goes.

Half-way up the stairs he comes to a landing and then the stairs take a one-eighty and continue upwards. The second floor opens out into one large room that covers the area of the second sitting/living area and the study below. Lined fully with floor-to-ceiling windows, the wall that looks out onto the front of the property houses French doors that open out onto a porch the length and depth of the front porch below. Around and to the right, once scaling the staircase, the room continues to open out into a futuristic office full of variously aged technology. To the left, a wall with a set of double-doors. A queasy sensation hits him in the gut. He does not want to go into the room, but he knows that he must. The fear of finding someone unsavory almost deters him. Stubborn is the most common word other people use to describe him, and while his stubbornness may sometimes be confused for bravery, he would not describe himself as a brave person. Nevertheless, he summons the stubborn and reminds himself that he must find the Listmaker as soon as possible.

Knock, knock, knock, he gently taps on the door. Silence. Knock, knock, knock, knock, a little louder this time, and then he waits. Silence. Indecisive, he considers the most beneficial/safest door to open if an intruder hides within the room. Inconclusive, he opts for the right door so that he can easily punch with his free left hand. Cautiously, he creaks the door open. Dim but not dark, the room smells of a fresh breeze. Immediately, he notices the lumpiness of the bed and then sees the face of a man at its head. Startled at the figure of a human being lying in the bed, he jumps and then whips his head around to furiously scan the room for an attacker. Through an ajar door at the far end of the room he can see the fixtures of a bathroom. Another set of double doors remain closed at the foot of the bed. Quietly, he jogs to the bathroom, and at the ready, he jumps into the tiled space. Empty. A quick look around exposes nothing. He jogs back into the bedroom and swings the double doors open wide. Prepared, he soon realizes that the enormous walk-in closet sits nearly empty. Of course he is relieved that no threatening person jumped out to disable him, but he also feels a little disappointed at his cowardice. Nevertheless, with his safety procured, he rushes to the person in the bed.

Lightly, he presses two fingers to the carotid artery in the man’s neck. A pulse. Closely now, he looks at the face of the man in the bed. “The Listmaker,” he whispers aloud. He does not know whether or not he should call an emergency service. He decides that he really cannot do such a thing, since, in all actuality, he should not even be here. She’ll be here soon anyway, he thinks to himself with the understanding that for her to have “found” the Listmaker in this condition will be safer for the both of them. He searches the area surrounding the bed. A little unnerved, he peeks under the bedspread to see that the Listmaker is fully clothed. “Hmmm,” he sort of murmurs to himself. Sitting now at the edge of the foot of the bed, he wonders about what could possibly be going on. There exists little about the world in general that he does not or cannot understand, but situations of this nature are of the variety that he rarely comes across. Presumptively, probably no “normal” person would come across such a situation. His mind clouds with skepticism, uncertainty and worst of all, suspicion. “Fucking old man,” he scowls under his breath. More words of the old man press upon his mind. Know this, the voice of the old man surfaces, by the time you realize you should have heard my message, I will be unable to cooperate, for the answers to the questions will have been discovered.

“Fuck,” he spits aloud, and then looks over to the Listmaker to see if he had aroused him. Frustrated he rests his face in his hands. And then he sees it, something small and round under the bedside table. Frantically, he rushes over to the bedside table and gets on all fours. With his face pressed on the ground, he sees that he can easily reach the thing. Retrieved, he holds a spool of, what seems to be, thermal receipt paper. The same stuff from downstairs, he recalls. The top portion has been ripped off with the first line partially reading:

1811           what the stran               wants

Just above the last entry the lines read:

1800 – 1801 Consult the day’s list

1801 – 1810 Complete tomorrow’s to-do list

1810 – 1811 Answer the door to see who knocks

and account for the earlier part of the day in its entirety. “Yesterday,” he whispers to himself as he reads the date at the top of the list, and then he notices another list beginning at the top of “yesterday’s” list with the latest hour nearest the bottom as the spool unrolls. As he unspools the list, merely looking for an end to the present list, he reaches a timestamp at roughly 0758 hours where the list ceases to outline the beginning of the day, “Today,” he quickly realizes. The first timestamp on “today” or the last line item the Listmaker wrote “yesterday” reads:

0758 – 0805 Water open-air garden

With the list’s end being before the day began, he begins to wonder why the Listmaker failed to write in the first part of the day. He looks over the list for “yesterday.” The day begins at 0630 with these two items being the first on the list:

0637 – 0638 Get out of bed

0630 – 0635 Wake

“‘Today’ lacks a wake time,” he audibly contemplates. Then he examines the list closely, reading each item, until a very specific happening captures all of his attention. “Shit,” he speaks aloud.

He reads the lines over and over again, and this is what it reads:

1206 – 1207 She will arrive

1207 – 1210 Walk out and greet her at the edge of dirt drive

1210 – 1211 Invite her in for lunch

1211 – 1215 Make her feel comfortable, offer water

1215 – 1235 Make sandwiches, attempt small talk

1235 – 1255 Eat lunch and discuss why she is here

1255 – 1256 Ask her directly what she wants

1256 – 1257 Ask her again

1257 – 1258 Reiterate that she must

1258 – 1311 Listen

1311 – 1312 Agree to her request and convey the urgency of the situation

1312 – 1313 Walk to desk and find a free sheet of paper

1313 – 1314 Prepare her list

For an unknowable amount of time he stares at the list, until suddenly, he grasps the gravity of the event listed that he now reads. “What fucking time is it?” he asks himself as he searches the room for a clock. His eyes rest on an analog clock on the wall that reads a time he does not understand. “Seven-ten?” he mutters; “Still?” And then his entire body grows cold. Quickly, he checks the pulse of the Listmaker. “Okay, good. Hang in there, please,” he begs the Listmaker. Running out of the room and down the stairs, he has to figure out what time it is. Through the front door he burst into the front lawn, out in the sunlight. Overhead the sun still sits fairly low, just over the tops of the trees. Okay, motherfucker, okay, I have a little time, he determines. Back in the house now, he furiously digs and searches through the stacks and piles of lists. What he looks for, he cannot be too sure, but he is sure that he’ll know it when he sees it. 

Part III: When

Part III: When

Encapsulated within a nightscape of galaxies far beyond and throughout, an island made of hopes and fears wraps itself around water, purple and pooled. Centered, a glass house, seemingly molded and melded as one piece, as a whole, floats as an island upon the pool wrapped on an island. A single blue droplet drops. Splunk. A white and blue mist swirl as the droplet spits up an even smaller droplet that eventually falls only to spit up another, even smaller droplet in a continuance that spawns forever. Formless again, she reaches both hands out in front of what she used to know as her “face”, only to see … nothing. The nothingness of herself feels weightless, free, chilled.

Bubbles form in the distance. She hears their whispers. Back so soon? the bubbles ask. Is it soon? she questions. Far too soon, but the question is not why. Understanding that the how, obviously, seems more pertinent, she wonders, I have been here before? The bubbles swarm and swirl about her, The sun has barely set before you returned. Do you not remember? She admits and reveals the thing she could not reveal and thus, kept tuck away just beyond Attila’s reach, I remember that I have forgotten, but I cannot remember what it is that I’ve forgotten. Letting out bubbles, the bubbles continue, What else do you remember? She waits for a moment until something tickles the back of her mind, The Executioners? “Yes, indeed we are,” the Executioners exclaim with delight; “What else! What else?” She feels a pang of familiarity, I’ve been here many times. “So many times that we’ve lost count! What else! What else?” But what is this place? “When.” When? “Yes, what you mean to ask is ‘When is this place?’” When is this place? “It is now.” When was I just a moment ago? “The Will.” Will I stay here forever? “We hope not!” Then to when am I going? “The Was.” Why? “Oh, of course, no one could tell you that, not even us.” Why not? “No one can know such a thing.” How much longer will I be now? “Not much longer now, Red is coming.” What is that? “Not what. Who.” Who? “Who what?” Who is coming? “Red is coming.” Feeling frustrated as if she’s talking in circles to a school of bubbles, she lets the question go.

What am I supposed to do now, until Red comes? “But you already know.” Yes, I’ve forgotten, however. “Forgetting is the least of your worries, Blue.” What’d you call me? “Blue. You’re Blue.” I am? “Oh my, we are afraid the forgetting is quite bad.” But can’t you remind me, help me remember? “Unfortunately, there are some things that simply cannot be told. But we do know when to send you to next!” When? To when will you send me? “No, not to when but to whom.” To whom will you send me? “You will know as soon as you know.” She sighs, slightly defeated but feeling optimistic. Can I go now? “No. Red has not arrived.” When will Red get here? “Not when, where.” Where will Red get here? “Where will Red arrive.” Where? “Who knows.” She lets out another sigh, examines the nothingness that feels like her physical form, but alas, she sees nothing of her physical form.

A green light shines through the water, floats above and beyond the liquid. She wriggles her formless self to the surface. Glowing, the glass house shines bright over the purple pool of water. My house. “Yes,” the Executioners sing as each bubble leaps into the air, disappearing, only to reappear once they hit the water. She feels a soothing warmth radiate from the bubbles that swim around her as they carry her toward the glass island.

Feeling the smooth, rounded curves of a house made of glass, floating upon a pool made of water, an overwhelming sensation of satisfaction overcomes her, Do I live here? “No.” What? Why not? “How could you?” the Executioners wonder. How could I not? I’m about to right now? “No, you will not live there.” What do you mean? “You’re not alive, of course.” What? How did I die? “Oh, you’re not dead.” Then what am I? In some kind of limbo? “When. When are you?” No! What? If I’m not alive and I’m not dead, WHAT am I? “When are you?” Ugh! she screams out in confused frustration. She swims around the rounded island until she reaches stair-like indentations. Pulling herself onto the glass island, she reaches the place where a sort of lawn might open out across the homes of yore and looks out over the water. On the horizon, a dark nighttime sky filled with twinkling suns and dust. She walks around the house looking for an entrance. Nothing. She can, nevertheless, peer through the glass into the house. Without some brighter light, though, she sees nothing except the radiant glow of the green light. Remembering, she takes another look down at herself again, still also nothing. Tired and a little weary, she finds a ledge upon which to sit where she can dip just her feet into the water. Warm now, she feels content, looking out over the horizon.

She sits for an unknowable amount of time until finally, the Executioners whisper out to her once more, “We think that you will be leaving soon.” When will I return? “Of course, no one could know such a thing.” Of course. “Don’t forget us.” I will remember. “No, do not forget.” I will not forget. “And be careful. The when to where you are going seems fickle and formidable.” So you do know to when I going! “Of course, we can know many things.” To when am I going then? “We cannot know for sure.” Ugh. What am I supposed to do? “We cannot tell you what to do because we do not know what will happen, but there exists a … a person … a Listmaker, who can do such a thing.” What? Who? “A Listmaker can make you a list.” A list of what? “What to do.” How will I find him? “You will have to travel there.” But I cannot control my destination. “You can’t? You remember this?” Wait! Oh my hats-on-a-tree. Can I control where I go? “Not where. When.” She stands with excitement, Wait, can I control when? “When what?” When in time I arrive. “That would mean you can travel through time. Who says you can time-travel?” Oh, that’s right. I don’t know; I forgot. The Executioners swirl even harder and faster at the edge of the pool where the glass-house island floats.

She remembers a time when she lived in a town built into the side of an enormous boulder. Not everyone lived within the boulder, of course, but the main area of town was set inside it. She, being of the orphan variety, ended up living with a nice family who lived a little down the way near the base of the hill where the three creeks meet. Atop the hill sat the most wonderful library where she would spend all of her days reading and getting lost in all of the ideas she found there.

An odd little feeling tingles at the tips of her toes. Still dipped in the purple water, she wiggles and stretches them to relieve the sensation. Slowly she lifts her feet out from the water, but alas, there are no toes, no feet, just the perception, the impression of them. She sighs and continues to remember the memory.

Around the time she was in her late teens, she and some friends used to explore all of the little nooks and crannies, dark alleys and hidden caves around and within the small town’s boulder. One day, at some point, she was separated from the rest of her friends. She never really felt the so-called pangs of fear that so many other people seemed to grapple with on a daily basis, like fears of death and pain. The only fear to which she could relate was that of broken heartedness. She never fully understood the pain, of course, for she never remembered loving anyone, but for some reason, she always felt somber, melancholic, lost. It was on this day when she found herself alone within the town that she stumbled upon an interesting shop that seemed to sell various herbs or other-type plants all neatly sorted and organized in glass containers on countless rows of wall-to-wall shelving. A young man, roughly her age, came out from behind a curtained doorway, and without looking at her, while reaching behind a countertop for something, said something to the effect of, “I’m glad you came back for your wallet.” As the young man stood to face the customer, he immediately recognized her, but she did not recognize him. “I’m sorry,” she said; “I have never been in here before. I think you have me confused with someone else.” Still staring, the young man muttered something inaudible. “Sorry,” she stated, not apologetically, of course, but politely; “I didn’t catch that.” The young man began looking around the space as if the walls were going to come down around them or something. “I, uh,” the young man attempted, and then he burst into a joyful tone and with a huge smile responded, ”Holy fuck! How did, you shouldn’t, maybe we, uh, wait.” Confused, she continued to stand in that shop while the young man ran back into the backroom through the curtained doorway.

A moment later, the young man returned with a package for her, “You should leave since we don’t know the exact parameters of this iteration.” “What?” she asked, still fully confused. “What, what?” the young man asked, also confused by her negligence and somewhat aloofness. “Here take this, and then I’ll be in touch with you,” the young man urged while setting the package on the counter and motioning for her to take it. Despite not knowing exactly what was going on, she decided to take the package. “Yes, that’s good,” the young man stated, still smiling; “I’m so happy to see you. You look amazing. You’re so beautiful. How’s your life?” “Uh,” she wondered aloud; “I’m sorry, but how do you know me?” At this point, the young man now also felt confused and, knowing the risk, walked around the counter to face her directly, “What do you mean?” She inched away from the young man and suddenly felt that pang of heart-broken, stomach-emptying dullness. She leaned forward to look at the young man’s face. Immediately, the young man’s face changed, softened, and then he dropped his head and spoke almost in a whisper, “Take the package, open it somewhere safe, when you’re alone, and come back tomorrow. I’ll look out for you just after midday.” “What’s in the package,” she asked. “You’ll find out as soon as you open it,” the young man explained with sad, aching eyes as he looked at her. Not really knowing what to say at this point, she turned to leave the shop. Just as she reached the door, she looked back behind her, “Thank you.” “I’ve missed you so much,” the young man responded. She stopped and turned to face him again, “What did you say?” “It’s nothing,” the young man clarified; “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Thoroughly uncomfortable, she left the shop and walked toward her house. As she watched one foot step in front of the other, the lighting of the world around her changed, like when some thick clouds passed in front of the sun, but instead of growing dimmer, everything turned bluer. She looked around herself and saw that everything was turning blue. Confused, she suddenly heard the voice of the young man, and then she saw him running toward her from the shop. The space between them took on a purple hue, but when she looked from side to side, the world was still quite blue. “Come here! Come here, now! Run!” the young man yelled; “Run toward me!” Shocked, she could not move. “Hurry!” the young man continued to yell. As he drew closer, the world started to turn green, a violent, shocking green. She decided that she would listen and started to walk toward the young man who was running toward her. Within another few seconds, the young man grabbed her and held her tight, “I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t find you sooner.” The warmth of his body felt so good to her that she let go of all the random feelings she felt and responded, “I love you, too. So much.” Her own words startled her, but they revealed themselves to be true. The young man grabbed her face with both his hands and looked deep into her eyes, “Whenever we end up, I promise, I will find you.” “I don’t know what you mean,” she gasped as tears began to fall down her cheeks for some reason unknown to her. “I know, and you’re going to be alright. Just try to remember to stay calm and stay on the move. Also, try to remember …”

She wracks her mind for the last thing that he said to her, but there’s nothing. The last thing she remembers is a whooshing sound almost like the sound a zipper makes in the dark. She looks beyond the pool of purple water, through the horizon and then tilts her head to gaze up into the nighttime sky. She splashes the water with her feet as she tries to remember the guiding words of the young man. “Stay calm and stay on the move,” echoes through her mind. What did he mean by that? she wonders.

Bubbles, the Executioners swirl around her feet once more, causing a small whirlpool that begins to splash her. Feeling the splashes but seeing no evidence of getting wet, she sits, and then she remembers. “I remember something. I think,” she says aloud to the Executioners. “Yes,” they respond. “But I don’t understand it. Is it a memory or something else?” she asks. The Executioners swirl around some more, “Do you not remember what you remembered as a memory?” She thinks for a moment, “I have no memories because I don’t remember anything.” “Yes, we have talked about this already,” the Executioners admit. Standing now, indignant, she raises her voice as she pitches forward to shout at the water, “Then why won’t you help me and answer my questions!” she asks. “We do not have the answers,” the Executioners explain; “We know what you know, and if you don’t know something, we cannot know it either.” “But you told me about the Listmaker,” she contends. “A Listmaker,” the Executioners clarify. “Okay, fine, a Listmaker. So, what? You told me about that, and I didn’t know that that was who I needed to visit,” she continues. “Yes,” the Executioners concede; “We were able to tell you about how you need to find a Listmaker because you already know at when you need to arrive next, even if you are not aware of it now. Somewhere, deep in your mind, you already know when and where you need to go.” She accepts this on some level and then asks, “How?” The Executioners cease their swirl, “You just don’t remember.” Frustration flushes her face. “Do not fret,” the Executioners cheerfully bubble again; “The when is coming, and once you are when you are supposed to be, you will begin to remember, but only if you can find a Listmaker.” She sighs and audibly grunts, incensed. And then a small whisper tingles the tips of her toes, Stay calm and stay on the move. “Ugh!” she exclaims at the waters. “Yes,” the Executioners agree; “Stay calm and stay on the move. The when has come. It’s time to leave.” Filled with worry and dread, she shouts, “Where am I going!” “Not where, when,” the Executioners reiterate. “Fine! When!” she shouts in futility. The Executioners disperse and their answer radiates through the air in a murmur she can barely hear, “But you know. Find what you cannot remember.”

With the final breeze of the Executioners words, the purple pool begins to swell. Red droplets of rain fall from above and turn the purple pool into a crisp clear. Intuitively, she jumps into the water. As if the glass house was lit from the inside, a blinding white light expands out from her glass house and fills the surrounding space around her. She melts. She floats. Colorful droplets of various pigments slowly splash and sprinkle above her and diffuse all around her. She warms. The scene of a lush, green landscape forms before her. Underfoot, a dirt road stretches out, cutting through the green foliage, eventually opening out into a clearing, which leads to a dark-blue shuttered, white, colonial-type, country home in desperate need of repair. The sun beams down upon her face as she lifts her face to it. Stay calm, she reminds herself. Then she remembers the next part, Stay on the move. And so, shod in her fancy shoes, she walks down the dirt road toward the semi-tattered house.

The Listmaker

The Listmaker

The Listmaker feels the pull of the list urging him to take a look. Unwilling to reveal his list to the stranger, he ignores the pull. Picking up on some new discomfort within the Listmaker, “Something wrong?” Cinoa asks. “Oh, no, I’m fine,” the Listmaker lies. “So, say, where did you used to live before?” Cinoa cordially prods for the sake of consistency. The Listmaker no longer enjoys the small talk with the stranger and attempts to shrug off the stranger’s cordiality, “Oh, you know, here and there.” “I see,” Cinoa responds as he takes a sip of his coffee while maintaining fixed eyes on the Listmaker. Unwilling to look rude in front of the stranger, the Listmaker feigns a trip to the pantry in order to get a feel for his wristwatch, “Would you like something to eat?” Cinoa keeps sharp tabs on the Listmaker, “No, I’m fine.” “Sure? I’m famished,” the Listmaker pretends and continues to the pantry whereupon opening, he steals a quick feel of his wristwatch. Of the analog variety, the watch lacks a glass covering so that the Listmaker may feel the hands of the face without looking at the thing, thereby allowing the Listmaker the option to know the time, when necessary, without having to remove his eyes from his list. The attentive person, however, can witness this action and deduce that the Listmaker wishes to know the time, which ultimately, in the Listmaker’s mind, makes him seem impatient, rude, otherwise engaged. Thus, with both arms in the pantry now, the Listmaker gets a good feel of his wristwatch while his head remains visible, beyond the pantry door, as he looks to the stranger and offers, “I have crackers or cookies, if you’d like.” Almost vertical, relatively speaking, while the other peers down and a little to the left, the long and short hands of the watch, respectively, reveal that the time is very near 1900.

Knowing that the clock in his study will soon chime out, giving him an excuse to check on something, the Listmaker returns to the eating counter where the stranger sits, “Do you enjoy being a stranger to so many people?” “What do you mean?” Cinoa asks, entertained, chuckling. “Your line of work seems to force you into the lives of strangers,” the Listmaker extrapolates. “Oh yea, I see what you mean,” Cinoa admits; “It’s not so bad. I actually like getting to know new people.” “What is it that you do exactly?” the Listmaker asks. Cinoa glances away from the Listmaker as he responds, “Oh, yea, so I make sure that people know that they are entitled to a new roof whenever something happens to a roof that damages it. The tricky part is that most people have to file a claim with their insurance within a certain amount of time after the damage happens or else they lose out.” Familiar with this particular set of circumstances, the Listmaker nods, “Sure, I see. People can be really stupid.” Cinoa begins to look uncomfortable. The Listmaker watches the stranger fidget within himself a bit until Cinoa eventually breaks and reaches for the sheets of paper within the back pocket of his jeans. Looking even more concerned, Cinoa strokes his hair with his right hand. “Everything alright?” the Listmaker inquires. “Oh yea, I’m …” Cinoa begins to respond when the clock in the study chimes out. “Sorry, excuse me for one minute,” the Listmaker apologizes as he walks by the still-standing stranger through the living room, into his study adjacent to the living room.

The Listmaker furiously scrolls through the receipt roll to find what’s listed there within the day’s list, accounting for 1900 on through to at least 1930.

1900 – 1901 Don’t let the stranger see the list

1901 – 1906 Evade the stranger

1906 – ____ Run

Heart pounding now, the Listmaker feels trapped, and just as he turns over his shoulder to shout out another lie to the stranger about how he needs to check on something outside, Cinoa grabs the Listmaker’s shoulder. “Say,” Cinoa impedes; “Are you alright? You look tense. I was having a nice time, but you look awful. Why don’t we just sit back down and relax?” “Were we sitting? Oh sure. No it’s nothing,” the Listmaker almost shouts aloud in an attempt to seem calm, and then he continues, “But actually, you know, it’s getting late, and really, I should get back to my work.” With a hand still on the Listmaker’s shoulder, Cinoa feigns complicity, “Yes, yes, right. I’ve overstayed my welcome, haven’t I?” Feeling bullied, the Listmaker remains calm, revealing as little emotion as possible. Stepping away from the Listmaker a bit, giving him some space, the Listmaker takes a slow, steady breath. “Say, what is it that you do? I’m sorry I never asked before. That seems so rude now,” Cinoa jovially states, ignoring the tension. “Oh, you know, a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” the Listmaker evades. Cinoa, feeling frustrated and understands the evasive tactics of the Listmaker, changes his tone, “Now look here, kid. I can see through these little games you play.” Kid? the Listmaker thinks to himself, and then aloud asks, “Who you calling a kid?” Lost in the confusion of being called a kid, the Listmaker forgets to evade the stranger, or did I? But it was more of an emotional evasion as opposed to the physical that now seems more relevant, although the distinction was not detailed on his list. Stern and angry, Cinoa becomes impatient and quickly lurches and grabs the Listmaker by the throat, “Give me your list!”

The tiniest of tiny little buzzes buzz by. 

Gasping for air with only toes left on the ground, the Listmaker wriggles and grabs at the stranger’s hands that wring his neck. Unable to speak, the Listmaker has no choice but to focus on staying alive, somehow. Cinoa, however, outsizes the Listmaker in height and weight. With no hope in sight, the Listmaker does his best to make a gesture of some sort that he desperately hopes the stranger reads as a concession. “What?” Cinoa mocks; “What? I can’t hear you.” the Listmaker blinks hard, moves his mouth as if trying to speak. “Say, are you trying to tell me something?” Cinoa continues on in his mockery. Batting at the stranger’s hand now, the Listmaker attempts to nod. “Oh, very well,” Cinoa feigns as he drops the Listmaker from the grip. Something moves beyond one of the windows that catches Cinoa’s eye.

“Careful!” Ladybug whisper-shouts upon its return to the Lingerer waiting outside.

Coughing and writhing on the ground, the Listmaker feels lost, but then suddenly remembers his list. Knowingly, the Listmaker rolls over so that his body hides his list from the stranger. He clutches his side as if in agony and wraps a hand over the list in an attempt to either fling the thing or conceal it in a pocket. “Say, you were trying to tell me something, kid!” Cinoa yells through the Listmaker’s wheezing and violent coughs. Fuzzy, dry, the Listmaker chokes out a raspy, “Khi ont no-owe hat khour kalking ah-bhowe-hut.” Frustrated, Cinoa begins to pace the floor back and forth in front of the incapacitated Listmaker. At this moment, the Listmaker feels a bit of strength return and decides that the time has come, according to his list, for him to run. Nimbleness is essential, and so, the Listmaker gathers himself in his mind and in one dynamic action, he clambers to his feet in an attempt to take off for the front door. Unknown to the Listmaker a small unrolled portion of his list sticks out from beyond his grip of the receipt roll. Cinoa catches the smallest glimpse of what must be part of the Listmaker’s list. And so, being bigger and faster, the stranger lurches forward and reaches for the slip of paper sticking out from the Listmaker’s hand. As the Listmaker plants a strong foot on the ground, ready to take off into a full sprint, the stranger grabs the slip of paper, forcing the top edge of it to tear from the rest of itself.

The Listmaker, aware of the lost portion of list, immediately wonders at what time does his now-torn day’s to-do list end; how much time does he have left? With that thought, the Listmaker’s world grows cold and damp, and with the remainder of his consciousness, the reality of the situation weighs heavy upon him, since, having been distracted earlier in the day, the Listmaker knows that he will not wake, as per the usual, already written, command of the next day’s list remains unwritten. All he can do, his consciousness consoles, is stay calm and rest within the lost, dark hinterlands until, as he remembers, per the next day’s list, she arrives. And as the Listmaker cools to a chill, a small buzz buzzes by, “She’s coming. Hang on. She’s coming.” A soft, wet nose gently nibbles on the underside of his face at the soft flesh where the jaw becomes earlobe. 

‘Be a good little girl.’

‘Be a good little girl.’

Patiently waiting, Attila stands by the only door in the room while the students slowly make their way toward her so that they may all walk together to the banquet. As the last set joins the group, Attila easily reaches down for her duffel bag with her right hand as she pushes down upon the door handle to push the door open. In an unnoticeable instant to the students who follow behind, Attila gasps as she attempts to grasp the door handle, under the realization that the door needed to be pulled open. A wave of grief, suspense, the cold chill of horror washes over her and presses deep into the top of her right shoulder creating a trigger point that shoots electric pain through the upper right trapezius of her back and down through her right arm. She drops the duffel.

In slow motion now, the room begins to tear into thin strips as if the reality around her were made of paper. As each strip releases itself from the larger whole, the strip itself pops into confetti-sized shards that wisp away like ash from a campfire. With body tied to the pace of the disintegrating room, Attila’s eyes are free to roam about at full speed. The students tear in half and away they float. Once time catches up to the setting, Attila finds herself walking through a threshold, into a large, open, airy, dark, sparkling space. Looking behind her now, subtly, over her left shoulder, she notices the revolving door through which she must have just arrived.  A sharp, beautiful, tall couple swirl around the door and into the space. Dressed in the fanfare of fanciful festivities, Attila feels as though she must be underdressed. To her surprise but not really, she looks down to see that she is indeed dressed appropriately. In a perfectly floor-length, emerald gown, adorned over in black lace, she pokes a toe out from under the thing to see the rounded toe-box of a simple, black patent-leather, stiletto. Of a white with a metallic sheen, the sort of raw metallicity of platinum, she also wears gloves. Unknown to her at the moment for without a mirror, how could she know, Attila wears platinum earrings that are shaped like small wings with the inside of the wing portion that lines the outer edge of her face encrusted in spinels of black and a green that matches her gown that slowly disperse into the naked metal. Conscientiously, she touches her hair, some sort of waved, curled, loose updo.

Slightly perplexed but no longer surprised, Attila takes in the room as she continues to stand in, what could essentially be considered, the middle of the space, although, since the space acts as more of a foyer than a room in and of itself, the space in which she currently stands sort of lacks a center. No matter, she stands and looks about the place. Curved, the wall with the revolving door continues around behind her for a bit and then reaches around the left side of her, and then, it seems as if the wall comes to a point with the right wall that reaches away from the revolving door to the right, only to curve as well around the right of her, meeting up with the left side of the wall somewhere far away, down a hallway, the hallway that also curves slightly to the right and disappears, the hallway through which she would eventually walk if she walked exactly straight for fifty meters or so. Before she would reach that hallway, however, a wide staircase would tempt her to ascend toward the upper floors. The stairs, as they rise upward through the space narrow. The half-way landing serves as a small balcony that looks out through that left wall, made solely of glass that extends back into that hallway and up to the ceiling of the fourth or fifth floor. Turning on itself, the stairs continue to climb until reaching the second floor. She counts. Four balconies lookout and down into the foyer area in which she currently still stands, causing the airy atmosphere. In her immediate space, a tall, silvery tree stands, decorating that left wall. From the outside, the place must glow wildly in the night. Perched atop the silver tree, a red bell twinkles ever so often.

Attila decides to examine the tree more closely, since, as the awkwardness of her standing there dawns on her, she realizes that she must look quite awkward. Slowly, she gracefully glides over to the tree. As she gets closer, she realizes that the tree is not a tree at all. Instead, individually potted, white poinsettias sit inside a frame to make the shape of a tree. Dusted in a silvery glitter, the whole thing ignites into a blaze of light as the glitter on the leaves reflects and refracts the strands of white light wrapped around the metal frame that holds each potted plant. Curious, Attila reaches out a hand to touch a leaf. Just as she does so, the arms of a small child reach out toward her. She screams and drops the glass of champagne. The champagne spills all over her dress before it shatters all over the floor. When did I get that glass? she wonders, quickly. The giggles of small children emanate from within the tree. “Why you fucking little. Get out here right now!” Attila whisper-shouts. More giggles and laughter. Embarrassed, she looks around to see if anyone has noticed. Of course, everyone on the first and second floors notices and every eye in the place looks directly at her. A server makes his way to her with napkins while another server fetches something with which to clean up the mess. “So sorry,” Attila sings with a nervous giggle. The people return to their own business. As the server with the napkins approaches her, Attila looks down at her gown to assess the damage. Looking up to the server who rushed to her aide, she notices that the server does not have a napkin, but instead, he stands there with a tray of champagne glasses filled with champagne.

“Ma’am,” a server begins, “would you like a glass of champagne this evening?” Attila looks around the room, and at its center, she still stands. “Uh,” she stammers; “Yes, thank you.” The server gives her a courteous nod and excuses himself from her presence. Then, Attila sees a shadow of herself walking toward the tree. Once seen, the shadow disappears. Remembering the faint recollection of the earlier happenings, Attila walks, determined, toward the silver tree. Knowing what she knows, she stands just far enough to hinder the trigger of the mischievous children hidden within. Looking around the room as if unaware of the tree, Attila quickly approaches the tree, grabs for the poinsettia from which the arms emerged, removes it from the frame creating the shape of a tree, and throws the champagne into the unsuspecting face of the child sitting within. A child screams out in disgust. The sound of maybe two other children laughing satisfies her greatly. “Crazy bitch,” the champagne-covered child spits and mutters barely audible. “That’s it,” Attila remarks as she begins to tear potted poinsettia after potted poinsettia from the tree-shaped frame, revealing the hidden children inside. Gasps of horror and sheer societal disbelief roars throughout the festive space. A few of the servers and staff rush over to help quell the disaster. “Get out here right now!” Attila yells; “Where the fuck are your parents!” A distinguished-looking gentleman runs, well, walks quickly, as a gentleman in the presence of his societal peers never runs, toward Attila and subdues her by grabbing her by the waist with his right hand and by the left arm with his left hand. “Attila,” the distinguished gentleman whispers as he continues to hold her tightly and walk her away from judging eyes; “Darling, please don’t embarrass me and your mother like this.”

Walking down that hallway now, Attila thrashes herself free from the distinguished gentleman. She looks at his face and a name rises into her mind, Nigel … dad … fuck. “What the fucking shit, Nigel? Those fucking little brats need to be punished,” Attila fits in a storm of rage. “What kids? Those kids under the tree? Oh, shit, Attila. Don’t tell me you’re forgetting again,” Nigel responds. Forgetting? Again? The rage subsides as a new emotion takes control. Fuck. Orphans … the party is for the fucking orphans. “And I just fucking … goddammit,” Attila speaks aloud after the remembrance catches up with her. “I swear to god, Attila,” Nigel fumes; “Your mother knew this would not be a good idea. So, for jesus-fucking-christ’s sake, get your shit together or get the fuck out of here, now!” Nigel backs away from her a bit and drops his head, looking defeated, “I have to go deal with this shit storm now.” “I’m sorry,” Attila says, emotionless with eyes that dare her father to say more. “Just … just leave,” Nigel states as he begins to walk away. “Wait, Dad,” Attila attempts with a voice of childlike innocence. Nigel stops walking for a moment but does not turn to face her. He sighs, “What?” “What day is it? Like the date. What’s today’s date?” Attila asks. Nigel turns and faces her now with a look of utter disgust, “Attila, I cannot do this with you again.” “But,” Attila tries again. “No!” Nigel yells with the slice of his right hand; “Shut up! Just shut the fuck up and get the hell out of here! Now!” Stepping back a step from the sheer force of her father’s violence, Attila feels a small twinge of trigger-point pain shooting through the back of her right shoulder and down her right arm. Nigel breathes out a deep breath and continues to walk away, toward the festive festivities. Alone in the swooping corridor where the two walls, through which the revolving door allows entrance into this god-forsaken place, seemingly come to a point, Attila turns her back on her father as well and begins to walk deeper into the curving hallway.

Double doors approach on the right as Attila walks. Of the sort that signify a kitchen must reside beyond them, each door swings from outer hinges, never fully making contact at the center. Two large, circular windows allow a viewer, either looking in or peering out, a view. Attila stands on the perceived outside, and therefore, looks into the room, a large, industrial-like space, unlike the kitchen in which she taught her cooking class earlier … today? Attila suddenly wonders. Clinks of pots and roars of fans vibrate through the doors into Attila’s ears. Maybe not, she decides and continues to walk on, down the curving hall. One of the doors opens behind her, and a voice speaks out, “Attila!” Attila turns to see the person who yells. A name surfaces, Wen. Wen continues, “There you are. Your mother asked about you, but I didn’t know where you were.” Attila looks at Wen blankly and then looks down at the floor again. The carpet has an interesting pattern of wreaths or something, Attila notices as she cocks her head to make sense of the design. Where have I …? Concerned, Wen interrupts the thought and asks, “Are you alright? You don’t look so good.” Attila looks up at Wen’s face once again and cants forward a bit to get a better sense of Who is this person? “Attila?” Wen asks not for confirmation but rather, to focus Attila’s attention. “Yes,” Attila responds. “Why don’t you come in the kitchen, and I’ll get you something to eat,” Wen offers, again very concerned. Attila searches for an answer, Goddammit. “Are you hungry?” Wen asks. No. “Sure,” Attila responds and walks toward the double doors that swing. “Alright,” Wen states, satisfied, and then continues with what seems to be a bit of personal knowledge, “You can hang out in here for a while. I know how much you love these things.” Do I? Attila wonders to herself, and then forces out a small chuckle to normalize the situation.

And then, as Attila approaches Wen, Wen grabs Attila’s left arm and forcibly pulls Attila through the one open door of the double doors and shuts it behind her. Thrown, Attila lands on her knees and elbows on a warm rug atop a hard, wooden floor. Quickly, she scrambles around to see the door through which Wen threw her. A single wood door swings in at a small, rapid pace the way that doors of this kind do just before they come to a stop, centered within their frames. Motherfucker. Seated upon the floor, she gets a good look at the place. Nothing stands out as knowable. The room is a sort of sitting area that she assumes connects to a living or dining room through the swinging wooden door. Behind her and to the right, the room has a large, open archway that leads to some foyer-type passageway. Directly behind her, large windows open outward, bay window comes to mind. She’s always sort of liked windows in which a person can sit. Behind and to the left, an over-sized plant that’s beginning to be scrunched by the ceiling, forced to bend forward, climbing the ceiling now. On her left, a soft, white sofa. Ugh. She can see, what looks to be, the front door, also wooden, with a stained-glass window embellishing the upper-half of the door. With a deep sigh, she lies down on the rug and stares. Clouds, painted in a realism unmatched by anything she’s seen before, the clouds begin to move, in a natural pattern of an actual skyscape. Interesting, but nice, floats through her mind as she relaxes ever so slightly.

A searing tension strikes her through the trigger point in the back of her right shoulder before she even hears the words of the people not yet in the room with her, she feels them. A young man and young woman appear behind her. The woman holds a pair of massive, all-metal, silver bladed, solid-silver scissors. “Why are you sitting on the floor?” the woman asks. Attila takes in the two. The man holds a duffel bag, Is that? “Yes,” the man answers. “What are you doing here?” the woman prods further. “I,” Attila starts; “You wanted me to drop by sometime, so here I am.” Of course, Attila just shoots in the dark, until she realizes a small, perhaps significant realization. Slowly, she peels herself off the floor and takes a knowingly unwelcome seat upon the white couch. “Please don’t sit on the couch,” the woman sighs. Attila quickly stands up, “Oh, sorry.” The three stand, the man and woman stare at Attila while she stares back, splitting her attention between them. For an unknowable amount of time, they stare, and eventually recognize the impasse.

Finally, the woman speaks aloud, “Tell us what you know.” “There’s nothing to tell,” Attila admits, knowing full well that there must be something she can say, but what that thing is remains lost on her. “It’s been a strange day,” the woman consoles; “Let’s just keep it civil.” “Sorry?” Attila asks; “What do you mean by ‘civil’?” The woman looks down at the scissors, adroit, then turns them within her hand. “May I at least have my bag?” Attila gently pleads. “This is not yours,” the man explains. “Of course it is. I lost it at some point,” today?, Attila states with a little defiance. The young man and young woman laugh aloud, albeit softly. “Oh my, oh my,” the woman mocks, and then continues, “I guess this will have to be done another way.” The woman begins to walk toward Attila. Attila evades the young woman, but the man blocks the front door. The man gestures as if compliant and steps out of the way. A straight shot to the stained-glass door. Attila makes a move to exit, and the woman throws a glass vase onto the exposed wooden floor where the rug on which they currently stand comes to an end. The distance to the long, narrow rug that assumedly runs the length of a hallway unseen from this perspective is too vast for Attila to jump safely. Why am I barefoot? “You’re almost naked,” the woman clarifies. Attila looks down, she is indeed almost naked, dressed in nothing but some underwear and a t-shirt. What the fuck? 

She decides to make a run for it and jumps only to land on a few shards of glass. Sharp, the pain from the glass stuck in her right foot makes her hurriedly step down upon her left foot only to pierce her left foot with more glass. She launches herself to the rug in front of the front door. Gently, she reaches down to examine her feet closely. The young man and young woman look amused, and then they look at each other. Precisely, slowly, determined, the woman walks toward Attila and merely walks over the shards of glass as the pieces crinkle and crunch under foot. Attila, almost crying now, crawls toward the front door. Lifting the enormous scissors on high, the woman means to stab Attila through the back. Just as Attila grabs for the door to pull it open, the door falls away from her, and just as she falls through the doorway the scissors make contact with her flesh.

She screams out in pain as she collapses on the floor while a heaping mound of coats, shoes, umbrellas and the like pour out from the closet behind her. “Attila!” yells a voice. Mom? “What did I tell you about playing in that closet?” her mother continues. Weeping, heaving on the ground in unbelievable pain, Attila shouts out, “Mom! I’m going to die!” “What the hell are you talking about? Get up!” her mother berates. “Mom! My feet, my back, I’ve been tortured and stabbed!” Attila continues, convinced. “What? There’s not a thing wrong with you. Get up, now!” her mother shouts even angrier this time as she grabs Attila’s arm to bring her to a stand. What the? Attila gets a look at her feet. Nothing. She pauses for a moment, no pain. She grapples at her back, nothing. And then something even stranger reveals itself to her; she looks at her hands. Why are my hands so small? Why is my mother so … tall? What the fucking hell is … “Go to your room right now! I do not have the time for these games yet again, today, Attila. March!” her mother yells while pointing up a set of stairs. Lost, confused, Attila looks at her mother in disbelief. Her mother’s face softens, “Attila, darling, today’s not a good day. Please, just do as we talked about and play quietly in your room. There are very important people coming over tonight. I need you to be a good little girl, alright?” As her mother spoke, her mother slowly bent down to make eye-to-eye contact as she gently placed one hand on each of Attila’s shoulders, and then almost begs, “Can you please do that for me?” A sharp pain sears through Attila’s mind. She flinches. Her mother watches, “We can talk about whatever’s going on with you tomorrow, okay?” Silent, Attila turns and walks up the stairs. She has no idea where to go, but continues to walk in whatever direction feels right.

A door is cracked open. She walks toward it to find what looks to be a room for a small female child. A sigh. I don’t know. Sitting in the far corner of the room, a full-length mirror looks all too appealing. Attila approaches the mirror, and as she gets a full look at the situation she glimpsed downstairs, a new reality befalls her. She grabs her face, the face of a small child, dressed in a small dress, shod in small, black, patent-leather shoes.

>…<

continued on weekends, until The End^^

…also, on Medium @amateurtattletale

Cookies, Cake and Pie

Cookies, Cake and Pie

The screams of delighted children fill the air. She sits up with the thought, Why am I sleeping in here? Seated upon a bed, to her right, a wall, the bed tucks away into a corner as she faces the one door in the room, and oddly enough, the door is made of glass with no curtain shielding her with privacy while she sleeps. The room, a mess, cluttered, clothes strewn about along with creepy little knick knacks she does not recognize, feels too large to be a bedroom. Wild sounds of many children playing, somewhere, penetrate her mind. Conscious now, she turns in the bed to search through the only window in the space. She’s not sure if “window” is the right word, since the “window” seems to be more like a glass portion of wall, from floor to ceiling, only slightly wider than the width of the bed. There, through the window, as she’ll remain to consider it for the time being, children play but not outside. Housed within a room with which her room presumably shares the wall that supports the window through which she looks into the adjacent room is filled with children, running, screaming, playing a sort of chase and freeze game. Kneeling now upon the bed, hands clutching the top of the headboard as she peers, confused, through the window at the playing children, one child spots her and runs toward the window. She sees and hears an adult’s muffled yell for the child. Rebellious, the child continues toward the window. Just as the child reaches a distance close enough to reach out and touch the glass, the child kicks the glass instead, laughs as she jumps a bit, and then bolts away toward the adult who called for the child only a moment earlier. She watches the children for an unknowable amount of time.

A person enters the room and breaks her transfixed state. The voice of the person registers immediately within her mind. No. She almost refuses to turn but to no avail, her mother moves to stand beside the bed, within her peripheral vision, she cannot refuse to see her mother standing there. “Attila,” the mother repeats; “Darling, you must return to your classes today. No one wants to cover your duties any longer. You’re putting undue tension upon the situation here.” Attila sits and faces her mother, head tilted down so as not to make eye contact. Confused still, Attila looks back toward the window that reveals the small children at play. The glass is but solid wall now. No longer feeling the feelings of confusion, Attila looks at her mother and states calmly, “Yes, mother.” The mother silently leaves. Immediately aware of this fold in reality that she’s experiencing, Attila rushes to get her bags packed.

Unsure of what items truly belong to her, she simply piles in a few of the things she believes she will need. As she stuffs piece after piece of clothing into a large duffel-type bag, another woman appears at the door. Friend or foe? The woman knocks on the door while glancing directly at Attila through the glass. She does not wish to open the door and so continues to gather some things. Helping herself into the room, the woman at the door cracks the door open, “Hey, Attila. I’m Ney Teacher. I was told to summon you for your cooking class with the attendant adults.” Attila bolts over her right shoulder to get a look at Ney. “What?” Ney begins to repeat herself, “You teach a cooking class that begins in a few minutes. I was told to fetch you.” “By whom?” “I’m sorry?” Ney asks, confused. “Who told you to get me?” Attila clarifies. “Manager Teacher,” Ney decidedly responds in truth. “Dammit,” Attila spits under her breath, and then speaks, “I’ll be right there.” “Okay, great. Thanks,” Ney confirms as the door closes. I cannot stay here, she thinks to herself, but she cannot imagine a way out. How did I even get here in the first place? One cannot travel without the other, and the probability that She ended up here is too small. How did this even happen? She decides that there’s nothing much else that she can do for the moment except to go along with however this goddamn day unfolds. But then she feels a sickening pain in the pit of her stomach. She begins to understand much about something she cannot quite understand. Uneasy, she grabs the bag she packed and resolves to go to the cooking classroom located somewhere she does not know. Fuck it, she thinks as she pushes the door to the room.

Her right hand crosses her body as she reaches for the handle of the door with that same right hand. As she opens the door, the door swings wide sweeping outwards and away from her through space as it creates a semi-circular motion allowing her to enter the new space. Immediately, she realizes that the door itself opens into some sort of industrial-type kitchen, large, rectangular, with three solid walls, the longest of which houses the door into the space through which Attila just walked, and its, the longest wall’s, parallel showcases a pattern of tall, slender windows broken by solid pillars that stretch the entire length of the wall. The wall of windows looks almost like the keys of a piano. Ah, this again, she perceives. She takes a deep breath, drops the bag to the left of the door as she enters so that it, the bag, may be easily grabbed upon her exit. Hands free now, she assesses the room filled with people she does not know, or maybe she does. The knowing eludes her at the moment. With only one thing pressing hard upon her mind, she knows that this time must pass quickly, as quickly as possible. She scans the faces for a superficial analysis, three women, who look like they’re related, tall, slender, blonde, and three ordinary-looking men, of various heights and widths. Couples? she wonders to herself.

Thus, she skips any sort of introductions, and begins, “What are we all learning today? Do any of you know, or was this class sold to you as a surprise?” The shortest of the three males is pale but attractive enough. He raises his hand but begins speaking before Attila acknowledges him, “We’re all under the impression that this is a class about how to make chocolate cake or some kind of dessert.” What the hell is this? she considers once more and not for the last time within only a moment.

“Very good,” Attila pretends while she searches for a clue. She manages to notice that she stands behind, what seems to be, an instructor’s setup and concludes that she must be standing in the right place. “Shall we begin?” she musters, and continues to scan the countertop, “Ah, yes, here are copies of the recipe we will be executing today.” Walking around the kitchen/classroom now, she hands each “student” a sheet with the recipe for, Who the hell knows, she mulls in her mind. One of the women raises her hand, “Ma’am. Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?” “It doesn’t matter,” Attila responds and then adds, “Call me whatever you’d like.” At this command, the widest of the three men pipes in, “This recipe’s called ‘Attila’s Fudge Fountain.’ Are you Attila?” “Like I said, it doesn’t matter, but if it makes you feel better to know who I am, then sure, consider me Attila,” Attila sighs as she makes her way back to the front of the kitchen-classroom. “Alright,” Attila begins; “let’s get started. Go ahead and read the ingredients aloud and make sure you recognize everything.” “Ma’am?” a different woman this time meekly asks. “Yes?” Attila attends. “Our recipe is not for cake. It’s some sort of pie?” “Oh,” Attila recognizes a twinge of some remembrance; “Yes, you are all making some different sort of dessert. So, go ahead and read the ingredients list, and then, if you know what everything is, go ahead and collect all of your necessary ingredients. Everything should be here within the kitchen. If you can’t find something, let me know. Ask a fellow classmate first, however. Begin.” The students, paired off into sets each including one male and one female, meander throughout the kitchen collecting everything they need to make whatever it is that’s named at the top of their recipe sheet.

Attila, uncertain and anxious, sits for a moment on the stool provided behind her instructor’s workstation. She feels the pull of herself against the air of time within the room. Slowly, the room begins to shift from its rectangular shape into a spherical dome. The students continue their task. Unknowing, Attila can hear the murmurs of the older woman but cannot hear what she says. Thus, she focuses her mind to see if she can read the older woman instead. Nothing. She is angry, Attila confesses. There’s someone else there now, too, but Attila cannot recognize the person. Harder now, Attila concentrates on the other presence, It couldn’t be. That would be impossible. And then the reality of her situation hits her again cold, Yes, of course, but then again, here I am. So then, what does the old man want now? Attila focuses in with all her might. Within the normalcy of the kitchen-classroom, Attila attends to the whims of the students.

After all of the students have their respective desserts in the oven for the allotted amount of time, they mingle amongst themselves, some even leave the room for a break. Eventually, Attila returns to the instructor’s counter and sits herself down upon the stool. After a short to medium amount of time ranging from a few minutes to more than a few minutes, Attila falls off the stool onto the ground. The two taller males rush toward her and try to wake her. Finally, Attila hears the words, The three have travelled together, but the one who remains arrived of his own volition. The old man, Attila immediately realizes, but then immediately remembers that this must be a fabrication for, I cannot know what she knows while she knows it. She wakes. Rectangular again, the room stretches itself back into its known state. Two males stand over her. “Are you alright, ma’am?” the taller of the two, although, really, they are basically the same height. “Yes,” Attila responds as she sits up; “I’m fine, thank you.” Refusing the help of the two males, she stands, repositions the stool, sits down upon the stool and returns her attention to the trite task at hand. “So, have you all gathered and collected your ingredients?” she asks as if nothing happened. “Are you sure you’re alright?” one of the women asks. “Yes,” Attila responds with a feigned smile; “I’m fine.” “Well, ma’am,” the same woman explains, “We’re all finished with making our desserts. Don’t you remember helping us? We’re just waiting for them to bake.” Attila takes this revelation in for a minute. “Ah, yes. Sorry,” Attila admits; “I must’ve bumped my head a little. Of course I remember. How much longer do your delicacies have left to bake?” The one woman who hasn’t spoken yet states, “Ours had the longest bake time, and we have about twenty minutes left.” “Great,” Attila states with an air that matches that of eye rolling. Once she hears the word leave her mouth, Attila clears her throat and attempts to mask her distractedness with a joyful tone, “Where are these delightful concoctions headed once they’re finished?” The students look at each other as if this lady’s crazy. Then, the woman who speaks the most answers, “Ma’am, we’re taking them all to the student banquet right after this class. Remember?” Frustrated and a little pissed, Attila rolls her lips into her mouth and gently bites down, “Yes, right, silly me.”

The first of the egg timers rings loudly and almost bounces off the respective students’ countertop. Attila feels the pull of her duties as the instructor and walks over to the oven belonging to the first set of students. “Ah, those look great,” Attila musters through a cheerful voice; “Gently remove them from the pan with a spatula and let them cool on the baking rack.” A few minutes later, the next egg timer rings loudly and almost bounces off the respective students’ countertop. The pang of repetition nauseates Attila. Nauseated, she takes a subtle, deep breath, walks toward the next oven. “Go ahead, open the oven. Grab a toothpick,” Attila instructs. The female of the couple grabs a toothpick. “Now,” Attila advises; “stick the toothpick into the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done.” The female nods and enacts the instruction, “Clean,” the female states, excitedly and shows the toothpick to both Attila and the male. “Looks good, indeed. Grab the pan then and place it on the cooling rack,” Attila continues. “Once it’s cooled, you can pop it out of its pan and then place the cake itself on the cooling rack and glaze it with the ganache. You made the ganache, right?” Attila asks while looking around their countertop area for the proof. “Yes, it’s right here,” the male points out. “Excellent. You’ll probably have to wait another twenty minutes or so for everything to cool,” turning now to address all of the students, “You will all have to wait for everything to cool.” Attila points at the first couple, “You should be about ready now to frost those cookies,” and then she turns back to the cake couple, “You can set another timer or just wait.” Everyone nods in acknowledgement.

The third and final egg timer rings out. Attila’s stomach turns over. She almost hurls all over the second couple’s finished product. “Ma’am? Are you alright,” the same woman asks yet again. Attila waves a hand to abate the woman. Waiting patiently, the last couple stands, waits for Attila to instruct them. “Wait one more minute,” Attila instructs; “It’s an old baker’s secret. Do you have the melted butter ready?” The male and female who made the dessert both nod in unison, “Yes, ma’am.” A minute later, “Okay. Pull it out now, gently. Golden brown?” “I’d say so,” the male of the set confirms. “Perfect. Set the pan on the counter and then place just the pie pan on the cooling rack,” Attila instructs. The couple complies. “Excellent,” Attila congratulates; “Now, with the pastry brush, while it’s still hot, brush some melted butter on the edge of the crust.” Again, the couple follows the instructions enthusiastically. Once the couple finishes slathering their dessert in even more butter, all of the students wait and impatiently look at their delicacies for the final instruction. “Okay, now you all need to find an appropriate serving dish or platter for your respective desserts, and then I guess we’ll all just walk to wherever the banquet’s happening together,” Attila states aloud to the entire class. The students murmur back and to each other as they figure out the best way to transport their goods.

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.

In the Light of Shadow

In the Light of Shadow

A crystal-like chandelier floats just below the ceiling of a long-narrow room. The width of the room fits only the chandelier, and the width of the chandelier echoes that of a person in good health. Sparkling, white, as if from nowhere the light flickers throughout the space creating patterns seen only against the shadows it makes. Lacking physical bulbs of light, the chandelier, as if from within, merely emanates a rich, stimulating glow. Ever so often the baubles gently clink against each other creating the twinkling sounds to which all other sounds are compared. Round, perfectly spherical, the chandelier begins to slowly rotate around its center.

Fuchsia, the light of the chandelier slowly grows in intensity as it changes hues. Red. A rod iron bistro chair rests in one far edge of the room, and on the chair rests the older woman. Legs crossed, right over left, the older woman sits calmly with hands folded upon her lap. The older woman inhales a deep breath. With an exhale, the older woman must wait. The chandelier returns to its colorless clarity.

Cerulean, the light of the chandelier slowly grows in intensity as it changes hues. Blue. A brown leather armchair appears in the far edge of the room, opposite the rod iron chair, and on the chair appears the storming woman. Cross-legged, fully comfortable upon the ample chair, the storming woman cautiously places her elbows upon her knees, clasps each hand with the other, her chin rests upon her hands. The storming woman stares at the older woman who sits across from her on the other side of the long, narrow room.

Returned to its colorless sparkle, the chandelier greets them both, “A bridge burns.” The women sit, the older woman quite stiff and unapproachable, the storming woman quite relaxed albeit on guard. “It’s the way, Attila, through which all ways are made,” the older woman speaks aloud. “It’s the way, Ma’am, by which all things are learned,” the storming woman responds. They sit, each staring at the other, for an unknowable amount of time.

Laughing, the older woman concedes, “She cannot know what she does not know.” “Unknowing,” the storming woman explains. “Could not,” the older woman again concedes. The storming woman feels a tingle of suspicion, “A gap in knowledge does not ignorance make, however.” “Everyone relies on some truth, no matter how small,” the older woman replies. “A fabricated truth is still truth.” “Of course. A fabricated lie is also truth.” “Of course.”

The room bends. A realization immediately hits them both. “Attila,” the older woman warns. “No,” the storming woman demands. The chandelier begins to slowly blink. Keen on the change, both women dart their eyes to the light’s source. “Curse you!” the storming woman yells. Chartreuse. “And to you too, dear,” the older woman calmly responds. The sound a tree branch makes when a branch breaks sears through the tiny space. Black.

Empty, the room returns itself back to a long, narrow shape. The chandelier shakes itself off like a wet cat. Clear, crystal-like, sparkling and clean, the light spreads patterns against shadow throughout a place where color forfeits.

 

The Girl Child with Locks of Gifts

The Girl Child with Locks of Gifts

By Iya Sun

 

On a purple pillow of silk thread that rests upon a cherry floor table, which resides inside a lush bamboo house that was built atop the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, sits an inordinately small, human, girl child named So Jeong. The day of her birth was like any other day in a world where people, as they are called in civil society, are born. Despite this casual beginning, the Swinging Leaves foretold many ages ago that on that particular day, a girl would emerge into the world with special gifts for each who would travel to look upon her face. With just a single lock of the child’s hair, the traveler would be granted the one wish for which the traveler had traveled the great distance. This, however, came with the small condition that neither the person who plucked the single lock from the girl child’s head nor any member of their future line could ever return to pluck a second strand.

For days, sometimes even months, travelers would travel from distances far and wide for a chance to climb the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet. Giving no thought to the condition upon which the granting of a wish rests, many traveled to solve problems of the moment. Few rarely withstood the journey to the base of the mountain. Even fewer successfully made the climb. But, if even a few from every thousand that journeyed summited, the number of hairs plucked from the girl child’s head subtracted quickly. By the time So Jeong was but six years old, she had almost no hair at all.

Finally, one night, on the brink of death with only a few strands of her hair left, So Jeong cried into the night in grief for all that had been taken from her. Out of fear for the precious life of the girl child that might soon be lost, the Swinging Leaves built a small bamboo shelter to shield her from the travelers’ sights. The hopeful travelers continued to travel to visit the girl child, but for an unknowable amount of time, she sat unseen, which left the travelers with unfulfilled wishes. Alone now to heal and grow strong, the Swinging Leaves presented the girl child with a gift: The Four Cats of Wisdom. Over the course of the next, unknowable amount of time, The Cats would arrive. They were to provide her with warm, loving company while also instilling within her pillars of wisdom.

The first and oldest cat was named Gami the Gentleman. Gami possessed a coat of black with only the simplest white markings. A thin white moustache lined Gami’s upper lip; his chest was aglow in livery, his paws shod in white socks and mittens. Gami was, first and foremost, a gentleman, and as such, his instructions gave way to the girl child’s understanding of wisdom as a privilege, not a right. It was, according to Gami, So Jeong’s duty to forever learn, grow and understand, to always maintain and prepare her mind for the reception of knowledge.

Louie was the title of the second-in-line, and he was a Listener. Covered in a luscious bundle of the softest, fluffiest white and grey fur, Louie remained pleasant, always. Content to merely sit and watch the activities of the others was what made Louie, Louie. He never complained nor did he ever demand that things not be so. No matter what came his way, Louie the Listener heard the good, the bad and never made a fuss. As a Listener, he considered everything that came his way equally, and as the Listener, it was Louie who taught So Jeong about how the key to learning anything was through listening to what others had to say but more importantly, through listening to what she held in her own mind.

The last two cats of the Four Cats of Wisdom were, in fact, twins and as such, arrived simultaneously. Even though they were twins, they did not look exactly the same. Both wore fur of a similar fossil and charcoal striping. Anko wore white knee-high boots, however, while Choko wore white socks and mittens. Choko also donned a brownish moustache, while Anko was clean-shaven. The twins Anko and Choko arrived with a fury, in a flurry of chaos that resulted in the temporary loss of Louie the Listener. The one thing Louie could not tolerate was the raucous rambunctiousness of the twins. They were so cacophonous that Louie could not do the one thing he did best, listen. Despite the temporary hubbub, Anko and Choko quickly began their teachings, and not long after his departure, Louie returned.

Anko the Amicable taught the girl child many things about how to share and spread her knowledge to others. To be friendly, according to Anko, shows respect, and to respect, Anko instructed, instills comfort, and when a person feels comfortable, Anko continued, a person feels confident, and through confidence, Anko surmised, can a person accept who they are, and only after a person accepts who they are, may they accept who they are not.

Choko’s lessons were the most difficult for the girl child to ingest, for Choko was titled Choko the Champion. Choko consistently challenged the girl child in ways that seemed irrelevant to her, and yet he insisted that she would one day understand. That day, however, could not ever be determined or known, as explained repeatedly by Choko, since to know when one needs to be brave does not courage require, and courage is what makes a champion. For it is within the unknown that the courageous succeed. When a champion succeeds, humility requires courage. When a champion is bested, courage fuels grace.

After ages and ages, the girl child finally regained a full head of beautiful, long black hair that shone bright when the rays of the sun filtered in through the tiny slivers between the shoots of bamboo. One day, So Jeong desired so deeply to resume her task of giving gifts to those who made the arduous journey. She, however, did not know how or when this could possibly be accomplished. Thus, she hummed a small tune about all the wisdom Gami the Gentleman, Louie the Listener, Anko the Amicable, and Choko the Champion had taught her. Her song now finished and lingering within the walls of her shelter, the wind slowly snatched up the song as it seeped out between the bamboo’s cracks and delivered it to the Swinging Leaves.

The next day, the Swinging Leaves swung through the girl child’s shelter to share with her their decision. So Jeong giggled and twirled about on her pillow as she awaited the Swinging Leaves’ new arrangement. They had come to the conclusion that with the girl child’s hair now grown back stronger than ever, So Jeong was not only strong enough to endure the constant giving of herself to others, but also, she was now wise enough to fertilize the consistent, hasty growth of her gift-giving strands of hair. With that, the Swinging Leaves gave another small gift, that of a warning. To the girl child, the Swinging Leaves spoke, “Those who take from you will never give you anything back. Thus, if you do not know this already, know this now. Yes, you possess the type of gift only you can give, but you are not required to give anything to anyone.”

This warning came as a bit of a shock to the girl child for she did not know that she had a choice. A little stunned and confused, the girl child stood upon her pillow with greater force than the Swinging Leaves had ever felt from her before. So Jeong, with a small stance of anger, dismissed the Swinging Leaves from her shelter and demanded that they never return. To withhold such information, the girl child exploded, means the Swinging Leaves were then cursed. Patient, the Swinging Leaves left the girl child, never to be seen again. As confusion and despair burdened So Jeong’s mind, the Four Cats of Wisdom remained close but did not dare to utter a word.

Then, one morning, the girl child decided that she would hear each traveler’s wish before giving them a strand of her hair. In confidence, the girl child exited her shelter to find herself in the presence of thousands of travelers who had all also made their own shelters in which they could live until the Girl Child with Locks of Gifts appeared again. At first, So Jeong was delighted to see all of the travelers who had traveled and waited for an unknowable amount of time. Soon, thereafter, however, So Jeong felt a deep pang of fear. One traveler spotted the girl child standing gently upon the glistening tuft upon which her bamboo shelter was built. Within an instant the traveler shouted out something in a tongue So Jeong did not understand.

All at once, every traveler ran toward the girl child and each plucked a single hair off her head until there were no hairs left. With the final plucked hair, So Jeong collapsed onto the ground where she lies to this day, buried now to be sure, under the heap of dust and debris that make their way each day over the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet to settle and rest.

 

An Alternate Ending for the Emotionally Weak

Then, one morning, the girl child came to a conclusion about what she shall do. Feeling courageous, the girl child carefully stepped out from her bamboo shelter and sneaked a look at her surroundings. Immediately, the girl child noticed that the entire top of the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet was covered in small shelters housing travelers from all over the world. Slowly, the girl child crept back into her shelter to determine the best way to introduce herself. A moment later, the girl child opted for an ascent to the top of her bamboo shelter. Thus, with the help of the Four Cats of Wisdom, the girl child arose to stand on the roof of her shelter.

Loudly, in all confidence, the girl child made her presence known and greeted all of the travelers with a lovely gesture. The girl child immediately enchanted the eyes and minds of every traveler, and they all listened to their Giver of Gifts with great intent. Over the course of a short while, the girl child explained how she would indeed invite each traveler to approach her atop her shelter and listen to the motivation behind each traveler’s travels. Only after listening to a request will the girl child determine whether or not the traveler deserves a strand of her hair.

Thus, each traveler approached the girl child atop her shelter and began to explain why the rough journey was made. The girl child would listen to the traveler’s entire story, and at the end, the girl child would then ask the traveler three questions regarding their story. If the girl child found the answers to be satisfactory, the girl child would then offer three pieces of insight. The first would always have something to do with the meaningfulness (or lack thereof) of the traveler’s request. The second dealt with the scope, reach, depth and breadth of the traveler’s request. The third pointed at the self-awareness the traveler lacked. If, at this point, the traveler still stood before the girl child, the girl child would then offer her instructions. The traveler would then be sent away to fulfill the directions given by the girl child. If, however, the girl child found the answers to the questions the girl child asked each traveler after the traveler explained the journey, the girl child would simply send the traveler away, never to return. Cursed, once the traveler descended the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, the traveler would soon forget that the girl child with locks of gifts even existed. Thus, the traveler never sought the girl child’s gifted hair ever again, not to say that the children of that traveler would also never know, but the traveler would not remember to tell them. What happened after the girl child sat and listened to traveler after traveler, day after day, age after age stunned the Swinging Leaves. Even the Four Cats of Wisdom could not have predicted what would follow. As the girl child sent each traveler away either with instruction or cursed to forget, those who were sent with instruction never returned to collect a strand of hair, either. Instead, each traveler was so grateful to have sat in the presence of the girl child that with great focus and concentration the traveler acted upon the instructions given. With great pride, the traveler soon found that his/her own action manifested the original request. Thus, the traveler no longer needed the strand of gifted hair to fulfill the request for which the traveler initially traveled.

Still, nevertheless, as the Four Cats of Wisdom peacefully paced around the girl child, travelers from all over the realm traveled day after day, age after age, to present their request for a strand of gifted hair while the girl child sat and listened day after day, age after age. As the girl child sent each traveler away with instruction, none ever returned to collect her hair. Needless to say, after ages of wisdom had been distributed throughout the realm, upon a purple, silk pillow, atop a bamboo shelter that was built upon a tuft upon the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, the girl child sat with the longest, shiniest, strongest, black, most beautifully gifted hair the world had ever known.

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 Circle’s Corner

The Circle’s Corner

“You said that last time, but what you fail to understand is that we’re in a large sphere.” Ladybug looks at the lorikeet, “What did you just say to me?” “Do you want me to repeat what I just said?” the lorikeet asks, filling with concern. “Yes,” Ladybug demands. The lorikeet looks about itself a bit, “Well, I said that you said that last time, but we’re in a sphere.” “No, the other stuff,” Ladybug groans with a get-on-with-it gesture. The lorikeet lowers its beak and sighs, “I said that you fail to understand …” “Yep, that’s it.” “I didn’t mean to …” “But you did,” Ladybug smirks. Content, the two continue fluttering around.

“Yea, there it is. That corner right there,” Ladybug points. Around again they swoop by as the corner disappears. “What in all hell?” Ladybug whispers. “I think you’re right there, Birdie.” Knowing better, the lorikeet remains silent. “So, you know what to do in this instance?” Ladybug asks. The lorikeet perks up a bit at the thought of being needed, “Yea, but you’re not going to like it.” “Just. C’mon,” Ladybug groans. “Well, the light’s off,” the lorikeet explains. “What? Now? How?” Ladybug shouts. They come to a rest on a small tile ledge floating a little lower than their flying altitude. “The Monitors,” the lorikeet states solemnly. “Only maybe. Shit,” Ladybug sighs.

Preening, the lorikeet quietly calms itself. Ladybug, mulling over the situation finally asks, “When?” “At Midnight.” “No, not when, Birdie, when?” Ladybug retorts. Somber, the lorikeet lowers its head and sighs, “Just after the Listmaker finished the list about which you flew to him.” Ladybug falls back onto its haunches, “How do you know this?” “You summoned me. Remember?” “Right,” Ladybug remembers; “Right after I left, and now we’re here.” Ladybug moves itself to the top of the lorikeet’s head, “Sit.”

“Perhaps, I ought to have shouted this news at you at the beginning?” the lorikeet realizes. “You’re just realizing this now?” Ladybug laughs. “There’s nothing you could have done, and there’s nothing we can do now except wait.” Silently, the lorikeet twiddles the feathers on its wingtips as Ladybug rolls around on its back, each leg grasping every other. The Listmaker. “So where is the Listmaker?” the lorikeet asks aloud. “He is wherever he is that he goes when the Monitors turn off the light.”

“Where is that?”

“No one knows.”

“So he’s there now?”

“I hope so.”

“This has never happened before?”

“Not that I’ve known about?”

“And what’s going to happen to us?”

“Not sure about that either.”

“What are the potential outcomes?”

“I’ve never been here.”

“Oh.”

Suddenly, the slow zipper crunch of celery being cut through the grain, specks of purple light begin to fall through the zipper-shaped crack in the side of the sphere directly behind them. “What do we do now?” the lorikeet asks. “She sees us,” Ladybug explains. “Who?” “Not who, when,” Ladybug corrects. “When has come to see us?” “Yes.” “So what do we do now?” the lorikeet reiterates. “We jump!” Ladybug shouts as it jumps with all of its might off the head of the lorikeet, sails through the time of the sphere and clumsily lands on a purple droplet of light. Afraid, the lorikeet shifts its weight from one foot to the other and then again and again, “I don’t know.” “Fly, Birdie! Just fly!” And with this, the lorikeet closes its eyes, jumps up off the tile ledge and flaps straight for another purple droplet of light.

Just as the droplet of purple light catches the lorikeet, the two are thrown as if off a large sheet into the air. At the height of their ascent, the Swinging Leaves giggle and gently pluck both the lorikeet and Ladybug out of the Circle’s Corner and onto the roof of a small thatched, bamboo hut. “Thanks,” Ladybug waves. The Singing Leaves sway and sing a simple song. Exhausted, the lorikeet passes out to the tune. “Psht, figures,” Ladybug scoffs as the lorikeet hunkers down into sleep. Taking a look around, Ladybug whispers to itself, “The middlemost peak where the three peaks meet.”

“And you must be Ladybug, The Listmaker’s prized messenger,” a husky but cheerful voice calls out. Ladybug whips around so fast that its wings deploy and send it clear across to the other side of the roof. A short time later, Ladybug arrives back at the other side of the roof, takes a look over the edge into the radiant face of Fate. “Hello, Miss,” Ladybug bows with the flourish of its right arm and hand while tucking its left behind it. “Hi, Ladybug. I’ve missed you,” Fate smiles. “I’ve missed you so much, So Jeong,” Ladybug admits as it flutters down onto the uplifted hand So Jeong offers with delight.

“You’ve a message?” So Jeong asks, well knowing the urgent nature of Ladybug’s travels. “Unfortunately, I do not,” Ladybug admits. It clears its throat and then immediately puts on a face, “The Listmaker knows of your predicament, and The Listmaker wrote you a list.” “That sounds like a message to me,” So Jeong challenges with a wink. “I suppose you’re right. I mean, of course you are always right. I just mean that that was not what I needed to say,” Ladybug stammers. “Well am I made to wait in suspense for your enjoyment?” So Jeong asks, still delighted by her friend. Ladybug takes a deep breath, “Right after I delivered your message and I secured The Listmaker’s list, I left. I had other things to do. Apparently, however, sometime shortly after I left, the light went out.” So Jeong let out a tiny gasp, “At that time?” Sighing deeper now, Ladybug responds and continues, “Yes. I had summoned the lorikeet to help me with my next message for some squirrels who continue to, never mind, that’s not important. What’s important is that the light is out at The Listmaker’s Ranch. We suspect the Monitors, of course, but who would do this?”

Taking in all that Ladybug has said, So Jeong sits upon a purple silk pillow. Ladybug flutters to a petal of the flower rooted just in front of the pillow upon which So Jeong sits. “I don’t know what to do,” Ladybug laments. “You’re not supposed to know,” So Jeong answers as she leans down to fetch Ladybug from the petal. A sigh of relief relaxes Ladybug into a stupor, “Tell me what to do So Jeong, and I will do it.” Gently, So Jeong stands and fetches the lorikeet from the roof. Carefully, she asks the Singing Leaves for a nest. Softly, she lowers the two creatures into the nest, “Rest, Ladybug. Just rest. This is no longer your problem.” And ever so quietly Ladybug drifts off into peaceful sleep as it whispers, “It’s not on the list.” To which So Jeong replies, “It’s always on the list. Sleep.”

And then So Jeong turns toward me, “Lingerer.” “Yes,” I respond. “Come with me,” So Jeong instructs.