He Hates Ghosts

Old man on bus

 

I am feeling singularly uninspired today. At least, to write any stories. I’m feeling highly inspired to play video games. I tried a few things, and I looked at some prompts for writing various types of stories online, because sometimes those are helpful. When I ran into a list of horror prompts that included the following:

There is a priest who is a vampire

I decided that inspiration had gone to lunch, and I wouldn’t bother it. So here is a little poem about ghosts!*

He Hates Ghosts

We thought

we had a ghost

in the attic

with the noises

and the moaning

and the creaking of floorboards

at 3 in the morning

Finally, we got tired of it

and checked

and it turned out

it’s only Uncle Steve

and he hates ghosts

*It may not actually be about ghosts

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The Whole Time

a Candle

7 and 3, Day 4

“Can we start?” Steve tried to keep the impatience out of his voice.

“Just a minute, Sillypants,” said Peri. “I’m checking to make sure you drew the circle right.”

Steve opened his eyes to look, and sure enough, there was Peri, crouched on the ground like a lizard, her eye an inch away from the chalk lines he drew on the cloor.

“I was super careful,” said Steve. “Plus, you already checked it twice.”

“Yeah, but it’s important that you don’t screw this up. You’re kind of a screwup.”

Steve sighed. He couldn’t deny it, but did she have to be so blunt.

“While we’re at it, I really need a better magical name,” he said. “Sillypants is just so…silly.”

Peri grinned her wicked grin up at him. “You’ll get a better name when you’ve progressed in your awakening, Sillypants. And when you get better pants.”

“What wrong with my…”

Peri held up her hand, and Steve fell silent. Something was about to happen.

She sniffed the air. She leaned up on her haunches, and her head darted around liked a meerkat. Excitement welled up from Steve’s root, and he took a deep breath to stop from shaking. He always wondered what she was sensing when she did those kinds of things. He would know soon. She had promised him that, and he believed.

Steve had been undergoing magical training under the tutelage of the strange girl for almost a year now, ever since they met at the anime convention. It had been…transformative.

He started out skeptical. Everyone did, he thought, whether they admitted it to themselves or not. Steve had always known that there was more to the world than what science textbooks presented, but society sent so many messages. There is no magic. There is no wonder. What you see is what you get. Never-mind quantum mechanics and tribal shamans and the little things that every single person in the world experiences that just don’t make sense.

His skepticism didn’t last. Under Peri, Steve had made a candle flame dance, changed the weather, and seen the future in his dreams. This was real. He knew it was real. He just knew it, inside of him. And it was amazing.

“The time is right,” said Peri. She turned to him, her eyes half closed. “Are you ready to meet your spirit guide?”

“Hell yes,” he said before he caught himself. “I mean, yes.”

She laughed. Then her expression turned serious, and she nodded. “Let’s begin.”

Steve flicked on his lighter and lit the charcoal block. He poured on the custom incense—jasmine and thyme and pine resin—and it’s aroma filled the air. He set each candle alight, one after the other. He closed his eyes again, and let the scent, the smoke, the red that filtered into his vision, carry his mind away.

“To they that listen,” he said, “here is one who calls.” From the first word his voice sounded strange in his ears. Distant, barely like his own. This was happening.

“I have begun, taken these first tentative steps, into the Veil that touches lightly upon the world of clay, and into the vastness beyond.” The syllables echoed. He did this in a tiny basement room. There shouldn’t be an echo. Were they somewhere else? He could almost believe it. He fought the temptation to open his eyes and look.

“I have felt your presence in the moment between waking and sleep. I have seen you dance in my dreams. You, who are of me, and above me. Who are a part of me, as I am a part of you. My impossible twin, from impossible places. I call you.” A sound, like a single footstep, resounded in Steve’s ears.

“I lay gifts at your feet,” he gestured to where he knew the silver tray of Madeline cookies lay. They were Peri’s favorite, and she told him the spirits loved them, too.

“I implore you to take what is offered, and, if the time be right, if my offering be worthy, reveal yourself to me.”

A giggle echoed from the distance. From a dozen different points all around him, but in a single voice.

“Reveal yourself to me.”

More footsteps. Another sound, faint, melodious. Flute music, scattered, as if carried by the wind.

“Reveal yourself to me.”

The air changed. It was a cold day outside, and the space heater in Steve’s basement did little to alleviate the chill. Now, there was no chill. The air felt warm, a spring breeze. Warm, and electric. It charged his ever nerve.

“Reveal yourself to me!”

A gust of apple-scented air.
“Reveal yourself to me!”

Another sound, like a giggle and like the note of a flute, all at once.

“Reveal yourself to me!”

“I’m here!”

Steve’s eyes burst open. For a stretched second, his mind reeled. It had worked! She had answered. He was about to meet an otherworldly being, a guardian and guide from an unimaginable and alien place, that would take him to realms undreamed. He held his breath, his vision focused, and he saw…

Peri.

“Hi Steve!”

She said it an inch from his face, and he leapt back. She fell over laughing, clutching her sides like a cartoon character.

“You should see yourself right now!” she cried between giggles.

“What?”

“Oh man, that is priceless.”

Steve’s stomach sank. “That was…that voice was…you?”

“Of course it was, Sillypants. Who else would it be?”

“So…” his jaw clenched. “So it was all bullshit?” Anger filled every blood vessel in his body. His fingernails dug into his palm. He wanted to punch something. “What the fuck, Peri? Have you just been messing with me this whole time?”

She stopped laughing, and looked him, wounded. “What? No, of course not.”

He furrowed his brow. “Then why the hell did you do that?”

“Because it was hilarious,” she said, shrugging.

“But what about the ritual? I mean, you stopped it. Why didn’t you let it work?”

Peri looked confused. “I didn’t stop anything. It did work.”

Steve scratched his head. He hadn’t realized people actually scratched their heads in confusion, but here he was.

“Don’t you get it?”

He said nothing. She stared at him as if he was missing something obvious. He didn’t know what to say.

“I’m your spirit guide,” she said at last.

“Huh.” He paused. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means exactly what I said. I’m your spirit guide.”

“But…you’re not a spirit.”

She laughed. “Of course I am.”

“I’ve been to your house. I’ve met your mom.”

Peri shrugged again. “I’m adopted.”

Steve shook his head again. “No, no, no. The ritual, the ritual was supposed to summon my spirit guide. How can it have summoned you if you’re already here?”

“I came a little early,” she admitted. “Come on, Sillypants. You think magic is bound by a dumb little think like time?”

“Huh.” He thought. She had sort of come into his life out of nowhere and started teaching him magic. And she never seemed quite…normal. But then neither had his babysitter when he was little, and she certainly wasn’t a spirit.

“You weren’t my baby sitter, were you?”

“Huh?”

“Nevermind. Listen, Peri, I’ve seen some amazing things with you, but I’m just…this is hard to swallow. You’re a spirit? You’re in my life to guide me to…whatever it is you’re going to guide me to?”

“That’s right.”

“So why do you work at Starbucks?”

“I like coffee,” she said. “And it’s run by a mermaid.”

He blinked.

“I just don’t…”

Peri sighed with her entire body, like a five year old. “Okay, fine. You need some proof?”

“Yes please,” he said, with his best sheepish grin.

“Fine.” She pranced forward and knocked the candle off the altar. It landed on the rug, which immediately burst into flame as if it had been soaked in accelerant.

“What the fuck!”

“Calm down,” said Peri. She stepped over to the flame, reached down, and picked up a large chunk of it in her hands. Then she stuffed it in her mouth.

Steve’s jaw dropped open.

Peri grabbed another handful, and downed that one, too. Within a minute she had eaten the whole thing, and the fire was gone.

“My rug!” Steve cried.

“Oh,” Peri put her hand over her mouth and giggled. “Yeah. I guess I’ll have to get you a new rug.”

“That was incredible!” Steve stared at her. “You’re…you’re a spirit!”

“Well duh. You really are silly, you know that?”

He nodded. “So…what now?”

She look his hand, smiled, and fixed him with a gaze that hid all of the mystery there had ever been in the world.

“Close your eyes, Sillypants. You’re about to find out.”

The Maturity of Death

 Rest In Peace

The last thing Death wanted to do was grow up, no matter what the adults said. What could that even mean for someone like him? Death did his job. He traveled to the beds of aging widows in their moment of despair, took them by the hand, and carried them off to his Fields. He delivered the final moment to the swarms of things eaten by plague, or consumed by exploding stars.

It was a lot of work. What did it matter that he spent just as much time dancing through the lands consecrated to his image, or collecting the feeble wards the denizens of the universe made in a vain attempt to keep him away? What did it matter that he loved it? This was what he was supposed to do. He didn’t know what the others were always going on about.

Death didn’t spend much time with the others. It wasn’t because he was anti-social, or a loner by nature. Everyone else was just so boring. Matter lacked imagination, Entropy was too pessimistic. The less said about Momma the better.

Life told him she didn’t regret having him, but Death didn’t believe her. All they ever did was argue. There wasn’t a single subject that they agreed on. Even the ones where Death was obviously right, which was most of them. She was smart. He had to admit that. He respected her, in that way where you’d use a different word than “respect” if there was one because it wasn’t quite right.

The other youngins weren’t any improvement, far as he could tell. Light was so self-righteous, and cousin Gravity was just too dense. The pun always made Death laugh, but none of the others appreciated it. No one except his uncle.

Out of all of the adults in the universe, the only one worth hanging out with was Uncle Time. Uncle Time had been around longer than any of them. He was deep, but in a kind of strange way that somehow didn’t make him dull. Just about every worthwhile conversation Death ever had was with his Uncle Time.

“Just how old are you?” Death asked him one day, as he danced around the edge of a black hole as it drank up the remains of the last Living Nebula.

“Older than you will ever be, boy,” said his uncle.

Death scrunched up his face. “How can that be? Sometime I’ll catch up to where you are now.”

Time laughed, and it sounded like a thousand thousand old men, laughing so quietly a body could hardly hear it at all.

“You’re only as old as you are right now,” said Time. “I’m always as old as I will ever be.”

Death let that bounce around his skull for a few minutes, then nodded.

“That makes sense. Uncle Death, why are you the only one who ever talks sense to me? The others all treat me like I’m a little kid. Even Momma, who ain’t so much older than me, the way folks like us reckon it.”

“Do you think age matters, to our kind?” asked Time.

“I suppose not,” said Death.

“They don’t treat you like a boy because of how many or how few stars have gone out since you came into being. Or of how many life forms you’ve kissed goodbye.”

“So why, then?”

“They treat you young because you have not grown up yet.”

Death laughed. “Folks like us don’t grow. Everybody knows that.”

“But we do change.”

Death thought about that. “Even you?”

Time nodded, and Death saw the rising and setting of universes in his uncle’s brow.

“I change. I’ve already changed, and I’m done changing, and it all unfolds in this moment. But I change.”

“So you’re saying they treat me like a youngin because…because I act like a youngin?”

“Thats right.”

“But what about you? Why don’t you treat me no different?”

“You know the answer,” said Time. “It is already here.”

That was something else Death liked about his Uncle. He didn’t spell everything out so plain it’d be clear to anyone, no matter how dim. He didn’t treat Death like a moron. Death reckoned that might be because Time knew for a fact what his nephew would and wouldn’t figure out for himself, but he appreciated it all the same.

It did mean Death had to put a bit more thought into his conversations with Time than he did at other times. Taking lives came son natural—he was what you might call a prodigy. But this deep thinking, that was a challenge. But it was worth it. So Death sat there and thought, long and hard, before he answered.

“You don’t treat me different because, because you know what I’ll be like when I’m grown up?”

Time smiled every smile that had ever been or would ever be smiled.

“So what does it take?” Death asked. “What do I have to do to get grown up?”

“Are you in such a rush to change? Do you not relish your youth, of prancing through the graves of the lifeforms and species you have brought into your fold?”

“I can still do that when I’m grow’d up,” said Death. “I just wish the others would respect me. Like they do to…each other.” He stopped himself from saying, “like they do to Momma.”

“If you wish to know, I will tell you.”

“But I figure you already know whether you are gonna tell me or not,” said Death, grinning.

By the light of the dying stars, Death once against saw every smile that would ever be adorn his uncle’s face.

“Nevertheless,” said Time, “it is your choice. It has always been your choice, and it will always be your choice.”

Death stopped himself from opening his mouth and forced himself to ponder. That’s what his uncle would advise, and he was the smartest man Death knew. He let it the thought roll around him for a few decades. It didn’t matter much. His conclusion was the same as it would have been had he spoken right away.

“I want to know.”

“Very well,” Time took a deep breath, and exhaled the beginning and end of of everything. “You will grow up when you get an education.”

Death rolled his eyes.

“You sound like Momma. What am I supposed to study, then? How to sew myself some better robes?”

“You are to study medicine.”

Medicine?” Death spat the word out like a child forced to eat his sprouts.

“Indeed.”

“But I hate medicine. I’m Death, for dying out loud. I make people die. Medicine is for making people live. For…for fighting disease. What would I want to go and do that for?”

Disease was one of the things Momma and he fought most about. He put it together when he was little, back when Momma didn’t care so much about him playing with her stuff. He thought she would be right proud that he’d found a way to make some of her tiniest and least interesting creations that much better, that much more capable of expressing themselves. To give them a new way of living. She wasn’t.

“You only see it that way because you’re young,” said Time, shaking the first third of the universe in dismay. “That is what the others see when they look at you. That is why they believe you immature. Medicine is not your enemy. Indeed, it will be one of your greatest creations.”

Death furrowed his brow. “My creations? But medicine already exists.”

“Something they call medicine exists,” said Time. “It is but a pale echo of what it will be. It its fullness, it will save and extend a great many lives, and allow those who use it to spread across the universe. In time, it will lead them to change themselves, remake their scions, and forge your mother’s work into forms unimagined in this frozen slice of moment.”

Death grimaced. “Why would I want that?”

As one, a trillion of oceans crashed upon a trillion shores, all to the sound of Time’s sigh.

“Can you not see it?”

That was Time favorite phrase. It contained within it infinite frustration, and infinite patience. Sometimes Death wondered how his Uncle put up with the rest of them. To see—to be–everything that would ever be, right now, and have no one to talk to but regular old temporal beings like Death. He asked his Uncle about that once, and he got the same answer. “Can you not see it?”

Death knew by this point that it meant a great revelation was hovering nearby, just out of reach. The problem was, “just out of reach” could be a billion years from now. It also meant that his uncle would not give him the answer. Perhaps he couldn’t, in some way that Death didn’t quite understand. He would have to get there himself. So he tried.

“If I study medicine…” he started, “and make it into something real serious—powerful, not like it is now–If I do that, then people will live longer. And…and they’ll have more babies.”

“Good,” said Time. “Go on.”

“And those babies won’t give up their ghosts so easily. So they’ll grow up to have more babies of their own.”

“Yes. What then?”

“Then…there’ll be more people,” he was starting to see it. The edges of it. He continued, excited. “More people born every day. More people alive in the universe, and more crops to grow, more livestock to feed. More wars to fight, more disease to spread.” He turned to his Uncle, his eyes wide. “If there are more people alive, more people will die! Every single day!”

Out in the universe, races and beings far flung and unrelated in space and time took their chisels and their hammers and their cutting lasers, and all of them carved the face of man they never knew, and would never see, every one of them smiling. And Death saw all of them, at once, in his Uncle’s face right now.

Death turned away. “But…medicine. It’s so…”

“Yes,” said Time. “I understand. This, what you say now, is very similar to what she said, when I had this conversation with her.”

“She?” asked Death. “You mean…you mean Momma? She had…she went through the same thing?”

“Nearly identical, and completely different. She, too, wished for respect.”

“The others, Matter and Entropy and those folks, thought Momma was immature?” Death couldn’t decide whether to laugh or gasp in surprise.

“They did. Until she, too, sought knowledge and education. Until she, too, created something she could not have believed, until that moment, she would ever wish to create.”

“What did, what did Momma create?”

Before his uncle said anything, Death already knew.

“My boy,” he said, with the calm of a billion cooling supernovae, “she created you.”

Death paused, and he pondered. For a time—short to him but lifetimes to others—he did nothing but ponder. Out in the universe, in a thousand civilizations, they called it the Undying Time, or the Golden Age of Life. A strange, impossible time where nothing and no one died. Their descendants would not believe it, and it would live on only as myths, and the fragments of memories.

Death knew all about change. Uncle Entropy might have invented it, but that was only the boring kind. Change didn’t have color, it didn’t have poetry, until Death got a hold of it. The kind of change that folks cared about, that they lived for, that belonged to him. He knew all about change. He knew that people thought it was slow. It wasn’t. All change, all true change, happened in an instant.

“I’ll do it,” said Death. “I’ll go off and create medicine. Proper medicine, like the kind what you said. I’ll do it. I want…I want to grow up.”

Time nodded in approval. Death loved that nod. Anyone could nod their approval at you all day long, but not everyone could make you feel it. Uncle Time made him feel it. He wouldn’t have taken no advice on how to get himself some respect from anyone else. Uncle Time treated him right.

No, that wasn’t quite it. Uncle Time treated him more than just right. He treated him like an equal. An equal? Could that possibly be true? Him, little Death, the equal of Time himself?

Just like that, Death had another major revelation. His fourth, he reckoned, just in this conversation. He would be the equal to his uncle. If Time thought it, then it must be true. To Time, right here, right now, he already was.

The Monsters Within, Technical Notes

Evil Pumpkin (4)
We try to deny it, but we all have monsters within us. They seethe just below the surface, all fangs and teeth and incorporeal rage. We glimpse them when we turn away from mirrors, out of the corners of our eyes. We feel them when we look at a beloved friend lying asleep and some part of us, some dark, hungry part of us that cannot be tamed, feels the urge to do something terrible. It is not enough to acknowledge these monsters. We must understand them, lest they control us, urge us into actions as horrific as they are sublime.

This understanding is my great endeavor, and it is through this work that I have discovered these truths that I am about to unveil. These monsters are not nameless, nor or they formless. Once the light of rigorous scrutiny is shined upon them, they are all too familiar. We each are made up of not one monster, but three.

Specifically, we each have within us the following:

  1. A zombie
  2. A ghost
  3. A lycanthrope

Before I go into detail, a note on my qualifications. Firstly, I was born on October 27th, which was the date of the original Halloween (probably) back when it was a pre-Indoeuropean festival honoring Dark Cthonia, Lord of Horror Stories. It’s important to note that the reason their god of evil and fright was the god of stories, because unlike their descendants, these peoples weren’t dumb enough to think that shit was real. Also I made up the name Cthonia because records from that period are sketchy, but I think it sounds pretty call.

In addition to the birthday thing, I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy. Also my wife has read even more of it (all of it? nearly), and she’s told me about a lot of it in pretty good detail.

Okay, back to the theory. We are all made up of a zombie, a ghost, and a lycanthrope, and these three factors explain everything about us. Well, okay, they don’t explain everything about why we decide to become plumbers or why we like black olives. But they describe everything about how we manifest as monsters. Let us address each one briefly.

The Zombie: Our zombie is our corporeal body. That part of us that is nothing but empty, hungry flesh, seeking to sustain and duplicate our own existence mindless of the costs and the consequences. It also years to improve itself, to regain the intellect it lost when it was a complete entity, but its methods for doing so are as futile as they are useless. The zombie is even unable to recognize that the last sentence is redundant.

The Ghost: The ghost inside of us is our spirit, and our mind. The ghost allows us to think and function as intelligent beings, but it is shackled by its attachments. The emotional urges that make up so much of thought are present in the ghost, but it is lacking both the neurochemical factors that originally produced those urges and also the corporeality to act upon them.Thus, the ghost can think and feel but by itself it cannot change.

The Lycanthrope: The lycanthrope is the most rarefied of our monsters, but perhaps also the most important. The lycanthrope is the living principle. It is the spark of life that turns the lifeless zombie and the bodiless ghost into breathing, bleeding humans. It is also what lets us grow and change. But it also encompasses our rage, our passion, and the extremes of our emotions. NOTE: the lycanthrope was originally the werewolf, but the source material has taught me that maybe not everyone is a werewolf. Some people are turtles and probably also other things.

In a normal person, all three of these monsters are present and in balance. Strange things happen when you remove them.

If you rip the ghost out of a person, what remains is a ghost and a zombie. This is where ghosts and zombies come from. In this procedure, the lycanthrope is torn in half, and each of the remaining creatures has a fragment of it.

The zombie that remains is the hungry, mindless, brain-eating beast found in novels, movies, and parts of Detroit. It has no mind, because it has no ghost.

The ghost that remains has the personality of the original person, but obviously it also has no body of its own. It can interact with the physical world only weakly if at all. The personality that remains is only a shadow of its formal self, however, because it cannot change. Lacking the physical brain of the zombie and the full lycanthrope, it has only a limited set of emotions and thoughts, usually those it experienced at the moment of death. It is usually drawn to scenes of its life, people and places that remind it of what it was, in an attempt to regain what it cannot understand that it has lost. An isolated ghost is a slave to its own identity, as we all are, sometimes.

A full-blown lycanthrope manifests if this monster aspect gains dominance over the other two. The mechanisms for this are varied and outside of the reach of this endeavor.

If a lycanthrope is removed or destroyed from a person, what is left is a vampire. This conclusion is inevitable, both because of the logic I am about to present, and because of course there’s a vampire.

Once the life-force in the form of the were-creature is removed from a person, what is left is a body and a mind that are not alive, lacking in life’s vibrancy and dynamic nature, but still full cognizant and functional. It will not die naturally because it no longer has metabolic function. It can no longer change. It can still reproduce, but that reproduction is mechanical and infectious. It cannot create new life as that requires the lycanthrope. It can only transform others into those like itself, but since it has the mental awareness granted by its ghost, so do its “offspring.”

It requires very little additional speculation to see how this theory can be used to explain how people can be transformed into all variety of monsters. At least, all variety of the Urban Fantasy/World of Darkness/Halloween variety which are the purview of these notes. For example, it takes very little imagination to see how one would use these rules to explain the advent of mummies, or pumpkin kings, or teen wolves.

There is much left to be explored regarding the nuances of this theory, but its explanatory power is undeniable. As are its practical applications. By learning to comprehend our inner monsters, we can learn to resist them. More importantly, we can learn to harness and utilize them, for our own terrible, terrible ends.

 

Writing Time?

Sad Day, Good Tea

All day long
I think about my writing
Planning my scenes
hearing the back and forth of dialogue
so sharp
you could put it in a salad dressing
dreaming up plot twists
so twisty
you could put them in a series of cocktails
then sell them to college students
for way too much

As I’m driving,
I barely see the road,
I barely hear the drone of my audiobook
which is about mindfulness
and the irony
almost escapes me
because I’m weaving words like cloth,
spinning tales like straw
into the good quality string cheese
mixing metaphors like pasta
being mixed
with other stuff

While I’m working, taking calls,
I speak to the customers with my voice
and my mind steps away
into to realms with black sunsets,
where knights, armored in stars,
fight quasars, with tortured pasts
and something to prove
to their sisters
or something

Then it’s time to write,
and I think
you know what, this might not be the time for this,
I’ve got other things to do,
like maybe I should just play cup and ball instead
that’s so meaningful, so fun, how could I resist
and I know
I don’t have a ball
no big deal
I’ll just hold this empty cup
for a while

Please, Stop Asking

squirrel

A little story I wrote that has nothing to do with any pre-existing character. Any resemblance is distracting, and would require me to try to actually sound like that character and capture their essence which was not the point of this story. Anyway, I think it’s pretty fun.

 

Please, Stop Asking

Stop. Don’t even say anything. I know why you’re here. It’s obvious from the fluctuations in your galvanic skin response. From the anxious teeming of neural firing in your sympathetic nervous systems. From the way you’re sweating.

Besides, why else would you be here? You only come here for one reason. Every other week, it seems like, ever since you all found out where it is. This was supposed to be my special place. I brought a single person here, and this is what happened. It’s not that I don’t care about you. I think I’ve proven that more than enough times. It’s about trust. It’s about appreciation. And there’s only one reason you people come here.

It’s never to invite me to dinner at the White House. To offer me an award for my services. I’m not asking for a Liberty-sized statue or anything. Just a simple award, to show that you give a damn. Hell, I probably wouldn’t even accept the award. But you could offer. It’s not like you couldn’t offer.

No, don’t say anything. You’d say anything right now, the way you are. You’d promise me anything. You’re panicking, and what you say now doesn’t matter. You’ve had plenty of time to say all of those things, and mean them. I know what you are going to say, and I’m going to give you what I hope is the last response I’ll ever give to this question, even though I’m not naïve enough to think it actually will be.

It’s a request. A simple request, and it’s this. Please, stop asking. I’ll say it again. Please, for the love of whatever divine power or higher purpose each of you might hold to, stop asking me to save the world.

I’m not saying I won’t do it. I’m not saying that. I’m insulted that you would think that’s what I mean, after everything I’ve done. After all of the times I’ve done it without being asked or thanked. Oh, okay, fine, some of you have thanked me. But never once have I saved this planet, or any part of it, from destruction, mutilation, or enslavement without a wave of criticism so enormous that even I’d have trouble stopping it. You’ll accuse me of focus on the wrong incident. Or of not saving enough of you. Or of causing property damage.

Lately, there’s an entire set of memes with a zoomed in photo of my face during the Thief of Eternity incident–that stupid photo where my hair looks like two badgers trying to maim each other–accusing me of causing the ludicrous number of near-catastrophic events that have fallen on this clumsy rock these last few years. Me! It’s my fault that the radiation from a sentient pulsar almost boiled the planet into so much overcooked kale? Or that the thing that hatched from the Earth’s core after 4.5 billion years of gestation decided to wake up and drink the mantle? And what about that German fellow, the one you all thought was dead? He spent 60 years calibrating those clockwork mechanisms across the world to line up with that planetary conjunction. 60 years. If you’ll notice, that stretches back to before I was born.

Okay, I confess, I am responsible for part of how those events played out. Specifically, the part where you are not all dead, and your species and entire biosphere relegated to a badly translated footnote in the Encyclopedia Galactica’s Book of Useless Facts.

Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that there’ve been an awful lot of invasions by extra-temporal conquerors lately. And attempts to devour your souls. Or replace your DNA with fungus. The point is, it’s been a bad time. I know that. I know how difficult that is for you. But blaming me? The person who stops it all? You sound like the guy at the office Christmas party who gets rejected every one of his female coworkers and decides they must all be lesbians. Have you considered that maybe the problem is…you?

Again, I’m not saying I’m not going to save you. But you know what, I’m not saying I’ll do it, either. That’s what you want to hear, and you haven’t earned that. That’s just taking me for granted, and I’m not going to live like that. Not any more.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say. “But we’re going to die, we’re going to die!” Cry me a river. You think I haven’t heard that before? I mean, homeless people need to eat, but you probably step over them on the way to your cushy corner office. How is this any different? Do you think the universe at large would care that the planet that brought them Threes Company got wiped off the interstellar map? I assure you, they wouldn’t. They’ve got the DVDs.

It’s not like I don’t have other things to do with my life. Oh, you never even imagined that, did you? You don’t care about me except when I’m punching things into subatomic dust. But I have another life aside from saving your collective asses. I’m playing a lot of MOBAs these days. I have a Twitch channel, and no, I’m not going to tell you what my username is. And I have a boyfriend, now. Yes, a boyfriend. Why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I’m remotely the same species as you are. Why should I conform to your tired gender roles? Hell, you don’t even seem to be doing that anymore. Good riddance.

And another thing, you know that swarm of stellar piranhas that showed up around Thanksgiving? You know how I finally got rid of them? You never asked about that, did you?. Just happy they weren’t going to ruin your Macy’s Day Parade. I lured them to a distant star, one orbited by a now lifeless planet that used to be inhabited by a bunch up upright-walking hairless apes. Sound familiar? It was the only thing I knew would tempt them. By using a machine I built out of the remains of derelict precursor vessels I picked up and assembled while they gave chase, I tricked the piranhas into flying into the star. And then I devoured it. The entire star. I didn’t know if I could do that. I didn’t know if I could survive, but I did it anyway. For you. Because it was the only thing I knew could stop them.

And you know what? It was glorious. A moment of transcendent sublimity a million times greater than pleasure, a billion times more magnificent than love. And for one eternal, impossible instant of fractured time, I experienced the truth and beauty behind the everything. I saw the tiniest sliver of the meaning of it all. This messy, sharp, painful universe of children with bone cancer and premature ejaculation actually made sense. It mattered, despite the seeming futility of life, despite the agony we all suffer, I caught the tiniest glimmer or purpose, and I realized it isn’t all for nothing, after all.

Then it was done. It was gone, and it’s nothing but the memory. But I could get it back. I could complete the puzzle, and maybe fix this awful mess of a reality, if only I could taste it again. I think that maybe that’s what I’m for. That this might be my real purpose, what I could do to fix this broken universe, rather than just stitching up this tiny corner whenever it starts to bleed. Oh, don’t give me that look. I’m not going to eat your sun. I’m not a monster. But there are others like it out there. It’s a very large universe, even for me. I could look. I could find them.

But I won’t. Because of you. Because you are so helpless. I just know that twenty minutes after I left here your oceans would wake into sentience and decide to hug you all into a Kevin Costner movie. Or some idiot with an internet connection and no stable social relationships would build a bomb to turn your atmosphere into peanut butter. Or some gray squirrel in a park somewhere would transform into an omnipotent and angry god. Again.

So here I am. And you know that I’m going to do it again. And again. Because I am who I am. Power doesn’t give you any more choices in life. Not really. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell self-help seminars. So you’d better get out of my way and let me do my job. There’s a world to save, and no one else is going to do it. Just try to show a little appreciation next time. Bring a fellow a craft beer, or something. And for Pete’s sake please, please, please, just stop asking.

Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Interlude Part 3

Shattered Car Window

Interlude: The Brandywine Incident

Part 3

John smiled. He didn’t know whether or not the mechanic meant the statement as a joke, but a smile seemed safe.

“Keep me updated,” he said.

“Will do,” said Jaworski.

John turned towards Stantz and tapped the investigator, who was now leaning into the Dodge through its shattered window, on the shoulder. “What about you? Have you found anything?”

Stantz pulled himself out of the car and stood to face John. “There is no shortage of evidence, but this is a complex process with multiple stages that must be performed in order to obtain useful results.”

“Of course,” said John. “I’m not rushing you. I just wanted to know if the evidence suggested any preliminary conclusions.”

Stantz pursed his lips and gave John an appraising look. “You said your name is Mellanger?”

“John Mellanger, that’s right.”

“Are you of any relation to the local Mellangers? To Stacey Mellanger?”

“My family,” said John. “Stacey is my grandmother.”

“Oho!” Jaworski’s voice boomed from behind John. “We’ve got ourselves a member of local royalty, here.”

John tried not to grimace.

“Does that mean you are from Ducksburg?” John heard officer Handy call from the other side of the scene. Apparently he’d been listening.

“Oh yes,” said Chi loudly from her spot near Handy. Apparently none of these cops had anything better to do but listen in on his conversations. “He grew up here, didn’t you, detective?”

“That’s right,” John called back to Handy. “You and I went to highschool together. You were a sophomore when I graduated. I was the captain of the fencing team.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Handy. “I think I remember that. Lead us to state, didn’t you?”

“Nationals.”

“Right.” He turned to face Chi. “Did you follow the fencing back then? Hotter than the lacrosse team this last year, even. Never would have thought you’d be able to drag me to a match, but we all went.”

“Oh no,” said Chi. “I was a bit young for that. But I do remember…”

John stopped listening. He turned back to Stantz, who was staring at him, waiting for his attention.

“Are you close with your grandmother? Would you say you see the world in the same way?”

“I’m not quite sure what you mean,” said John, although he was fairly certain he did.

“Let me put it a different way. Do you consider yourself open minded, Detective Mellanger?”

“I try to be.”

“In my work, it is rarely possible to construct a narrative that explains one hundred percent of the findings. There is always something—an unidentified scuff mark, a drop of unknown liquid—that does not fit the ultimate explanation of the incident.”

“It’s the same with police work,” said John. He thought he knew where Stantz was going with this, but he decided to let him finish.

“This occurs,” Stantz continued, “because the world is complicated. Noisy. Not everyone who ever walked through a crime scene was involved in the crime, and no matter how careful the investigators, if they don’t contaminate the scene, the universe will. We just have to hope the noise is not so loud that it obscures the signal.”

“The truth is hard to find, even when no one is trying to hide it.”

“Indeed. All of this makes it tempting to dismiss any unusual or conflicting findings as outliers. Irrelevancies, particularly if doing so allows for a logical and coherent narrative. Most of the time, this is the correct approach.”

“But not this time?”

Stanz pursed his lips again, but didn’t say anything.

John could tell Stantz didn’t want to say what he was thinking. He was probably afraid of being labelled a crackpot. If John was any judge, he’d probably been labelled one before. It would explain why someone with his credentials was in Ducksburg. Or at least, it would half explain it.

“Listen,” he said, “I know that all of your findings will be in your reports. Right now, we’re just throwing out ideas. We’re just two investigators mixing the pot to see if we can stir up any leads. Nothing has to leave the scene of the accident.”

Stantz nodded. “Take a look.” He leaned towards the open window and gestured for John to do the same. He pulled a UV flashlight from out of his lab coat and flicked it on. She shone it inside the car.

“It looks clean,” asked John. “Did you spray for blood?”

“Yes,” said Stanz. “But I’ll do so again.” He bent down and picked a spray bottle up off of the ground and spritzed the inside of the car. There was no change.

“So the driver wasn’t injured,” said John.

“At the very least, they did not sustain any injury that resulted in lacerations,” said Stantz. “Unlikely in an accident of this magnitude.”

“Unlikely, but not impossible.”

“Indeed. Their clothing also did not leave any trace of damage on the inside of the cab. And look at this.” He pulled his arms out of the window and pointed to the door. “Do you see where the compression of the collision warped the frame?”

“Yeah,” said John. “This door isn’t opening any time soon.”

“It’s even worse on the other side. Now look at the window.”

John eye followed Stantz’s finger as he traced along the inside of the shattered window frame. It was safety glass, and so all that remained were some rectangular fragments jutted out from the edges.

“The hole is almost large enough for someone of small build to crawl through, although you expect more disturbance of the glass” said Stantz. “But there is no blood, no fibers, nothing to indicate that the window was traversed or broken subsequent to the collision.”

“So how did the driver get out?”

“That is the question.” He paused, and after a long moment John spoke.

“You think that, what, there was no one in the car when it crashed?”

“As for that,” said Stantz, “it’s too soon to say. But right here, at this point, that’s what the evidence is saying. Now look at this.” He marched towards the rear of the vehicle and pointed to the road. There was a thick layer of rubber skid marks leading back from the tires.

“Consistent with a car braking at 60 miles per hour,” said Stantz, “although I’ll need labwork to be sure.” He gave John a significant look.

John grimaced. He didn’t need Stanz to spell it out for him. It there was no one driving, who slammed on the breaks. He glanced over at Stantz, and saw the man’s intense gaze aimed right at him.

“This means something to you?” Stantz asked.

“Yeah,” said John, as much to himself as Stanz. “It means it was time to come back. It means my damn grandmother was right.”

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