Brett Morales currently lives in Alaska, where he works as a wildland firefighter in the summer to support his writing. Brett’s work includes fiction, poetry, and screenplays.
“The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.”
The working day is done-
-and my mind is left empty save for the awaiting dreams.
Underneath flickering streetlights I walk to a Honda Civic. The blue paint is chipped and the coat is peeling. There are bright spots with white outlines, these are little floating clouds. I open the door. There are yellow foam patches in the seat, these are little tufts of grass. I pull down a torn seat belt and insert the clip into the red unlatch button. The stamped letters are faded and barely visible. They say: PUSH. I insert the key into the ignition. I begin to think it is possible that we have thought ourselves to the point where there is nothing left to think.
Vehicles back into reverse. A red glow swims across the rear-view mirror. The employees leave the lot and I am always the first. I do not consider myself to be shirking of any duties. This is routine. The clock strikes 11:00 and my working shift is done. I am out the door in exactly 2 minutes. This is expectation. I do not feel bound nor freed by my work, but instead recognize a simple reality. This is cause and effect. The management team says I do well; I continue with the exact same progression. I am now a training supervisor.
This is the evening commute. Driving home there is a radio that speaks with many voices to things I have no interest in. So I do not listen to it. I plug in the aux cable to my iPhone 11. I use a dual adapter so I can charge the phone and listen at the same time. I hit play.
This is the soundtrack to a video game, Lost Hero. The soundtrack is part of a larger Spotify playlist - which contains over 2 days of music. The playlist includes music from the long-awaited sequel, Lost Hero Saga, released only two weeks ago. It is composed by Joe Kondi.
Most I have met consider the compositions unsuitable for listening. They say that musical scores are best encountered within the scope of a game’s narrative; to experience their emotions at a precise moment within a story. It is a waste of time to listen to music created for a fantasy world. Joe Kondi stole from a movie score for an animated film to create his work. They have said all these things, but I do not believe them.
I don’t know if I want to believe them.
The worst listen. Listen and nod as I speak to the power of a score, of a memory, of a childhood. Of a yearning that grows old into dissatisfaction and disenchantment. They listen and repeat, that’s interesting.
Interesting. Music. Waves. Possibility. Islands. Dreams.
There is another world, in the particles of dust that dance in the soft rays of morning light through window shades. There is a stained window to view a refracted world in every mundane evening commute. There is a magic that can exist in every crowded retail parking lot, every decrepit stretch of suburban streets. And then it disappears. The music ends. The radio continues to talk and everyone repeats-
Arriving home I find my apartment is empty. This is usual.
It is a one room studio with a small divider between the kitchen and the rest. My bed is in the same unmade state that has defined it for the last couple years. I take off my working vest and throw it on a sizable pile of clothes sitting on the left half of the couch.
The right side is for me.
The smiley face button pinned to the vest watches me. I stare back. 15 minutes pass. Soon after I enter my kitchen to find something to eat. I have not eaten for the last 10 hours.
I open the fridge door.
It’s empty, save for a couple beers. I grab a pack of ramen from a half-open cabinet beside the fridge. The cabinet is half-open because the hinge is broken. I leave it for another day. There are other things to do. I pick up the phone and find the local Dominoes. It’s saved on the contact list. The phone rings and an automated voice answers. It is now 1130.
“Hello, thanks for calling Dominoes, all of our lines are busy at the moment. Your call is very important to us. We are pleased to introduce our new oven baked sandwiches! We have a range of flavors for you to try, including Buffalo Chicken, Philly Cheese Steak, Classic Italian, Chicken Bacon Ranch, and many more! Did you know that if you buy a large pizza you can get half off on an order of small bread sticks? Try ordering online with our automated checkout, it’s fast and easy for your convenience…”
I wait in silence, my eyes slowly sizing up a 72” Vizio flat screen TV. It dominates the rest of my small, shabby living room. It is connected via a HDMI cable to an Alienware G-Force Computer beside it. All in all, the set-up cost over $5000 – a year’s savings.
Others often make judgements on my purchases, but they do not understand it.
I am only interested in peering through the window, the grey rain curtain pulled back.
“Dominoes, what can I get you?”
A woman’s voice scarcely conceals a strong desire to just hang up the phone.
I answer knowingly, feeling the exact same.
“A large pizza, pepperoni and mushroom.”
“Will that be delivery or carry out tonight?”
“It’ll be 30 minutes.”
-the wind was calmest; the waves, gentle.
From atop here, life seemed easy, simple. Two shady cliffs, a winding shoal of sand. A small island missed by the common eye. It was alone, lost on a distant corner of a forgotten map. But it was home.
Behind me were the crowded trees of the Sorrows, a name my people gave for the forest grove atop our tallest cliff. The limbs of these tired trees hang low, and each contained an untold story of loss or regret. The eldest of the village once said each tree carries the soul of ancestors who left our home behind in pursuit of the unknown; each confronted with their greatest dreams and desires – and each left wanting.
A dusty trail beckoned to the shadowed ground underneath the branches, but it was forbidden. This passed down by the generations before- their word manifest through a warning sign nailed to a leaning post, and a wooden gate beyond it; now decrepit and half-rotten. Despite the warnings I arrived every morning at sunrise to watch light dance off the many trees. Warm rays scattered into splotches of light intermingled with darkness. Every morning I saw them.
Dancing silhouettes, eternal shadows which passed unrevealed through columns of light between crowded branches. Every sunrise they danced, then they would disappear – only to be seen again in the twilight hours of sunset. My people called them ghosts and spoke of them in hushed tones and fear. But I did not fear them. They fascinated me, for I wished to know their secrets, what music drove them in the dark. And even ignorant as I was of their movements, somehow I felt this; their melancholy joy, a movable sadness.
Below the cliff, my sight was distracted by the warming colors of an awakening village, the glowing hues of morning fires. I looked back to the trees, but the dancing figures were gone – for their moment had ended. It was now time to return home.
I followed the steep trail winding around the cliff’s rocky face, and I was greeted by a familiar sight below; the same sight for as long as I could recall.
Our eldest returned from his walks by the shore, always the first to leave his home.
He smiled. Behind him the sun was rising.
I am an ordinary man.
I have never considered myself extraordinary in any way. Each morning I watch myself in the mirror, feeling slight resentment that I remove for later.
I am 26 years old. Flabby. A few rolls crest over my stomach. My hair is unkempt and long, greasy as it falls down my shoulders. The color, dark brown. My blue eyes are pale. My beard has existed in the same slightly grown state for a year, and I have not bothered with it. It’s scraggly in some places, and more on my neck than on my chin. My arms are pale and thin, my face is gaunt. Every morning there is an idea of change; a desire to escape a marred image I have created for myself. But I push it away for later, as per my routine.
I was in bed at 3. I awoke at 9:30 in the morning with a splitting headache that only caffeine could subdue. My mind seeking an escape felt out of place and I am on edge with some gnawing hunger. Unable to eat I turn on the laptop to ease myself into a new day.
These are moments.
Reddit. Who is out there? Elon Musk, second car launched into space. This is a beautiful man with a big heart. EDIT: thanks for the gold. Child slavery and cobalt mines. A man is trying to save the world. For rich people. You resent success, stop this paranoia and false accusations. TL; DR: Fuck you. Bombs and civil wars in Syria. This is obsession. Marble powered music machine plays Hook by Blues Traveler. Emma Stone does a voice sync battle against Jimmy Fallon. Scientists warn that climate change is irreversible unless current action is taken. This is the oldest cat in the state of Illinois at 31 years old. Democracy now Hong Kong. Protestor loses an eye from Police rubber bullet. Flight attendant saves 14-year-old girl from human trafficker. I drew all the boys together for the internet. Articles of impeachment. Guardians of the front page. The most upvoted reddit post of all time. Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment, sends charges to house for vote. You see a gif, you like the gif, but it’s a repost. What do you do? Upvote. Florida shatters records with over 10,000 new cases of the infectious disease COVID-19 in a single day. Endless reposts. This is petty theft. This is the internet. It is the same banality at the end as it was at the beginning. 283k upvotes. I’m posting here just to make history.
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YouTube. A dream within a dream. Unreal cities (Dark Ambience). Best quotes from Charlie Sheen interviews. The end of legitimate elections? Ben Shapiro destroys SJW. Andrew Neil destroys Ben Shapiro. Don’t try, the philosophy of Charles Bukowski. My journey from Marine to actor. Sunset green flash at Taiwan. What’s wrong with Star Wars today. Smite me almighty smiter. China floods: hundreds killed and thousands displaced. You have stolen my dreams and childhood with your empty words. Bee movie but every time they say bee it gets faster. White Shores – The Lord of the Rings. Halo game night. The Last of Us, a video essay on narrative storytelling. Tensions escalate with Iran after missile attacks. Retaliation. 40 min space pads, beautiful sounds. Aphex Twin- stone in focus fully looped. Steve Rogers being a boomer for 3 minutes straight. Articles of impeachment announced. You are gonna be impeached motherfucker. President says they have all gone crazy. World says the President has gone crazy. YOU ARE ALL DISEASED – View Full Playlist. Understand your bitter and resentful attitude towards life – Dr. Oz.
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RESENTMENT. Wikipedia. A complex, multilayered emotion  that has been described as a mixture of disappointment, anger, and fear.  CAUSES. Resentment can be triggered by an emotionally disturbing experience felt again or relived in the mind. CAUSATION. Causality is an abstraction that indicates how the world progresses . There is a denial from those such as Hume that we can ever perceive cause and effect, except by developing a habit or custom of mind where we come to associate two types of object or event, always contiguous and occurring one after the other-
Gmail. Your AT&T Online bill is ready to be viewed. Benefits.Notifications- Important information regarding your TRICARE enrollment- DISRENROLLED. Unity Psychiatric: YOUR UPCOMING APPOINTMENT. Unity Psychiatric: BILLING NOTICE. Late payments due, interest charged. Black Friday specials coming soon! Bonds@VIPapplication: Hello, we are still awaiting your application, please reply by the following date or your application will be discarded. Mturkemail@example.com: Hello from your friends in Mechanical Turk- would you like to resume work? See new HITs that match your search criteria. See what other Turkers have to say: “Most of it is just filling in empty space in the day — time I’d probably be wasting otherwise. If you’re not doing anything anyway, it’s bonus money.”
-OBJECT ORIENTED ONTOLOGY (OOO) perceives art not as decoration, but as the fundamental operation of cause and effect. To make an artwork is to interfere directly with the realm of causes and effects. ART. Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed  and has changed over time, general descriptions mention an idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency  and creation. Aesthetics have often been concerned with achieving the appropriate balance between different aspects of realism or truth to nature and the ideal.
NATURE. Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, or material world or universe. "Nature" can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and to life in general. THE IDEAL. An ideal is a principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal, usually in the context of ethics, and one's prioritization of ideals can serve to indicate the extent of one's dedication to each. According to Plato, Socrates once postulated a world of ideal forms, which he admitted were impossible to know. Our world is modeled after the patterns of the Forms. See more. SEHNSUCHT. Some psychologists use the word Sehnsucht to represent thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences. 
Afterwards I enter the shower. I turn on the faucet.
No sound escapes from the running water.
It is 9:45. Work begins at 10:00.
And I was in a dream-
as a constellation of eight stars was made into seven.
And wanderers sailed in search for that brightest star fallen beyond the edge of the world. They searched for an answer across the boundless seas but found nothing as they grew older and older. Still they were undeterred. Yet the passing of time and memory had its own weight. The image of a bright light was slowly forgotten amidst the dark. And they wondered if any of it was ever real. Was there ever a constellation of eight stars? They found neither direction nor bearing amidst the dark waves. And then they drifted aimlessly.
The passing islands vanished. The landscapes and all their discernible shapes faded into a blur of indistinct motion, and it seemed as if the grey rain-curtain was pulled over all of sight. The wanderer was left alone in their boat, amidst so many things they could no longer see nor touch nor hear. And their eyes were empty as the rest of the stars began to dwindle and fade.
Hello, my name is:
-that is what the child reads intently while I scan his mother’s groceries. 10 more hours. This is the beginning of my shift. Watching the child, I think to how some time ago I would watch certain doors and look for red EXIT signs. I would leave buildings in wonder and hope that upon opening these doors I would be somewhere else. I thought of people waiting for me there, of some unique purpose to fulfill. I wanted to discover a certain joy in a sense of belonging. I daydreamed hours away to imagine something, anything. There are memories in a far-off country that is unending; fond images of passing worlds in which I would never live.
“-hey, I’m talking to you bud.”
An older, obese man is glaring at me as I now put away scented candles on an aisle shelf. It is pristine and organized, clean. His hat says, Life is Good.
“Sorry, how may I assist you today Sir?”
“Jesus, about time. I’m looking for a Berghoff coffee table. The one on sale. The ad said they were half off…you should know… the 32 in. one?”
I ask to see the ad as he continues speaking. I scan the barcode of the ad with a “Fi-Device” scanner in my pocket. It responds with a location: Aisle D, section 3, row 2, subsection 4. I arrive at the location shortly after with the man in tow, only to find there are none left on the sales floor.
“Well… there any in the back?”
Checking the Fi-Device I find that there are four in the back from a recent shipment. I briefly consider lying so I can return to my thoughts, but I settle with the truth. The man would ask someone else immediately after. Then he would complain. Heavily.
“We have four, I’ll get one for you right away.”
In the backroom there’s a gaggle of employees laughing over a video on a phone. It has something to do with a falling cat set to a popular electronic song. The group consists of all teenagers, about 9-10 years younger than I am. This bothers me only slightly.
“What are you working on right now?”
One of them with long blonde hair looks at me first. A tattoo of an eagle is barely visible underneath the sleeve of his blue polo shirt. His name tag says: DANNY.
“Tim said the work is good for now, we’re waiting on the next truck.”
“Well I have something new for you to start on then,” I show them the inventory number. “There’s a guest on Aisle D who needs this. Two of them…”
A few groans interrupt my directions.
I continue. “Get one of the flats and take it down to him, quickly.” They depart slowly with glares and muttered curses. Do not think that I am particularly upset by such things. I move on, as per my routine. As I leave, one of the teenagers sings the chorus of the hit song “1-800-273-8255” by the rapper Logic:
I been taking my time…
I feel like I’m out of my mind…
It feel like my life ain’t mine…
Who can relate?
As I return to the sales floor the store manager, Tim, catches me at the swinging doors.
“Allen, I need you in the back.”
“What about the aisle zoning?”
“Ahh fuck it, it’ll do. That shit is gonna get torn apart anyways.”
His face is creased and worn like old leather; the skin pulled below by an invisible weight. There is a smiley face on his vest. A bright yellow tag-
PROUD TEAM MEMBER – 20 Years.
“Do you have the keys to the lift?”
“Good, there is a stack of pallets by the rear loading dock outside, I need you to move them out of the way for the next truck.”
“Where to?” I ask, but Tim is already out the door and on the sales floor. His silhouette vanishes into the quivering moments of Friday afternoon retail.
Moments later I am outside and it is raining. The recurrent pattern of falling water seems from another world, one much different from this reflection we’ve created.
“GSL TIM, GSL TIM! SUPER SALE UPDATE!!!”
“MS. JONES JUST SAVED OUR 8TH GUEST OF THE DAY 5% WITH A SUPER SHOPPER MEMBERSHIP CARD!!!”
I find the forklift outside near the loading dock and begin moving the stacks of pallets away from the loading dock. The stack is precariously high, but this does not bother me.
“REMEMBER TEAM, EVERY GUEST TODAY CAN SAVE 5% WITH THE SUPER SHOPPER MEMBERSHIP CARD! MAKE SURE YOU ARE INFORMING OUR LOVELY GUESTS ABOUT THE AMAZING BENEFITS THEY CAN RECEIVE WITH 5% SAVINGS, OUR GUESTS ARE COUNTING ON EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU OUT THERE TEAM, SO DON’T DISAPPOINT THEM! LET’S SEE WHO IS GOING TO HELP THAT NEXT GUEST!!!”
-the radio screeches and I lower the last stack of pallets too quickly. The column begins to wobble. A nearby door is opened. Danny walks out with headphones in, he is looking towards me scowling as the tower collapses.
“Allen, Tim needs you to-”
During this I say nothing.
There is no anger. No emotion to dictate my response. I feel no urge toward anything.
The pallets simply fall.
The falling stack crashes over him.
It is over in an instant as a pile of pallets and protruding nails are slung behind Danny. He groans and struggles to his feet. Something clicks then, and I move to action helping the teenager to his feet. Then I begin cleaning the mess.
“Jesus, thanks for the heads up.”
“Sorry I didn’t see-”
“Whatever man, its fine. I’m alright.”
Together we clear away the pallets. I hear Danny mutter something, quietly-
I wish they had fallen on me.
“Now you’re thinking just like the rest of us.”
-Tim appears behind Danny as though such a thing were natural. He has a frail, withered hand on his shoulder. “No trouble, right? You can still do your job?”
“That’s the spirit.”
Tim does not say anything to me, so I stay silent and continue to clean the mess.
That’s the spirit.
And this will be my confession
-I thought, as the frail, withered hand rested on my shoulder. His white robe carried sand at the bottom with each small step across the beach. The east wind carried the smell of salt and foam. There is victory even in the greatest defeat, do you remember these words?
I did not answer.
And still something troubles you. Is it contraries? The silence between each note of sound? And so it must be with life. Is this true?
I did not answer.
Perhaps it is hard at a young age to understand the blessing of the leaving. Of eternal rest. A strong desire grips the heart of all who walk in this world. But we must let go in time, or we become as empty as the twilight between darkened trees. As lost as every spirit within the Sorrows.
My thoughts returned to the dancing shades within the dark canopy of trees. In a memory I saw the slender forms of their movements, a great emotion to guide their endless pursuits, and something compelled speech within me. A memory.
They are so beautiful.
Ghosts guided by endless warmth, to live still, even within the dark.
-I don’t have any time for this bullshit.
“Tim, you are the store manager, act like it.”
Tim is silent. She glares, unmoving.
I listen behind an aisle, where the scented candles are still stacked in pretty little rows.
“There are plenty employees who just ignore every word you say, they jerk you around for an entire shift-”
“Well, hang on, I-”
“You have to make a decision. What if the other one had been hurt? Can you imagine the lawsuit? All of store management would have been on the line. We got lucky.” She speaks sharp and cuts precisely, a foreign accent from somewhere across the sea.
Tim is silent. She stares at him, unmoving.
“I am trying to save this store.”
“Then help me. File the incident report. Inaction accomplishes nothing.”
Tim left. Silent again. He is retiring in one month. It does not bother him much anymore. Sadie remained there alone – something burning within her still. She is 27, her hair cut short, slim and athletic with dark skin.
“Happen to overhear that?” She turns toward the aisle of stacked scented candles. I can see her eyes between the holes in the shelf.
“I was, just-”
“Do not bullshit me, if you want to bullshit do that when you are off the clock.”
I paused, uncertain. “I’m sorry.”
“Well then, what do you think?”
She walks past the aisle wall, now in full view of me. Then, closer.
“Do you think Tim should take some kind of action against that employee’s negligence? The one who almost dropped all those pallets on a new hire?”
“I’ll leave it to Tim…it’s none of my business.”
“None of your business? Really?”
“That’s management’s call, I mean.”
She pauses. “Fair enough. But surely you must have some kind of opinion? I would think this store’s most experienced sales floor worker would have something to say on his accident?”
Indefinable. A word which compels me forward day to day. I do not begin to think that there is something underneath the shell of old ideas, nor a rough recollection of long forgotten emotions. Maybe it’s just the reprogramming of dreams that have long vanished. She stares intently into my eyes, waiting. I struggle to keep contact with her own – hazel.
“Go ahead. Reprimand the employee. Revoke his use of the forklift, suspend him for a couple days if you like. You could fire him too; it won’t have much impact on store efficiency.”
She stares at me for a moment, her head tilted slightly.
“Tim’s management skills could also use some work.”
She is silent, a small furrowing of the eyebrows.
“… is there anything else you want to say?”
“Ok then… sorry to put you on the spot. Thanks… for the input. I’ll let you get back to the candles.”
She waits, watching me for half a second, before turning away.
I am home alone that night listening to the Lost Hero Saga video game soundtrack thinking back to how some memories are not actually memories. I think back to my room as a child again, imagining that the walls could vanish and white plaster might have been water--
waves lapping at the sides of a small red boat.
In the distance there is a lone island in the dark night; its shadowed form speckled with tiny beacons of light against the comatic recess of an unending gentle ocean. On this island a myriad of small buildings glow bright from within. Warm fires and candle-lit windows bid an unspoken welcome. They burn within stone structures compacted tightly amidst one another. Closer now. Various temples, homes, and shops cover a small expanse; these belonging to a people who I had not yet seen. The bright lights are a refuge amidst the cold dark.
In another moment I am there, stepping on solid land, a curious step away from the boat as it remains rocking in the waves tied to the pier. I am unburdened by all that had come before and would do so in the future. In the night sky there are only stars. The streets are of cobbled stone. The soft glow of the fires is comfortably silent and calm within the night. There are no people anywhere in sight-
no sound as I step through a gate left open and there is no gatekeeper so I enter and it strikes me so suddenly how I can breathe for the first time in gardens between stone houses in this small field where at the center the grass moves so softly in the wind as the air channels through narrow streets and it is neither cold or hot and I can remember why I am here now a meeting to find somewhere and someone at the land lost beyond the edge of the sea there is a cartographer and a map and a fallen star a long departed friend and it is clearer to me now, this recurrence-
There is a tavern at the end of this island. It is built beside a windmill that rests on a cliff overlooking the sea. The water beyond it is so vast and full of questions that lack foretold details or finality- the crescent moon covers all with soft light and certain autonomy in its obscurity. I have never known such freedom. There is a certain joy in each second, an eternity of its own accord in the anticipation of this meeting. It is the final key to a distant horizon and a long-awaited reunion. How to find it. I return my thoughts again to the Tavern, what awaits inside. A feeling growing, one of total assurance; grounded on nothing but the last lucid hours in an ephemeral dream. There is a sign post out front. Then there are empty tables and market stalls, somehow missing a name. Names do not matter. A small stairway within a scarcely visible alcove leads up to the entrance, the Tavern is above a deserted dining area below. I can see candle lights from within the windows above, some strange night crowd inside, a silent gathering. Up the stairs is an old oak door with light spilling from underneath, a soft clatter of glasses and hushed conversations. My heart beats from excitement, knowing that it is finally here. To return again and start anew. The door opens-
I am awake again.
Alone on the couch, my work uniform is still on, the smiley button resting on my chest. My head on the same pile of clothes. I close my eyes to think of it again but it is gone. Trying to recall lost wonder from that which is rapidly fading into obscurity. This is my confession. A blurred image created by hearsay and wild conjecture.
Do not forget this,
For the first time in all our conversations, he lost his smile. Those spirits are guided by endless desire, one that can never be fulfilled. They are forever reaching to a day which they will never see. Surely you have noticed their confinement to the twilight hours of sunrise and sunset?
Then you must know of what I speak, that their struggle, this desire, is ultimately futile? It keeps them bound to this world, prevents them from finding peace, their own blessed sleep.
But is not that same desire to embrace their passions- so fully, so completely, even without the promise of the day- is that not something beautiful? Do we not each live without fulfillment? We reach out grasping every day of our lives. We reach out for a dream.
An excited shout from the waves called out behind us.
-I remember in a whisper one simple request. But I pushed it aside and now I am hearing voices in another time from behind the television screen, the lights flickering. Their voices calling out from a hallway-
Can’t you see what is right in front of you?
“You cannot make me do anything.” I brush them off, always brushing them off.
I’m sick of him, sick of all this childish behavior. He missed his chance at greatness and now he sits there lounging and doing nothing all day… What does it take to have guts and recklessness to spit in the face of manufactured happiness? Why did you leave? Why did you ever abandon the bright future that was laid before you? All you had to do was work…. do you remember when you said this would not be the end that you were going somewhere else? That success meant another road, just another road. Is this it Allen? This fucking wastefulness? When you look back to your life in 10 years what would you have been said to accomplish? You don’t even have a job!
Why honey? Why did you do it? What pushed you into this comatose state? What causes your misery? Are you sick? I see it in your face, in what few words you give us…
Leave him. He’s become a basket case. There’s no helping him. It’s a shame, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Isn’t that how it goes?
I remember the third time I decide to return to school. He is at the table to hear my decision and smiling. How long this time Allen, how long?
She smiles too. That’s wonderful, just wonderful. I’m so excited for you. What classes are you taking? When do you start?
His smile is growing. How much are you at now? $70,000? No, it’s more isn’t it?
Then I’d try it again working each morning and at first it is easy and exciting and the world does not seem so hard. Then a week. A month. A year. A lifetime. An eternity. I wake up and see the mirror and do not believe this is me, that I am living a life. I cannot listen to lectures and theories from people who are long since dead. Dead. This is a state of mind. This a concept. Un idee. The professor speaks but no words escape and there is a dull buzzing in my ears, and my heart begins throbbing and I need to feel anything else but endless waiting and counting of seconds as time slips into nothing. Then out the windows I can see it. It exists between the passing seconds. That same falling star on the horizon. At the edge of sight.
Then it begins, slight at first. Eating out again. Coming home and watching videos on the phone because I cannot focus clearly to read tiny lines in huge textbooks. Then it is another computer bought with student loans after I sold my old one, because the first time I said: nevermore. Then nevermore is again. I am back to it. I am chasing that same star again and everything that seems wrong could be right and all the imperfections now make sense and have some meaning because the music is there again, the logic of hopeful creation.
Then it is a week and the phone rings but I don’t want to answer because it is the ending sign, the final hours of the lucid dream-
We are calling to inform you of a loan payment that is 30 days overdue, your new balance is-
We are calling to inform you that your low attendance rate is cause for delinquency, further negligence will result in disenrollment by-
We are calling to inform you the grace period of your Perkins loans are about to expire; payments will begin regularly on-
We are calling to inform you that this is the final notice for an overdue medical bill issued 90 days ago, further negligence on payments will result in debt collection by-
We are calling to inform you that it has been brought to our attention to collect the entire balance of debt you owe to UNITY PYSCHIATRIC CARE, the amount of the debt is-
We are calling to inform you that due to your failure to pay rent you are hereby given an eviction notice to vacate, on or before-
Does it matter?
I am disenrolled for a month and days away from homelessness it feels like it was all just yesterday. Where is the time. I am on the phone now, ready to tell him that now it is $90,000, but she will always answer first-
How’s school? I hope everything is ok and you are happy. I love you.
But the phone rings and no one answers.
In the end
-all must withdraw their own song and become one with mah, the silence to which we all return in time. Each has their own role to play. His smile returned, seeing a small figure in the waves. In time, we must all move aside for others to take their part in this song. There is always another day, another sunset. Each must find their own acceptance with this. This is the nature of loss. Perhaps I cannot tell you how it must be. He stared silently at the swaying trees of the Sorrows. They were alone on the cliff.
One cannot truly live until they have died.
I was quiet again. Desire burned against reality, the night stars glowing within an eternal dark. He left and I stood alone on the sand, the waves lapping gently at my feet. Words hung in my throat. I held the sand and let it sift through my fingers, feeling fear in it.
The excited shout from behind grew louder, a voice caught in the wind.
But it was not for me.
A little girl was running to her brother in the water. Her turquoise sundress was the same color as the waves drifting to the shore. Olive legs kicked up foam as she treaded through the water. He was standing in the waves, looking out to sea. She reached out and pulled his arm gently.
I watched them return to a wooden lodge near the shore, where the tufts of grass met golden sands at the edge of our village. As they returned inside, I could hear their mother yell at them for tracking sand and water over the floor. The shouts intermingled with the scent of prepared food and I thought to a memory. I felt a memory.
Let someone in
“-it’s ok Allen. It’s ok to say anything here. To be something.”
How does it begin then?
“You can start by telling me about it.”
She is watching from across carpeted floor as I sit in a chair. Her nametag says Dr. Delan but she asks me to call her Susan. She asks what I am looking for. I tell her I don’t know. I tell her I am just trying to peer into windows. She says there are no easy answers.
“Do you have trouble engaging with your work?”
I don’t give much mind to everything else when I’m at work. It’s all just distractions, a blur of indistinct motion. They pass. So it goes.
“Do you feel burdened, or in some kind of pain?”
The things people tend to complain about don’t really bother me. I want a better job, a better partner. Politics. Corporate greed. Wars. Pollution. The end of the world. What does it really matter to dwell on it? It is out of my hands.
“Do you often feel alone?”
I am 28 and live alone. But that’s perfectly normal for someone in these days. I keep myself busy most of the time. What’s it matter?
“Would you say that there is a problem you are currently dealing with?”
Problem? There is no problem.
“Now, would you say-”
“I thought about what you asked earlier, about pain. I remember one time slipping down a slide ladder at work. I broke my elbow, fractured it. But do you know what I remember? The entire store watching, and each of their faces in shock. But for me it was different. My mind never seemed there, in the moment, when it happened. I don’t think I ever processed the situation fully. Maybe that is just shock. Maybe something else. I suppose it’s pointless to consider the pain then and now, it was just another distraction. I don’t know why I thought of that.”
It’s funny thinking to how I stared at the little lights on the ceiling and they would buzz and glow brighter then fade and glow again, slowly. There were humming voices at the edge of my sense, the sound of a bygone religious chorus from times long past. Then there were the drones, the buzzing voices of people and questions amidst this experience: are you in pain?
How could I be in all this sight and sound?
Dr. Delan simply stares. Her dark hair glides across her face like a raven’s wing. She writes something down and smiles at me.
“If there was any change you could make in your life, what would it be?”
And then it all makes sense, so I start, quietly. “I don’t know, maybe I’d have some small control over my dreams. Maybe I’d like to know them better.”
In the twilight
-he spoke to a crowd gathered around fire. Tomorrow it will be time for my final departure into the sea, as we remember the courage passed down to us by a hero who sailed from distant lands. One life ends at the beginning of many others.
At the edge of the village bonfires, seven of age toiled at their labors. They finalized the construction of vessels. Small wooden hulls and a mast lashed together through cross beams; matted sails woven from dried, prepared leaves. They would sail out to sea the next day, the workmanship tested on a journey to a small island just beyond the edge of sight. This island had no name and held only the derelict ruins of a long-forgotten voyage. Every year the village sent those of age out to retrieve an artifact from the ruins as proof of a journey, of the courage in it. Those artifacts became part of their identity for as long as they lived.
But I was alone here. I felt this distinction always. Trapped. Others would perform, they would compete – but I was set apart. My entire life was enraptured by a certain idea which had never been allowed to take root. The others muttered quietly behind my back, and I saw the spite in their eyes. There was a special hate reserved for the one who would dare to challenge things.
As I ventured closer, they quickly returned to their work as if nothing were to be said. It was my voice that called out from the waves this time. I thought of how it would go from here. How I would smile to that same boy who was alone on the beach, one last time. How I would leave him, all of them, behind.
There is a look in her eyes
-her nametag says: JOSIE.
“Are you paying attention?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m right here.” I am stacking Fancy Feast cat food tins along the shelf.
“You missed one.”
She picks up a tin on top of the stack facing a different direction than all the others. “Sadie will throw a fit if she sees this…” She laughs quietly before returning to the other cat tins.
“Oh it’s just so obnoxious, you know. All these metal tins with images of clueless cats, perfectly aligned and stacked by workers who could lose their jobs should they do it any other way. Thousands of these clueless cats staring out in the same direction, waiting to be picked up by the same old suburban families looking to give their pet a premium taste of… Fancy Feast.”
She sighs, noting my silence. “When did you become such a goddamn space cadet?” She crosses her arms and waits for a reply, slightly glaring. Her green eyes are magnified behind cracked, full-rimmed glasses. She is underweight, her arms are thin little rods and her legs nearly the same size in black tight jeans. Her brown hair is frayed and unkempt at her shoulders, perhaps free. We had worked together for six years.
“It doesn’t really matter.”
“I guess.” She stacks another tin can. “You ever hear back from that other job?”
“I never applied.”
“So you’re still planning on staying here for a while then?”
“I suppose so.”
“No plans for the next couple of years?”
“That figures.” She turns away, then stops. “Really though, nothing? You’ve never stopped to think about where you might be in the next couple years? Maybe five or ten?”
“Try not to.”
“Ok, well what about all the different people coming in and out through these doors? Do you ever think about them? The seasonal temps? The new hires? The management teams? The customers?”
“What do you mean?”
She pauses. “You know it was all different people then, when we first started, I mean. Remember Daniel? The guy who used to work at the car wash? Remember when all his old coworkers showed up and they gave him a hard time. Then remember when he yelled back at them from across the store, ‘Don’t give me shit for my job when you all still work at a car wash!’ Funny guy. You remember Doug? Used to be a bouncer for Danzig concerts in the 80s? Worked as a brick layer in the mornings, came up here for evening shifts. Guy never took a day off.”
“I don’t think I remember them.”
“How about Kaleigh? She’s in Indiana now. Or Shavi? He used to collect the carts remember? With the dreads? Used to cosplay as characters from that video game Blitz-watch on weekends? Or how about Jon, that one kick ass manager? The only one we really had.”
I remember all of them. But they are now gone and somewhere else and I will likely not see any of them again. So what is the point in talking about them? Josie waits for some kind of answer, maybe it is this one, but she keeps waiting.
So she continues, “Well I guess that’s kind of the way it works here isn’t it? All these new people coming and going, same old me stacking tins. And you.”
“He’s retiring, what’s he got left? A couple months?
“Something like that.”
We finish the last row of cat food tins. This is aisle A13. Tonight we will “zone” (organize) all these aisles till we reach A56 at the end of the store. Then we will zone section B. But section B is short, I will finish it in an hour. I should not do it that way but I continue regardless. No one really cares much about section B. The clock will hit 10 pm, right as I finish. The doors will shut to all customers. Those assigned to sections C and D (furniture, rugs, and towels) will be helping in electronics and toys at this time. Josie and I will finalize sections A and B and restack cat food tins again. One more time. Sadie will arrive soon after and tell us we are doing a wonderful job then assign us to help zone the ‘Softlines’ apparel section. 30 minutes later all employees will arrive to help out. They will grumble and complain and not really do much of anything. The clock will read 10:55 pm as we head to the breakroom. We will prepare to leave at 11 PM. 2 minutes. I will be out the door. The red glow of swimming brake lights. I will return home. The Lost Hero soundtrack will be playing. I will order a pizza. Pepperoni and Mushroom. I will turn on the 72” Vizio flat screen TV. An Alienware G-force computer. I will sleep. Then I will be dreaming again. Dreaming.
“Allen?” Josie again.
“Are you ever going to leave this place?”
“I don’t know.”
“Give me a real answer.”
- and the waves were beside us, drifting in and away.
There is something here that leaves me empty and with such yearning. I have everything I need, yet the sight of something so far away can tell me this is not true. Every night I dream of the eighth star, and every night is a reminder of how this all seems lacking. And how it speaks to the promise of something else, another world that might exist amidst the stress and ruin of this existence. And it speaks so softly, and tenderly.
I remember those black robes I once wore, decorated with ornate white lines that flourished down from the shoulders to the middle. The hood overhead and purple linen wrapped around the face left only the eyes visible. The Witness had no known finality, no image that could be seen or pictured by man. That was the story passed to us then, her current embodiment was the will of divination and oracles beneath the moon. The ritual in embers of a dying fire. I did not want to be some idol, not some trapped representation of bygone history to be sought after. I want to be free, to be out there, sailing.
It’s considered a great honor. You were chosen before all the rest… some see you as the living embodiment of a goddess.
This ceremony, all of it, I do not want any part of it. Not like this. I just wish everything could be over and done with… but now it never will.
He watched, waiting for another thing that might be said.
I never said I was.
He was silent. I was not lying… but perhaps I did not know then if I was. Then he found his voice.
What if it is a lie? What if the story is all wrong and there is no eighth star, but only something we have created to fill some need? What if it is only the end of the map? What if there is no other world out there, and the only thing beyond the horizon is self-destruction?
My friend had never known that it is self-destruction that compelled me forward. In one way or another, it was the same for everyone. His question did not matter, nor did an answer.
Do you know what some say in the village about the Sorrows?
That all their burdens which tie them to this world have the same final resting place beyond the horizon. That the individual desires of each shade are all the same in the end; an addiction to a fabled star which calls to them from the end of the world. And that the fate of those dancing shadows is the only thing waiting for those foolish enough to lose everything in pursuit of it. Most have agreed with you of course; they believe that there is nothing else beyond the horizon save a false idol upon which we place our waking lives, our living dreams. We created a sanctuary with the tools of our own desire out of necessity, to be satisfied with what we call our life.
And what do you believe?
That there are some who may never know why, but must answer the call all the same.
What wonderful work
“-Allen and Josie. You have both done such an excellent job in this section that I need you to head to Softlines now.” Sadie does not smile as she says any of this. Josie groans. The cats on the metal tins watch all of us silently. They do not say anything.
“Where at?” Josie asks.
“Sure.” Josie glares at Sadie ever so slightly.
Sadie returns a slightly crooked smile that is not really a smile just the impression of one and she disappears amidst the aisles on the track, a rectangular walkway that leads people around the store. It is the yellow brick road made with vinyl tile and painted blue lines. Signs are posted above the aisles and hang off the ceiling to promote a special holiday sale, but I’ve forgotten which one it is. There are so many.
“She is befitting of an HR lead, isn’t she?” Josie adds as we pick up the items thrown around on the floor: four hoodies a dozen shirts two small pairs of pants a package of underwear countless socks toy packages race cars a microwave on sale a coloring book of cartoon princesses a copy of Lost Hero Saga a pack of ramen noodles and one pair of women’s lingerie.
“Well this works.” Josie picks up a hoody with “The Allegiance” Superheroes on it, depicted in full assemble with vibrant color.
“Look at it, it’s on clearance.”
I start folding pairs of jeans and return them to a display shelf. Josie goes around tucking a few items underneath the circular clothes rack. Most of these items are also on clearance.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to buy some of these…”
“Me of course.” She stares at me, noting my confusion. Josie grins and looks down at her body and waves her hands as if she were presenting the next item on a game show.
“Allen, these boy’s clothes fit me.”
I give her a small smile, but it slips away soon after. Josie perks up a bit and holds onto the hoody for a little longer, observing the bright image overlaid on front of it. Then her smile slowly recedes too. We are quiet for a while after.
“Do you ever feel like the life you are living doesn’t belong to you?”
“I don’t know Josie, maybe.”
“Never mind, forget I said anything.”
We return to
-the stretch of sand where he left his small vessel for the voyage tomorrow. The sail was ripped from the mast and torn; its pieces scattered to the sea. He already knew why. So many would never accept new dreams to what could be. His eyes followed the pieces in the waves. They were always searching. They were chasing after it within the dark, even when they never wanted to believe in it.
I’m sorry they did this to you.
It’s not your fault. This would have happened either way.
We waited without speaking. What else was there to say? His eyes never left the water, the fingers danced at his sides. I remembered only the sound of the waves, the wind guiding them gently.
They did this because they saw you with me.
In my quiet days I often return to this moment of the story. I wonder what his thoughts might have been that night. What he was thinking. How often are the quiet days now, and those memories that come with them…
Wait here, I’ll return in an hour.
I left and wandered into the dark of the night toward the village.
“-just something we do for around 85 years. This makes me think of what land might lie beyond…” -Sam Fairly
“Just woke up, this has been playing all night while I sleep.” -Tr3vZ
“This song reminds me of being a child without a care in the world, feeling cozy in front of the tv and getting lost in a world of adventure.” -Wardleyyyz
“This song... Dark, sobering, melancholy... Makes me think of a care free child suddenly forced to grow up into an adult before even getting to experience their childhood. Stolen innocence by a cruel and unforgiving world. Funny enough, that's what this game is really about, isn't it?” -NEON MULLET
“Shedding tears for a childhood I will never have again.” -17Watman
“Everything in life grows old and dies. 100 years from now no one will remember, a billion years from now it will be some insignificant moment among countless others in time. That’s what this song makes me think about…” -RobertBones
“And yet there will always be a sunrise, there will always be another day; regardless whether any of us live to see it or not. This is what I think of.” -TheLastTitan
“im gona buy this game from ebay should i or should i not :O” -shinji ikari
“I believe I can speak for many of us when I say that the hours spent playing this game are some of the best memories of my childhood. Now a days, life is different, it is just a little game for an old system and therein a dream of a world where good always conquered evil and you the hero could prevail. Now a days a few who horde power for their own greed have filled the land with darkness and we have forgotten that we are the Hero.” -Kai Lutz
“If only we could live forever, death sucks…” -J0ynal Uddin
“+J0ynal Uddin Death is the reason we appreciate life.” Andrew Williams
“I feel like crying. This brings back so many memories as a kid in the 90s. On the weekends I used to play this game until the sun came up. I missed these days if only I could turn back.” -Heka Goods
“I catch myself whistling this all the time.” -SkeletonBill
“What’s important is important in your time, but what makes it special is that it is special to you, nothing else matters.” -xxhacktrax0r
“The Nostalgia hurts man, goddamn. Thanks for everything Joe.” -Austen Steed
“Z-targeting FTW” -Boyce18
“This makes me sad. I remember when I was about 5 and I would play this with my two older brothers were about 8 and 12. We would spend hours playing this game but since I was a younger girl I would sit and watch the two have fun spending hours exploring and looking through a book that helped them, no internet for us then. And we would eat goldfish and drink Capri suns. Time goes by so fast although I can still remember these times clearly.” -Gabriella
“PRESS START - to change your life.” -ErikMünch
I am listening to the Lost Hero Saga soundtrack again on YouTube.
The video title: INTRO 10 HOURS – LOST HERO, PRELUDE.
These were the comments.
-before you is possibility, as endless as the paths one might take in a dream. That night he was alone by a fire on the beach. And there was a new sail in his hands by morning. A gift from a dear friend. There was some purpose when the fire died and it finally fell into dark.
There was a journey laid out for him.
The next morning it was unfurled in the wind, as seven stars formed a constellation painted in hues of blue. There was an eighth too, the guiding star patterned at the sail’s topmost corner. It was barely distinguished through a layer of lines which radiate away from it. Wind and stars.
And yet I was nowhere to be found in the morning at his departure.
-even in the mundane view of plastic bags blowing in the wind over cracked streets. There is some kind of possibility to its existence. This is the logic of a dream.
Now it is time for another shift. Now it is time for another commute. Now it is time for the radio to speak with many voices to things I have no interest in. I plug in the aux cable to my iPhone 11. I use a dual adapter so I can charge the phone and listen at the same time. I hit play.
This is the soundtrack to a video game, Lost Hero. It is composed by Joe Kondi.
Most I have met consider the compositions unsuitable for listening. They compare it to a time that left them behind in childhood. Some cannot leave this state behind. The soundtrack speaks to something special, some world we have yet to find for ourselves. Perhaps it is something we once knew but the passing of time has taken it away from us. Eden. That is what I told Dr. Delan as she listened and nodded and repeated,
We are aware of another world, one that is barely out of reach, dancing on the edge of our fingers. We see it every morning as the sun rises over the trees at the birth of the day, and when the sun melts into the horizon at its death. There is a netherworld hidden in the illusory transition between passing time. Every person has felt the call in some form, some voice; some song known only to their ears. That’s what this music makes me think of. That this world may not be such a dead place, that there may be some magic left behind in ineffable impressions amidst a waking life.
-the outrigger to his vessel was torn by coral and beyond repair. The craft sat idly in the waves, the single outrigger drifting, bobbing in and out of the water. He was waiting on that small island of no name, a collection of rocks and a small hill of scattered trees.
There was the skeleton of a wreck slowly torn apart through years of scavenging. The others were quick at work taking away a little more. The old vessel was huge, designed for many to craft it. It was once painted red, with etched designs and symbols that spoke to no place we knew. Somehow it did not require the use of the outrigger, as the design had achieved a balance ours could not. There was a remnant of the fine polish and residue coating that made the wood slightly sticky to the touch. And at its bow there was a strange design of some beast, its mouth opened below a trunk that curled upward towards the skies. The mouth was full of protruding sharp teeth and flanked by two elongated tusks. One tooth had been taken over the years, but none dared to touch the rest. Whispers spoke of a curse that followed the ancient ruin; the land it came from. They told of a people with hollow eyes, a place devoid of hope and desire.
He was haunted by these stories. He was caught between worlds, of one who spoke to a horizon and distant stars and of others who spoke to futility and false ambition. The elders then worshipped a formless mah and taught a dispassionate stoicism, the death of desire. He sat alone and thought to this reality. A Dream. A Curse.
He watched the others leave, knowing that asking for help would have been futile. They would return and send someone back for him, and then his shame would be complete. He who cannot sail was worthless. He turned to the hill side and waited.
How he found the other vessel is often debated, as is its own origin. Some stories say he swam leagues into the unknown sea and returned from the depths. Others say he made it himself. Another says there was a hidden world beneath the wreckage, undiscovered until his arrival. All that can be known with certainty is he returned from the isle alone the next day, and it was with a small craft of ancient design that none had ever seen. It shared a certain relationship to the larger wreck that had set alone for years on that small island. The same beast was depicted at its bow. Yet when others would speak in later times to his return, they never spoke of an old curse or fears, but of conviction. How one might be reconciled with the other is left to the imagination.
“-Allen, that I used to be a radio DJ?”
“I never did.”
“It was a good bit of fun, got paid to be a personality. It is nice to add a little something special to people’s day. I like to think there was someone out there, driving looking at the suburban stretch of morning cars. All the Hondas, Mustangs, Impalas, Nissans, Corollas, Toyotas, Volvos…” Tim paused, lost in a thought. “Sorry, anyways I liked to think that one bored driver somehow found a little warmth, maybe I’ll call it a little magic, in my morning programs. A little happiness.” Tim finishes with a chuckle that is cut short with a cough.
“Why’d you leave?”
“Oh simple; no pension, no health benefits, no life insurance, no paid leave. It was fun while it lasted, but you can’t raise a family and live off a few bucks above minimum wage. Look at me now, retiring and only one week to go…”
Something interesting happens then. Tim stops looking at me. His eyes seem to go somewhere else; he is looking behind me at something. The white walls, the single horizontal blue line which spans across them. The shelves are below. Tim looks as if he stumbled across something that causes a lapse in all other function. Perhaps he is in a memory. It lasts only a second. He lowers his head and releases a deep sigh. From wherever he went to he returns. It is only a second.
“Anyways, Allen. I called you over here because there is an issue I need to resolve before I leave this store… and I don’t think Sadie would be the best at handling it.”
“It’s about Josie.”
“You and Josie are the only employees that have worked here at Store 171 longer than I have, when I transferred in you both were already on your second year. What was that? Five years ago? Jesus how time flies… it almost disappears.” Tim looks down and pauses. “I guess where I am going with all this is that I imagine you two are at least friends right?”
“Uh, not particularly.”
“I see.” Tim pauses again, confused. Then carries on anyways. “Well Allen perhaps you can just help me with some information.”
“Have you seen Josie? Do you know where she has been lately? What’s been going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“She hasn’t been to work in two weeks.”
“She was just here yesterday; we were clearing out boy’s apparel…”
“What? Allen, I told you she hasn’t been to work in two weeks.”
“Maybe I got her confused with someone else.”
Tim’s eyes are observing mine. It doesn’t take long for the curiosity to fade. “Well anyways, first she called in all her saved time off, then she called in sick days till she started taking points. That’s when we started calling. Sadie wants to fire her, and I haven’t even mentioned it to my district manager yet... not that I care what he thinks anyways. I guess... it just feels wrong to cut her loose without trying to get hold of her first; she’s worked here for how many years now?”
“Six... just like me.”
“Look, I have her personal number from HR, maybe you can try to give her a call? See how she’s doing? She won’t pick up the store number, and if I call… well legally it’s not looking good for me as store manager. So could you do this? Just one call at least.”
My first thought does not surprise me. I think of all the time that will be lost tonight. Of the hour that might be spent away, wasted. An hour that could be so peaceful. I want to say no but my eyes drift to that same white wall. The one that is everywhere you look in this store. Something moves my lips-
For so many years
-I could recall a certain phenomenon at the end of the day. You know it well I imagine. The green flash at the edge of the horizon, right as the sun disappears. That day it was a little brighter. Too bright. I can remember the story better now as I tell you this.
He was sailing back home on that ancient vessel. How it glided through the waves now. The water parted gently at its approach, as if recognizing a kindred spirit. It felt familiar to him. There were etched symbols below the design of the beast. A triangle with half-arcs around three points was etched onto the red hull. The mast was made of some heavy dark material; strong, cold to the touch, and smooth. It could fold in on itself to conserve space. The work was beyond anything our village had ever seen. Elegant, graceful, and unknown. All it had lacked was a sail. It had seemed as if the craft was waiting for him, ordained from some other time and place now immemorial and forgotten.
His old craft was half under the water now, and there was nothing else but a farewell to so many hours of work. A passing glance to remember so much time spent building, and so much time alone. Something had changed now… the wind was different. He salvaged the sail from his old craft and attached it to the mast; the same sail I had spent so much time weaving, and so much time alone. How it fit so perfectly. Yes it had all been very strange. So very perfect.
“-as if I’ve lived an ordinary life. Or rather. That I am living one. But something keeps pushing me… nudging me in a certain direction. I’ve never asked why. I stay up till daylight watching the same shows, I lay in bed for days on my time off, I stare at the ceiling thinking that I should be thinking something else. And then, I feel very tried and I wish that I could drift so desperately to somewhere else. I never thought that anyone else might have lived different. Or that there was something wrong with the way I lived...”
For the first time I am in Josie’s apartment. It is lacking a sense of coherence. The strewn clothes are tossed around like an unfinished thought. An hour has passed since I finished my shift. I remember the rain on the windshield as the phone rang. She was surprised to hear my voice. Minutes later I knocked on the door, still in my work clothes. I’m still in them. Now she is sitting on her couch, and I am standing. She is waiting for me to say something. Anything.
-purpose was taken away from us and our voices were stifled by a desperate urge. This was the driving force since the start of the entire process. There’s an entire industry in it now. The pursuit of the most righteous cause they can imagine- to create a world in which we may not suffer. This is their answer to all the questions, this most precious place. A dream. What else is there to think? What if it could be real? What if it already is?
“What do you feel?” She is still waiting for my answer.
“I don’t know.”
“What is the problem?”
“Would it hurt you so much to be here? To say something? To just be here, now?” It comes out together in a burst. Tears and a small fist against the plaster wall. A small impression.
I do not see what bothers her so much in my response, why what I think could matter.
“I am here.”
“No you are not. You’ve just let it slip away. Every year passing you by like the one that precedes it. So much time spent to only be traded away again for something else. So much time spent alone. Movies, video games, dreams. It’s all the same. This is another idea of life we’ve been fed. And you are content to let them. Let the whole thing slip away quietly into the night.”
“There was never a guarantee it would be anything else.”
“What?” Surprise in her voice. All these years. And now I am speaking freely. There is a voice. I’ve created it from others. For others. She will not like what it has to say-
“Who told you otherwise?”
There is a pause before her reply. She stares into my eyes, suspicion in her own. They are green. Then there is a finger, pointed at me. “I knew life had to be more. It can’t be this fucking pointlessness, this repetitive charade of niceties and door greetings.”
“That is reality. The way it all works. What would you have me do?”
“Something, anything. Just look out your window for Christ’s sake. See something. Do something. Be somewhere.”
“And see what? Where could I go? Where would I go? With what little we have? You speak to an escape; but to where? What about the rest of us? The work that keeps this world spinning? Chasing after that escape, that dream; its recklessness. What’s in it anyways? Empty promises. You are just reaching to a day that you will never see.”
Who is speaking now? Another voice? Another narrative? Is this a story merely agreed upon as fact to make sense of something? Her eyes are cutting. There is quiet hatred in them. The pain is close.
“You’ve let it kill you.”
I am silent.
“And you’d let the rest of it fucking die, and for what? Another number on that six-year badge on your vest-” She jabs a finger into my chest as the name tag presses down against the skin. It doesn’t hurt. “You just gonna wait till that number hits seven? Then ten? Maybe you’ll wait till it hits twenty and you are retiring like Tim? Don’t you see his eyes?”
Now I am breathing heavy. This is abnormal.
“You’ve let this place kill a bright spark that used to live in you. I saw it once. You’ve let the weight of all of it pull you down and convince you as to what is possible. And what is not.”
She stops now, watching me. She is waiting for a reply, but I don’t say anything.
“I see it now. I tried so hard to blind myself to the whole thing. I thought maybe we were alike because we both believed in a dream, but I see just what that means. I’m talking to a shell of old ideas, a hollow man. Goodbye Allen.”
She doesn’t say anything else.
I leave shortly after.
Goodbye Josie. I hope you find it; whatever it is you are looking for.
In the Waves
-there is memory as one life ends and another begins. There is some magic there between what is possible and what cannot be. This is the nature of what lies on the horizon. I never understood this, not until that day.
No one said much at his arrival that, nor paid it any mind. There were other concerns. He waited at the beach, the new vessel at his side. There was so much to say, to do. Promises to keep. So he waited for me, but I knew I could never return.
His sister came to him first, wearing still that turquoise dress. Her legs kicked up the water, but the past excitement was replaced with fear. The Eldest had made his final departure into the sea, and all the village was gathered. It was pointless for them to wonder where he would go, beyond sight of their island was an endless ocean, indistinct and formless in its depths. I knew such a place was not the end, but a new beginning.
The entire village was all gathered that evening, save the girl who was bound to its most important role. The Witness. They searched for hours but found nothing. Then came the green flash, a blinding light from the trees atop the highest cliff. It was unlike anything they had seen before. And sometime after they found the tracks.
“-it has always been my dream to live a life like they do in the books, where they live everyday like it’s their last, enjoying and appreciating every minute. But as i grow older i keep spiraling in a never ending routine, i feel like im wasting my life, i feel as though i should be having picnics or sitting on my roof at 2 am with my crush or best friend staring at the stars and telling stories but nowadays no one is willing.” -xcdsa
“Admit it, we're all here because we just need a moment away from reality. I could be wrong though.” -Life of A HallBoy
"Sometimes I wish I could go back in life, not to change shit, just to feel some things twice. I think there’s a song that says that.” -Tactuel
“When I listen to this track I imagine a girl visiting a forest every summer to see a forest deity who is the only one who can play a broken abandoned piano in the forest. The deity sees her growing up each year until eventually the girl stops visiting, and she grows up to be an adult only to happen to visit the same forest again, when she hears a distant sorrowful piano playing. All the memories come back but she cannot see it as it once was. But she sings along to the piano until it no longer sounds sorrowful, but hopeful. Then the piano stops playing and all that’s left was the spirit’s voice in the wind, bidding farewell.” -Commits Oof
“Man, music like this takes me back to nights where I would be up all night with my brothers and cousins. Playing video games passed our bedtimes, laughing, eating food, and just bonding with one another over our shared interests. I miss those days, where you could just stay in that moment forever and ever and it would never get old. It feels like a lifetime ago, where we could be kids and stay out until dark and just have fun. But like all good things, it came to an end too quickly. Now here I am alone, while everyone i know has moved on to new things. All I have left of them is my memories and it doesn’t feel like enough anymore. I wish I had just one day where I could go back in time and relive those moments. Before everything got so complicated, before my friend passed, before my siblings grew up, before I grew up and was left to my own devices.” -vibe checked
“Every time the ending of this game comes and this song starts playing, I am hit with the overwhelming feeling that something important has just passed…” -I don’t know who I am
I am trying to forget. I am trying to find sympathy. I am trying to feel sympathetic. I am trying to find people who understand. I am listening again to the Lost Hero Soundtrack. There are others who feel too that Joe Kondi created a score to our lives. They think of stained-glass windows and the impossibility of their image. They think to all this sight of sound. To what impossible directions we are nudged to.
These were those comments.
He Never Stepped Outside
-of what was permissible. Not until that day. He had followed the steep trail winding around the cliff’s rocky face until he saw it. A light trail of blood lead into the depths beneath the twisting branches. And he could see them as they beckoned from beneath scattered dying light. They were dancing, gleeful even.
Every year the Witness made the pilgrimage alone to the Sorrows. She stood vigil by the trees on the week’s seventh day, waiting for the eighth which came only once that year. Her watch was for those shades underneath the trees who had given everything away for a dream. A dream she had come to know all too well. And sometimes she would visit more than once a year, to speak to them even though it was forbidden. It was there she might have learned about that dream of another world, from the whisper of shades underneath the twilight.
The Witness never returned from her vigil that day. And sometime after he would set out to the sea on his journey. He would tell them that he was going to find her again, to bring her back. But I suppose he never intended such a thing at all; he never did return. I wonder if they still remember him. Me. Us. Or have we been forgotten with time? These distant memories are like so many other things that come in from the sea, only to be swept away with the next.
On that day he climbed up to the sorrows with nothing. He did not know what he expected to find there. What might live amidst darkness to appear again somewhere else.
Then, the whispers began. Almost as if the trees themselves spoke…
For so many years you have all watched us. To wonder why some might still yearn to be alive… from so very far away.
I’ve walked through this life
“-and felt that it is not mine. Do you ever feel like it is just a little collection of internet posts and memes and assorted words that you’ve been told again and again is your world? What about when the feeling is lost? That you just can’t quite get what everyone else is picking up so easily, so effortlessly?”
These memories will not stop.
“Everyone is feeling that way Josie, they all have those thoughts.”
It was two years ago. We were speaking then.
“No they don’t. They get along. Or maybe you’re right, and it’s such a waste, a mess of busy streets and sweeping failures. Look at the news Allen. Do you watch that? Do you have time for it? Maybe you are right, maybe we all do have these thoughts… maybe that scares me more than anything else right now.”
“I’m tired Allen, so tired. I just want to rest for a bit.”
I never knew what to tell her then. I gave her all those same additives I could find online. The top 10 lists, the life hacks, the reboots, and the AMAs. None of it helped. We had worked together for six years. And to think that I had believed to know her; so neatly framed and categorized, then dismissed. But it is never true. Something is always unknown. Something is always changing. It was familiar. It stirred both of us. Something repressed for so many years. Silence. A dial tone. Something killing her. Something killing me.
Josie is an undergraduate with a physics degree who continues to sort out these aisles. To stack tins. I remember asking only once why she was not somewhere else. She just shrugged her shoulders. There was something about why. Something about better options. The lack thereof. There was something about the deep interpersonal connection of dreams, of moments that shaped who you were. A single chance, and something about stumbling through the world. Did anyone really make their way-
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing. Why I’ve been held here for five years now. I never imagined it would be this way after all. I imagined adventures, new discoveries, sailing. A world moved by me and my friends. But I’m just moving the tins.”
It’s not too late.
This thought comes to mind now, what I should say. What I should have said. But this is a memory, nothing can change anything here. And so the thoughts remain. There is what she deserves to know. Someone there, someone who said-
It’s not too late.
The corridors of the mind, a memory that weaves silently through a tattered brain. All the talks of hope and what it is supposed to mean. But what is hope to the six-year badge. To the hours. To minimum wage. To debt.
“I guess maybe that is just how it is Allen. Even though I never saw anything like this as a kid. I guess I never imagined such a world.”
I pick up the phone.
-fades so easily into one another. The voices spoke so incessantly, a dull roar of wind at the edge of sense. There was a clearing within the woods. A meadow of pale flowers. The blood trail had ended there, specks of it dried across luminescent petals.
Did your Elders persuade you to the virtues of silence as they always have? Did they convince you to that same eternal dispassionate stoicism?
They convinced me of nothing, he replied.
The voices dissipated and reformed after a collection of hushed growls.
We will see. Why are you here?
The moon’s light was captured in the glowing petals. A pale column passed through him. Then amidst the flowers he saw it; purple linen torn at its edge. Black robes left behind, empty.
We have thought to these emotions mortals play out in their time, unrequited. But even in her last visit, she was never assured, her mind never concluded. So she came to us, open to the belief of another existence, another world. But you are not the same, are you? Or have you come to us now because you too are-
What happened here?
The whispers then took their shape, standing shadows as tall as the trees. Some were indistinguishable from the winding branches, limitless as all the flora within.
Do not interrupt.
I do not care for these games.
And you would presume to know what is? What is not?
The Next Day
-a young girl reads a name tag as I stack scented candles in pretty little rows. It says: HELLO, MY NAME IS: ALLEN. She looks like she wants to ask something but thinks better of it and leaves. She never said anything.
There is a smiley face button pinned to the side of the name tag. I’ve had the same one since my start here. There is a badge below. It says: PROUD TEAM MEMBER – 7 YEARS.
It will be eight years tomorrow.
“Allen, can I talk to you for a second?”
Sadie joins me at the scented candle aisle. It will be cat food tins next. One more time. She is the store manager now. Tim left some time ago. I was not at work on his last day. I was at home. Dreaming. Sadie continues speaking.
“You know, a lot of people don’t understand it. All we could ask for now is to know… anything is better than this confusion.”
I keep stacking.
“I have often wondered about that part we all play in the lives of others since then. What impression do we have on who they become? What they choose to do?”
“What do you mean?”
She stares silently and there is that small furrowing of the eyebrows again. It vanishes quickly. She is struggling to say something, anything.
“I was thinking about it the other day. I can’t help but wonder if there was something I did, if I was too tough maybe, I never wanted-”
“None of us did.”
Sadie pauses, then continues silently.
“Do you remember my first conversation with you?”
“I believe it was about falling pallets and a new hire.”
“Yes, and he works at another store now. And you were so quick to let the whole thing fall right on top of you, to let it out of your hands. There was no defense, no self-preservation. It was as if you wanted Tim and I to fire you then, almost desperately. And a year later, here you are still. Even after everything that’s happened.”
I keep stacking.
“Just leave.” She pauses then, waiting for my reply.
I keep stacking.
“I’m almost begging you. No, I am begging. Get out of here, find a different job. Start over again. I’ll even give you a recommendation, write a reference letter. I want to help Allen; we’ve already-”
“I remember something else you told me back then, about bullshitting on the clock.”
She is looking down now. That fire does not burn the same twice. She is not angry now, not anymore. “I remember. Well, you should know I’m quitting in two weeks. I don’t know what will happen next. It seemed like the only thing I could think to do. I don’t understand it so much anymore.”
I say nothing. She waits, watching me for half a second, before turning away.
I’m there alone on the aisle. The stacking is all done. The scented candles haven’t moved. Neither have the white walls, or the cat food tins on Aisle A13. And I haven’t moved. I am still thinking. Perhaps we have thought ourselves to the point where there is nothing left to think.
I wonder where Josie is at these days.
-but brave. This is not his story. Perhaps he thinks it is.
He held the dark robes tightly in his fingers.
Tell me where she went, and I’ll pay your price. I’ll play this game.
There was a deep growl that shook the branches of the Sorrows, a sharp screech as the sleeping birds departed from their branches. Then a cackling laugh of thunder.
You’ve been playing one your entire life. Now listen carefully, there is not much time. Sail out towards the first rays of the new day, to an eighth star you never believed in. There you will find your last Witness to all this trial and suffering consequence. She left to find a truth out there, in a far-off country beyond the map. A truth you have long forgot. And when you have finally found what you have long sought, the price will be paid in full. The illusions of this dream will be cast away.
Then it all came to an end. The shades one-by-one faced the first rays of morning twilight. This was their final dance. Each looked out to the peeking sun and there was no fear in their movement but yearning. Arms and branches outstretched they reached to a day which had at last arrived, and freedom with it. Then they were gone. The breeze brushed past him with one final whisper.
Each morning we spoke to her, she understood. We are free now because of her works, such is the wonder of them, a beautiful telling. Do you understand this? Could you?
Then it was silent. The birds returned to the trees. There was soft rain from the violet sky. Below the cliff, he could see the warming colors of an awakening village for the first time. He looked back to the trees, but the dancing figures were gone – for their movement had ended. And today some still wonder if they might ever dance again.
He followed the steep trail winding around the cliff’s face, and there was an unfamiliar sight below. An empty shore, and beyond it the sun was rising.
It was the eighth day after the seventh, the only one of the year.
-of a woman alone in the darkness. No one is listening to her speaking. A soft glimmer of light from somewhere barely illuminates her face. She is yelling, reaching out in desperation to make her voice heard. She wants someone to answer the questions, all the impossible questions she has for all the world. Someone to look her in the eye. But there is never a reply. Just the silence. So she lowers her head, the little glow fades.
She rests now, her face lowered in the dark. She isn’t weeping, nor angry, nor relieved. Only confused. She shakes her head slightly, not understanding how anything like this might happen. She tried, but relents now, accepting that maybe this whole thing could never make any kind of sense. And then she remembers.
“They were here first,” she whispers as she disappears into the dark.
But now there is a singing. Is it the same voice? A golden illumination is glowing brightly. Her outline is silhouetted amidst the black, framed with the light. It is devoid of any substance, but there is a comfort and warmth to it. Something is out there, some possibility that I can only begin to understand. It is created from the old memories of a forgotten story; the frayed strands twist and gently fall away. These are the dreams of tomorrow.
It’s going to be alright.
I will no longer have to worry about it anymore. Everything is going to be alright. She reaches out to me, and the light grows brighter engulfing her entirely. The image fades into nothing but a feeling and the impression is vivid. It is like sunspots after staring for too long, the shape of that same silhouette in the darkness. Then there is a thought. A strange one. Is she still out there? Somewhere else. Is she really gone? I don’t think I can say. I don’t know where she is. Where we go. It is not impossible to believe.
The glow from the silhouette fades into a dull darkness and it is over. Then I am again staring at the slow rotation of the metallic blades from a ceiling fan-
Spinning. Spinning. Spinning.
-are fire in the wind, alive with the music that speaks to a new destination. That place of transience in the twilight hours. The leaves fall across the sail and into the cresting waves. He presses forward adjusting the mast to catch the wind. Outside that small inlet the open sea beckons to an unknown and wonderful world.
This tale had just been one of many; another of a collection belonging to a hero of legends and fame. A myth he walked away from for something else. The love of an invaluable old friend means so much more than the passing words of a story, of a look.
He never did say goodbye. A cruel thing I suppose. Sometimes the worst pain is that which is unspoken. Perhaps it can never be. Perhaps the words available to us are unsuitable to understand our innermost desires. To speak of them. To share them.
So it is with these autumn leaves, overcast skies. They are endless in pursuit of some final destination, one which they alone can tell. How we admire their grace and tell stories to their travels.