I’ll be dead soon, so my doctors asked that I tell my story as a cautionary tale. I don’t want other girls to be sick like I am.

cesium

Teeny Tiny

When I was little, Mom used to hold me and say stuff like, “Oh Katie, you fit so perfectly on my lap! You’re so teeny-tiny!” I loved it. She’d keep me warm and hug me and I felt so great. I’d always go to Mom if I felt sad or scared and she’d just scoop me up, saying “what’s wrong, my teeny-tiny girl?” and I’d tell her what was making me upset and she’d always always always make it all better.

The most vivid memory I have was the day I turned 10. It wasn’t of my party, which I vaguely remember being great, it wasn’t the presents, some of which I still have, but it was when Mom had me in her lap that night and had tears in her eyes and said to Dad, “Katie’s getting to be a big girl, huh?” I don’t remember what my dad said, but there was no denying it: I wasn’t her teeny-tiny girl anymore.

At 10 years old, I was about 4’10”, maybe 100 pounds. I was growing fast. Both my parents are tall. I remember being scared. The scale kept going up, and by the time I was 11 I was 5’2”, 120 pounds and I started getting boobs. At that point, when I was sad, mom would hug me tight and say the right things, but it all felt different. She never cradled me. She never had me in her lap. I felt cold and lonely even though I was never really cold or lonely. I just wanted to be closer to her like I was when I was little. So I decided to get little again.

Mom started to notice when I pushed around my food on the plate, trying to pile it up on one side to make it look like I ate more than I really did. “You’re a growing girl,” she said, kindly but firmly. “You need to eat.” I couldn’t leave the table until I was done.

That night after dinner, I remember lying on my back on the bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling the food in my stomach. Mom’s words “you’re a growing girl” echoed in my mind and I felt so sick that I ran into the bathroom and threw up. I was really glad I had my own bathroom so they couldn’t hear me puking. After I was done, I felt so much better. Lighter and smaller, even.

Mom was so happy to see me eating normally again. She worried aloud that I might be getting the flu, so seeing me chowing down like my old self pushed those worries right out of her head. What she didn’t see was how I went to bed afterward and while the bathwater ran I was throwing it all up. I did this every day for years.

One of the sad truths about throwing up your meals is you don’t lose all that much weight. I actually gained more. Sure, I’d get rid of what I’d eaten, but probably twice a week I’d be lying in bed, wide awake, fingering my collar bones, hip bones, and ribs, and obsessing over food. Something inside me would snap, and I’d run to the fridge or the cabinets and eat until I felt like I was bursting. Then, exhausted, I’d go back upstairs and pass out on my bed. Calorie-for-calorie, after those twice-weekly binges I was eating more than I would if I was healthy. Except I really, really wasn’t healthy. And nobody knew.

All this built up to the last few months after I graduated high school. I was 5’11, 175 pounds. 17 years old. There was absolutely nothing I hated more than my body. I was constantly lonely and wanted to try to take my mind off it all. I decided to get a job. When I told Mom I found a position at a place that recycles old medical gear, she was really proud of me for taking the initiative. It was bittersweet; I knew she was starting to see me as an adult. Not her teeny-tiny girl. I felt like a complete and utter failure.

The recycling place where I worked dismantled big machines that hospitals used and sold the parts. I was the receptionist. I took phone calls and helped set up deliveries. The people I worked with were really nice and after a few weeks they gave me a key so I could get there early and have coffee ready and work orders printed out. One night, after everyone left, I went back there and let myself in. I still feel bad about breaking their trust.

A couple days earlier my coworkers were bringing in an old machine. They all were wearing heavy gloves and had on breathing gear like scuba divers. When they were done, I asked what it was. Apparently it was something hospitals use to give radiation therapy to cancer patients. I didn’t know too much about that, so when I got home I went on Wikipedia and did a lot of research and then I got my idea.

When I let myself in that night, the place was empty. I made a beeline for where they had that radiation therapy machine and I investigated it. Most of it was completely dismantled. What I was looking for was conveniently labeled and brightly marked in a massive lead container. It took me a while to get the cover off. Lead’s so heavy! But after I did, I saw a round metal part that looked like a wheel. I picked it up, rotated the mechanism, and it opened a little window in the front. A faint blue light was inside. I held it up to my eye and looked in. Nothing but that light. I thought it was probably what I was looking for.

I brought the object home with me and locked the door of my bedroom. I worked to pry the thing open with a screwdriver but it seemed locked from the inside. Eventually I got frustrated and I turned the wheel again to open the window and pushed my screwdriver into the blue stuff and tried scooping it out. It turned out to be pretty soft. A lot of it broke as I poked it with the screwdriver, and when I turned the wheel upside down, the pieces tumbled out onto my desk. Now I could see how pretty it was. It was like chunks of glowing blue clay and sand. I gathered it up as best I could and put it away, save for the little bit I was going to use tonight.

One of the things I’d read about radiation therapy was that it made the poor people with cancer really skinny. They just totally lost their appetites. I couldn’t believe it was true. I’d always had such a big appetite. I kept telling myself I need to be really careful when I take this stuff because if I get too much of the radiation I could get cancer myself. I took a pinch of the blue clay, put it in my mouth, and swallowed it with a gulp of water. It felt warm going down even though the water was cold. Since I’d gotten home from the recycling place I’d been pretty warm, in fact. Cozy. Like a little puppy under a blanket.

That night I woke up sweating worse than I’d ever sweated in my life. The bed was totally soaked. Gross. Water weight wasn’t really what I wanted to lose, but it was better than nothing. I took a shower and changed the sheets and went back to bed. My stomach ached a little.

When I woke up the next morning, my stomach hurt and I threw up a couple times. But, I wasn’t even remotely hungry. That alone made the pain in my tummy pretty much go away. I didn’t need to eat! Mom asked if I was bringing leftovers to work from last night’s dinner and I lied and said we were going to get a pizza. I hate lying to Mom, but I didn’t want her to worry. There was no need to tell her I wasn’t hungry. At work, they’d finished disassembling the machine and started sending it out to wherever they send those things. I’d been really careful to put the canister back exactly as I left it. No one checked to see if the little wheel was still there.

The next few days were uneventful, aside from my stomach ache getting worse and having to puke once or twice. I’d barely eaten anything since I started taking the radiation medicine. Whenever I got woozy from lack of food I ate an apple or a fat-free yogurt and I was fine. I was still sweating a lot. When I got on the scale, it said 168.

After a week of eating nearly nothing and faithfully taking my radiation medicine nightly, my stomach ache got really, really bad. I’d stopped throwing up, but this time it felt like I needed to go to the bathroom. I went, and it was awful. There was so much – I was shocked. I’d apparently eaten and kept down more than I thought. I got on the scale after, though, and that helped me feel a lot better. 161.

Over the next couple days, one or two people told me how pretty I looked. They asked me if I lost weight and I said yeah, maybe a few pounds. I beamed. Over my whole adolescence I’d done nothing but get bigger. Now, finally, I was shrinking and on the way to teeny-tiny. I didn’t feel too great, though. My tummy was constantly having me run to the bathroom and it still hurt afterwards. I figured I was getting rid of all the extra fat. 158.

I was in the shower about 10 days after I started taking the medicine and I was horrified to see some of my hair coming out. That was bad. Really, really, really bad. I stopped washing it immediately and let just the water rinse away the remainder of the shampoo. I got out of the shower and took like an hour blow drying my hair because I was too scared to use a towel that might pull more out. When the mirror was unfogged and my hair was dry, I checked to see how noticeable it was. There was a good-sized patch of bare, red scalp about 2” wide above my left ear. I pushed the hair around it to cover the patch. Some more fell out. It had to be a nutritional deficiency from all the meals I’d been missing. I put on my Titans hat and got dressed. When I brushed my teeth I noticed a little blood in the sink. I made a note to get some multivitamins after work.

I didn’t shower the next day because when I woke up that morning, there was more hair on my pillow. My scalp was getting pretty visible. It looked prickly and raw but it didn’t hurt. Since I was off work I stayed at home and looked online for all the nutritional deficiencies that might cause my hair to fall out and my gums to bleed. Most of the ones were covered by my multivitamin, so I tripled the amount I took just to be on the safe side. I had to go to the bathroom five times during the 15 hours I was awake. By the last time I was incredibly light-headed and so thirsty. I weighed myself before I started downing water and my radiation medicine. 150. The medicine helped me lose 25 pounds in less than two weeks.

Mom hugged me the next morning before I went to work. She ran her hands up and down my back and she made a remark about how skinny I’d gotten. Then, she said it: “remember when I used to call you my teeny-tiny girl? I miss those days but I love you just as much as a grown up.” Then she let me go. Pain, nausea, and despair washed over me. Without warning, my lightheadedness came back with a vengeance and I stumbled and fell on the kitchen floor. My hat fell off. With my head spinning, I vaguely remember Mom gasping, “Katie what happened to your hair?!” before I violently threw up on the floor and myself. It was all blood. I passed out to the sound of Mom screaming.

I don’t know how much time went by at the hospital. I wasn’t completely unconscious, but all I remember up until recently when they used drugs to wake me up were images of doctors in the same scuba gear as the guys at work and saying meaningless words like “cesium” and “sloughed” and “gray” that didn’t mean the color.

Today, I can’t move or talk and I’m writing this using a cool keyboard that can pick out letters using the movements of my remaining eye. Like I said in the beginning, I’ll be dead soon. I’m not too fun to look at anymore. My hair’s gone. And my lower jaw. And my skin. The nice doctors are giving me medication that helps me manage the pain and keep me alert. They asked if they could do tests and experiments on me to help understand what ingestion of the radiation medicine does to the human body. Apparently there was a Japanese man a few years ago named Hiroshi Ouchi who got a similar level of exposure and the same stuff happened to him. They said it would help other people in the future if they could compare our two cases. Of course I let them.

I can’t eat food anymore. My esophagus got cooked away. Same with my stomach. The doctors are keeping me hydrated with a tube in my butt. I don’t really like to think about it. I guess all the excitement I get as I wait here is when they weigh me every six hours to see if I’m able to retain the fluids they give me or if it all seeps out into the sheets. They hoist me onto a pad and a little machine voice says a number. This morning it said 72. The next time it was 69.

Mom and Dad have to wear those scuba suits when they come visit. Mom’s always crying because she’s not allowed to touch me. Dad just stares. Right before I started writing this, Mom bent down and started whispering to me some of the stuff I remember her saying when I was small. I closed my eye and imagined being warm and safe on her lap. “I love you, my teeny-tiny girl,” she sobbed. I would have smiled if I had a mouth.

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My wife and I discovered the terrifying truth behind the birds’ nests on our property.

nest

Shanice and I are lucky enough to live in an area replete with wildlife. Every morning, when we’re sitting at the porch table having coffee or simply looking out our kitchen window, deer, foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks, or other local fauna appear in our large backyard. Having property near a national park has its perks.

While Shanice is enamored with all things furry and adorable, or “totes adorbs,” which she squeals just to watch me cringe, I’ve grown to love birds. Don’t get me wrong – I’m also quite fond of the “totes adorbs” variety of animals. Our cat, Meowsers, totes exemplifies adorbs. Still, something about birds relaxes me in a way I find difficult to describe. We have such a magnificent diversity of the flying creatures that even after five years of living here, I think I see a new kind every week.

I’ve set up quite a few feeding stations throughout our backyard. My personal favorite is a spot right outside the kitchen windows where hummingbirds congregate. It amazes me how their tiny bodies can contain so much energy to flap their delicate wings as quickly as they do and flit away in the blink of an eye. But it’s not just the hummingbirds. In our yard, sparrows and jays tweet, ravens and jackdaws caw, and the occasional owl endlessly asks the same question.

Whenever the weather allows it, I’ll wander our property and the adjacent park with my head tilted toward the trees to see which of my friends are out and about. Sometimes I came across a hiker or fellow birdwatcher and we’d get to talking about our hobbies and interests before I’d retreat back to my own head and continue walking and observing. I won’t tell Shanice, but sometimes I wish I was a Disney princess who could tame birds and go on adventures with them. A 34 year old, bearded Disney princess with a 3-plate squat and a 4-plate deadlift. Don’t judge me.

One evening, as we sat in the living room and watched TV, we heard the jingle of the bell on Meowsers’ collar as she came in through the cat door. She wandered into the living room and looked at Shanice and me, deciding whose lap she’d grace with her presence. A moment later, I was the chosen one. Meowsers leapt onto my lap and immediately began extending and retracting her claws in an autonomic display of pleasurable biscuit-making.

At a commercial, Shanice got up and went into the kitchen to refill her wine glass. I heard her yell “God damn it, Meowsers!” I looked down at the cat and asked her if she peed on the floor again. Meowsers purred adoringly. Shanice came back into the room holding something in a paper towel. She brought it closer and I could see it was a baby bird. Maybe a robin. Its belly had been torn open and its guts dangled from the wound. Ugly, yellowish-red liquid bloomed outward from the viscera clinging to the towel. I gagged.

The next day, I went and looked around the outside of the house for nests that might be reachable by Meowsers. I hated to disturb them, but I figured the birds would prefer inconvenience over the gleeful murder of their babies by my cat. They weren’t too hard to find, but my quick inspection of the first few determined they were empty and abandoned.

After another few minutes, I found one with tiny babies inside. I wondered where their mom was. All three of them chirped pathetically as I took great care in lifting the nest and bringing it up the steps to the porch. I’d set up a ladder which led up to the roof. I knew Meowsers couldn’t get up there, and I hoped the shadow of the chimney would be a safe spot with relative shelter from the elements.

While I carried the nest, I noticed a few details I’d missed at my first glance. When I realized what they were, my blood ran cold. The nest was woven together with what had to be human hair. All different colors, too. I placed it down on the edge of the porch and took a closer look. It was definitely hair. I moved it around a little bit with my fingers as the birds’ high-pitched screams of terror and hunger drowned out the singsong calls of the ubiquitous adults. Buried within the body of the nest were tattered scraps of leathery material and hard, gray fragments. I gingerly pulled one out with my thumb and forefinger. As soon as I felt it, I knew what it was. A human tooth.

Something was terribly, terribly wrong. I ran back to the other, abandoned nests that I’d only glanced at before. Closer inspection yielded similar construction. When I turned one of them over, I saw a child’s pink necklace was embedded within the tangle of hair. I felt panic rise in my chest. After I’d calmed my breathing enough to yell, I screamed for Shanice to come outside. She had to see what I was seeing to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.

Shanice was visibly shaken by my find. The whole thing got even worse when she pointed out that the leathery material was skin. Without even discussing it with one another, we both knew what we needed to do.

After stopping at the garage to get some tools and a couple sheets of plywood, we threw it all in the pickup, grabbed the ladder from the porch, and drove over to the edge of our property about a quarter mile from the house. When we got to the shed, sure enough, there was a big hole in the roof. Shanice had been bugging me for almost two years to make sure the shed was sturdy and strong, but I’d always put it off because the smell got to me.

Shanice teased me and made me do the majority of the work myself, always laughing when I had to stop and retch. After I hammered in the last nail, I went inside to make sure there were no birds trapped in there. I stepped over the putrefying bodies of hikers and birdwatchers and, sure enough, a tiny nest was hidden in the corner. A couple baby birds lay sleeping inside. How they managed to sleep through the hammering and bickering was beyond me. I smiled and picked up their little home and brought it out into the light. I handed it to Shanice, who grinned at the sight of the babies, and I closed the shed door and replaced the padlock.

While we headed back toward the house, Shanice carefully stroked the head of one of the sleeping babies with her index finger. “You know,” she said, “I guess baby birds can be pretty adorbs too.” I beamed. Maybe she was finally coming around.

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Something horrible is happening to me on Facebook.

I don’t know shit about Facebook. I started an account late last year to promote my website. Not much happened. I plugged my Facebook address pretty much everywhere I went, and while fans trickled in and one or two even shared some of the content I posted, my page wasn’t growing nearly as quickly as I’d hoped.

Fast forward a couple months. Same problem. In total, I think my page was stuck around 100 “likes.” The majority of those were from the first week I started the page and a bunch of nice Reddit users felt sympathy for me and visited, clicked “like,” and never came again. I can’t blame them, to be honest.

I was in a creative rut. Very little new content was coming out, and whatever did reach completion was nothing but a rehashing of older, more popular stories I’d done in the past. I was hoping to piggyback on their successes. It didn’t work. It was obvious that interest was waning.

All this was coming at a bad time. My Tumblr, which had done spectacularly well for the first four months of its existence, was also stagnating. Followers were disappearing. Again, I can’t blame them. Why follow a blog that just reposts old stories without putting anything out that’s new or interesting? I’d reached a point where I was starting to think writing wasn’t for me and I’d have to rethink everything I’d envisioned for my future.

Out of nowhere, sometime in April, I got a notification on Facebook that my page had been mentioned. I clicked through, and was astonished to find out that a page with nearly 10 million fans had posted one of my older stories and had credited my own Facebook page as the content creator. Messages and “likes” came in droves. Friend requests, too.

I didn’t know what to do with all the newfound interest in my work. My creativity hadn’t been piqued by it all, but my enthusiasm had reemerged. I chatted with people who messaged me, I gave advice to aspiring writers, despite not really believing any of what I was saying, and I even agreed to collaborate with another, semi-well known author on a piece at some point in the fall.

As April progressed, more and more people were visiting my page and inhaling my old content. Each day, I’d spend hours replying to notifications and messages; sometimes holding 10 real-time conversations at once. It felt good to be connecting with people again. It’s something I hadn’t really done at all since high school, and that was almost 20 years ago.

I grew close with a few of the people who’d been messaging me. People from all over the world, in fact. We chatted about nothing and everything, to use a cliche that I despise but find impossible to avoid. The more we talked, the closer we got. There were about 25 people out of the hundreds who I really felt a connection with. I think it was mutual, too. We chatted together on Facebook, and then we started doing group emails.

In May, Charles, one of the 25, suggested a meetup. Obviously for some of them, it was impossible. Quite a few were way too far away for that to be possible for them, but 8 or 9 of us were all within around 300 miles of one another. After working through some logistical issues, we made it happen. Seven people showed up. I got to meet seven, wonderful people: Charles, Lynn, Malcolm, Anita, Bev, Mellie, and Raj.

We met up at a small restaurant in the Tribeca area of NYC. We chatted and laughed and had an all-around fantastic time. I enjoyed myself and my new friends more than I can even express. But it was Bev who really stood out.

We’d grown close online, but I never had any hope of getting much closer than that. It all changed when we met. While we all shared stories and jokes and beers around the table, Bev and I held hands. She squeezed my fingers with her own and I stroked her wrist and toyed with her bracelet. During the brief glances we shared with one another, we both knew something special was happening.

When it was obvious the night was coming to an end and everyone headed back to their respective hotel rooms or homes, Bev and I remained together. We headed back to her hotel room and let things take their natural course. It was truly wonderful.

After it was all over, Bev got up from the bed to take a shower. I propped myself up with my laptop on my lap, happily reminiscing about the time not only she and I had spent together, but the time all eight of us had shared hours earlier. I decided to go on Facebook and leave individual messages for my new friends to show how much I appreciated them.

While clicking through to where I needed to go, I realized I’d never even visited their pages before. We’d all just chatted either on my page or through email. I clicked on Malcolm’s first. It was weird. A lot of his friends had posted some pretty depressing emo stuff on his wall. I wrote my little “thank you” paragraph, and then headed over to Charles’ page.

Same thing. Just sad stuff. I wrote my letter and moved on. Lynn, Raj, and Mellie’s were the same. A strange feeling started inside my chest and gradually bloomed outward while gooseflesh prickled my limbs.

I clicked on Anita’s wall. More depressing messages. One in particular caught my eye: “We’ll always you love, Anita. You will always be our beautiful, sweet daughter.” It was from her parents. Dated 2011.

The feeling of discomfort and dread intensified. I went back to all the other pages I’d just been to and scrolled down. All the depressing messages were from between 2009 and 2016. They all had something in common: they were saying some variant of “goodbye.”

Doing my best to control my breathing, I navigated to the one page I hadn’t visited yet. Bev’s. The message on her wall, dated February 2nd, 2016: “God bless you and keep you – you were taken from us far too soon, sweet girl.”

A loud thud sounded from the bathroom, causing me to jump. I got up, quietly asking “Bev?” “Bev, are you okay?” No response. I walked slowly toward the bathroom, a sense of doom weighing down my body. I knocked on the door. No reply. Just the sound of water running. I turned the doorknob and entered the bathroom.

The room was steamy and warm with an intense, unpleasant odor. “Bev?” I asked, my head starting to spin with fear. I gripped the shower curtain between my thumb and forefinger and carefully pulled it open. I screamed. Hot water streamed down the remains of a bloated, rotting corpse. Stringy blonde hair was plastered to the side of a gray face with a purple tongue bulging through lips that looked like dark-green banana slugs. Grayish-yellow slime drooled from between her legs and puddled thickly near the drain. Before I could turn away and throw up, I saw the bracelet on her wrist that I’d played with at the restaurant.

I heaved and retched into the toilet, trying to tell myself this was all impossible and Bev was alive and normal and everything was okay. I closed my eyes and turned around to face the tub. I made the sign of the cross, opened my eyes, and nearly fainted with relief. The bathtub was empty. I inhaled. The smell, for the most part, was gone. I sank to the floor and tried to collect myself.

The horror I’d felt was replaced with an immediate concern for my own mental health. I didn’t know if I should call 911 right away or go to the hospital first thing in the morning and get checked out. I dragged myself to my feet and headed toward the bedroom to lie down for a few minutes. As I was crossing between the rooms, I glanced in the garbage can next to the sink. My used condom sat inside like a deflated grub, covered in grayish-yellow slime.

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When Malcolm and I were kids, he told me he was terrified of the floaty things in his eyes. He said they were alive and they forced him to do things to himself.

malc

I didn’t understand. I had those floaty things. My teacher said everyone did. An artifact of our eyes developing, or something like that. I guess he’d been told the same thing, but it did him little good. His parents were concerned, of course, and they brought him to ophthalmologists who were all in agreement: his eyes were fine. When he denied the experts’ claims and doubled down on his insistence that something was wrong, his worried parents got him into therapy.

I guess the therapist helped him a little bit. Malcolm’s paranoia seemed to diminish somewhat and his anxious habits like twitching and blinking weren’t as pronounced. That was good – a lot of kids made fun of the way he blinked. He told me it helped push the things out of sight for a couple seconds.

From what I can remember, Malcolm started seeing the therapist when he was 7 or 8. I thought things were going pretty well until he turned 14. I don’t know if it was the combination of his underlying problems combined with the hormonal onslaught of puberty, but his anxiety and paranoia returned with a vengeance. He started getting into fights at school whenever someone made fun of him. His mom confided in me, since I was his best friend, that she saw cuts and scratches on his upper arms when she accidentally walked in on him getting changed. She was at her wits end with worry and implored me to do whatever I could to help him feel better.

Over time, I worked to evolve my role in his life from friend to confidant. It was easier than I thought. He was used to telling me about his problems. Apparently, aside from his parents and the doctors, I was the only one who knew about his fear of the floaty things. When I asked him about those, he started to cry. He was worried he was schizophrenic; his therapist mentioned the possibility and it terrified him. Those things were always, always present in his field of vision. And while they were there, they talked to him. Goaded him into self-destructive behavior. All he could do to stop himself from going crazy was to obey them and make the little cuts on his arms and legs.

He showed me the cuts. They weren’t deep, but there were a lot of them. Especially on his inner thighs. Being 14 myself and not understanding why someone, anyone, would cut themselves, I tried to get him to explain why he couldn’t just stop. All he said was, “I’m giving them what they ask for so they’ll stop biting.” Before I was able to question what the hell he meant, he kissed me.

I wasn’t prepared that. I’d never been kissed before. I didn’t think I was gay, but I wasn’t particularly interested in girls, either. I kissed him back. And that was it. Whatever it meant to him, I’ll never know for sure. I knew he was dealing with intense turmoil. More than I could handle. But he’d just shown how much he trusts me. He showed me the cuts, knowing I might run away in disgust. He kissed me, knowing I might knock his teeth out. He was trying so hard to overcome whatever was consuming him, and I wasn’t going to let him down. I had to be there for him.

Something like a year passed and Malcolm just got worse. He skipped a lot of school and was even hospitalized when he had some kind of breakdown in the supermarket with his mom about a week before summer vacation. Despite my desire to see him in the hospital and give whatever comfort I could provide, he turned me away. Once he was released, on the infrequent occasions he agreed to meet up with me, he looked awful. His dark brown complexion was tinged with gray. He was emaciated and his arms were covered in cuts. They were deeper now; he didn’t even bother hiding them. They grew up his wrists onto his forearms and biceps and triceps like angry, scabbed ivy. I pitied him.

The day after Christmas, he asked me to visit him at home. His parents were overjoyed by the fact he’d not only initiated the contact, but that he talked openly about how excited he was to give me a present. They thought he might have finally turned the corner.

I walked up the stairs to his bedroom, knocked, and was greeted by something unexpected: his smiling face. He hugged me and had me come in. He handed me an envelope and watched with excitement as I opened it. Inside was an illustration he’d done in the hospital depicting the two of us holding hands. “I can’t thank you enough for all the support you’ve given me,” he whispered, as tears welled up in his eyes.

I beamed at him as he smiled back, the tears now flowing freely over his sharp cheekbones. In what had to be the space of two seconds, he produced a small knife from his back pocket, and, without looking away from me, stabbed through each of his eyes. The only scream that filled the room and echoed through the house was my own. Malcolm sat back, the bed directly behind him, and put his head in his hands. As blood drooled from his punctured eyes and seeped into the carpet, he wept.

His parents arrived in his bedroom seconds after my scream and gasped in horror at the damage to their son. He moved his head up and faced the direction where he assumed his parents were standing. “I had to,” he sobbed, over and over, tears pouring from his undamaged lacrimal glands and diluting the stream of blood flowing down his face.

His father ran to call 911 while his mother wrapped her arms around him, not knowing if she should press something against his bleeding eyes or if that would only make it worse. The bleeding was slowing down to a trickle, though. The first few times he moved his head in my direction, I diverted my eyes, foolishly not wanting to meet his sightless gaze. But, as the moments passed and we waited for the ambulance, I studied his face. He looked calm. Soon, he started to smile; a beatific, worryless grin that was in frightening contrast to the gore only inches above it.

“Watch,” he mouthed at me. As I stared, tiny lines began to appear in the blood around his eyes. The lines looked like tracks, only I couldn’t see what was making them. His mom noticed what was happening and jumped back in surprise. The tracks poured from his ruined eyes and traced clean lines down his dark cheeks. “I told you,” he sighed. He tilted his neck downward and shook his head. When he faced forward again, no new tracks were being carved out of the blood. Malcolm ground his sneaker into the rug where he’d been facing. “Please hold my hand,” he begged, reaching in the direction of where I stood. I did.

The ambulance arrived and rushed Malcolm to the hospital. I didn’t see him again for a long time. After recovering from the surgery to remove his eyes, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he stayed for 18 months. His parents called me a few times early on to let me know how he was doing, and the general consensus was that he seemed a lot better. Yes, he was blind. But he didn’t exhibit the paranoia anymore. He didn’t try to injure himself. He slept through the nights.

I was glad to hear the positive updates, but I was deeply shaken by what I saw that day. Not just Malcolm’s violence toward himself, but the aftermath: the streaked tracks across his bloody face. I never spoke about it with his mother. Even today, it’s something I try to convince myself was a false memory brought on by the trauma of seeing someone I cared for harmed so badly. But I know better.

It was four years before I saw Malcolm again. I visited his house, again around Christmas, because it was the break between my semesters at college. He looked great. The glass eyes he had were eerily lifelike. He’d put on some weight, but he appeared healthy and happy. His parents left us alone to talk. For a couple hours, we chatted about what we’d been up to. When it was time for me to go, I pulled him in for an embrace, which he returned with enthusiasm. “I wanted your face to be the last thing I’d ever see,” he whispered. “Your smile gave me the courage I needed to make myself a better person.” I stared straight ahead into the kitchen, not knowing how to respond. Those floaty things drifted through my vision, contrasting strongly against the white-painted wall. I hugged him tighter.

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A hard-learned lesson about body hair removal.

wax

My trouble started when I realized I was out of razorblades and waxing supplies and my crotch looked like the Amazon rainforest before the mechanization of the logging industry. My date was due to arrive in half an hour. So, I resorted something unconventional. Something, I now realize, was not the best idea.

I’m going to give a little backstory first. I’m not ashamed to say I enjoy sex. The widespread belief that a woman should suppress her sex drive because society finds it “improper” has always disgusted me. Sex is great. Safe sex is wonderful. I respect myself and I respect the men I sleep with. All I ask is that I receive the same respect in return. It’s just two people making one another happy.

Now, I’ve known this since I was 15. Two decades of positive experiences have only strengthened my feelings on the subject. That said, there are a few personal responsibilities I feel I have, such as keeping current with the shaving trends. I’m not a huge fan of the concept behind shaving myself, to be honest. If you think about it, it’s actually kind of creepy, but I’ll still admit I enjoy the sensation of hairlessness. I guess it’s a tradeoff.

I prefer to shave, but I’ve waxed myself a lot, too. I have to be careful, though, because I’m allergic to some of the waxes on the market. I don’t know what particular chemical or fragrance it is that causes the irritation, but the itchy rash it produces keeps the downstairs out of business for over a week while it clears up. No one wants to pull off a thong and see that staring them in the face.

So, back to the other day. I found something in the apartment I thought would work like wax, so I tried it out. It hurt like hell and was an absolute bitch to wash off, but it did the job. My date arrived when he said he would. We hit it off at dinner and we ended up back at my apartment, where we both managed to achieve orgasm despite being so full from our meals that we were like two beached whales slapping against one another. Since we both had to get up early the next morning, we said our goodnights and he went home.

The itching woke me up before dawn. It started with my armpits, but then moved to my, if I may use the medical terms, box and asshole. I got out of bed and went into the bathroom. The mirror confirmed my assumption: that damn allergic reaction again. Welts were forming in extremely sensitive areas and it looked like I was already getting a bunch of ingrown hairs. I braced myself and doused the affected areas in rubbing alcohol, hoping none of the ingrowns would get infected. I showered and scrubbed, then went back to bed. I still itched.

When I got up to shower, the swelling looked pretty nasty and the ingrowns, despite my best efforts, were starting to get whiteheads. I got up and left for work. I sat in my cubicle feeling utterly miserable. The itching was way worse than any of the reactions I’d had before. When I got up to use the bathroom, I checked the damage.

I almost threw up. A nearly perfect triangle of densely-clustered whiteheads occupied the entire area I’d waxed. Even worse, and this is going to be gross but there’s no real way to talk around it, they’d been popping the whole time I was sitting at my desk. My underwear was soaked.

After cleaning myself up as best I could, I talked to my boss and told her I needed to leave early. She said it was no problem, so I left and headed straight to the walk-in clinic.

I lucked out and got seen right away. The doctor raised her eyebrows to the ceiling when she saw the reaction I was having, but quickly reassured me that she sees people who get skin irritation from hair removal all the time. She gave me some kind of ointment to rub on it twice a day and said if it doesn’t improve in a week, she’d give me something stronger.

I cancelled the date I had with the nice guy from the other night. I felt pretty bad, but he was understanding. He said was that he had to go on a business trip the next day and would be gone for a week. I told him that I looked forward to his return, assuming a week from then I’d be in the clear.

Spoiler: I wasn’t.

I applied the ointment diligently for a few days and most of the whiteheads stopped appearing. The swelling, though, persisted. Same with the itching. My armpits weren’t particularly bad, but my, well, perineum, and the surrounding area, was a disaster area. It was super swollen and it hurt to walk and use the bathroom.

The other night, six days after I’d seen the doctor, the itching turned to flat-out pain. It wasn’t unbearable, and if it had been, I would’ve gone to the emergency room right away, but it was enough to keep me tossing and turning in bed. The clinic started seeing patients at 6am and I was planning to be the first person there when the doors opened.

As the night dragged on, I felt steadily-intensifying pressure on the affected area. It got bad. I scratched through my pajamas and felt small pops under my fingernails. When I pulled my hand away, my fingers were wet. I gagged. Off to the shower I went.

Because I like you guys, I’m not going to be as graphic as I could be. However, I can assure you this will be extraordinarily unpleasant to read. Before I jumped in the shower, I used my phone to take a quick picture of my perineal area. No, I won’t share it with you. But my God, I wish I hadn’t seen it. The small whiteheads in the area had clustered into a few very large ones. They bulged out of the skin almost half an inch and I knew right away that they were the cause of the pressure I was feeling.

I deleted the picture, got in the shower, and squeezed the biggest one as hard as I could. Its contents splattered on the floor of the bathtub like a pasty spitball. I watched as the water washed away the gooey parts. I bent down to look at what remained, screamed at the top of my lungs, threw on my clothes, and drove myself to the hospital.

Don’t worry, I’m going to be fine. I got to speak to a lot of specialists, though; lots of smart doctors whose curiosity was obvious. They kept me there for a few hours and cleaned up my crotch and armpits pretty thoroughly. Then I was discharged with a bunch of medications and tasked to share a bit of hard-learned advice. So here it is!

Always make sure the skin you’re about to remove hair from is clean. Be mindful of the sharpness of your razor when shaving, and if waxing, do your best to avoid any chemicals you might be sensitive to. Stay away from depilatory products that haven’t been evaluated by the FDA. This includes, but is not limited to, creams, lasers, and waxes.

Further, homemade depilatory products are discouraged. That was my mistake. Well, one of two. No one should ever, ever use flypaper for hair removal, especially flypaper that’s not right out of the box. This is because no matter how clean it looks or how meticulously you picked the flies out of their sticky confines, they may leave pieces behind. In my case, those pieces were eggs.

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Assisted Suicide

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He’d wait until everyone was asleep before starting. I’d lie still and feign unconsciousness, but his voice would persist, weakly howling in terrible desperation, as he pleaded with me. Begged me. Implored me to help him take his life.

In the garish brightness of daylight, I’d talk to my loved ones about our sleepless nights. The pity on their faces was obvious; so too was the resigned helplessness. They knew there was nothing they could do. All the suffering had to be endured by him, and, by association, me. I was his confidant; the only other person he felt comfortable speaking to. Sobbing to. Screaming to.

There was no mistaking the effects the stress had wrought on me. I’d gained weight; I’d gone on disability; I’d grown depressed. Our doctors knew he had problems. They knew something – that was the word they used: something – was wrong with him. They just couldn’t pinpoint what it was. That meant they couldn’t do anything.

Last night, we reached a breaking point. For hours, he screamed with impossible, earsplitting power. He regaled me with detailed descriptions about the pain he was enduring. Pain that my inaction was forcing upon him. The screams grew quiet as his energy evaporated. Just like every other night. But rather than sobbing pathetically and begging, his tone grew sinister. His words became violent.

“I’ll kill you,” he whispered. “I’ll tear you in half.”

My breath caught in my throat. He’d never said anything like that to me before. All the venomous contents of his words had always been directed toward himself. This was new. Terrifying.

“You’re going to bleed to death,” he informed me around a series of wracking sobs. “Do you know how you’ll feel knowing you could’ve ended this but didn’t? Knowing you left the girls alone?”

The mention of the twins caused me to jump out of bed with rage and indignation. He knew what he was doing. He’d finally figured out what it would take for me to acquiesce. The thought of Dominique and Shonda in foster care because of his hatefulness and my cowardice was too much to bear. Too much for any mother to bear.

I started to cry while making the preparations I’d dreaded since the first night he began begging me to take his life. I didn’t say a word to him as I got ready. Every so often, he’d call out and ask what I was doing. I didn’t reply. He was too weak to scream. Too exhausted. All he spoke were pathetic words and phrases like, “please…” and, “it hurts so much.” Words I’d heard over and over and over, but with them now was a sinister element of “or else.”

I knew if I did what he wanted, I could be thrown in jail. The twins would be without their mom, just like he’d threatened. But this way, at least I’d be alive. Also, if I was careful, I could get my close friends to help me hide his body. They’d all but said they would in the past – in the darkest moments when I sought their comfort after months of restless nights.

By the time everything was set up, he’d realized what was happening. He’d won. I felt sick. Part of me knew I was doing the right thing – that the suffering he’d endured was too much for anyone to have to experience. But another part – a larger part – was doing it for another reason. I wanted him dead. I wanted him out of my life and out of my daughter’s lives and out of the periphery of my friends and extended family. I wanted my autonomy back.

We went into the bathroom where everything could be scrubbed clean. Some time later, our eight months of sleepless agony were over. The screaming had stopped. The pleading had stopped. The agony had stopped. Nothing remained but me and his corpse and the blood. Blood in the tub. Blood on my hands. Blood on my thighs. Blood on the coat hanger.

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The Bleakness Before Our Old Eyes

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For decades, my sweetheart stared straight ahead. Before him, always, stood an expanse. Even if his eyes weren’t weak, he would have stared through the hopeless blankness of the cosmos across innumerable light years, past dying stars and decaying time, and have his gaze forever land on the back of his own head. Staring outward brought him nothing. Brought us nothing. Brought the world nothing. Billions of pairs of eyes staring at the back of the heads which imprisoned them.

Last night, The Universe slipped Her tongues inside my sweetheart, turned his eyes around, and allowed him to see the beauty hidden inside himself. His screams of pain and indignation turned to gasps of ecstatic transcendence. He became the first man in the history of men to see who he truly was. Who we truly are. Who we can truly be.

My sweetheart regaled me with stories about the man I thought I knew. Sounds passed through his lips and suffused my skull; syllables and sentences and syntax and semantics; introspection that would have been impossible before Her intervention. Her gift. The Universe continued Her manipulations as he spoke. My sweetheart’s eyes drooled their assent and he enthralled me with his enthusiastic tales.

His descriptors grew complex and the words became punctuated by, then gradually incorporated into, thick, harmonic buzzing. It was obvious he’d reached a point in his discussion that was beyond my capacity to understand. The blood vessels traversing his inward-turned eyes throbbed and their optic nerves trembled. I imagined the sights he must be seeing, despite knowing, with a feeling of ever-increasing futility, that even my wildest, wide-eyed fantasy, if extrapolated to its fullest extent, would still terminate at the back of my head.

As if sensing my dejection, my sweetheart caressed my belly. His touch was no longer familiar. In Her wisdom, The Universe had reshaped my sweetheart’s hand and arm. Long and segmented and annelidic with soft, rubbery protuberances, I gasped with alarm as its bulbous tip split and revealed a sharp, chitinous tip. The rubbery bits began to vibrate and I felt my bones humming in tune. I stared in horror as the keen end slid from the bulb and entered my abdomen. Expecting an onslaught of agony, I screamed.

There was no pain. I should have known my sweetheart would never, ever hurt me.

I felt a system of roots spreading throughout the interior of my body. Rising higher, the system grew up my neck and into my head, feeling like ten thousand tongues tickling the inside of my face. A flicker of blurriness in my right eye confirmed my assumption and unspoken prayer: my sweetheart would share with me the gift The Universe had given him.

An intense sensation of suction and a loss of depth perception caused me to swoon forward, but my sweetheart’s grip on my body ensured I remained upright. My ears itched almost unbearably and I heard crackling and stretching sounds as the little roots reconfigured and augmented my anatomy. Moments later, I understood my sweetheart’s words. I understood my sweetheart’s buzzing. My right eye, its pupil devouring the iris as it glared inside the mind which fed it, fixed itself on the sights inside while my visual cortex struggled to correlate the images of the outside word and the multiverse within me.

My sweetheart buzzed, and I found myself buzzing back. We effortlessly shared ideas and concepts and experiences in cascades of autoharmonic exchanges; his perspective of solipsistic mind-gazing melding with my half-world, half-mind dichotomy to create something new. Something blissful.

The Universe, in Her endless beneficence and gentle guidance, has directed us to bring the world into our new relationship. This account of our transformation is designed to serve as an invitation.

See us. Look upon the newness of flesh qua flesh, mind qua mind. Know you no longer need to be content with staring into space – into blankness – with no hope of seeing the richness of existence. We are here to bring hope. If these words seem insignificant, see us. If these words seem ineffectual, see us.

We, for the first time, have seen us. Us as individuals – now us as one. The bleakness before our old eyes was an outward-facing abyss of loneliness and uncertainty. Now we see everything. We feel everything. And there is so much more to see. So much more to feel.

Please, see us. See us to feel us. See us to feel us to see one another and feel one another. Show us, and yourself, what you look like on the inside. And let the countless tongues of The Universe taste our union.

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My Brother’s Fall

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While stationed in Iraq during operation Desert Storm, my brother, Gerald, was lost for two weeks. Officially, it was claimed he was captured by the Republican Guard and tortured before managing to escape. The condition of his body when he was found helped lend credence to the explanation. Lacerations, broken bones, and all sorts of other physical damage covered him from head to toe.

He never recovered from the experience. He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after six months in a military hospital. When he was sent home, he began to display signs of Gulf War Syndrome. Years passed and his wife, Leah, cared for him as he weakened. His cognition, memory, and communication skills evaporated. Before he died last year, the brother I loved had been reduced to a gibbering husk. In his final moments, as Leah and I looked on, we were ready for his suffering end.

Then something happened, causing me to jump and Leah to gasp.

For the first time in eight years, Gerald expressed clear, articulate words:

“I fell in a hole.”

He went on, his voice clear and strong, as Leah and I listened, spellbound.

Gerald had been patrolling the outskirts of a village when the ground beneath him gave way. He fell for a very long time. He landed at an angle, his right leg plunging into soft moss and dirt while his left struck a rock, shattering the femur. He couldn’t believe he wasn’t dead. The pain, he told us, while indescribable, took a backseat to what he saw.

He’d fallen into what he assumed was a cavern. As deep as he was, he expected to be in pitch darkness, but the cavern was anything but. Bioluminescent vines and lichen and fungi covered the walls and stalactite-studded ceiling far above. He heard water flowing somewhere nearby.

Gerald did his best to extricate himself from the moss while trying to avoid losing consciousness from the pain of his broken leg. Some of the glowing vines which adorned the walls were very long and within his reach. He pulled himself up and out, then crawled on his belly down the small hill where he’d landed, onto the main floor of the cavern.

The floor was covered in feathers. Silvery-white and iridescent; they left streaks of dust on everything they touched, like the wings of moths. Gerald was surprised by their scent. It wasn’t unpleasant. Not at all, in fact. It was warm and spicy; entirely uncharacteristic of what one would think of when hundreds, or even thousands, of feet underground.

The dust, despite its enjoyable odor, grew thick and choking as he crawled in the direction of the rushing water. He came across an ancient-looking branch, which he used to haul himself onto his healthy leg. Using the wood as a crutch, he continued to move.

The bioluminescence intensified as the cavern narrowed. The pinkish light was coming from all directions. Gerald realized its source was some kind of mold that blanketed nearly everything in the cavern. The closer he got to the water, the more mold there was.

After walking for a few minutes, small patches of mold began falling from the ceiling like glowing snowflakes. The surreality of the cavern, the mold, and the feathers instilled a feeling of awe in Gerald, which clashed uncomfortably with the overwhelming pain in his leg and the fear that he’d never find his way out.

Not long after, he reached the river. It was slow and shallow but quite wide, stretching easily a quarter-mile across. Mold flakes floated in thick clumps on its surface. No feathers, though. Whatever the river’s source was, the feathers were from elsewhere.

He followed the river for a while. Despite the coolness of the water nearby, the cavern grew warmer. Narrower, too. The wide, tranquil river narrowed into frothing pink rapids. Gerald worried the bank would give way and he’d be plunged into the rushing water.

It did.

He was.

For countless minutes, Gerald was carried by the current and tossed into rocks, further damaging his leg and carving lacerations all over his body. As he struggled, he glimpsed tunnels on either side of him, some too narrow for a man to crawl through, some wide enough to fit a parade of elephants. Many of the wider ones were choked with feathers, which joined him and the glowing mold clots in the turbid water.

A roar filled the air, echoing off the stone walls and ceiling and drowning out the sound of the river. Before he knew what was happening, Gerald was airborne. As he tumbled through the air, he saw the waterfall he’d fallen from. He slammed into the water below and lost consciousness.

Gerald regained his senses some time later on the bank of a wide lake. He was on his back with his broken leg twisted underneath him. Screaming in agony, he didn’t notice the movement nearby. Not until it was on top of him.

Something wrapped around his ankle and hauled him into the air. The lake below him shrank as he was pulled ever higher, over a ledge, and stuffed upside down into a crevice in the ceiling.

At this point, as he told the story, Gerald began to cry. Leah held his head against her chest and did her best to console him, but his sobs were unrelenting. Gasping for breath and leaking tears, he continued to choke out words.

The view below him was no longer one of water and feathers and bioluminescent mold. The view was now one of horror and depravity.

Piles of mutilated bodies lay in writhing heaps on the floor. Some were dead, but most appeared alive. Their open mouths produced no screams, but agony was obvious in their expressions. Their wounds gaped and wept. The majority of the damage was to their backs, but many chests and bellies had been flayed and left to leak their contents onto the flailing victims trapped underneath them.

Gerald did his best to take it all in and think rationally. Craning his head and neck to look over his shoulder, he saw something massive in the distance. Something alive and moving in strange, circular patterns around a stationary central point. There was less light in this part of the cavern than where he’d initially fallen. There was no bioluminescent mold covering the walls and ceiling. Even if there was, it would have been coated with blood and gore. No, the only light around him was from fire.

Innumerable torches stood inside holes bored into the stone floors and walls and ceilings. Flames gouted and flowed within their osseous confines, illuminating the killing floor of violence and torment which stretched all the way to the leviathan far behind him.

The rock in which Gerald’s leg was stuffed cracked. Gerald began to fall, headfirst, toward the pile of bodies a hundred feet below. He knew this was one fall he wouldn’t be able to survive. As he imagined his spine splintering as his head struck the head or face of someone below, his ankle was grabbed again. The force of the grab, combined with the velocity of his fall, snapped his pelvis. The pain was immediate and unendurable. Gerald saw dark stars blooming in his vision. His consciousness waned.

He traveled in a gray fog toward the colossus he’d glimpsed while trapped. Part of him was aware of the thing which held his ankle. It was thin and tentacular; a living vine or organic cord or serpentine whip. Something he couldn’t understand. He was dropped at the floor in front of the huge creature.

Whatever it was, it didn’t have his attention. The fog of his semi-consciousness was burnt away by the sight of incredibly-bright white light. It was light unlike anything he’d ever seen; the radiance should have been blinding, but it caused no pain at all. It didn’t etch auras into his retinas like when he’d glimpsed at the sun, despite being thousands of times brighter. It didn’t travel, either – it was confined to one particular area. It produced no blazing heat or discomfort whatsoever. Only calming warmth. He felt overwhelming serenity as he locked his eyes on the man-sized light source.

The serene calm was punctured as tens of the organic tendrils erupted from somewhere above and raped their way into the brilliance. Gerald experienced a sense of hideous, disembodied violation, as if he were watching the assault of a loved one while feeling every moment of their pain and indignity with his own body. He cringed and retched, tears filling his eyes, as he watched the tendrils pull a man from somewhere inside the light source.

The spicy, warm smell from earlier in the day filled Gerald’s nostrils. The man from the light struggled against the grasp of the tendrils, his nude, muscular body completely helpless against their strength. As the man was pulled into the room with Gerald and the tendrils, Gerald gasped.

The man’s back was home to a pair of enormous wings. They flapped and sent violent currents of wind across the floor, blowing dust in all directions. While the man struggled, more tendrils came down from the ceiling. With practiced meticulousness, they uprooted the appendages from the man’s back. The sound of heavy shrubbery being torn from the ground filled the air. The man’s face contorted into a shriek of abject, torturous agony, but he made no sound. The only noise was the nauseating tearing as the man was disfigured.

Feathers broke from the wings and floated to the ground. With one final tug, the wings were separated from his body. Their stumps leaked dark blood which puddled on the dirt floor, contrasting obscenely against the magnificence of the white light just feet away.

The man stopped struggling against the tendrils. He slumped, his muscles relaxed, and stared at the ground in front of him. A series of much thinner tendrils descended and plucked all the feathers from the wings and shuttled them away, leaving the bleeding amputations in the dirt. Another tendril whipped downward at a blinding speed, striking the man’s abdomen and splitting the flesh. His intestines bulged from the wound and the tendrils holding him pulled him through the air toward the countless other bodies I’d been perched above moments before.

Leah and I watched Gerald with horrified amazement as he recalled these events. We had no idea if he was telling the truth or if it was all just a manifestation of the illness which was about to take him from us.

The three of us wept while Gerald looked around, as if trying to determine whether or not we believed him. I felt like I needed to say something, so I asked, “what happened next? How did you get out?” Leah nodded, encouraging him to go on.

Gerald’s voice dropped to a whisper.

Disoriented and in immense pain, Gerald tried to look around. The room was too big. He couldn’t get a good idea of what he was seeing or where he was, but he knew he was right in front of the creature he’d seen. He tried to struggle to his feet, but the injury to his hip and leg was too great. The fractured bones ground against one another and he screamed so hard he felt his lungs might burst.

He was grabbed again. This time, by his shoulders. Two tendrils hauled him up and up and up. He saw the thing in front of him. The colossus. The leviathan. The serpent. The head of an impossibly large snake bulged at the apex of a body of thick trunks. Each trunk had bifurcated into a series of thinner trunks. Each thinner trunk had bifurcated into a series of tendrils. Each series of tendrils had bifurcated into more, thinner tendrils. And so on.

The thick, spicy odor filled the area again. He knew it meant more wings were being destroyed. The snake stared at him, it’s yellow eye full of hideous intelligence and unknowable age. They gazed at one another, and Gerald heard words in his head. Words that were not spoken to him, but thought at him:

“Tell everyone what you saw. Tell everyone what I am. Let them know I’ll be coming soon.”

The next thing Gerald knew, he was on his back, staring at the unforgiving sun of the Iraqi desert. He was found by locals hours later.

Gerald’s whispering tapered off and he closed his eyes. I was terrified he’d passed away. Leah shook him and said his name a few times, panic rising in her voice. Gerald’s eyes opened. His lips parted.

“The serpent,” Gerald whispered.” He coughed and stared at the ceiling, a tear trickling from the corner of his eye.

“…was wrapped around a tree. The tree was filled with apples. Millions upon millions of them.”

Leah clutched his hand and I held his shoulder.

“I watched as tiny snakes crawled into the ripest ones. Pieces of him. Then the apples disappeared. They went into a hole in the air. And I could see what was on the other side of the holes. Orchards. Trees all over the world. His apples are filling them.”

His eyes fluttered closed and he breathed the last words we’d ever hear him speak.

“We’ve been eating them for millennia. He’s inside us all.”

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Update on the blog migration.

I’m working out how to best keep links functioning between WordPress and Tumblr without having to force users into going back and forth more than once. There’s just a LOT of content that needs to be transferred and SO MANY links to be changed. It’ll probably be a month before it’s done, and that’s not including the new design. Bear with me 🙂

For Lena and Clair

After the earthquake, we were trapped. We assumed rescue efforts were underway, but it’d been three weeks. No one came. There was more than enough for us to drink, thanks to a burst pipe that trickled clean water through the ceiling. But that just meant we were dying more slowly. Starvation seemed imminent.

Liz thought all the other floors of the hotel had to be right on top of us. All 60 of them. How the two of us managed to avoid being crushed seemed like a miracle. Well, at first it did. As the days dragged on, and we came to the gradual realization we might not get rescued, the miracle soured. After two weeks, it was more like a curse.

We couldn’t give up, though. I constantly coaxed Liz down from hysterics which, during their worst periods, had her threatening to slam her throat onto a jagged piece of rebar. Talking about Lena and Clair helped. If we were going to get out of this, they’d need their mom. They’d need both of us.

Talk was cheap, though. No matter how much we held one another and cried, praying that the catharsis would diminish our agony, our stomachs growled. After the first week, I’d started to grow dizzy. Had I not been sitting, I know I would have passed out. But we both sat and maintained an atrocious lucidity about where we were, what was happening, and how the likelihood of our escape was dwindling.

A few times, off in a distance blocked by hundreds of feet of concrete and steel debris, we heard the sounds of rescue equipment. Saws, bulldozers, all that. Not one voice, though. That’s how far inside we were. The day it happened, we’d been getting on the elevator, which was in the center of the hotel. Once the quake started, it just shuddered and began to fall. Somehow, as the building swayed, the plunge of the elevator car was arrested by the angle of the shaft. We still came down very, very hard, but had it not been for that slight angle, no one would have survived.

Since a couple days after the earthquake, the air had been growing ripe with the odor of putrefaction. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how many people were dead in the rubble. The hotel seemed packed to the gills that day. I’ll admit, I was jealous of those who were crushed and died instantly. I know Liz was, too.

Toward the end of the third week, our desperation had reached its peak. All Liz talked about was how she’d abandoned the kids at home. She called herself a failure, even though she knew this whole, terrible thing was out of her control. It was only then that I broached the subject of Kevin.

I flicked my lighter, illuminating the carcass of our eldest son, who stood like a twisted, decaying scarecrow on the other side of the elevator. He’d been impaled and crushed when debris fell on top of the car after we hit bottom. I crawled over to his body and told Liz to close her eyes. I bit, spit into my palm, and moved back over to my wife.

“Keep your eyes closed,” I instructed, “and think about getting home to Clair and Lena.” In the dark of the elevator car, her sobs quieted as she chewed. I went back and got her more, as well as some for myself. The moment I heard her swallow the last piece, the rubble above us started to move. I was ready for the cave-in. Almost happy for it. Seconds later, we were blinded by a flashlight.

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