The Dancing Plant of Questionable Whims

The Dancing Plant of Questionable Whims stood calmly, as if in sullen defiance of its name. Looking like a combination of a ficus and a cuttlefish, a slow, undulating pattern of bioluminescence ran along its exterior. I watched, frustrated, as the blobs of light settled at the base of its trunk, near where its tendrils met the dirt. It wanted nothing to do with me.

Recalling earlier, unrelated successes with a particular technique, I poked it with a stick. No response. My frustration grew into annoyance. If I couldn’t get this thing to move, I’d be in deep shit.

“Plant,” I said, doing my best to sound encouraging, rather than irritated. No response. I prodded it again with the stick. The chromatophores I’d perturbed shifted into yellow momentarily, but then turned back to the uniform dark green of the rest of its bulk.

“Plant, please,” I sighed. I slumped onto the mossy ground wondering why my luck always had to be so awful.

My professor, Dr. Rogerworthy Meatus, had tasked me with finding a Dancing Plant of Questionable Whims and cajoling it back to the university for further study. The plant was a newer breed of hybrids following the Realm Integration. Most hybrids never developed beyond a cluster of cells. This particular plant, though, a hybrid of flora and fauna from both the Earth Realm and the Other, appears to have thrived – albeit in small numbers.

“Plaaaaaaaaant,” I whined. I jumped to my feet in frustration and pulled on one of its tendrils. Color and light shot across its body. It rustled.

With new enthusiasm, I pulled another tendril. Same effect. It rustled for a little longer and shifted its weight back and forth. This had to be the ticket. With both hands, I grasped handfuls of its tendrils and pulled. The Dancing Plant of Questionable Whims began to dance with me.

Round and round, back and forth – I held the plant’s tendrils and we twirled around the small clearing. More color and light streamed across its trunk and its tendrils thickened and gripped my hands. I began to laugh. I’d never danced like this before.

Our pace reached a fevered pitch and I held on for dear life while we spun and stepped over logs and rocks and roots while squnnies and butterfoxes ran and hid. The scenery blurred and the lights and colors on the plant all converged in one spot and shot downward. Everything stopped. The plant froze in place, the light and color bright and brilliant on the trunk behind the tentacles. It shuddered violently.

I never saw it coming.

An eruption of sticky, white sap exploded from the tendrils, covering and soaking me from neck to knees. I fell backward in horror and disgust as the plant shimmied in a way I can only describe as coquettish before rooting itself back into the mossy ground.

Two hours later, after I’d given up trying to get all the sap off me, I attempted to get the plant to move with me again. It didn’t. I thought of my professor. There’s no way I’d be able to complete his task. I began the long walk back to the university, realizing I’d just been outwitted by a plant; a plant whose whims were no longer in question.

My only experience with ASMR

asmr

I’ve been dealing with anxiety my entire life. Whether in social situations, work situations, or even at home by myself, feelings of panic rise to the surface and consume me. Medications don’t work. Therapy doesn’t work. Each day, I wake up knowing at some point before I go back to bed, I will feel like the world is about to collapse around me.

I heard about ASMR online. For those who don’t know, it’s short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Basically, it’s an induced euphoric response that supposedly causes deep relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. I’ve never been relaxed. I’ve never been well.

Like all “natural” products designed to elicit a positive biological response, the ASMR space on the Internet is full of bullshit. Countless fraudsters and faux-experts tout extraordinary claims, and while scientists have found no direct correlation between ASMR and health, mental or otherwise, those who sell ASMR-related products will tell you it’s the next big thing. The thing “doctors don’t want you to know about.” Needless to say, I was skeptical.

Skepticism, however, in the face of daily panic, can often upshift into something resembling hope. I did my research. I sifted through claims and medical information with my untrained, but nonetheless determined, mind.

Another problem with something like ASMR is that people claim they know what they’re doing, when, in fact, they’re just trying to get hits on their website. YouTube, for example, is full of kids talking seductively into their microphones while dull synthpop plays in the background. Those are the top hits for ASMR. You need to dig deep before you find something you think is legit.

And I did.

Last year, I found an ASMR site run by a university in Ukraine. The cursory listen I gave seemed relaxing enough; a soft voice over gentle electronic pulses and the certain sounds from nature, like running water. The associated imagery was abstract and colorful, reminding me of Easter palates and springtime flowers. The samples were only five minutes long. To access the rest, they needed credit card and shipping information. At least the subscription came with a free Blu-Ray copy 8-10 weeks later.

I plugged in my payment information, name, and address, knowing American Express would cancel any fraudulent charges in the event the Ukrainians wanted to scam me. I wasn’t particularly concerned about that, though. The payment went through, and I was greeted by a “Members Only” page and libraries filled with various ASMR videos. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones, clicked the first video, and set it to fullscreen.

The world melted away. For the first time in my life, I felt relaxation overtake the omnipresent anxiety. Peace washed through my mind and passed in a wave down to my chest and throughout my limbs. My sensation of self vanished. Whatever this university had developed, it was a miracle. Enraptured by the sights and sounds and sensations, I remained in my chair for two straight days.

I awoke to the feeling of my headphones being torn off and a rough hand shaking my shoulder. Panic bloomed within my chest, but agony quickly overtook it. My legs and lower back were searing with hideous pain and I screamed, only to have the same hand clasp over my mouth.

“Shut up,” came a voice with a thick accent. A Ukrainian accent. “Scream again and we’ll take even more. Do you have any money in the house? Any jewelry?”

I tried to shake my head, which was pinned back against the computer chair from the man’s brute strength. “No,” I grumbled behind his hand, tears streaming down my face from the overwhelming pain.

“Good. Now sleep for another hour or so.” He strapped the headphones back on my ears and straightened me up so I was facing the monitor again. Before slipping back beneath the waves of bliss, I realized I’d been strapped in my chair. I didn’t know why.

After an hour, the video ended. The audio cut out. The pain returned. I screamed again, this time alone in my apartment. I was still strapped to the chair. I looked down at my legs, certain they were broken or slashed by the intruders. But my legs were gone. My screaming stopped and everything blurred. I reached for the phone on my desk and managed to dial 911 before passing out, my hand groping at the pain in my back where my left kidney had been.

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Know It All

meat

The hospital I’ve called my home for the last 30 years can only be described as an asylum. While the word has fallen out of favor, the situation inside has remained consistent. Days stretch in interminable swaths of gray and white; gray from the medication in the mornings, white from the medication in the afternoons. Only the blackness of night frees me from the consuming palate of mid-winter rain clouds used to paint my days away.

I am here by my own volition. The fact I used the law to enact that volition is a mere technicality. The fact I stole the volition of someone else to gain use of the law is another. At the end of the bloodbath – at the end of the steaming orgy of crimson and savagery – I’d gotten my wish. I’d never need to harm another living thing for the rest of my life.  

The sights and sounds which etched themselves into my soul on that May morning in 1986 still flash through. Between timed doses, gray melts into red. Red bleeds into white. To any other man, those flashes would be the proof of his madness; the seeping of illness into medicated docility. But I know far more than any other man.

On May 3rd, 1986, I awoke to find my young son in the room with me. We stared at one another for a moment. Then I rolled out of bed and went to the garage. By lunchtime, I had chopped him into 400 pieces. On May 4th, the front page of the newspaper featured a picture of his blonde hair stuck to the blade of my axe.

To those who read the story or saw the news, I was labeled a monster. To those who served the courts and reviewed the evidence, I was labeled insane. To me, however, the person who conversed with the pieces as they were liberated from my son, I was not a monster. I was not insane. I was a man who needed knowledge. My boy held the secrets to it all.

I discussed what lay beyond our universe with Aaron’s left foot. The foot laughed. It was Aaron’s small voice. It told me to ask the shin. More blows of the axe brought the shin into our discussion. But it could tell me very little; only that the knee had much more information.

And so it went.

The leftmost quadrant of Aaron’s lower mandible informed me I was close, and his upper-right incisor screamed with delirious laughter while it spoke of the secrets I’d learn from the uvula and tonsils. When the axe would no longer suffice – its blunt brutality too clumsy to properly extricate the tiny pieces with whom I needed to converse – my pocket knife and its keen precision continued the work. Three hours later, with 400 pieces of child organized around me by order of their knowledge, we began our formal chat. And I learned everything.

I write this today as a prisoner. As a patient. As a father. In this unmedicated interstice between gray and white, I can reflect on the red. Not the red of blood, but the red of It All: the rich, vermillion expanse of flesh and organs on which this universe is a scab.

On the last night of his life, an emissary from It All visited Aaron as he slept. It whispered its secrets into every part of him, and my son, who was the most caring, generous person I’d ever met, knew he had to share it with me. So he waited, patiently, for me to wake.

On the morning of May 3rd, 1986, I lifted my sleep mask to see Aaron floating above my bed, watching me. Bright sunlight streamed across us. The dancing reflection of light against the shiny crimson of his sclera dazzled me. Enthralled me. He opened his mouth, but remained silent. He tried again, but it was no use; It All was inside him. His mouth contained no cavity – only solid red streaked with veins. He brought his pinky finger to my ear and placed it inside, and the fingertip told me what I needed to do. Four hours later, I’d brought It All out of Aaron and into my mind. And now into yours.

Daily fogs of grays and whites desaturate what I’ve seen, but they cannot hide the presence of what I know is there. I am not insane. The red which courses through the arterial network of multiversal organs and flesh is beyond sanity. Beyond mind. But not beyond body. At the end of my life, whenever that is, I know I’ll get to touch Aaron again.

Even now, through It All, I feel him pressing against the walls, reaching for me, and speaking to me; each part of him singing choruses of thanks and praise. It’s the praise which gives me the most comfort as I sit, day after day, year after year, and wait. I wait knowing I am loved and appreciated. That’s more than enough. It’s the dream of every father to give It All to his son.

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The Perils of Live TV

cook

One of the biggest misconceptions about live television is that it’s actually live. Let me tell you a secret: nothing is live. Everything has a built-in delay, just in case something unexpected happens. It’s not so much out of concern for the viewers, but for the advertisers. The last thing Pampers wants to deal with is some British actor saying “cunt” on a talk show or an NFL quarterback getting paralyzed after a big hit. It’s bad for the brand.

I work for the Food Network. Over the last ten years, we’ve moved from basic cooking instruction to a more “reality TV” style; lots of competitions, celebrity cameos, that whole thing. Lots of people didn’t like the change, but we got a big uptick in the younger demographics as a result.

One of the problems with capturing a younger demographic is holding onto them as they transition into an older one. Let’s say, for example, when we started with the reality TV shows, we got a viewer named Jenny. Jenny was 22 when she first saw Ace of Cakes and became a regular viewer of the network since then. She was fresh out of college, had few responsibilities, and was enjoying being a kid.

Fast-forward nine years. Jenny’s 31 and a stay-at-home mom. Her priorities are far different than they were when she was 22. She has two children, and, on weekdays, she babysits her brother’s twins as well. Instead of eating out all the time like she did at 22, Jenny’s responsible for feeding a household. She doesn’t have time for reality shows anymore and she wishes her cable company offered the Cooking Channel – the sister station to the Food Network that offers more how-to programming.

There are hundreds of thousands of Jennys across the country – first generation captures from the reality-TV era who yearn for more instructional programming. But it’s a balancing act. If the Food Network goes back to their original format, they lose the potential for new, younger viewers. If they stay with primarily reality-based programming, they lose all the Jennys out there.

Our goal, and by “our,” I mean: me and my team at the network, was to create a show to bridge that gap. After the success of The Kitchen, a Saturday morning program featuring four of the network’s biggest stars as they cook exciting recipes and give tips and techniques, we were tasked to make something for the weekday morning viewers.

We ended up creating a show that featured two of the network’s top chefs, a live studio audience, and Q&A from online viewers. It was going to be as interactive a show as we’d ever made, and the twist was, it would be “live.” Now, remember what I said about “live” TV. Sure, the audience would be there watching the chefs cook and asking them questions while they did, but the online questions would be from emails. The delay would be 30 minutes.

It was a huge success in the various test markets. We had one show to go with the stand-in chefs before the show went national, this time in Oklahoma, but there was a problem. There had been a tornado warning in the county. It had since expired, but the audience was about half of what it should’ve been. We decided to go with it anyway, since we figured a lot of the at-home audience would still be inside after the storms. They’d be watching.

Right away, there were technical issues. Even though the tornado warning had passed, there were still frequent lightning strikes and other atmospheric disturbances all around the station. Things still went on, however, and the chefs started cooking.

The first problem came when the cream wouldn’t whip. The chef made a show out of it, poking fun at the behind-the-scenes staff and trying it again with a new container of cream. Again, nothing. In my ear, one of the producers said it might have been because of the storm. He didn’t sound like he knew what he was talking about.

The chefs gave up on the whipped cream and decided to make a creme anglaise. Those require eggs. Two eggs were cracked into the mixing bowl without incident. The third, though, was bad. It was blood-red, clumpy, and smelled terrible. The odor permeated the studio quickly and I saw the audience members holding their noses. When I held my own, my fingers came back bloody. I hadn’t had a nosebleed since I was a kid. We cut to a commercial.

Neither chef was happy. They agreed to scrap the whole “dessert first” idea and just go directly to the entree. No one would complain about the basic steak-and-potatoes main course, especially in cow country. The kitchen was reset and the show resumed.

The downward spiral continued. As thunder boomed outside, loud enough to be picked up by studio microphones, the mixer for the potatoes started to smoke and emit sparks before the chef yanked the plug out of the wall and threw the whole thing in the sink. “Just goes to show you guys, disasters can happen in any kitchen,” he joked to the audience, still obviously irritated but trying to play it cool.

Potatoes got mixed and mashed by hand and the chefs fielded questions about whether or not milk or cream should be used. There was another thunderclap and the studio lights flickered. I’ve always hated working in these satellite studios – compared to the main studios in New York, these were like living in the dark ages.

The lights stayed on, thankfully, and the half-hour delay caught up to the beginning of the show. All over Oklahoma, people watching the Food Network were about to see the show for the first time.

Problems aside, the potatoes came out great. During a commercial, I had an intern get me a spoonful. I should’ve had him get me a bowl. Didn’t matter – after the broadcast, I’d be able to eat all I wanted.

The studio audience, to their credit, had taken all the technical problems in stride. I hoped the TV audience would do the same, and figured they would, as long as they didn’t turn the TV off in disgust at the sight of that egg.

The chefs moved on to the steak. Each discussed their favorite techniques; one preferring a sous-vide style followed by a blast in a hot pan, while the other advocated grilling it over hardwood charcoal. Both methods would be used and the lucky studio audience would get samples to taste and choose their favorite cooking method.

The cast-iron pan was hot and the grill, despite the powerful fans sucking away the smoke, filled the studio with the savory aroma of burning hardwood. I was starving.

Chef Bob cooked his steak first, then showed the audience the perfect edge-to-edge pinkness that only a sous-vide cooked steak can achieve. The crust on the outside was magnificent. Maillard would have been proud. Wind battered the studio walls and more thunder rolled by. The power went out.

Everyone in the studio groaned, but not as loud as the executive producer. We were in a time slot. Even with the delay, which we could shorten if we had to, there was a hard out a the top of the hour when Chopped! was scheduled to air. The last thing we wanted was to have the show just cut off entirely. If the power didn’t come back on before the delay was used up, it’d look awful. Plus, we’d have to issue refunds to the local advertisers who’d purchased that time.

We waited. And waited. And waited. We had less than a minute of delay left before the power went back on. The whole team was galvanized into action and, with only one second of delay left, we resumed filming.

For the first time in about 20 years, the broadcast was fully live. I thanked God we weren’t in front of a national audience, because if someone screwed up and said a bad word, the FCC fines we’d have to deal with would be crippling.

More thunder rumbled outside as the chef talked about how sous-vide was a nice novelty, but almost everyone, in reality, preferred a grilled steak. He seasoned as he talked, obviously comfortable with the cameras and the audience who hung on every word. The grill, which had to be refilled with more charcoal to bring it back up to temperature after the delay, was screaming hot again. The chef used his laser thermometer to take the temperature of the coals. 733 degrees. Perfect for the initial sear.

Another clap of thunder and the lights flickered again. I felt my stomach leap with panic, but the lights stayed on. We only had 11 minutes left before Chopped! came on.

With the seasoning complete and the audience dying to see the steak get cooked, the chef picked up the rib eye with his tongs and carefully placed it on the searing grill.

The other chef began to scream. Everyone, including the production crew, jumped. With expertise honed by years in television, the camera operators instinctively turned the cameras toward the screaming man. 31 studio audience members and 14,000 households across Oklahoma watched as the chef’s skin blistered and charred.

“What the fuck is going on?,” the executive producer shouted, his voice clearly audible over the screams of pain and panic. Before the cameras could pan away, the chef’s eyes burst in an explosion of boiling lachrymal fluid and blood. The skin on his nose, forehead, and cheeks bubbled and blackened.

As EMTs rushed toward the man, one of them knocked over a carton of eggs and sent the contents splattering across the floor. Behind me, with a sound I will never forget for as long as I live, Dave, the sound engineer, crumpled to the floor with his body in knots of hideously broken bones; his skull caved in and leaking brain matter onto my shoes.

The loudest thunderclap yet drowned out even the panicked shouting and screams of pain. And that was it. When all was said and done – whatever it was that had been said and done – Dave was dead. The chef was dead. The cameras had never stopped rolling. Not until Chopped! came on.

The Food Network settled lawsuits for the better part of a year. Needless to say, our show wasn’t picked up. No one could ever figure out what had happened, but the funerals I attended and the trauma endured by the audiences, both studio and remote, are proof enough that I didn’t imagine it. If you know anyone in Oklahoma who was watching the Food Network on April 11th, 2015 between 10 and 11am, ask them what they saw. They’ll tell you. I’ll bet they haven’t watched a single live broadcast of anything ever since.

And yes, the network got an FCC fine from the producer saying “fuck” on air. They were okay with the burning skin, for some reason.

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A Glimpse is Never Enough, part 2

quantum

Part 1

I sat with Dr. Johannsen in his office and listened, skeptical yet spellbound, as he discussed the history of his project. My skepticism grew with each fantastic claim, but despite my misgivings, I couldn’t deny what I’d seen that afternoon. I kept my mouth shut and my mind open as I absorbed what he wanted to tell me.

In early 1998, a private Chinese technology company discovered a novel method of instantaneously transmitting data across short distances. Within a few months, they had refined their technique and increased the transmission distance from a few inches to a few miles. On December 2nd, 1998, during their first test of a high-powered version designed to transmit from their main lab in Changsha to their production facility in Mexico City, the facility on the receiving end began to receive more data than had been put in.

Dr. Johannsen got up and went to his whiteboard to give me an example.

The first transmission using the new, high-powered equipment, was 0. The Mexican facility reported back they’d indeed received 0. The next attempt was larger: 00. The facility in Mexico reported they’d received 00. Next was 000. Same consistent result.

The fourth transmission was 001.

After a moment, the Mexican facility reported they’d received 001, 010, 100.

Another attempt with 001 was transmitted, and the same 001, 010, and 100 was received. Concerned there might be a problem stemming from the increase in signal power and distance, the main lab in China tried again with a different, simpler signal: 10. Without delay, the other facility reported back: 10, 01.

Technicians checked and rechecked the connections, programming, and whatever else they could think of to determine what could be causing the problem. Their efforts yielded nothing. Only when the transmission power was scaled back to within a range of tens of miles, rather than hundreds or thousands, would the issue disappear.

This was a difficult setback for the researchers. Scaling up the number of bits sent wasn’t difficult. It was clear the receiving end would get it. The problem was, the larger number of bits that were sent, the number of received permutations exploded. It only took a few transmitted kilobits for the entire receiving system to crash as it attempted to instantaneously spit out colossal matrices of combinations.

On March 16th of 1999, despite no progress, the founder of the company was called upon to meet with Party officials. By March 17th, the entire company was owned by the Communist Party of China.

As Dr. Johannsen spoke, I was a bit confused by his claim that the receivers were getting “all” possible permutations of the signals. I asked something like, “but if they’re getting all the binary states of the signal, wouldn’t it be 00, 01, 10, 11?” Dr. Johannsen smiled.

“You found that strange too? So did they. And, eventually, so did I. It took years before anyone knew why some permutations were missing.”

He went on.

Unbeknownst to nearly everyone, aside from spy agencies in countries with the capability of learning such a thing, China had leapfrogged the rest of the world in high-energy physics research.

Unable to clandestinely build a particle accelerator like the LHC, Chinese scientists sought to achieve the same effect using a highly-speculative, albeit promising, theory: wormhole acceleration. Rather than running particles around a ring until they reached a desired speed, the idea was to create infinitesimal, short wormholes, just wide enough for a stream of particles, and send them through. Particles entering through wormhole A0-A1 would exit into wormhole B0-B1, and then reemerge through A0-A1, gaining velocity with each traversal. Impact and annihilation would come from particles pushed through wormholes C0-C1 and D0-D1 set to intersect with A0-A1 and B0-B1 at a particular time.

There was a problem, though. The wormhole construction worked, despite the fact they could only stay open for a fraction of a second before evaporating. It didn’t matter, though; new ones could be opened as quickly as the others were destroyed. That wasn’t the issue. What concerned researchers, especially those familiar with the company commandeered by the Party in 1999, was that if a single particle entered wormhole A0-A1, far more than one particle would come out of wormhole B0-B1.

That discovery was in 2003. The subsequent years were spent poring over experimental data, tweaking parameters and energy levels and system states, and devising entirely new models to help understand how these phenomena were occurring. The connection between the instantaneous communication device and the wormhole particle accelerator was too substantial to ignore. Theories about trans-dimensional space, despite being profoundly speculative, ran rampant. The only one that held up under the weight of experimental rigor was bizarre, yet elegant: a router.

Dr. Johannsen paused here, as if trying to figure out what part he wanted to discuss next. I was moderately disoriented and doing my best to understand everything he was telling me, but despite my excellent imagination and general willingness to set aside my presumptions and biases, I had a hard time keeping my skepticism to myself.

Before he could continue, I blurted out, “what the hell is Black God and what does it have to do with anything you’re telling me?”

The doctor sat back in his chair and crossed his leg over his knee. His expression didn’t change.

“Do you want me to continue with the history of this facility of which you’re now an employee?,” he asked. “Or do you want to know, without proper context, what Black God is.”

“Black God,” I replied. For the second time that day, without knowing it, I’d reached another point of no return. The doctor began.

Following a few breakthroughs, more understanding about material properties for the construction of what would be later called the bulk negator was needed. Dr. Johannsen was brought into the project as a materials scientist in 2005. His expertise in exotic allotropes and their conductive properties quickly brought new life into the stale research, and after a few years, the design was complete. Construction began in 2008.

“What is the bulk negator?,” I interrupted.

“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” replied the doctor. “It literally negates the bulk – the higher-dimensional space – in which our physical dimension exists. It all dissolves into a single field; a wormhole mouth filled with wormhole mouths filled with wormhole mouths. Each mouth terminates at a specific point within one of the potentially-infinite universes.”

“Okay, but what do you do with it?,” I asked, feeling mild irritation starting to grow at the volumes of technical data being talked at me with no discernable, overarching purpose.

Dr. Johannsen smiled. “We pray to it.”

The first stream of communication entered the bulk negator on August 29th, 2014. The reason for this was simple: if a message could be broadcasted to all the possible universes, it should be received by instruments in those universes that were standing by to receive it. And when dealing with infinite possibilities, the likelihood of one of those universes sending something back was pretty damn good.

The message 01 was sent, and, predictably, 01 and 10 came back. Two universes had contributed their own permutation. Testing continued, and thanks to advances in computing technology, more complex messages could be sent and received, with all the difficult permutations being handled effortlessly by a 512 qubit quantum annealer, which analyzed and filtered what it received. Any permutations that didn’t match known patterns were discarded.

On September 17th, 2014, as part of a test of the annealer’s filtering algorithm, an expatriate British scientist sent a plaintext message into the bulk negator. It read:

1234567890 ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ !@#$%^&*()-_=+[{]}|:;’”,<.>?/

After an instant of processing, the screen on the annealer printed out:

“SEE ME THROUGH YOU TO TOUCH WHAT YOU SEE THROUGH TOUCHING ME”

It was an odd pattern to receive. When an analyst checked the headers of the discarded patterns, she was surprised to see there were none. This was the only pattern detected by the data flow from the bulk negator’s output.

A minute later, the annealer printed out another message. It was unprompted.

“FEED ME THROUGH YOU TO TASTE WHAT YOU FEED THROUGH TASTING ME”

Immediately following it, more came:

“HEAL ME THROUGH YOUR FATES THAT YOU SEAL BY HEALING ME”

“KNEEL HE KNEW YOU WAIT JUST TO KNEEL ON BLEEDING KNEES”

“BLEED WE SMILE AND WE SEE BLEEDING SMILES ON NEWER SEEDS”

“ONE BLACK BLACK ONE”

“WE FEED YOU”

The annealer stopped printing, but blue plasma was licking at the bulk negator’s bulbous housing. They’d seen shimmering around the machine before, but never anything like that. Before the lead scientist could throw the off switch, the plasma condensed into a single bolt, striking the floor below. The main power cut out.

In the dim emergency light, the scientists in Dr. Johannsen’s lab could see movement and hear commotion on the floor below. There were shouts of confusion and fear and muted moans of disgust. As power from the backup generators began to cycle up and lights started to turn on in order of priority, a scene of surreal carnage emerged.

Three technicians who’d been directly below the bulk negator were dead. Their eyes were bulging obscenely and gray matter trickled from their ears and noses. The subsequent autopsies discovered something that should have been impossible. Their skulls had been stuffed with excess brain tissue. Analysis determined it was not random brain tissue, but the same tissue as their own. Genetically, it was no different. The facility’s medical examiner concluded, in her words, that “the skulls had been filled with double, and in one case triple, the normal density of brain matter. Death was instantaneous. Causal element unknown.”

I stared at Dr. Johannsen with my eyebrows raised and a look of disgust on my face. “What did you do?,” I inquired.

“Well, the next day, we reactivated the system. Everyone wanted to try a different message, just to see what would happen. We were afraid, but also excited. Whatever it was we’d encountered, we couldn’t explain it. We needed to know more. One of the dead technicians was related to the project manager, so he was gone and dealing with that whole thing. That meant I was in charge. And I wanted to try to open a dialog.”

“Did it work?,” I asked, leaning forward in my chair.

“Oh yes,” the doctor replied, grinning.

“What did you say?”

“I told it we appreciated the meal.”

Will be continued.

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A Glimpse is Never Enough, part 1

tok

The road to technological advancement is paved with corpses. It is an uncomfortable, but unavoidable, truth. As humankind continues to reach for the stars which birthed us, every desperate stretch forces us to endure, and subsequently manage, loss. Loss of lives. Loss of livelihoods. But never loss of purpose. Purpose is what impels us to keep reaching, dreaming about the one day we will be lucky enough to burn our hands. As the bodies pile underneath us, we’ve learned to use them to climb and reach ever higher. Those sacrifices, we tell ourselves, are essential. Now, as a result, at the inflection of science and technology and philosophy, we celebrate, rather than shield our eyes from this fact: the cutting edge must always drip with blood.

My professor and mentor, Dr. Arthur Johannsen, lapped the drops from the blade.

Dr. Johannsen was an expert materials scientist, but also well versed in biology, physics, and philosophy. A self-labeled transhumanist, Dr. Johannsen believed, with every fiber of his being, the combined efforts of scientists around the world would eventually allow humankind to conquer physical death. As he grew older, however, and death still loomed like the titanic waterfalls at the edges of a flat Earth, Dr. Johannsen realized he must take the reins and guide scientific progress toward the goal he believed was most important.

When I met Dr. Johannsen, I was studying at a major scientific and industrial university in China. The university was one of the few chosen by China to be at the forefront of the country’s effort to lead the world in technological advancement, for reasons of both national prestige and military strategy. Rumors of subterranean research labs and labyrinthine tunnel systems circulated throughout the student body and even some professors, despite being told not to give credence to such talk, would sometimes hint about a city hidden far below our feet.

It didn’t take long for me to learn the truth behind the rumors. Dr. Johannsen, long-sought by the Chinese to oversee their national scientific projects, had begun his stint in the country a few months earlier. He taught one course, “Advanced Materials and Applications,” and I was lucky enough to be one of the few students accepted into it. At this point, I’d only heard of the doctor by his academic and industry reputation. I knew next to nothing about his personality; only that he was ambitious and driven.

The course was spectacular, and, to my surprise, I excelled. Something about Dr. Johannsen’s instruction style meshed with my learning style and frequently I would discuss topics with him while the rest of the class sat in an uncomprehending stupor.

Months later, following the course examination, my expectations for high marks were firmly entrenched in my mind. When my final paper was returned to me, however, it was ungraded. The only thing that indicated it had even been read was a single, handwritten bit of information on the last page: a date, a time, and an address.

At 10pm on February 9th, 2016, I entered Dr. Arthur Johannsen’s home.

The doctor lived alone in a small, well-furnished apartment on the edge of the sprawling campus. He sat me down after a hasty greeting and began to talk. And talk. And talk.

Dr. Johannsen lectured without stopping for over an hour. He expounded on human life extension, substrate-independent cognition, and the failure of the scientific community to dedicate time and money toward the management of senescence and the ultimate elimination of physical death. He spoke with great enthusiasm about Chinese culture and his admiration of how they recognize the importance of progress at any price.

As he pontificated, I wondered why he was telling me all of this. Part of me hoped he’d ask me to help him author something for a science journal or even invite me to be his assistant for an upcoming course. When he offered me an actual job, though, I could hardly contain my glee.

I made a show of considering the offer for a moment or two. I asked him what my responsibilities would be and whether I would be allowed enough time to focus on my studies. Dr. Johannsen informed me I’d be his research assistant and would be responsible for helping him with his experiments. He didn’t go into detail, but he said I would have more than enough time to study in the evenings and my work would be fairly compensated.

After another minute, I accepted his offer. He produced a briefcase, opened it, and handed me a document to sign. It was a government-issued non-disclosure form. The words “treason” and “penalty of death” were mentioned more than once. I signed. The doctor thanked me and told me to come back in eight hours. I thanked him, said goodnight, and left.

The next morning, I arrived at Dr. Johannsen’s home to find him sitting on the steps outside. He gestured for me to sit beside him, so I did.

“Just give them another few minutes,” he told me. “They’re always a little late.”

Sure enough, five minutes later, a car pulled up to the curb.

“Time for our commute,” he said, and we got in. The driver pulled away.

We exited the campus via a small access road. It wound around the wooded area around the campus toward the large hill or small mountain which the university abutted. Both sides of the road had thick shrubbery blocking our view out and anyone else’s view in. I had a feeling I’d be learning the accuracy of those rumors soon.

The road curved left and we started down a decline. The sunlight disappeared and was replaced by something artificial and fluorescent. The shrubbery gave way to solid rock. We were inside the mountain and going ever deeper.

Ten minutes later, we arrived in a cavernous parking facility that was fed by roads coming from multiple bore holes in the rock walls.

“There are entrances all around the city, all underground,” Dr. Johannsen informed me. “On a busy day, there may be 10,000 people in the facility.”

I was amazed, but I kept a straight face. I didn’t want to come across as too eager or too easy to please. My expression remained locked in what I hoped was one of scientific curiosity and emotional dispassion.

We exited the vehicle and walked into the entrance of the facility. I was struck by the modernity and clean sterility of the place. I’d always considered the science buildings at the university to be cutting edge, but this place seemed even more advanced. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on why.

Dr. Johannsen told me he’d give me a tour later, but first, we were to go to his main lab.

“I want you to get an idea of the type of things you’ll be working with,” I was informed.

The words carried an element of foreboding portent I found difficult to shake. Dr. Johannsen and I walked up a narrow staircase built into the rock walls until we reached an elevator. We stepped inside and headed down.

After a three minute descent, we reached the level housing the doctor’s main lab. The elevator door opened to an expansive, pristine hallway, brightly lit and festooned with colorful plants. It was quite unlike the dank, video-game inspired representation of a subterranean lab I’d anticipated.

Glass-walled rooms lined the corridor and, behind them, scientists of all sorts worked with obvious diligence on whatever tasks they had. The few people who passed us in the hallway smiled at Dr. Johannsen as we walked by. I felt my nervousness begin a slow process of evaporation as I became increasingly comfortable with the surroundings.

At the end of the hall, we took a left. The windowed labs gave way to blank white walls on our left and solid granite on our right. This hallway was far longer than the other, and with nothing but white and gray on either side until we reached the very end. A wide set of windowless double doors were built directly into the stone. Dr. Johannsen waved his wristband at the security box. I heard a dull whirring sound from a locking mechanism deep inside the doors. They opened.

We stood in the doorway of the largest room I’d ever seen in my life. Its dimensions resembled a cube, with each side at least half a mile long. While the size of the room was shocking, what it contained was borderline disorienting.

At the center of the room stood a colossal machine. It reminded me of the experimental tokamak fusion reactors I’d seen online, but not similar enough to convince me it was the same thing. Three toroidal constructs were stacked atop one another, while a thicker, vertically-positioned torus encircled the three. Hundreds of cables as thick as school busses connected the horizontal toruses to the vertical one at points all over its topology.

The room was filled with the hum of electricity. I followed the doctor along the catwalk toward a staircase leading up to a room overlooking the machine.

“My lab is right over there,” he told me, and gestured toward the top of the stairs.

Once inside the lab, I had a better view of the machine, as well as the area behind it. All four toruses were connected by more mammoth cables to a bulbous, entirely unidentifiable piece of machinery. A single pipe ran from it, across the room, to a black, glassy box jutting out from the side of the rock face.  

“Xiu Ying, what do you know about brane cosmology?”

I was so invested in up my survey of the mechanical colossi in the room that Dr. Johannsen’s question caught me off guard. Knowing nothing about any type of cosmology, I just shook my head to indicate my ignorance.

“How about substrate-independent cognition?”

That was more like it. “Yes, last year I was part of a research team with a small group of neuroscientists and computer engineers. Dr. Metzinger advised remotely from Germany at the University of Mainz.”

“What were your findings?” The doctor’s question couldn’t have been actual curiosity; he knew about all the research I’d done over the years. The question was rhetorical, but I couldn’t figure out why he’d bother asking. I played along.

“We determined we were still 40 years away from 100% transfer and simulation. Even after those achievements, subjective divergence and all the associated ethical issues involving personhood and identity would preclude deeper investigation and discovery. Anyone who wanted to go further would be committing murder, as the subjective divergence problem can only be solved by the destruction of the original consciousness. Any and all research in this field would, by necessity, need to be kept secret.”

As I spoke the last sentence, I realized what I’d gotten into. 

“Have you figured out how to perform the consciousness transfer?,” I asked with unintentional breathlessness – partly from my excitement, but also partly out of fear.

The doctor smirked.

“But what does that have to do with brane cosmology?,” I wondered aloud – deeply confused and growing embarrassed. I felt like I was in over my head for the first time in my life.

“I’ll fill you in on that in a minute,” he told me. “But first, I’ll ask you one more thing: how familiar are you with my work on the negation of senescence?”

I knew Dr. Johannsen had been working with the anti-aging community for the last few years, but there was little-to-no paper trail of journal articles or published research detailing his contributions. “Not very familiar, sir.”

“But you know I’ve been working on it, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Then Xiu Ying, I want you to use your imagination for a moment here. Forget you’re a scientist and throw away whatever epistemological constraints you have. What happens when you combine brane cosmology, substrate-independent cognition, and anti-aging research? Look around at these goliath machines and feel the electricity permeating the air. What does it all mean to you?”

A deep, churning sense of dread rose in a peristaltic wave within my gut. I wracked my brain and tried to come up with some reasonable answer, but two of those three fields were so far beyond my expertise that I simply couldn’t synthesize them with what I knew. Again, I felt like I was drowning.

As if sensing my struggle, Dr. Johannsen told me it was okay. “Do you want to know exactly what I’m doing here?,” he asked, staring into my eyes with a penetrating, patriarchal authority.

I nodded.

The doctor took a clipboard from the shelf and handed it to me. The header looked similar to the governmental non-disclosure forms I’d signed the other day, but instead of body text, there was blank space. At the bottom was a line for a signature.

“If you sign it, you’ll learn everything. But there’s no going back.”

I met his stare and thought for a moment. Behind him, a shimmer of blue electricity danced around the three toruses and I felt the hair on my neck stand at attention. I pulled a pen from my pocket and signed the blank contract. The doctor smiled.

“Welcome to the team, Xiu Ying,” he told me.

There was a door on the other side of the lab similar to the one we’d used to enter the massive room: enormous and thick and profoundly strong. Dr. Johannsen waved his wristband over the reader and the door slid open to reveal a series of rooms lining a long hallway. We headed forward.

It was apparent our entrance to the area wasn’t the only one, as teams of scientists and doctors were working intently. I saw biological specimens on tables undergoing necropsies and dissections. I was unfazed by this, having had quite a bit of experience with animal testing during my cognitive neurobiological research. We turned down many, many hallways and the population of workers thinned as we went. Just like earlier, we came to another heavy door. The doctor opened it with his wristband.

It was dark inside.

“The government’s facility manager wanted all the lights in the facility to be motion activated to save energy,” Dr. Johannsen laughed, “but don’t mention to her how much energy the bulk negator uses – she might have a stroke.”

“Bulk negator,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t figure out what that combination of words could possibly mean. Before I could ask, though, Dr. Johannsen stepped into the room, activating the lights. Before I could stop myself, I gasped and stepped back.

The room was lined with what looked like upright, transparent coffins filled with some kind of clear liquid. They were numbered 0-100. Each one was occupied by a person with a terrible head injury. But the injury wasn’t what caused me to react. Each person looked exactly like Dr. Johannsen. The numbers 0-100, as I got closer, had to be the age of the person inside before he died.

I looked at Dr. Johannsen, who was studying me. I turned back toward the bodies. These weren’t merely lookalikes; these were Dr. Johannsen. I didn’t know how, but despite minor differences in their appearances, like small scars or the slight bump of a once-broken nose, I was entirely certain these people were the same as the doctor. And the same as one another.

The next glaring similarity between them was their head injury. The top of their heads had been removed and their brains had been extracted. Their skulls were as empty as their expressions.

Something buzzed on the other side of the wall. “Come,” said Dr. Johannsen. I obeyed and followed him through a small, unlocked door. Another row of transparent boxes stood, also numbered 0-100. The hum was louder in there. We approached box number 44. Across the room, a door opened and two scientists joined us. They opened the top of the box and a cable attached to something that looked like a showerhead descended from the ceiling.

“What are -” I started to speak, but was cut off by a clapping sound that reminded me of an electrical discharge. In an instant, the box had an occupant. He was alive. He looked around with obvious surprise and disorientation. When he saw Dr. Johannsen, a man who looked exactly like him only about 15 years older, he started to shout.

The box began to fill with liquid from a source in the floor. The man screamed and I started to get a panicky feeling. When I started to protest, Dr. Johannsen shushed me and told me it was okay; that I shouldn’t worry.

But I did worry. And to this day, I wished I’d done something. That was my point of no return.

The fluid rose and covered the man. The four of us watched him drown. His last breath, which he held for nearly two minutes, exploded from his mouth in a torrent of bubbles as he clawed at the glass. I watched him inhale the liquid and his face contorted in a grimace of agony as his lungs filled with fluid. His clawing slowed. Then stopped.

My mind was reeling. I’d just watched a man appear out of nowhere. I’d watched him drown. And he looked exactly like the man standing next to me.

“You can start the excision and husk viability assessments,” the doctor told the two scientists. They nodded.

We left the room and headed back down the labyrinth of halls toward his main lab. When my shock had diminished sufficiently for me to speak, I simply asked, “why?”

Dr. Johannsen sighed. “Because suicide is my right. And because no matter who they are over there, when they’re here, they’re me. And it’s my responsibility to dedicate myself to this cause.”

My question about brane cosmology was answered. “Is that what that bulk negator does?”

He nodded. I imagined an infant Dr. Johannsen disappearing from his crib and being forced to drown as his older, parallel self and other scientists looked on.

“I still don’t understand why. Why do you need to kill them? What happens to the brains?” My tone was growing frantic and I had to calm myself before continuing. I stopped walking and hissed, “what is the point to all of this?”

Dr. Johannsen stopped and stared at me. “It means, Xiu Ying, that I will never, ever die.” He began to walk again. I blinked a few times, then hurried to catch up. When I reached him and matched his stride, he turned to me and added, “and neither will you.”

As a sensation of enthralled shock dotted my skin with gooseflesh, the doctor grinned. “I think it’s time for you to learn about Black God.”

Click for part 2.

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Pebbles

meteor2

We thought we were having a hell of a hailstorm when we woke up in the middle of the night to a peal of thunder and the sound of our cabin being pelted. It went on for about a minute, then it stopped. There wasn’t any rain, which was strange. We went back to sleep, faintly aware of the smell of something burning. I figured it was probably from a lightning strike somewhere else.

In the morning, we realized how wrong we’d been. Jill was the first to get up, but her yelling ensured I was right on her heels.

Our property was a wreck. Baseball-sized burns covered the lawn as far as we could see, and when I went outside to assess the damage to our cabin, I was dismayed to find similar, albeit smaller, burns all over the roof.

“Had to have been meteorites,” Jill claimed. “I bet that thunder we heard was a big one breaking up.”

I didn’t know enough to disagree, but I thought it was pretty weird. She concurred.

We spent the day doing our best to rake up the marble-sized pieces of rock, which we hauled out and piled in the back of the property by the compost heap. Jill thought they might be worth something to someone, so we were going to bring a jar full back home at the end of the summer.

As she talked, I could tell she was uncomfortable. The work we’d been doing had aggravated the chapped skin around her mouth and under her arms. Something about the time of year always did it to her, and no matter how much she tried to keep the areas moist, they would still crack painfully. I told her I’d finish up for the night if she wanted to go inside. She did.

I made a vague plan to excise the ruined bits of lawn and reseed it, but I soon got frustrated. It was going to be a major project that would take days, if not weeks. There were still whole areas of the yard where we hadn’t picked up the meteorites, but they’d wreck the lawnmower if I tried to go over them just to make the area presentable in the meantime. Such a pain in the ass.

The next day, to make matters worse, we noticed the well water had acquired a taste. It was briny and flat; almost coppery. Wholly unpleasant. We could drink bottled water for the rest of the vacation, which we’d been doing most of the time anyway, but we still showered and brushed our teeth with the stuff that came out of the well. And for a while, we kept doing it. On the bright side, my gums had stopped bleeding when I flossed. Must’ve been all the extra minerals from the well water that gets filtered out in municipal reservoirs.

After another long day of yard work, I was preparing dinner when I heard Jill shriek from the bathroom. She’d gone in to take a shower a few minutes earlier. When I rushed in to see what was wrong, she was coughing and swearing and working to wipe away clear, viscous something that had pooled on her face. I could see the shower head oozing the same stuff, clogging the drain and puddling like syrup on the bottom of the bathtub. If she hadn’t leapt out the second she felt it hit her face, she would’ve been covered from head to toe.

I helped Jill towel off as much of the stuff as I could, and a minute or two later, the shower head had started spitting out water again. It took a bit of coaxing, but she eventually held her head under its flow so she could wash her hair of the residue of whatever the hell had gotten on her.

Once Jill was as clean as she was going to get, I called the guy in charge of well maintenance for the county. The only guy in charge of well maintenance for the county. He answered right away, but gave the reply I knew was coming: I’d be at least three weeks before he could get out here and take a look. I pleaded with him to make some time to come earlier, and offered him way too much money, but the best he could do was move the appointment ahead by two days.

He told me that he’d seen algae blooms in a few of the local wells. The only suggestion he had was to run the water until it looked normal, which is what we’d done during our subsequent showers. I hated having to wait, but it was good to know he’d seen something like this before.

Over dinner, Jill and I tried to come to an agreement about what to do. I wanted to go home. There wasn’t any reason why we needed to keep putting up with the weird water and the yard work when we could go home, be comfortable, and hire people to take care of it all.

Jill wanted to stay. She’d been looking forward to this trip for months, and the chapped skin on her mouth was feeling much better. The cabin had belonged to her parents and she’d spent many summers here. No matter how unpleasant the circumstances might have gotten for us, they were still less stressful than all the work she had waiting for her when we were scheduled to return home in two months.

I caved.

Yesterday morning, we woke up to a remarkably pleasant surprise. In the parts of the yard where we hadn’t carted away the meteorites, the burned parts had disappeared. When I went outside to look, I saw the burns were covered in the same viscous stuff that would occasionally come from our pipes. Underneath the ooze was healthy, green grass. When I looked closer, I saw ants – ants almost too small to see – were crawling up and down the blades and carrying away dried pieces of the slime to bring back to their homes.

I headed back inside and told Jill. She acted happy to hear it, but I could tell she was deeply uncomfortable. The chapped skin around her mouth and nose had gotten bad again. I offered to take her to the clinic in town, but she didn’t want to sit in the car for four hours just to have the doctor give her the same cream she’d been using on herself for the last week. While she spoke, the left corner of her mouth cracked open and spilled a thin rivulet of blood down her chin.

Sighing with exasperation, she grabbed a paper towel, turned on the sink to wet it, and put the paper against her wound. When she sat back down, I saw the faucet was drooling the sticky algal slime that’d caused her the problem in the first place. But it was too late. She’d already pressed it to the crack in her skin.

Before I could mention this to her, Jill’s eyes had brightened. She pulled the paper towel away, a string of syrupy fluid still connecting the towel to her face. The cut was gone.

“Don’t,” I told her.

Jill didn’t listen. She went back to the sink and turned it on. Sticky, clear stuff flowed. She filled her hands and brought the contents to her face. She rubbed for a moment, then turned back toward me.

Behind the sheen around her mouth and nose was new, healthy skin.

“Pretty cool!,” Jill exclaimed, and wiped the residue away. I didn’t know what to think, let alone say. I figured some homeopathic doctor who minored in algae studies would find it completely normal.

We went to bed and slept. In the morning, Jill’s mouth and nose, while much better than they’d been at their worst, were still not as perfect as they were right after she’d applied the slime. I told her I was going to go out in the yard and do some more work.

Before I could get out of bed, though, she kissed me. Now, we’re in our late 50s. We’re affectionate with one another, don’t get me wrong, but most of the time we just cuddle on the couch and share a pizza. It’s easier that way. Requires fewer blue pills, too. That’s not to say we don’t have a sex life, because we do, but it’s more of a once-every-two-months kind of thing.

Jill’s rapturous kiss was less like one from the woman to whom I’d been married for 35 years and more like that of the teenager she was when we first started dating. I didn’t bother concerning myself with that particular difference, though. I followed her lead and we did what apparently needed to be done. No blue pills required, thank you very much.

Afterward, while I got dressed, I told Jill I was going to start raking up the meteorites we’d left the other day. She didn’t pay attention. She wanted me back in bed. I laughed and reminded her that even when we were kids I still had the refractory period of a climate cycle. She nodded and told me to be safe outside, then made an obvious show of slipping her hands under the blankets. She looked amazing. To my surprise, I felt renewed stirring below my belt. Before I could say “fuck it” and jump back into bed, though, I shook my head. I really needed to get going on that yard work. It was starting to cloud up and I didn’t want to have to put it off because of rain. I told Jill to have fun, then went outside.

In the untouched area of the yard, the grass was ankle-high. All the burns were gone. Clumps of slime still sat in the grass. The ants that’d been going crazy for the stuff were nowhere to be found.

I raked and raked and raked. The pebbles piled up and I shoveled them into the wheelbarrow and brought them to the main pile by the compost heap. I was a little surprised there were no ants at all. I could see their anthills bored into the ground all over the place, but not a single one was out and about.

I’d been working for about two hours nonstop, so during a break, while I chugged from my bottle of water, I bent down to get a closer look at the spots where the ants had swarmed the other day. Something was there that I hadn’t noticed while I was raking. Something definitely not there when I looked the previous day.

There were infinitesimal white dots coating the same blades of grass that’d been crawling with ants less than 24 hours ago. I plucked a few blades from the ground and held them in front of my face, hoping to get a better view. The dots were slightly ovoid in shape. Something clicked. Eggs. The ants must’ve had such a massive meal of that slime stuff that it drove them to reproduce like crazy. Or something. I have no idea how they make ants.

I heard raindrops impacting the trees on the other side of the property, and ten seconds later, they reached me. A distant bolt of lightning streaked the sky, and thunder boomed a moment later. Sighing, I put the rake and shovel in the wheelbarrow and wheeled it all back to the shed. More lightning and thunder. I figured I wouldn’t be getting anything else done around the yard until the storm passed.

I headed back into the cabin, banged my boots against the doorway to get the mud off, and stepped inside.

“Charlie,” Jill called. I heard water running in the bathroom.

From the kitchen where I stood, spooning last night’s fruit salad into a bowl, I called back, “what’s up?”

“Come take a bath with me!”

I laughed to myself. That bathtub could barely fit 110 pound Jill, let alone 250 pound me. I brought my bowl of fruit salad with me down the hall and into the bedroom. Before I turned the corner to the bathroom, the water was turned off and Jill shouted out again, “Charlie, are you coming?” Her voice sounded a little different. Crisper, somehow.

I stepped into the candle-lit bathroom. Jill was in the tub, leaning back against its curved shape. She was resting her head on a folded towel. She glanced over at me and smiled. Her hands roamed up and down her body.

Even in the dim light, she looked incredible. I didn’t know whether it was the prospect of repeating our fun from that morning or just the sight of her touching herself, but it was remarkably enjoyable. I placed my bowl on the sink and started to undress.

A nearby bolt of lightning immediately followed by an explosion of thunder made me jump. As my surprise faded and I continued to take off my clothes, I realized I’d seen something different in the harsh illumination of the lightning.

On the other side of the bathroom, Jill continued her teasing. “Come here and touch me,” she whispered. Again, I noticed the unusual quality of her voice. Another clap of thunder shook the house, and that time, the associated burst of lightning showed me exactly what I had trouble identifying after the first strike.

With a gasp, I turned on the light. In the harsh, overhead fluorescence, everything was revealed.

The tub in which Jill bathed was filled to the brim with clear slime. As I watched, she slid beneath the surface, coating her face and head, and came back up. When she breached the surface, she spoke.

“Please, Charlie, I can’t even tell you how good this feels.”

Again, the different vocal quality. Now, though, in the harsh light, I saw another change. Her hair. Jill’s hair had been gray since her late 40s. It was light brown now.

Jill manipulated herself with her right hand and reached for me with her left. Clear fluid oozed from her hand and arm and puddled on the floor like heavy syrup. “Come feel this with me, Charlie.”

I didn’t move. Part of me wanted to pull her from the tub, but another part, as the rain pounded against the roof and thunder rattled the windowpanes, was too frightened to touch her. I moved closer, but stayed out of her reach. Standing at the foot of the tub, I stared at my wife as she bucked her hips against her hand and mouthed my name over and over. Ripples in the slime caused it to slosh against the sides of the tub.

“Jill, please get out. Please.” My voice trembled and was barely audible over the pouring rain.

She reached for me with both hands and smiled, then spoke. “Don’t you want to be young with me again? To start fresh? Don’t you remember how good it felt?”

Jill slid down, and I thought she was going to dip under the slime again. But she stopped at her mouth. She opened it and let the slime pool inside. She closed her lips and I saw her throat work as she swallowed the mouthful.

“It feels so right. So perfect. I want to share this with you, sweetheart.”

My mind reeled. I thought about every ache and pain I’d accumulated over my 56 years. Every pockmark and hemorrhoid and scaly patch that’d come along over those long decades throbbed, as if wanting to be noticed. Before me was a way to make it stop. I remembered how Jill and I were as teenagers. Full of life and energy and libido; all things that, over the years, had just started to evaporate. I stared at my wife, who looked exactly like she had when she was 25.

Despite my fear, a pang of desire shot through me. Desire and arousal. I wanted Jill. I wanted to be with her in every way imaginable. We could grow old together again – or never grow old at all. Our happiness could last forever if we wanted. All I had to do was join her in the bathtub.

I took a step forward and resumed taking off my clothes. Jill purred and lapped up more of the slime. Some she swallowed, some she drooled from the corners of her mouth. She absentmindedly played with herself while she watched me, apparently delighted I was going to join her in this new, impossible youth.

As I struggled to bend over and take off my socks, something that’d been a pain in my ass since I passed the 225 mark on the scale, I noticed something that caused me to stop. Jill’s breasts were shrinking. Before my eyes, her hips slimmed and her pubic hair disappeared. Her feet no longer came to the edge of the tub, but instead barely touched it.

“Come bathe with me, honey.” Jill’s voice was high and childlike. I recoiled. Whatever was happening to her was going faster. She looked 4 or 5.

“It’s incredible,” she chirped, again reaching for me with one hand and rubbing herself with the other in an act so obscene in her new, young context, that I turned away, nauseated.

“Charlie,” came the tiny voice behind me. I didn’t turn around.

“Sweetheart?”

The last word was practically babbled, but still carried with it an element of inquisitiveness, and, no matter how much I try to tell myself otherwise, dejection. She didn’t speak again.

A moment later, I turned around. Floating in the tub was a red shape, approximately the size of of a lemon. Tears filled my eyes as it shrank to the size of a cherry, then a pea, then a grain of rice. When I blinked, it was gone. A ribbon of white fluid hung motionless in the slime.

“I’m so sorry, my love,” I whispered to it. Distant thunder rolled across the forest.

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He Went Ahead

ahead

My friends and I used to break into old, run-down places and explore. This was back before people were videotaping their own explorations and getting ad-revenue from their YouTube channels. Back before cell phones, even. We’d go wherever we wanted without much concern for the consequences if we were caught. All of us were still under 18 and Kim’s mom was a police officer, so even if we did get in a little trouble, we were fairly confident it’d be taken care of.

Michael was the one who usually made the decisions about where we should go. He suggested we check out an abandoned institution about an hour out of town. A few weeks earlier, after he got out of work, he told me he made a quick trip over there just to see if he could get in. Once he did, he only spent a couple minutes walking around before he got the creeps. Still, he knew it was exactly the type of place we’d always talked about wanting to explore.

It’d been defunct for a few decades by the time we knew about it, and every door was locked and the windows had been boarded up. Well, every window on the first couple floors. A tree, which was probably only a few feet tall when the crews went around locking the place up, had grown tremendously in the following tens of years. It was nearly effortless for the four of us to scale the branches and crawl through the window Michael had broken when he’d done his cursory scouting of the place. A couple minutes later, we were standing in a filthy, dust-coated file room.

Kim really didn’t like how many spiderwebs were hanging off pretty much everything. I can’t say I was much of a fan either, but my excitement to explore that creepy place overrode my mild arachnophobia. Still, this was southern Florida; we have some enormous spiders down here. I preferred to not get one on me.

We opened the door of the file room and found ourselves in a long hallway. None of us were sure what the function of the building had been, and from what we’d seen so far, it was still anyone’s guess. We took a left down the dimly-lit hall, grateful for the high-powered flashlights Michael suggested we bring after seeing how dark the place was on his first trip.

Placed on the floor in front of each room along the hall was its corresponding key. The doors had small windows in them, and we peered through. It looked like they were basic rooms; a toilet, a bed, a small desk. Little else. The beds were pretty small; I wondered if they were for children. We gave each room a quick glance and determined there was nothing particularly noteworthy inside, so we moved on.

At the end of the hall, there was a door leading to the staircase. We propped it open and went into the pitch-black stairwell. The steps leading up ended at a door that was locked. No key was nearby that could’ve opened it. Heading down, though, after many failed attempts at accessing the lower floors, we finally found a door that actually opened. Here’s the problem: as soon as we pulled it open, the door we’d propped open slammed shut from what we assumed was the air pressure of the other one opening. No one freaked out or anything; we knew we could get out from a window or something pretty easily from the lower floors. Still, having no known and obvious way out was somewhat unsettling.

When we stepped through the door and shone our flashlights around the room, we realized we’d passed the first floor and were in the basement. I wondered aloud what kind of place doesn’t label the fucking floors in their stairwell, but no one really cared about my complaint. We were all wondering how we’d get out if there were no windows around.

From what we could see with our three flashlights, since Kim’s had died, the basement was enormous. It was one large room and was filled with junk that we assumed had populated the floors above. Desks, file cabinets, coat racks, and all that stuff. Darryl suggested we split up and look for a way out, but Michael and Kim quickly shot down that idea. I’m pretty sure they were getting scared. I didn’t want to say anything, but they weren’t the only ones. I don’t know why Darryl was so confident. He was usually the one who chickened out at the first sign of trouble. I was grateful for his strength, though. It felt good to have someone who could lead us, even if he didn’t know where he was going.

We wandered through all the junk in an attempt to find a way out of there. There was a loud banging sound. Kim realized what it was before any of us and whispered, “was that the door?” Murmurs of “fuck” variations through our small group. No one was ready to panic, though. Not yet. The basement had to have been the size of a football field. We came to an agreement to pair off and go in opposite directions. We’d yell if we found anything.

Kim and Darryl went one way, I went with Michael in the other. We’d agreed to travel with only one flashlight. Michael and I didn’t come right out and say it, but we figured Kim would be better off with her group having two.

We spent a slow ten minutes walking through the old furniture until deciding to turn back and follow the wall. The room was even bigger than we’d realized. From outside, the building was about as long as we’d expected the basement to be; approximately that of a football field. In fact, the basement must have been many times larger. Michael said it probably connected with all the other buildings on the property, which meant it could’ve been almost a quarter mile in each direction. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case. The flashlights wouldn’t last that long and the last thing I wanted to do is deal with complete blackness. I knew I’d panic.

As we progressed, we started seeing doors. They were all locked, though. No keys, no windows. Michael yelled to Darryl and Kim and asked if they’d found anything. His voice didn’t echo. It almost sounded as if it stopped right in front of his face; like he was standing in front of a wall. We heard no response from our friends.

Our flashlight was growing noticeably dimmer. I thought its intensity had been diminishing for the last couple minutes, but I’d done my best to put it out of my mind. But there was no denying it now. Michael had picked up his pace, forcing me to rush to catch up to his long-legged stride. I yelled for the others, hearing my own voice die inches in front of my mouth. I could hear Michael breathing quickly. Was he sobbing? He was too far ahead for me to see any tears and I was almost jogging to catch up. We kept on for what felt like ten minutes. How had we not run into the others yet? Michael stopped dead in his tracks and I skidded to a stop to avoid bumping into him. There was a right turn down a narrow passage. At the very, very end, barely illuminated by the still-dimming light, was a metal ladder.

Michael ran and I did my best to follow. The light was almost useless. We reached the end and both grasped the ladder and Michael shone the lamp upward. Whatever had been there, maybe a hatch, maybe just an opening to another floor, was nothing but concrete ceiling. He yelled, “fuck!” The word sounded like it was coming from underwater.

The flashlight strobed weakly. He turned around and shone it around the narrow corridor. A few feet in front of us, on the right, was a door. “Let’s try that,” he told me. We’d given up trying the doors we’d run by after all of them were locked. I was surprised he wanted to bother, but in our hopelessness, we walked over and I tried the knob. It opened. I walked in as Michael shone the sputtering flashlight in front of him. The room was small and empty. Almost empty. In the corner, there was a lump. “Holy shit,” I exclaimed, and ran toward it. Right as our flashlight died, I grabbed what I’d seen for that brief moment. It was another flashlight. I couldn’t believe our luck, despite being terrified of the stygian blackness enveloping us.

I fumbled for the switch and flipped it upward. Michael stood in the doorway. The light was strong and unwavering. Only then did I register the hideous smell of the room, somehow obscured by my earlier panic. I shone the light around the tiny, filthy area. Nothing. I turned around and pointed it at the lump behind where I saw the flashlight. Sitting in the corner was a corpse, its flesh swollen with putrefaction. Gray eyes pushed out of its thick and unrecognizable purple face. Its distended tongue bulged from lips that looked like a circle of rotting slugs. Worms fed. I retched. The corpse was wearing green cargo shorts and a Buccaneers jersey, both of which had been soaked through with greasy fluid.

Green cargo shorts and a Buccaneers jersey. I whirled around and looked at Michael, who was still standing in the doorway. Green cargo shorts and a Buccaneers jersey. I muttered something I can’t remember. He dropped the dead flashlight and took two steps toward me. I screamed and stumbled backward, falling into the cadaver. I felt its swollen body burst under my weight. Soft, jellylike material clung to my back, neck, butt, and arms. The smell was incomprehensible. Flies buzzed angrily in my ears as I struggled to my feet and tried to keep the flashlight shining on the person, the thing, I’d been walking with.

The brilliant white of the lamp illuminated its face again. It hadn’t moved any further after those first steps. It stared through me at the corner where Michael’s destroyed body sat. Neither of us moved. Then its lower eyelids drooped. It almost looked like it was having a stroke, only on on both sides of its face. The skin continued to fall, lower, and lower, exposing the musculature underneath. The eyes burst from their sockets and hung down, swinging on their optic nerves. Then its mouth moved. I was paralyzed by abject terror.

The mouth opened wider and wider, the jawbone snapping and popping as it shattered in protest of the constant force. The lower mandible hung flaccidly from its cheeks, connected only by skin. From its throat, something white began to drip. Then pour. Then flood. Repulsive, milky liquid gouted from the gaping hole in its throat. It splashed on the ground, soaking my feet and shins and knees. It was so slick; so warm; a perverse shower of liquid body heat that reminded me of semen and amniotic fluid.

The thing grabbed both sides of my head. I dropped the flashlight and it shone, uselessly, against the wall before blinking out, destroyed by the gushing fluid. In utter blackness, I felt incomprehensibly strong hands and arms pull me toward its mouth. My forehead touched the flood. I was pulled in, further and further. I gasped and aspirated the fluid. As I choked and coughed, more of it filled my lungs. I knew I was about to die. The blackness disappeared.

I awoke to a flashlight being shone in my face. Darryl was yelling my name while Kim screamed unintelligible blather beginning and ending with the word “Michael.” Darryl hauled me to my feet and practically carried me down the hall, across the expansive basement, and through the area they’d explored. Kim ran behind us, sobbing. I vomited milky bile as we went, coating Darryl’s arm, who gave no sign of noticing or caring. I have no idea how far we went, but I remember seeing daylight creeping around the beam of his flashlight. Over time, the flashlight became increasingly useless and he dropped it. We moved on and on. I was eventually able to run on my own and I followed them, cluelessly. But before I knew anything, we were outside. I passed out.

I was in the hospital for days that passed in a haze of incomprehension. Gradually, I regained some semblance of consciousness. Inquisitiveness followed. Michael, I was told, was dead. I’d found his body. They assumed the shock of seeing my dead friend induced some temporary hysteria which caused me to desecrate the corpse. But still, no one knew what had happened to him. The fact his body looked like it had been dead for three weeks eliminated me from being a suspect in his death, but no one could explain how he’d gotten to such a state of decomposition.  Not only his three friends, but his parents and coworkers, could verify they’d spoken and interacted with him every day up until he was found.

I haven’t said anything about what happened with the Michael-shaped creature after the body was found. I also didn’t mention Michael had scouted out the place three weeks before we visited. I just wanted to believe I hallucinated the whole thing, but that didn’t explain the unidentifiable organic fluid they found all over me, some of which which had dried in glutinous clumps that could only be removed by excising chunks of my skin. Twenty years later, every time I finger the scar tissue of the old excisions, I can still taste the stuff on my mouth and pouring down the back of my throat. Whenever I sit back in a chair, I expect it to burst like the body of the friend I once loved. And every time I get within 20 miles of the abandoned institution, I can hear Michael screaming for me to come back and help him.

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For Lena and Clair

eq

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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Licks From a Bear

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August 1, 2015, 9:00am

It’s been exactly one year since Jen left. That means it’s been one year and one day since I was fired. I haven’t worked since. I used to like the idea of being on disability; free money and all the time in the world to spend with her. I guess she didn’t think of it that way. She was always ambitious. I shouldn’t say “was.” Every day I see Facebook updates detailing her constant successes. The most recent one was her engagement. I’d never seen her look so happy.

I guess I knew things with us were going downhill when I looked forward to our fights. She’d always say something about how I’m so smart – that I was smarter than she, in fact – but that I had no ambition. It felt so good to hear that someone as brilliant as Jen thought I was smart, even though she yelled it at me in frustration. She claimed she understood my depression and my anxiety and how they were terrible roadblocks on the path to my happiness. I thought that meant she could empathize and still wanted to be with me anyway. Apparently I was wrong.

Getting disability benefits for my depression wasn’t too hard. The money isn’t great, but it pays the rent and keeps me fed. The only pain is that I have to go to therapy every week. I also need to go to monthly appointments to pick up prescriptions to help combat my depression, ADHD, and anxiety. It’s all so procedural and detached from anything resembling real care. So I’m a lonely, unemployable loser who apparently has this “great mind” that’s utterly useless. But I won’t stay like this forever. I’ve discovered a something new. Well, something old, actually.

Today begins my new life. The medication never worked, the therapy never worked, the behavior changes never worked. Medicine failed me. Or maybe I failed medicine. Either way, I’m taking control of myself again. I’m not going to be a victim of the barriers my body’s put up for me. No more attention problems. No more depression. No more anxiety. For the first time in what may be decades, I’m filled with hope.

August 1, 2015, 3:00pm

All my tools are cleaned and ready. In about an hour, I’ll start. I need to keep a pretty comprehensive journal of the procedure to make sure I’m not harming myself. I figure a running account of my experiences will give evidence of the positive (or negative) changes in both my mood and cognitive abilities.

August 1, 2015, 4:05pm

After I traced a dime-sized circle on the upper-right part of my forehead, I used an Exacto knife to carve through the skin. I wasn’t prepared for how much this was going to hurt. I stopped a couple times to wipe away the tears so I could see well enough to continue. The skin lifted off from the bone without too much trouble once I’d finished cutting. I flushed it down the toilet. Now I’m waiting for the bleeding to stop – it seems to be slowing already. It’s so weird to see my skull exposed like this.

I’m going to write a sentence or two before and after each of the next steps so I can get as good a description as possible if this all works as well as I’m hoping.

I opted to use a tiny drill bit over a single large one. A ring of tiny holes is going to take a hell of a lot longer, but I think the need for precision dwarfs time consumption in this case. I’m about to do the first hole.

The first hole is done. Imagine the feeling of biting down on a fist-sized piece of tinfoil as hard as you possibly can while your head hums like it’s filled with buzzing hornets. The vibration was so excruciating that I’m only now feeling the pain of the drill site itself. I’m going to do the next ten or so holes now before I lose my nerve.

The vibrations became less intense with each hole. The bone pain got much worse, though. I’ve never had migraines, but I assume they must feel something like this.

I’m shining a light at the ring of tiny bores and doing my best to inspect what’s behind them in the mirror. It’s not very useful. The remaining structural elements between the holes are extremely thin and brittle-looking. I’m going to cut them away with the wirecutters.

I just dropped a circle of my skull into the sink. Now I’m looking at the bright red membrane that’s covering my brain. I’m a little surprised by how many blood vessels are in there. I’m going to put out a couple more towels. Cutting away the membrane is the part I’m most scared of.

It’s done and the hole is bleeding a lot. I’m taking extra care to not put too much pressure on the organ itself when I’m working to soak up the blood. I’m feeling a little dizzy so while I hold the towel to the hole, I’m sitting and eating the piece of steak and drinking the orange juice I’d put out just in case this happened. The wound is slowly starting to clot while I wait here. The whole area hurts, but the pain is second to the strong pulsing sensation around the hole. It’s almost like I have a second heart beating there.

The blood stopped pouring out and I’m cleaning the area with water and rubbing alcohol. Now I can see my brain. It’s gray. It doesn’t look like it even belongs to me; I don’t know why it all feels so surreal. It’s almost like I’m watching all this happen to someone else. On the plus side, I’m not dizzy anymore, but I’m exhausted. I’m going to bandage everything and go to bed. I’ll clean up tomorrow.

August 2, 2015, 6:30am

I woke up this morning with more energy and drive than I’ve ever felt. Even sitting here writing this feels like a joy; I’m not struggling to find words, I’m not dreading how I’ll reread what I’ve written and think it’s stupid and pointless – everything just….works. The accounts I’d read about people who shared their experiences with trepanation made similar claims, but even as I drilled the holes I never allowed myself to truly believe it would work for me. Even now, I’m worried it’s all just a placebo effect. The pulsating feeling is real, though, and it’s as strong as ever. That was something else my fellow trepanned mentioned. They said it was because the body is letting the brain grow again; something the skull had prevented after it hardened following infancy. I don’t know if I buy the explanation, but I can’t deny what’s happening here.

August 2, 2015, 2:00pm

My day’s been spent cleaning the apartment. Over the last year, I’d let things pile up and grow increasingly filthy as my depression festered. Today, it’s like a veil has been lifted and light is pouring over everything I lay my eyes on. The place needed to be cleaned, so I just set to work and cleaned it. It looks better now than it did when Jen and I moved in. My therapist recommended that I clean quite a while ago, suggesting that a nice, open area would really help me see my home as a place for potential, rather than stagnation. Now I know what he meant. This is what potential feels like.

The hole in my head still hurts and it looks terrible, but I expected as much. If I go out, I can wear a hat and no one will notice anything amiss. I’m not ready to do that, though. I’m mildly concerned about how badly the site is beginning to itch as it heals. I’m being extremely assiduous in cleaning and caring for the wound as it heals, but I guess part of that process is that damn itch. I’m doing my best not to think about it.

August 2, 2015, 11:30pm

The first full day of my experiment is about to end. I’m about to go to sleep, and I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot today. My home is spotless, I’ve finished a short story I’d been working on for the last couple months, I’ve gotten up to date with my internet and utility bills, and I even did a couple sets of push-ups. I had to remind myself to eat, though. For whatever reason, I wasn’t hungry at all until I realized it was nearly 9pm and I hadn’t eaten all day. I’m chalking it up to my excitement. It’s been hard to contain. But, now I’m all showered and pajamaed and ready to end my day. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

August 3, 2015, 5:45am

I was up before my alarm this morning to watch the sun rise from the roof of the apartment. Last night I slept like a log and didn’t wake up once. I noticed some blood on my pillow and under my fingernails, though, and I think I may have scratched underneath the bandage while I slept. I made a beeline to the bathroom to inspect the hole and, thankfully, I didn’t seem to do any damage. Everything appears to be healing well.

August 3, 2015, 1:15pm

I don’t know if it’s endorphins wearing off or just an artefact of my depression, but my euphoric feeling has diminished quite a bit since this morning. I’m thinking it might be both; maybe I need to have a good meal. There should be something in the fridge.

August 3, 2015, 9:00pm

Whatever I felt this afternoon doesn’t seem to have been a fluke. While my mood elevated for a little while after lunch, I was back to near-baseline for the rest of the day and evening. The pulsing in the hole waxes and wanes with my mood, interestingly enough. When I’m happy and ambitious, it pulses a lot. When I’m depressed, it may pulse once every ten seconds. It may have something to do with my blood pressure, so I’ll keep an eye on that. Before bed, I’ll do some jumping-jacks and see if the pulsing returns. I’m fairly certain a higher pulse rate correlates with a better mindset.

Just did the exercise. The pulsing is the same. My heartrate is up, but my mood is still low. I’m going to bed.

August 4, 2015, 11:00am

I just woke up and I feel terrible. I was scratching the hole again. The pillow is soaked with blood and there are remnants of scabs under my fingernails. Tonight I’ll wear gloves. That aside, my mood is still right near where it was before I started this process. I’m worried the surface area of my brain that’s exposed isn’t large enough to allow long-lasting effects. I don’t trust myself to widen the hole that’s already there, but I’m prepared to do another one an inch or so away.

August 4, 2015, 12:30pm

There was a problem with the second hole. I did everything just like the last time, but on the last tiny borehole a crack formed in the skull between the original hole and the new site. I had to peel back the skin I’d left to make sure, but it was definitely there. I was forced to decide whether or not I should leave the broken piece, and I opted against it. Now I have an oval that’s about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Removing the membrane from this part was difficult and I had a minor issue with the blade slipping deeper than I’d wanted. Thankfully, the brain has no pain receptors. It couldn’t have gone more than half an inch inside and nothing weird happened to my body so I lucked out and hit part of the 90% they say we don’t use. I know people are saying that’s a myth, but with what just happened to me there must be some truth to it.

August 5, 2015, 8:00am

No scratching overnight. The pulsing is there but it’s nowhere near as strong as it was the first time. My mood is still low. I have to be honest with myself here: I feel like a failure. This whole experiment is another example of me setting out to do something with good intentions and having it all blow up in my face. But, but, I’m not going to be defeated by it. In the past, I would’ve stopped, Jen would’ve started a fight with me, and I’d just add it to the never ending cascade of fuckups that form my identity. Not this time, though. The increase in my ambition from this treatment must still be going strong, because I’m determined to see it all through.

August 5, 2015, 8:00pm

There are four more holes in my head. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Toward the end of the last one, I almost passed out. I’m glad I had the foresight to keep a few sugar packets nearby so I could regain the strength to finish up.

Besides the issue with my dizziness, these four went better than the prior two. I used the left and right sides of my head this time, right above my ears. The skull was far thinner than on my forehead, so the vibration of the drill wasn’t as excruciating. The blood-loss was significantly greater, though, which explains the desire to pass out. I have hand towels wrapped around my head so I won’t get blood all over the place. Lucky for me, I’m a pretty quick clotter. That’s a funny word. Clotter.

August 6, 2015, 6:10am

I slept sitting up and awoke to major pulsing not just in the new holes, but in the old ones as well. A small problem’s developed with the second hole, though. I think it might be getting infected. The itching is unbearable and I think it might be starting to smell. I poured rubbing alcohol on all the sides and pressed it in with clean towels, so hopefully that’ll stop whatever’s breeding in there.

My mood was pretty high. Still not as good as the first day, but much better than the days after. I’ve been thinking about Jen a lot. We had so many things in common. We loved talking about animals and used to go off on tangents where we’d discuss all the exotic ones we’d have when we were rich. Her favorite ones were rhinos. Mine were hippos. I used to tell her about the lake we’d have in our backyard where my pygmy hippo would play with her baby rhino. After they’d gotten tired out, we’d invite them up to the patio where they’d curl up next to one another while we gazed adoringly at them and at each other. I wonder how she’d feel knowing I’ve been doing all this work to better myself. She’d probably tell me to do more.

August 7, 2015, 12:35pm

I did more. All day yesterday, I drilled. I drilled and cut and pulled and peeled. I feel like I can take on the world; it’s almost like that one time I did cocaine in college, but the effect has lasted far longer. I’ll update again today if I have to, but for now, I’m going to work on some of my stories.

August 9, 2015, 9:00am

Where have I been? Writing. Since the other day, I’ve gotten down 100 pages of a story I never even knew I had in me. Reading it over is like I’m looking at the work of someone else. Someone far, far better. A stranger, I guess.

On a slightly less pleasant note, there’s definitely an infection in a few holes. One of them is weeping a gray liquid that smells terrible and all of them itch. When I rub them with the towel to try to scratch, they break open and start either bleeding or leaking clear fluid. I figure it’s like a cold that has to run its course, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t becoming a problem nearly as bad as the depression was.

August 10, 2015, 7:40am

I scratched in my sleep. I don’t know what else to say other than it was bad. It’s hard to tell from what I see in the mirror, but I might have damaged some of my brain in the holes of my forehead and left side. A small piece is hanging by a thread that looks like a tiny blood vessel. I tried to tuck it back under the lip of skull, but I had to press pretty hard to do it and I’m worried I messed it up even worse.

At least I saw a bear today.

August 15, 2015, 4:15pm

More holes for me. Shaved my head. No more hair, lots more holes. Remember those wiffle balls from when we were kids? One day I’ll tell Jen how I thought my head looked like a wiffle ball. She always liked baseball and playing with my hair. My head infection was getting real bad before the bear came. Now he licks my head while I sleep and keeps the gross stuff out. Jen loves bears. Bears and rhinos.

Every morning I have to clean under my fingernails a lot. Petting the bear gets them real dirty. It’s nice the bear shaved when I did so I didn’t have to feel like the odd man out. Those pulses in my head are nice and strong all the time. It feels good. The bear licks me a lot when I sleep.

Augs 16, 2015 5000

Scratch the bear by his ears andhe licks lots and lots. Lots of licks means a lot less itching. Jen would scratch my back when it was itchy. One time she saw me triing to scratch between my shoulders using the door frame. She called me a bear because that’s what bears do when there back itches. 60 holes, going to cut out the spaces in between. Make my bear proud if Jen cant be.

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