Migrations and Other Stories
Peter Zanon

Dedicated to the Pumpkin.

Santa America
Abstract chapter design

To this day, whenever I smell burning tires in moist night air, that sequence flashes to me. The sequence: I hear a thump! and turn. The man's body slams against the hood. Slides up it. Then rolls back down. It could have been a physics demonstration: up the slope, then down.

Kevin was driving. I had shotgun. He slammed on the brakes. But it was too late. I vaguely recall curses shooting out of Kevin's mouth. I vaguely recall opening the door and stepping out, my head dizzy from adrenaline. I had to get out, the car felt too small. Reality came into focus when Kevin shut the car door behind me, put the car into reverse, backed up ten feet, then slammed it and sped off.

“Fucking son of a bitch!” I shouted after him, but he was already gone.

The guy was bleeding from the head. His face was all skinned up and cut. He lay there. I reached out. I touched his neck. Nothing. No pulse. Goddammit. I hoped I was doing it wrong. It was not like I know this stuff. Maybe my hand was in the wrong place. 9-1-1! My hand shot into my pocket for my cellphone. But then something held me. Kevin was gone. This probably was murder. He did it, not me. It was his responsibility, his moral decision. I wasn't going to be blamed for Kevin running this guy over. He was dead. That's it. Nothing they could do. He was reincarnated, or in heaven, or some shit like that.

But the thought tugged at me. I gradually brought out my phone. It was out of batteries. I didn't plug it in yesterday. It felt good to see the screen light-gray and blank, and the buttons not responding. Now, I really had no choice. I did the best I could. Nothing to do, but walk back.

Half an hour later I was home. It about eleven PM. Late enough that nobody saw any of this, I hoped. Me, Kevin, and Lisa lived in an older house in the city limits, between Uptown, which was mostly hipsters and homeless, and Grove Hills, where shoulderless roads snaked around foreclosed McMansions. Hills in a city are for shanty-towns and the filthy rich/middle-class, and nothing in between. Hills hide them, and we can pretend they don't exist. Keeps things going.

I opened the front door. Lisa was slumped on the couch, and didn't look up. She was high as usual. I had to just say something. “There's serious trouble.” Lisa gave out a pig-snort of laughter.

“Jesus, Lisa, someone is — shit. Some guy got hurt.” The only reason we tolerate her is because she has the nice office job and owns the house and pays the mortgage on time. Kevin pays some sort of rent, I think, but I was just crashing on the couch until I found a job. I sometimes wondered if she thought we were actually her friends.

I fell into the couch. Lisa handed me her pipe and lighter, as if in reply. A weird little smile started to twitch into her face again. That just pissed me off.

My eyes wandered to the kitchen counter. I saw my cellphone charger, plugged in by the toaster. I felt my heart-rate increase. Images popped through my head like machine gun fire. The police questioning me. My fucking it up. A murder trial. Kevin saying I did it. Prison. American History X, and getting raped by neo-Nazi skinheads. In my mind, there was no middle step between accidental homicide and getting raped by Nazis. That's what the justice system is about: systematizing Nazi rape. I kept my eyes open, since when I closed them it was just me and my thoughts.

Weed was just making me more nervous. I could not relax. It wasn't guilt. I didn't do anything wrong. I wasn't the one driving. I just now noticed the TV mumbling on. TVLand, Gunsmoke: James Arness was shooting a bunch of nameless Indians. I pictured myself as a black-and-white cowboy. I heard a pounding of hooves that matched my beating heart, violins and timpani echoed over the rolling hills of Kansas, and a valley teaming with black-and-white mounted Indians stretched out before me. I pressed the stock of the rifle to my bare shoulder, splinters scraping against my cheek as I sighted down it. I timed my breathing and pick them off one by one. Each time, I would pull back the bolt and watch the copper casing fall to the ground, and each Indian I shot would launch comically off of his horse, his arms flapping like a bird. Flapping harder, he would discover he could fly, and that is when I saw his soul separate, winging up to the spirit guide that glided above him. They were resigned to begin the next leg of the journey.

“Will, what's, what's going on? You're like — something's up.” Lisa's voice drifted to me, pulling me out.

“Nothing. It's nothing.” It was nothing. Kevin just drove away. I need to just drive away. I was letting this get to me. It was not my fault. I shrunk into myself, and promised to keep my eyes open.

The next day I woke up tired. My head rolled over toward the TV, which was still on. Lisa walked by me shoving breakfast down her throat as she pulled on a coat sleeve, her key-ring hooked on her finger. Dangling keys flash like jewels. My ears rung for some reason.

After a shower I had a couple eggs and a whiskey, and without thinking I headed out. I walked toward where we hit the guy. I had to. I had nothing else to do. I have a four year degree, five digits of debt, and have been unemployed for six months. At least I gave up the job search, so now I don't count toward unemployment statistics. My mom warned me about being a statistic: I do what I can do. I wouldn't say that I was hard-on-luck because a lot of people are worse off than me. But what I can say is that the American dream is just Santa Claus for adults. If we're rich we can say it wasn't just inherited from our parents, but because we're on Santa America's nice list. The only part that sucks is getting lumps of coal every Christmas like I was. If you do exist, Santa America, I hate you.

When I got there is when all the weird shit started to happen.

There was no body. I think I was at the right place. The red house — I remembered that. There was the Blockbuster. I remembered being afraid someone in there saw, but nobody came out or said anything. The neighborhood street looked so tranquil in the daytime. Doubt crept in. My mind recited all the details again, to try to find something inconsistent. A dream? Was I just remembering something wrong? But then I saw a smear of blood on the curb. That was where he was. Did the guy not die? If the cops found him, I think they would have put up tape or something. So maybe he didn't die. Kevin was gone all night, maybe, I thought, Kevin came back and moved the body.

“Will.” The voice felt like a metal comb scraping up my spine, and when it reached my brain stem I spun around.

He was standing there. Yeah, the guy we hit. His face was still cut up, and his skin was as gray as his ripped trench coat.

“I know who you are.” Well, fuck me.

My lips pumped a few times before sound came out. “You, you didn't die.” Probably not the right thing to say.

His mouth split into a wide smile. “But I did die. The hit to my head killed me.” He pointed to a gash on his skull, covered with dried blood.

My brain flashed through the thought process again: he presses charges, police, manslaughter, prison, then Nazi-rape. I realized I had a few phrases of a speech prepared from yesterday. Scattered phrases to explain my innocence. Some parts addressed the listener as “officer” , others as “your honor” , and other parts as “Kevin, you fucking asshole” , but I managed to censor it down to something appropriate for this guy (at first, “sir” , then just “man” ) and I rambled out some sort reply. I emphasized the cell-phone bit. It sounded like court-room quality evidence, something simple, that the jury could understand, like that glove thing with the OJ trial. I wasn't in a courtroom, but still. As I spoke, his green eyes stared into mine, and he did not move. Eventually, I stopped, mid-sentence I think, since it looked like he was going to talk.

He said, “Inside each one of us is a reptile, a beast without speech or comprehension. It lies curled up near our stomachs, in a restless sleep. Sometimes, you can feel it stir. It's a sick feeling in your stomach. Have you felt it stir?”

He sounded like a parent. I guessed it was some shit about conscience, so I said, “Yeah, sure, I guess.”

“On one day, they are all are going to burrow out of us: every reptile in every person on earth, all at the same time. It will be the ending of an age, the dawning of a new world order. Every one of the magnificent reptiles, free once more! It will be amazing! Can you picture that?” He arched his back and looked straight up. He stared at the sky as his body shook. He began to laugh. It sunk in. He was insane. I half expected Batman to glide in: clearly we have a Arkham Asylum escapee.

He continued to laugh. It faded into a hypnotic background-noise to me, for as I looked at him, I pictured his reptile. I thought about it ripping through its weak mammalian captor. It wanted to recover liberty it had lost. As his laughs shook his body, I imagined this monster extending its neck for the first time, ramming its sleek nose through the man's throat, choking his laugh into gasps and gurgles. Then I would see the beast thrusting its head out of the man's gaping mouth, the man's jaw splintering from the force. With this first breath of air, then beast would realize its strength and true size. Air would expand its lungs, and it would grow to be larger than its human shell, causing the man to peel open evenly like a flower's bloom. Finished with its shedding, I imagined it now squatting naked in the heat of the day, as do all cold blooded creatures. It would have forgotten all of its friends and enemies. The reptile would be unemployed like me, purposeless like me, but we would live in an earth peopled only by such reptiles. No longer on earth would there be friends or enemies, genders, identities, names, clothes, or purposes. There would be no purpose for purposes. It would live its days under the sun, hunting, fighting, killing, but have no offspring.

He suddenly stopped laughing. He brushed by me. He walked up a lawn to a house. I followed him. A breeze pushed porch chimes into each other, and they played once more the only song they have ever played. His eyes were focused on a bush. I followed his gaze. A little green lizard was stepping its way through the twigs. It was a male: the red disc puffed out from its neck every few seconds. Bright red with yellow polka-dots.

“A green anole,” he said. I bet I was supposed to be impressed with his child-like curiosity. “On that day, you will be the only human left —yours will never hatch.”

“Why not?” I said.

He didn't look at me when he replied. “Because you are William Walker, the gray-eyed man of destiny. In 1856, you will lead our American servicemen and women to conquer Nicaragua. You will spread democracy to all the superstitious lands. You will make great sacrifices during this War on Terror. As dictator, you will transform Nicaragua into a wealthy English-speaking slave-state, a beacon of prosperity for Central America. You are a true patriot, William Walker.”

My last name's not Walker. His knowledge of me seemed to stop there. “I'm going to be quite the fucking hero, aren't I. Nicaragua had it coming.”

He turned. “Do you think I'm kidding, William? None of this is a joke. Sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and follow me.”

I said, “Well, guess what. I don't have anything, so —” This was it. It was time to tell Jesus to take the Valley of the Shadow of Death Transit back to Nazareth. I started to give him the ASL for fuck you, only sign I knew, in slow motion for dramatic effect. He adjusted his trench coat and I spied a holstered rifle hanging low by his side. I froze. The middle finger of my right hand half extended, pointing at my forehead. My left arm was half way to my shoulder, fingertips at my heart. Karma is like that.

“Follow me.” He began to walk. I followed him. As I walked, I started a series of mathematical estimations. How fast I could run vs. how fast he could run, with a coefficient of how well he could aim added to how fucking insane he was. Subtract from both sides by the chance of a lawsuit, and solving for x gave me: I'm fucked. I worked it out again in my head just to make sure, but got the same answer. So I followed him.

As we marched, his mouth moved slightly but said nothing. I guess he was preparing his thoughts. He got to the entrance of Grove Hills. He rested his hand on its fake wood sign. “William,” he said, “when I died, I felt myself drifting above my corpse, I saw Him, and He leaned over my body, and put His holy hand on my neck, and breathed into me the harmony of life. For he told me that there is one whom I must assassinate, for only death can harmonize life.” Assassination? Christ.

“His spirit lives in me, and I am no longer mine but His prophet. He showed me visions. I saw a mob knocking over a wall of human corpses that divide the races. I saw a field of corn, and He told me to chop down every stalk that stood too tall. I saw an ocean of iPhones, dotted with canoes.”

“This is what it means: a generation will not have passed when the Facebook walls will be torn down. The Twitter followers will become leaders, and no cellphone will get any bars. On that day, the lands will be divided, there will be no cities and no hills, and it will be the end of this age.”

He stopped. I realized I had been holding my breath. I guess I expected a sudden “now you die” non-sequitor at any time during his ramblings.

We walked down a few winding streets (this neighborhood was too rich to afford sidewalks), and stopped at a large Tudor-style house. The door was hardened wood and metal with a lion-head knocker. He tried the handle. Locked. A few feet to the right was a big window. I followed a step behind. He bent down to the ground and picked up a smooth stone from the landscaping. He turned.

“Cast the stone into the window,” he said.

I looked at him in awe. “Are you insane?” (Yes, I actually said that.) “The security on this place — cops will be here in minutes!”

“If you do not have courage, then knock on the door, and let the occupants take you in.”

I stared at the knocker. It was made of polished brass. Lions are wild and untamed. Here its visage was captured by humans only to be repeatedly smashed in the neck. As I looked at it, I imagined it transforming into a real lion, a rippling mass of muscle and teeth enraged at the years of disrespect. It would tackle me on the rough concrete. It was a being of violence. It would judge me then, a convulsing frail organism crushed under its weight. In its eyes, I would be found as guilty as its former captors.

What the fuck was wrong with me? I saw myself: this bony body weakened by years of inhibitions. When I was a kid I would have thrown a brick through a window on my own on a Tudor castle. No problem. It was funny: the owners piled on money so they could pretend that money could make them feudal tyrants. But then, adult-me was standing there trembling. It was like all the shit I went through these last few years year — unemployment and job applications, two attempts at a stable life with a girl, and the rest of the time getting trashed — all that shit, all the shit I thought was real, none of it prepared me for this moment. Just the hours and hours of the nothing I did all day piled on top of me like that lion. I had sleep paralysis once and this is what it felt like. Indolence, violence, it pressed on my chest. It was the heaviest nothing I ever knew.

Nothing clever to say to the door-knocker in front of me or the lunatic behind me. Neither would understand. I was just another fucking loser. So I threw the rock.

He smashed out the rest of the window with the butt of his gun. He said to me, “Stay here, and no harm will come to you.”

He climbed in. I didn't hear any alarms. I felt queasy, but somewhat elated. It took a couple seconds for the excitement to wear off and the more appropriate panic to set in. What the hell had I just done? I started running home. I heard a loud crack from behind me. It sounded hollow, but sharp. A rifle round had echoed over Grove Hills.

All this shit was just too weird. I needed to start a new part of my life. I needed to move on. I needed to do something. Kevin wasn't home, though I would have beat him if he was. That would have been something.

When Lisa got home, she told me some weird guy had stopped her on her way to work. Inquired who else drove that car. I asked her why the fuck she complied, and, after all, he could have been a fucking cop (though of course I knew who he was), and she just advised I should take it easy, and stated she was in a hurry, though she then offered some vague apology. Then I told her I was moving out.

She said, “Oh, that's good news. Did you find a job?” No, I was too busy being held hostage by a gun-wielding lunatic you kindly directed to me.

“No, I'm moving back to Fort Lauderdale. Back to my parents I guess.”

“Okay, well, its not like anything here is yours so it should be pretty easy to move out. Good luck on your job search. Um, bye.” She went up to her room. Bye? That's it? I was the only one who was nice to her ever — I mean, we were friends, right? Well, fuck this place. I grabbed my backpack and bag. I took a bus to Amtrak. Late that night I was at my parents'. Hadn't called ahead since I left behind my cellphone. Never felt like plugging it in again. But the door was unlocked and I was their son and they were as unhappy as always to see me.

I got another loan. I enrolled in a community college. I'll get a two-year degree in something that will actually make a lot of money. Maybe I'll get on Santa America's nice list for once. If Santa America was really just my parents, I was screwed anyway.

Nobody would believe half the shit that had just happened to me, so I didn't tell anyone. I was nervous at first, but nothing happened. No cops at the door or anything. About two weeks later I was on a bus in Miami, and I saw a photo of the preacher guy on the front page of a newspaper on an empty seat across the aisle. My heart pounded a shot of adrenaline. I picked it up. Under the photo: Entrepreneur Drew Lidstrom. He had been recovering from a mental break-down one year ago. Broke into his own home two weeks ago. Beat to death his housekeep after she tried to wrestle the gun from him. Then suicide. He missed his heart, but bled to death after three hours, said the examiner. I read the rest. No mention of me or an accomplice or anything.

Christ. The whole assassination thing — was that about himself? Maybe he was letting loose his reptile, or something equally insane. I don't know. A vague idea floated into my head, about how I just ran away from the house. There was nothing else I could do without getting in trouble, of course, but still something was there. I wanted to change. Instead, I let the same guy die twice.

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I'm sitting on a hard bench in an asphalt parking lot. It's 11:50 PM. A large flock of geese is stepping around the parking lot in little circles, honking and flapping. It's a clear and cold night in San Francisco.

I've been waiting here for a couple hours now. I'm more nervous and excited than bored. A woman is sitting on an adjacent bench.

“Waiting for the bus?” I ask. Well, that's a stupid question!

“Uh, yeah! You think I'm just sitting here 'cause I like it?” She snorts — good-naturedly, though.

“Well, I guess that was dumb.” I search for topics for a couple seconds. “I wonder why the geese are so noisy. I mean it's late, right?”

“Shit, I dunno,” she says. “I guess they're migrating or something. I think they migrate down south this time of the year.”

“Huh, yeah. Do you know what type they are?” I say.

She frowns. “You know, I heard this once — what type those are. They have gray feathers. Maybe they are gray geese?”

“Like the vodka? That's my favorite drink! Gray Goose, on the rocks.”

She glances at my collared shirt and tie. “It'd be my favorite drink too, if I had a nice job like you. Business trip?”

I fidget. “Yeap. I'm in sales for a Simontech. We have a new client in Los Angeles. I'm just going to be down there for a day. I usually fly, but I figure I'd try the bus this time. Never ridden a Greyhound before.”

The bus pulls up. Without another word, she gets up and stands in front of the doors. I line up behind her. A few people stream in from the building and line up behind me.

The bus driver nods and mutters “ticket” when it's my turn. I reach into my pocket and produce a massive book of Greyhound ticket vouchers. I tear off the top one and hand it at him. I can tell the driver is impressed. This was a huge number of vouchers. Largest booklet they had. The booklet didn't even fit in the same pocket as my cellphone.

I brush by the driver. The bus is a lot emptier than I expected for San Francisco to Los Angeles. I guess my only experience is with airplanes, though. I find a pair of seats that are empty. I put my bags on the aisle seat and take the window, just like I see everyone else has done.

The bus driver says over the PA, “So, this should be familiar, but still listen up. No alcohol, no knives or firearms, no smoking, we all share the same air here. There are smoke detectors in the restroom, so don't try any of that shit there either. I'll know, 'cause a light goes on in front of me. And if I catch you doing anything, booze, whatever—”

“Yeah, yeah; we know, we know,” a man in front calls out.

“—THEN I WILL PULL OVER IMMEDIATELY. This is the law, I gotta say all this. Even if we're in the middle of the desert. One-by-one each and every passenger is going to go off the bus, then everyone except for you one-by-one on the bus, no refund or nothing. No three strikes, no discussion, this is a rule that applies to everybody. It is federal law.” And with that welcoming greeting, the bus begins lurching forward.

My cell buzzes. I pull it out. A text from Nate. Looks like it was sent to a lot of people. Probably just seeing who's at what bar, etc. I also notice an unread text from my wife, but it's too long to see anything past “Hi Bryan dear” without tapping on it. Well, there'll be time enough to read these on the bus ride! (Cells work on buses, after all, unlike airplanes.) Now it's time just to enjoy the ride.

I look across the aisle. An older gentlemen. I lean over the aisle.

“So, you bus a lot?”

“Yes,” he says, staring straight ahead.

“So, what do you do?”

“Retired,” he says, still not turning. I decide to give up on small-talk.

The next hour I watch an episode of Entourage on my phone. Batteries are at 50%.

I check the time. It's 2:37AM — way passed my bed time. (I've gotten boring and grown-up these days and started going to bed around the same time as my parents. I never thought that would happen!) The excitement of bus travel has worn off. My eyelids are very heavy. The interior lights are all off, but there are still occasional flashes from oncoming traffic. I look across the aisle. I see the old man slouched sleeping against the window, skin sagging and mouth drooling. I guess some day I'll be an old man. Except, I won't be traveling alone. Nope, that's the thing about having relationships, about having love: you never travel alone. I'll have my wife there, equally old and skin sagging and mouth drooling, slouched up next to me. She'll always be there for small talk, for body warmth.

I take out my travel pillow — I bought one of the U-shaped ones just for this trip. I slip it around my neck. I put on a blind fold. I pop in my earbuds, and set my phone to play my “sleep music” . Calm, ambient music to drown out the bus noise.

I put my mind in relaxing places. I think of my wife. She probably has had a glass of wine, maybe watched some TV. Normal evening routine stuff. Probably was thinking about me, and so she sent that text. Now she's probably fast asleep in our new apartment by now. Snuggled up under blankets. Even though it's August, it's still really cold this year. I wonder what that text says. Probably just some little sweet thing, like that she misses me. I miss her! I think of my work. My office mates, Nate, Emma, and Matt. Those guys are characters! I could feel myself starting to drift off now, but I couldn't remember if Emma still worked on my team. Actually, she might not have ever worked on my team. I think she just knew Nate. I then think of my sister, who had just moved to New York. Crazy, that my little sister is grown up, and going to college now. To Ithaca, no less! I had never gotten in there. It was on the top of my list. I was so proud of her. And with these last thoughts, this glow of love and pride warming my body better than any blanket, I drift into a dreamless sleep.

I wake up. It's still dark out. What woke me up? I go to check the time on my phone. Ah, damn, it's out of batteries! No way to charge it on a bus either. A little bit of alarm creeps in. I never let my phone run out of batteries. I don't even know what time it is. How can a businessman like myself lose track of the time?

The bus is loud and shaky. It's a weird world I find myself now in: all the bus people illuminated only by flashes of on coming traffic. They seem so much less imposing. Or maybe I was just tired. My stomach feels a little sick from lack of sleep. I always get a stomach ache if I don't get a full night. I compulsively reach for my phone again to check the time, but stop my hand half way.

How did people tell the time before clocks? I guess using the sun. Of course, it's night time now, so that's no good to me. I force the thoughts of time out of my head. I don't need to know the time. I just need to sleep now. I need to be rested to make that sale.

I try to sleep. Minutes seem so long without a clock. Back to warm thoughts. Me and my wife, we're cooking together. She had her back turned to me. I'm chopping tomatoes, she's tending the pasta. She turns. But she turns too fast, and I can't quite see her face. She's now digging through the fridge.

“Honey,” I begin, hoping she'll turn to me. She doesn't. My mind is tired and my thoughts are moving faster than I can control them.

I feel myself shrinking. I'm aging backwards. She's aging forwards, though. I know that if I keep on aging backwards, I'd be a kid again, so I rush toward where the office is in our apartment. Work would keep me tied to the present. But it's too late: my office is gone. I'm in my childhood home now, 931 Hill St., Eagan, Minnesota. I turn. It's not my wife — it's now my mom digging through the fridge. I need to focus on my wife, on my future. I need to get back there. I see my sister ahead of me. She's jumping off the couch with her dolls. I need to convince her this isn't where we're supposed to be!

“Emma,” I begin. That's her name. “we're not supposed to be here! I'm not twelve, I'm —” I hesitate. I realize I had forgotten my correct age. “—I'm a grown up now.” It might not be my sister. It might be my co-worker. Or maybe my sister is my co-worker. My mom turns.

I look frantically around the room for clocks. None. No clocks, anywhere.

“What time is it?” I ask my mom.

“Time to eat, Bryan dear.”

“I need to know the time!” I scream. And then I jolt awake. I'm a grown-up again. I'm a grown-up. The bus is driving through construction, and bumping a lot. My mind is still a little muddled. I wish I knew the time.

I wake up for the zillionth time. I reach down into my pocket. I grab my phone. Still blank. Of course — it's not like power comes out of nowhere. I need a charger, and a socket. My brain shifts to eye sockets, and that mine feel like their milking my eyeballs. Or butchering my eyeballs. I debate for a few minutes which was a more apt metaphor. This bus ride is going to be another 12 hours. Vegas to Denver is going to be a painful ride. I look out the window, and see massive rock piles dotted with green shrubs, and red rock everywhere else. Still don't know what time it is, but I figure it's gotta be some time in the afternoon by now.

When I had gotten to LA, I had to really rush to get in line for the connecting bus to Vegas. In Vegas, I had a two hour lay-over, according to my schedule. Since it turns out I forgot to bring my charger (I can be such a dolt sometimes! Ugh!), I couldn't just wait around and let my phone charge up at the station, which was my original plan. Instead, I decided to explore a bit, since I'd never been to Vegas. Turns out that the Strip was far away from the Greyhound station, and that its deadly hot in the desert in August. As I wandered outside, I realized that without my GPS I had no sense of direction in addition to no sense of time. I probably could have died from heat exhaustion, if I hadn't seen a gray goose. I remembered, then, that flock of gray geese that was at the San Francisco station's parking lot. Perhaps this one lived in a parking lot too! I followed it, twisting between hotels and casinos, and the crowds of fat tourists. It knew the way, honking through the crowd, it led me back to the Greyhound station.

I did make it, and now I'm safely in the right bus. I look across from me. My eyes blur at first. I struggle to focus them. God, this trip is gonna kill me. Finally, I see a blond guy with dreadlocks sitting across from me. I think he got on at Vegas, though I had started to try to sleep again at that point.

Blond dreadlocks guy is wearing a khaki cut-off showing a yin-yang tattoo on his bicep. I decide to try to give up on sleeping for a bit. I lean over.

“So, which one is yin, and which yang?” I say.

“What?” he says.

“I forget — your yin-yang. The yin-yang on your arm. Like, is yin black or white?”

He looks down at his arm. “Oh, yeah, so, uh, the yin is black, and the yang white. The line down the middle, that's tao. That's what you gotta walk down.” I nod slowly, my lower lip sticking out as I think.

“Tao. It's like — tao is like living your life. You gotta balance everything. It's so curvy, though, so it's hard to walk down it — hard to balance everything, you know?”

“Yeah. Sure. Balance.”

He nods for a few minutes. Looks bored. Looks up at me a couple times, opens his mouth, then shuts it again. Finally, “Where you headed?”

“Visiting my sister in New York.”

He looks at my dress shirt and tie. “Dude, are you Mormon?”

I chuckle. “No, no. I left right after work. Didn't have a chance to even go home and say bye to the wife. Life never pauses, right?”

“Yeah, sure man.” His eyes narrow and focus on my left hand. I follow his gaze. My hands look older than I think they should. Hm, that's wrong. Very weird. My ring is gone. I never take it off, that's the thing. Never. “Wife, huh. Nice. She should've come along. I guess, she's busy too though, right?”

“What are you implying by that?” I was a little surprised by my own voice saying this.

“Hey, I wasn't implying anything. I just thought, you know, like her coming along, that'd be nice to travel together. Just if I had a wife it'd be like that. Where'd you say you work?”

“Simons Bank. I work for Simons Bank. But this trip has nothing to do with that. I am visiting my sister.” This guy is really starting to irritate me. I force myself to take a deep breath. I really shouldn't be so bothered. I mean, he's just asking, right?

“Nice. Sounds like a lot of work though.” Uncomfortable silence. “I mean you just gotta take it easy, sometimes. The balance. Just what we were saying, you know.” Yeah, I bet he does take it easy. I glance at his torn camo shorts. Probably never worked an honest day, this one. No one like that would have a wife and a promotion waiting for them at home. I have a wife and promotion waiting for me, back at my 2nd story condo in South of Market, where, granted, property values may or may not be in a bubble, but either way it's a pretty damn good status symbol. Now I'm visiting my sister to help her settle in. She'd never lived in a real city before, and now she's in New York! I'd help her get settled in, put together her Ikea furniture, take her out a few times and introduce her to my Ithaca friends out there from school (I can just picture it: “Hey guys, this is my little sister, Emma.” And then I scowl intimidatingly at my dude friends, as a big brother should.) That's important — get her settled in with a network of friends who I know will take care of her, even if I'm on the other side of the country. I'd show her how to use the subways (and tell that country girl when not to use the subways) to get to her new job. After all that, I'd head back to San Francisco. Then, my wife would be in my arms, and we'd finish Season 3 of Entourage. Next Monday I'd go to work, and find my name tag already moved to the new office. The corner office.

“Man, New York. That's a long haul.”

I yawn. Big yawns really take a long time. I show him the bundle of vouchers I have in my pocket.

“Now that should be enough for New York and back, right?”

His eyes grow big. “Holy shit dude, that's like — how much did that cost?”

“It's cheaper when you buy in bulk vouchers like this.”

He nods. I nod. I can't think of very much more to say. Not sure if I even wanted to talk to him anymore, actually. I look out at the window again. Same thing I saw before. Red desert. Joshua trees. Speckles of green shrubs. Piles of rocks. An RV, desolate. A shack. This must be where outlaws live. To live out here, away from it all. I close my eyes, put on my blindfold, and shift my head to the travel pillow on my neck. I squirm in my chair until the vibrations stop hurting my head. And then I let go of my body and feel it falling again to sleep.

And a few moments later I jolt awake. And then fall asleep. And jolt awake. And then when I'm asleep begins to blur with when I'm awake. And I just wander between a quiet, black void and the rumble and pain of the bus. Now I stand comfortably in the black void, totally apart from the bus. I look back at the body of myself slumped up against the window. A white stage spotlight shines on that body, my body. Like a murder scene, shadowed and Frank Miller-monochromatic. And suddenly I'd be seized as if by invisible hands and thrown into the bus again, into my body again.

This continues, a constant cycle of leaving the bus and looking upon my corpse, and then being snatched up by that invisible creature and cast back into my body. My thoughts grow wilder, and sizes and proportions become hard to understand. I lose track of hours, as I have now no phone or music player to check the time by. Just a cycle of My eyes and neck ache at first, but eventually they grew numb, and I forgot about their pain too.

After a while, I feel the cycle subsiding — I don't leave the bus entirely, now, but just drift outside of myself a little, so I can see around myself even with the blindfold still on, but never do I leave a totally lifeless corpse. I am neither sleeping, nor waking, but somewhere in between. It is not night, nor day, but blindfold. I begin to doubt whether night and day exist. How can night and day be dual, when there's “blindfold” ? How can there be only sleeping and waking, only these dueling concepts, only these rivals, a binary “off” or “on” switch, when here I am somewhere between off and on? For that matter, I reason, how can there be only life and death, only male and female, good and evil, white and black, yin and yang, when I stand between all of that? I decided that from then on, this in-between state, between “off” and “on” , that is definitely preferable to that tiresome cycle of “off” and “on” . Something constant, unchanging, and predictable. That is what I want.

I remove the blindfold and see a sign: Welcome to Vail, Colorado! It looks like a little Swiss village nestled in the dark green mountain-sized hills. Do people live here? I'm not sure if my eyes are open or closed. The bus drifts between Vail, Colorado and Vail, Switzerland. A perfect little skiing village. This is what my wife — yes, my wife and I are going to go here, Switzerland. Or Colorado. I picture it during winter. I see the mountain-hills now now covered in a thick, fresh snow. On the edges of the snow, cirrus wisps whip up in the wind. Canadian Geese dive in and out of these clouds, as it is now neither Vail, Colorado, nor Vail Switzerland, but Vail, City in the Clouds. The bus is now on a road in the sky, a fading trail of nimbus exhaust behind it, billowing out into fruitful rainclouds that water the checkered farmland below. I feel the blood in my forehead, my heart racing on rarefied air.

“O Mary, Queen of Heaven,” I say, for the sun is the face of the Virgin Mary, and it is in fact her glow that illuminates the clouds and bus. “O Mary, Most Blessed of All Women, what must I do to be saved?”

“Do not ask me petty questions,” she says. “I am the goddess of tourist homes for good prices, and Weekend Getaways for Two on Groupon. I build colonies of sophistication in primitive mountain lands for those from the East Coast with fine taste in resorts.” She tilts her head and she morphs into an icon. Soon she becomes blackened with age, for the paints from which the ancient Christians created her do not last longer than a thousand years. Wrinkles zigzag cracks across her face. She is now an ancient Coptic Icon. I hear a honking of geese echo over the hilly expanse of heaven. From the north, south, east and west, gray swarms of geese descend upon the Lady's visage. They rip from her face blackened scraps, and blood pours forth from holes, and together they sup on her blood and body. Her crown of light falls from her head, and the earth is cast into a darkness which feels like cold metal on my face and weight on my chest. The clouds grow thinner, then dissolve. The bus enters free fall, and my chest is jolted, and now the vision has disappeared.

We had left Vail, going through another artificial village constructed for rich tourists. The green hills remain. For a second I doubt what I had seen. But then I lift my eyes, and see black shapes that fly close to the clouds. Grey Geese. Neither black, nor white. If God cannot save me, it is they who can, I now think. And the only way I can get to them is through the tao, is by walking the squiggly, fuzzy line between “on” and “off” .

I am on a bus. I am traveling from somewhere to somewhere. All the bus stations are identical. Travelers form lines on one side, industrialized chairs on the other. They are always lit. Sometimes they have a Starbucks across from them, sometimes a 7 Eleven, sometimes something else that looks like a either a Starbucks or a 7 Eleven. They are all made of brick, and are boxes. Everything in them is a right angle. The bricks are right angles, the buildings are right angles, the floor tiles form right angles. Even the travelers stand in lines at right angles.

I disembark now, and now I get in line. I get on a bus. I travel. I disembark, get on a bus, and travel again. Every city is a grid of squares, of brick buildings, of cars that come in certain models and certain colors. Just a system of numbers and of names keep them apart and trap people to certain locations and identities, but I no longer recognize numbers or names as having any more power over me. I have broken free of time and of the calender date. I have broken free of all dueling ideas, of all conflicts between yins and yangs. I am never quite asleep, and am never quite awake. I don't see day, and I don't see night, male, female, black, white, living, dead. I can see even when I am blindfolded. I am always satiated. All is equal and the same and never changes. I am now walking the tao.

I am in line again now. The driver is taking tickets.

“What's your name, sir?” he asks, as he examines my voucher.

My name? They've never asked for names with my vouchers. “Oh, I'm just a traveler. I'm going to board the bus. I'm like the other people.”

“Right, but, I need your name. It's policy.”

“I'm a traveler.” I am dimly aware that these other travelers might have names.

He snorts. “Yes, you're a traveler. Do you have an ID? Anything?”

“So, the other travelers have names?”

“Oh for Christ's sake, I've got to get through this entire line. I can't let you on the bus unless you give me your name, okay? I mean, the voucher is still good, but its policy now to record names for vouchers.”

I look behind me. A line of individuals checking watches, texting, digging through wallets and purses for IDs. I am not a traveler. I am not one of these people.

My gaze goes farther, and I see a flock of gray geese. Gray geese. I walk to them. They sense I am one of them. They receive me. I crouch, so that my thighs are pressed against my stomach. The flesh begins to burn and ache, and soon it rips through my clothes and fastens itself to my stomach. I try to stand up, but now I am permanently hunched over, and have only calves for legs. I can no longer unbend my arms: each is now perpetually bent. My arms are wings. My legs start to hurt. I try to look closer at my legs, and I bend my head all the way under, and realize only now that my neck has grown to be as long as my body. My legs are growing thinner and thinner, until they are as thin as sticks. They turn gray, and my feet flatten and become webbed. My entire skin begins to itch, and I feel feathers pushing up through my hair follicles. My jaw dissolves and reforms into a beak. This is the last I can see of myself, as after that, my vision splits as my eyes move to the side of my head, and the transformation is complete. I am now one of the flock.

Song of Rocks
Abstract chapter design

I woke up on the couch. Don't remember how I got home. I heard a clattering of pots near the stove. Pain ballooned up in my forehead and threatened to pop. I clutched my head.

“You're awake. You were so fucking wasted last night, man.” Kurt was at the kitchen. Me and Kurt shared a 1 bedroom. I got the couch, unless I was bringing back a girl (which was basically never). I heard a cracking egg. He glanced at my hand clutching my head.

“Hungover much?” he said. He narrowed his eyes. He started rapping the frying pan with a fork. Each clang was a shot to my head.

“Fuck you.” My dry throat croaked out. I mustered up some concentration and produced a trembling middle finger. “Go die somewhere. Shoot yourself in the head like—” I paused to get up. Couldn't multi-task. “—the fuck is his name—”

“Kurt Cobain?” Kurt said.

“Goddammit.” I stumbled down toward the bathroom. I just wanted to take a piss and take some aspirin.

I opened the door and was immediately hit with the smell of vomit. I gagged, and rushed in ignoring my headache thinking I was going to heave again. I knelt over the toilet bowl. My stomach felt hideous, but still nothing came up. The vomit smell in the room seemed only to be getting worse. I scratched some crusted saliva off my lip. My reflection wobbled in the toilet water. I looked better in toilet water than in the mirror. All the imperfections just are rippled away. When I look in the mirror, I always double-take at how old I look. When I look in the toilet bowl, I see myself, wrinkles and sunken eyes just blend in with the general distortion.

The smell was somehow getting worse. Although my stomach didn't feel any better, I rose. My eyes swam in the bright white lights. When I looked into the mirror, I saw a hunched silhouette behind the shower curtain. I froze. There was a distinct black figure that was half bent behind it. I rubbed my eyes.

“Kurt?” I heard a gurgling noise. The putrid smell was even stronger. I put my hand over my mouth to keep from retching. Okay, in the horror movies I just turn around and it will not really be there. It's just in the reflection. I turned around. The shape was still there. I saw it was moving slightly. It was breathing.

I saw a hand reach up to the curtain. Brown fingers that dripped a brown liquid wrapped around the curtain's edge. Slowly, it pulled the curtain aside.

I lie on the floor. The buzzing is very loud. I am in Emilio's apartment. It's been about half an hour I think since I drank the cup of ayahuasca. Emilio leans over me. Brown smooth face. White polo shirt with glasses on top. “Just think of your guide.” His voice doesn't match his lips. Probably bad lip syncing. Just a mouth beneath glasses on a polo shirt.

My guide — fuck, what was my guide? A bird I think. My stomach is churning. I feel like I'm going to heave any moment now.

“I feel sick.” I say. I think I say. I vaguely note concern in his face.

At that moment, the spirits around me come into focus. I think they've been there all along. I'm sitting up already, and I see spirits descend in a circle like large birds, but then their bird costumes lose all their feathers and they stand now in human form in studded leather jackets and skinny jeans.

Ugh, my stomach. One by one the spirits leave the room, and one by one they return, with their hands cupped, holding something.

“What are you bringing?” I say.

All spirits say in chorus, “Your vomit, from every late Friday night, and every Saturday morning.”

Each kneels down in the center of the room and opens up their hands. Vomit. They are carrying vomit. My vomit. It pours from their hands, chunks slipping from their grasp only when they lift up their fingers. It's thick — far thicker than normal puke. The spirits stack the vomit in the center of the room. It begins to grow on its own accord, oozing and bubbling up as though beneath it were a geyser. Bigger and bigger it grows. Soon the base splits, and the bottom begins to form into feet, and once it is taller I see arms beginning to protrude from the sides, and from the arms grow hands, and from these, fingers, until the heap of vomit has evolved into a figure of a man of about my own stature. It stands upright, eyeless, faceless, possessing only a mouth. As it stares at me, globs of vomit roll down his arms and drip off his fingers, like a dripping faucet.

This is my spirit guide.

The smell became even more wretched when he fully opened the shower curtain. This was the first time I saw my spirit guide since three months ago when I went through the initiation ritual.

“What — what are you doing here? I never called you!”

It stands up slightly. “While you were drunk this morning, you sung for the first time the icaro I gave you when we first met.” Bits of yellow fluid ejects from its mouth as it speaks. “It was the icaro of rocks, and rocks being such solid things, I too became solid.”

I heard Kurt's voice from the kitchen. “Dude, didn't you say you were like going to a wedding or something man?” Shit, shit, shit! My cousin's wedding! I grabbed the bottle of aspirin. I shook out two pills. One hand shoveled water from under the faucet, the other popped them in my mouth. I stumble out of the bathroom. Kurt is slouched on the couch (my bed) watching TV, shoving scrambled eggs in his mouth. I needed my polo shirt and my dress pants, I guess. I think I have dress pants somewhere.

“Ugh, Jesus H. Christ. That thing smells.” I look behind my shoulder. Kurt is clutching his mouth staring at my spirit guide. It had followed me out of the bathroom. “What is he, anyway? He followed you home last night.”

“Shit, Kurt — remember how I went away? Like three months ago?” I spotted my polo, and shoved it aside.

“Maybe. I think. Ugh.” Kurt grabs a sheet to cover his mouth.

I continued tossing aside clothes looking for my dress pants. “Look, I did a ritual then, and I got this, like, spirit guide. This is my spirit guide. He's a plant-doctor. He's, like, the spirit of ayahuasca.”

“Well, whatever the fuck he is, there is no chance in hell that he's going to be sleeping here again. The bathroom is fucking ruined now, man. So disgusting.” Kurt said.

I saw my pants in the pile and grab them. I heard a gurgling noise. I turned to see my spirit guide standing next to me, looking down at me. Vomit chunks bobbed and rolled around in his flesh like crates at sea. Occasionally a chunk would roll along his surface gaining momentum and accruing a liquid build-up around it, before dropping off his finger and splattering on the floor. I looked down at his feet. He was standing on my polo shirt!

“Shit. Shit. Ugh, just my luck. Go stand next to the door.” The vomit monster hesitated, then lumbered back into the kitchen, which was next to the entrance to the apartment. I inspected my polo shirt. It was stained yellow and brown, and stank.

“It fucking dripped all over the carpet, man! You are cleaning this up!” Kurt said.

I looked into my pile of clothes, and grabbed the first t-shirt I saw. I quickly changed. “Stay there and don't move!” I shouted back to my spirit guide as I stumbled into the room and swapped my clothes. One sniff in the bathroom convinced me that using the shower would only make me smell worse.

“Okay, I'm heading out. I'll probably miss the wedding, but I'll be there for the reception.”

“Woah, hold on Allin, you're not leaving your voodoo vomit thing here.”

“Take me with you.” My spirit guide spoke.

I agreed. I didn't have much else to do. I couldn't leave it here. So I gave it my old coat to put on, and my snow pants, hoping to keep it from dripping quite as much. I grabbed my can of aerosol air-freshener and sprayed it for a good couple minutes. Then we took the bus to the reception.

The reception was being held downtown at a park. A big tent was set up. Next to the gate to the park was an old guy to check names. I approached and gave my name.

“And... this? You aren't registered for a guest.” His face grimaced as he caught a whiff of the stench.

“Look, man, this is just — just my vomit. You can't possibly count my vomit as a guest. It's not even like he can eat anything.”

Just then, I saw the maid of honor, Kristen, walking by with her boyfriend. She was three years younger than me, I remembered, which would put her at 24. Her older brother was a friend in high-school. Right now, he was somewhere in Iraq.

She saw me. “Allin! I haven't seen you for — since New Years'! How have you been?”

I brushed by the old receptionist. My vomit followed. The receptionist glanced at her and she nodded, so he said nothing.

“I'm fine, really, thank you.” Automatic response to an automatic question.

She closed the distance and gave me a light hug. “Oh, that's so great! So nice to see you!” She twisted up her face when she smelled my vomit. “And this is...?”

“It's my spirit guide.” I said.

“Oh, spirit guide. Yes, that's, um, that has to do with your new religion, right?” She attempted to casually cover her face to hide the disgust.

“Yeah, I guess. My new religion.”

“Well, that's so cool. I'm so happy for you! It's good that you are spending your time on something like this, I wish I had time for that!” Goddammit, I know, rub it in. I have nothing in my life. I was fired from the design job I quit school for, and now all I have is a night-shift.

She cocked her head slightly. “Oh, before I forget, we're meeting up later at this one restaurant on 8th avenue. Brad and Janis, um, Rudy and Mia, and, uh, Peter and his girlfriend. You should come!” Sean (her boyfriend) touched her arm. She glared back at him. An argument followed spoken in a system of eye movements and face twitches which only they understood. I think she won, as she looked back at me and concluded with reiterating: “You should come, really! And your — uh — your spirit thing!”

Predicting this addition would cause another face-twitch war, I said quickly, “Thanks, but, I mean, I dunno. I might have something then. I'll think about it. Thanks, though.”

“Yeah, just swing by if you want! The Tempest is the name of the restaurant. Seafood is supposed to be amazing.”

I smiled and thanked her and moved on toward the tent. I sat down at the tent. My mom was next to me. She cringed when she saw my vomit.

“Lord, Allin, what is that?”

“That's my spirit guide, mom.” God, was I going to have to explain this to everyone?

“Ugh, how it smells. What is it made of?”

“Vomit. It's my spirit guide. I got it when I learned to be a shaman. How are you mom?”

“Vomit, Allin! Who's vomit is it?”

“My vomit. How have you been doing, mom?”

Her wrinkled hand trembled as it covered her mouth. Her hair was a mixture of red and gray. I looked at my hands. My left hand had a scar. Cut it pretty nasty when I was trying to fix my dad's truck last year. But other than that, they were smooth.

She spoke, finally. “You drink too much.” And then she raised her champaign glass to her lips, and sipped deeply.

I still feel queasy from the ritual. I look up at Emilio. He is sitting in a chair across the room from me.

“I see you have entered the spirit world. What did you see?” He speaks without closing the distance between us. His voice is deep and projects naturally.

My mouth forms words. “My spirit guide — it's a man made out of my own puke. Why wasn't it a sparrow, like we discussed, like you said?”

“I never said it would be anything. I just asked what animal you most admired, and told you think of it and thus to call its spirit. You were so self-focused that all you could think of calling to was what you left behind in this world: your own vomit.”

I am silent for a few minutes. “What is my spirit guide supposed to do for me? I mean, in general?”

Emilio shook his head. “For you? The spirit guide is not supposed to do anything for you. In fact, you might do things for it. It is a spirit living in another plane. You have simply befriended it by entering its world and speaking its language. Also, Allin, do not be surprised if our own language, if human language, begins to seem more foreign to you.”

“But you said before, that it would teach me.”

Emilio nodded slowly. “Yes, I did say that, yes. You will learn from it, and much more than just powerful icaros. You will learn more both about the spirit world, and our own.”

He rises from his chair and walks to me. “First, Allin, before you can be a shaman, you must follow a strict regimen for 3 months. But before we can do that, we should settle the business between us.”

“Business?” I ask.

He pulls out a pad of paper from his front shirt pocket. “\$100 for the ayahuasca, and \$500 for the initiation services.”

“Oh, right. Sure.” I write him a check.

I stayed for only a bit. Sitting next to my mom was getting to be too much. Everyone else I sat next to would always have conversations in face-twitch with his or her significant other and/or drinking buddy.

The vomit followed me wherever I went. I tried starting a conversation with him more than once, and he would say nothing in reply. Fucking incredible, why am I the one stuck with a defective spirit guide? He's supposed to be teaching me more icaros. That is why I became a shaman. To control my life. To do something. To feel something. The puke by now had soaked through my coat, to the point now that no matter how much I sprayed the air freshener it still made me gag just to be near it. Nausea the new norm.

I didn't know what to do. I figured I could stop by The Tempest, just to check in with my some of my old high-school friends. Would be nice to chat with them, find out what they're up to these days, etc. I started walking down 8th avenue.

I stopped in front of the window. Looked in. It was an upscale restaurant. Probably couldn't afford a meal there anyway. I saw my friends all seated around a table. Empty wine glasses all around, plates of food that cost how much I made in one night-shift. Rosy cheeks and stupid grins. Kristen saw us standing there, at the window. Her face froze in the stupid grin, and the grin slowly melted into a grimace of complete disgust before looking away. I looked around me. My vomit wasn't there. Just me.

Abstract chapter design

It was 1998 when the Moonbirds descended for the last time. One would descend randomly upon the Earth, a flashing bright fleck in day and drifting silver strobe at night. Astronomers and astrologists went dumb whenever someone spotted its body diving from space. All would gather around, each fiercely snatching at it, heckling it, shouting at it, each mouth frothing with supplication, each head fevered and slick with sweat, and each hand grabbing at feathers or feet or whatever bit of its slender frame it could reach. If you were lucky, the Moonbird's beak would clamp onto your face and gather you up back into Space — and who knows what wonder will await you in Space?

Never had a Moonbird made a sound or sung a song. A Moonbird flies such that its wings never touch the air. Few things infuriate humans more than silence, and the silence of the Moonbird is deeper than any silence humankind has known.

Everyone wanted to be chosen. Winning the lottery sounded suddenly dull. Moonbird self-help books littered the shelves, each claiming to be the only one with the secret. Tabloids gossiped about it. Scientists hypothesized. But they were all wrong. I knew the secret. You had to be submissive. You had to stand humbled before the Being — serene, sincere, guileless. If there was human expert on Moonbirds, I was it. I had been one of the first selected, and as it turned out, I was to be the last.

I remember that crowd in August of 1998: each as loud, fat, and arrogant as the American tourist stereotype. Sophie and I were living in Vancouver, WA at the time, your typical NE rich suburb, where vitamin water flowed freely and many cupcakes were baked, and camping stores adjusted for higher regional income by setting prices at 121% franchise average. We were on Neighborhood Street when we saw the crowd gathered in someone's backyard, and the focal point of their desire danced just above their extended fingertips. When she saw the crowd gathered, she grabbed my arm to stay me.

“Please. Don't.” She hated when I went.

“Sophie: why shouldn't I?”


“It's safe. I trust Them and Space more than anyone or anything.”

“Please don't. You trust me, and you trust our home.” She never had a reason.

“But what if this is the last?”

“February was your last.”

February 15th-21st: I spend a week bounding from planet to planet, star to star, my face starlit and braveless, the moon soft like Play Dough and each step sinking and launching me. Hug Venus, roll on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn's rings whip against my face - no way am I more laughed at by Creation.

And at that I broke free from her grasp and ran into the crowd.

Only here does my memory become as vivid as imagination. There were eight in this crowd. I shoved past a middle-aged man in a Hawaiian shirt, his arms bristling like a Brillo pad and smelling of sweat and Old Spice. I thought about the white feathers. Next I pushed by a teenage girl with streaked hair. I made brief eye-contact with the T-Rex on her Hot Topic tee-shirt, and in that moment it spoke to me in a speech bubble: “rawr” . I pondered the silence of the moonbirds. Then I was in the eye of the storm, being shoved back and forth by a housewife, an old woman, and a yuppie. The softness of the moon was already softening my feet. I lifted my eyes away from the Three Disgraces and saw the Moonbird, like a silk scarf suspended in a draft. I did not try to touch it. I just stood there and let my mind go blank.

My nose felt that characteristic tug. The bite! I made my body go limp and weightless. The bird began to ascend with its long beak clamped onto my face, hoisting my body, transcending the angry crowd swirling below.

“Who the hell are you to get to be chosen?” The housewife said.

“I have cancer you bastard!” The old woman raged, eyes veiny and bulbous. “I need this!”

Then the red-faced yuppie: “You said next time I would go!” It was true — he was a coworker. He had wanted to go. He was my friend. But now he was just an inflamed zit on a green and blue planet.

The anger and evolutionary fierceness of Planet Earth receded beneath me, and my eyes could see only Space.

The Scientists, of course, are all wrong. Outer Space is liquid and vast, home of the last untamed Spirits. The air is thick and moist like summer in Florida, and the sun, being closer in Space than it is on earth, reddens your skin and draws the blood to your face. Space is much brighter, and you will feel your eyes ache. The Moon is soft and springy. If you bound into a crater, it will grab at your feet like quicksand and suck you into a cavern underneath. The caverns hide a treasure chamber containing much of Mankind's forgotten history.

You will find that planets have personalities. Saturn is a funny planet. You will see much that is comical in the spirits that live there. Jupiter is sad. All the men and women of Jupiter are lonely, even though they have each other. Uranus is a very small planet in actuality, and it's comfortable to sit on and observe the spectacles of Neptune, on which the Air is replaced with Fire, and Fire with Air.

Stars are warm smooth disks which are difficult to balance on, since their thinnest point is oriented up. You need to use these like lily pads and be a frog. Leap to where your emotion guides you!

My silent carrier dropped me onto the moon, and then glided beyond Space's horizon. Space is the universe of new impulses and new emotions, and thus I acted on my newest impulse — I will follow the Moonbird, for in all my journeys I had never the emotion to see the Dwelling Place of the Moonbirds! I leaped with all my might, my muscles bulging and straining my skin, my heart fighting against my ribcage trying to escape and be as free as my Spirit, for that third member of my Trinity was a few feet ahead leading the way. I touched down only briefly on Saturn to launch myself again, bounding from one celestial body to the next following the guide. I launched myself from star to star, tumbling through nebulae, while routing around the dumb, lesser gods of astronomy: quasars and black holes, leviathans of space which roll silently and mysteriously through the universe. These are the sentinels of the ancient secrets of Space which no human could ever comprehend. I could see the Moonbird still ahead, sharply cutting through Space's plasma, my white plume who danced just beyond my gaze's reach. With each step I flew closer, the weaker stars crumbling under my weight as I pushed off. That white tail. Just a flash of it here, a flash there — always deeper into the horizon than I. I only dimly noticed that I had cut myself on one of the sharper stars, and a thin trail of blood streamed from behind me tumbling down the infinite drop to Space's floor.

Deeper and deeper I went, my mind sharply clamped on that Emotion of the Dwelling Place: the Moonbird had by now outpaced me, and I had only that Emotion to guide me. I here saw the breeding grounds of the Quasars. Quasars would travel there only once every trillion years. A Quasar was there, its black tentacles a maggoty tangled mass. With each tentacle that broke free, living things ejaculated from it, grotesque, gibbering creatures that lived in flesh for moments before being swallowed up by the pressing darkness. Of course, these moments could have been longer than lifetimes on Earth, since here Time was as deep as the Darkness. The Quasar spoke ideas to me in its language of darkness wherein intelligence is channeled into darkness: “I am a billion years old, and am not old enough to remember the mysteries that you seek.” For he/she/it, being so young, must have thought I pursued that Knowledge which I could not comprehend. This is the last time a Quasar has spoken to a human. Every previous time precipitated either a new religion or an epidemic.

I was deeper than I had ever been. I could not turn my head to look behind me, but I knew the Galaxies We Know were now only a sparking white spill in the shallower Space. The stars grew fewer, and they began to assume new colors — instead of the soft white of the Galaxies We Know, the color of Space permuted into a wood-like textured brown, rich leafy greens, and crusty reds like blood clots and scars. Space this deep is warmer and the liquid that suspends you is thicker. My vision began to grow hazy. Thick bloody veins were scattered through the tissue of Deep Space, serpentine tubes which whipped and pulsated extending into every dimension.

Much of my life-force had been spent. Lacerations and bruises covered my body. A mud coated my eyes, and my Spirit revolted against my spent Life. Space is the land of untamed Spirits. In space, your Spirit will continually battle against its slave-master, Life, for on Earth the Spirit is a timid beast, but in its native element, Space, it assumes its true form: a raw creature of passions and hopes and revenge, bitter over its subjugation and corruption by that dumb, unfeeling monster we call Life. And now, as I was reaching this Deep Space, Spirits' fevered motives unveiled, and my Life anguished for my Spirit being the substance of revenge.

My rate of travel had slowed as my Life became useless. The veins and arteries became dense, and through the haze I spotted drifting globules of the Blood and Body of the Life of the Universe. Deep red spheres and gray rotted flesh. I opened my mouth and it into that gateway the Blood and Body entered me. It dissolved into me. I still do not know if then my Life died or if it was already dead and with this act it resurrected, a case can be made either way. But regardless, I was tumbling again, forward, deeper, toward the deepest center of the Universe, toward the truest center of the Universe, toward God. Yes, even then I realized I drifted toward God. I remember my deductive reasoning. I could not be drifting toward anything else — it was logically impossible. I had realized then that the Universe had a deepest point, and what else could be in that deepest point other than God?

The Theologians, of course, are all wrong. Polytheists, Monotheists, Atheists, Deists, even those imperturbable Agnostics: all are wrong. I heard now the only sound in the Deepest Point, the singing of the Moonbirds. A calm lullaby of praise. The Moonbirds sing for none but God. There was the Uterus, at once as black as Hell and the septillion most glorious colors — although I do not remember light being possible in this Deepest Point of the Outer Space which was within me. It was here the red vessels converged, each stretching to every multiverse. God was in that Womb. God — a fetus of the pregnant universe? Which way did the blood flow? The Moonbirds landed like pigeons around the rim of the Universe's Vaginal Shaft, singing in sounds that can only travel in the thick liquid vacuum that exists this deep.

The Moonbird that had carried me, the one I chased, he sat amongst them, aged and ready to die. Even immortals die. He tilted his head such that his white eye focused into my eye-sockets — for my eyes had dissolved at this point. I realize now that he had been with me all my life, but can take many forms. Using the language of looks that Moonbirds utilize — and indeed some of their lesser terrestrial relatives I have since found to also comprehend — he uttered: “You, Prophet, descend with me into the Vaginal Shaft and let us look upon the Face of God.”

The Face of God. In that way he asked me the most profound question that has ever been asked a Homo sapiens. The Face of God. Then I made my decision and — I do not know what happened next.

“Prophet, return. Return.” Sophie's Face. Her Face was shallow. The room was shallow. Completely paper thin. Everything was somehow balancing on edge and could be blown over if I released my breath. I held it in, in terror. My bed was beneath me. Calendar pages had metaphorically blown by — I had been Deep for 14 months.

“Breathe. Oxygen. Exhale, inhale.” Words piled out of a female mouth sharp like razors but meaningless as plastic spoons. As she said oxygen she made the molecules of air apparent to me. They were too flat to fill my lungs! My body — which was also very thin, but not two-dimensional like the room — was somehow balanced on my two-dimensional bed. If I flinched, I would topple off, and the bed being balanced on that two-dimensional earth I do not know where I would fall to. I did not move, in terror.

Every thought it had was a stumbling block for my mind.

Stop? Will this stop? Fatness — thickness — when will this planet have enough dimensions?

I know that it never will. It never stopped. I still do not know how this Earth even functions with two-dimensions.

I experimented with breathing. Sophie was there. She was so revoltingly thin. My air — my breath would blow her away! Yet somehow she held her ground.

I did not tell what happened to anyone — for telling it to just one person, even Sophie, would cause them to experience it all like I had, and it would bring about the collapse of all civilization. I was now an automaton, if I told someone, it would mean I was programmed to do so, and they too would become the same automaton, and since I had told someone, they too would tell someone, since we both would then be the same deterministic neutered machine/animal. I am writing it now because everything else that is possible has already happened.

“Don't ever go up there again.” She said to me yesterday. “You'll vanish, or become nothing, surely!”

“But Sophie —” I began. She tells me now that my face doesn't always take a shape when she looks at it. “Why?”