The Adventurer

When he left the city, he thought it would be loyal.

So he set off across the plains, over the mountains, and tumbled through the treacherous seas.

He thought the city would wait for him – that the people would keep celebrating his memory, that the dusty streets and buildings would stay as they were, pointed in the same direction, casting a familiar shadow.

He thought the old hill that led to the places of his great fears and torment, and place from which his story began, would stay the same.

And he treasured the city in his mind, for its loyalty and faith.  In his mind, the city never changed, it was always the same, with the same cast of characters, the same friends, and shopkeeps, and little children playing in the streets.

In his memory, it was home.

When he returned across the plains, the mountains, and the treacherous seas, he found that the city had completely changed.  He found no familiar faces, and new contraptions filled the streets.

A city doesn’t wait.

In confusion he walked to where the old hill had been, which was covered completely in large buildings of terrifying height, formidable now in strangeness, and asked a kid where his old home had been.  He described it as he remembered it.

The kid shrugged and ran away, smiling.  An old woman tottering by looked at him, squinting.

There was a building that you speak of, she said.  It stood where you now stand.

It was strange, the feeling he now felt.  Untethered, like he no longer had a home.

The Retired Warrior

He is sitting in the park.

The memories of shells and mortar explosions, firefights in the mud, blown-off fingers, ugly faces of abject terror in the face of the angels of death – these are all gone now.

He liked taking walks in this park, looking up at the gently undulating buildings, looking at their mix of easy, geometric shapes.

Nothing flew in the air.  He liked it that way.  The sky was always the same color of blue.

He liked it that way.

He spent hours following the outlines of the buildings, which were spaced apart at predictable intervals, and there were no alleyways or long shadows where assassins might be hiding.  The park burst with colors.  He liked it here.  On sunny days, it gave him hope.

They called it sterile.  And he liked that.

But, sometimes, just sometimes, he would get an itch.  Just once, he thought, he’d like to go berserk again, to be dropped in that frenzy of primary fear and violence, the attenuated consciousness of just his breath and pounding heart the only thing he could sense as he unleashed on those around him.

No, he told himself, no.  I like this.  I like this park, he told himself.

Fog

The deepest fog enraptured the land, where there was no sun.

Not meaning that it wasn’t bright, just meaning that there was no concept of a sun, with clearly delineated borders, distinct in the sky.  The only thing they could tell of it was that the fog’s color alternated between bright white and dark grey, thick mist.

They had numerous names for the fog, but usually they just called it fog.  Visitors who made it out of the town remarked on the low, almost whispered language used by the people of the town.

It was a very intimate language, a language you would use with everyone if you were perpetually in the dark and could not see them.  It had no barriers, no false cheer.  Instead it was a whispered thing, a language almost of lovers.

The fog itself was not poisonous.  A lot of stories circulated amongst the visitors about the nature of this fog.  Was it poisonous?  Was it some kind of omen or curse?  In reality, it was very simple.

The fog was just that: fog.  It was moisture.  But through some quirk in topology and moisture, the fog hung perpetually over the town.

Because of the fog, it meant that they could easily overlook things.  Responsibilities.  Because they could not see more than 10 feet in front of them, and sometimes not even that, they lived in isolation, and things beyond that distance had no meaning.  They were easily forgotten, relegated to memories and vaguely unpleasant, but distant.

All impressions were, if not forgotten, then lost in the same thick morasses of memory resembling the very thing that surrounded them.  Nothing was vivid, everything was experienced in a blur.

Even when things were happening now, it was as if it was happening in the past, in the same just-darkness as everything else.  There were no past or future tenses in the language, nor markers of time.

Some who lived in the town followed a routine.  Every morning they walked for ten steps in a certain direction, guided only by their memories, until they came to a familiar signpost or patch of intuition, and they turned left or right, often closing their eyes until they came to their destination.

But these people were in the minority, and even among them, the routine lasted only several months or a year at most.  Inevitably things would change.  Inevitably they would make one wrong turn, or too many steps, miscarried by the clouds of their memories and the thick, thick fog.  Other people and other objects would appear before the once-familiar paths, presenting a new signpost or distraction.  The new person would start conversation, and as new memories became formed, the old ones were lost.

Most lived in a state of perpetually shifting priorities.  It was too easy to stumble on a new house, a strange house, and take lodging there, maybe stay there a few more nights, and help tend the farm and raise the nameless, soundless breed of cattle that thrives only in the fog.  It was too easy to walk away from one another during intense arguments, walk into a stranger’s bed, and never see either again.

Sometimes parents lost their children.  And sometimes they took other children in.  It was part of the code of the town.  Hospitality, affability, and a spirit of renewal, exploration.

When they grew tired of one another, they walked into the fog, sometimes for days on end.  There was no right or wrong in that fog.  It was deep, it was thick, and it buried everything.

The gaze you saw in the people’s eyes was not the kind of gaze you saw in the eyes of people who lived by the sea, a faraway gaze.  It was a more intense gaze, a deeper one that was perpetually trying to make out motion and shape and texture in that fog.

The fog absorbed sounds, and it clouded everything.  There was no right or wrong.  And everyone who visited, ended up staying forever.

Young in LA (Part II)

Mia: Maybe I’m not good enough!

Sebastian: Yes, you are.

Mia: Maybe I’m not!  It’s like a pipe dream.

Sebastian: This is the dream!  It’s conflict and it’s compromise and it’s very, very exciting!

La La Land

During the days, you’ll strive and sweat and cry.  During the nights, you’ll look out the window of your apartment or car and see the indigo darkness draped over the hills, the street lamps glowing in adagio.  They’ll look like souls huddled in fervent prayer.  Your dreams.

But here’s the thing.  The dreams dreamed in the City of Dreams, are tricky.  The City of Dreams is an illusion, a mirage in the desert.

What you dreamed of at 22, will come true.

And having what you once wanted, you’ll look back, your youth spent.  You’ll think back on the City of Dreams, the feeling of being young and hungry, and every so often a desert wind will evoke false memories of bittersweet paths taken if not for a single gesture, word, or action, and you’ll wonder where the time went. 

And you’ll wonder if what you got, was what you really wanted.

Or if you’d be happier young, having nothing but dreams again.

Cemetery

Rest in the shade of my boughs, and look out over the hill.  In the distance, a calming sea, an ocean breeze.  Once there was nothing here.

The first fishermen arrived.  They grew in number, they built huts, and the habitations grew in size.  Feasts were had.

When they were laid to rest, the most powerful among them sought the shade of my boughs.

Then the invaders came, wearing fierce expressions and loud explosions.  Overcoming the natives, they took from the land, extracting from it what they could.  They grew fat and jolly, they schemed in devious ways and built stone mansions, imported, from the spoils of their trade.

And yet – they all met the same fate, and now seek the shade of my boughs.

The next invaders were not of the overpowering, physical sort.  They came, full of ideas about how the world should be arranged and rearranged.  They are gentler, not given so much to violence, yet they do fight – and fight – over pieces of paper and the acceptance of ideas, about how best to arrange the resources amongst them.

And those who grow fat among them still grow smug, and satisfied, in their concept of wealth.

And yet – when they meet their ends they find solace in the shade of my boughs.

They are alike, all of them.  They laugh and cry, and they strive.  They do not stop striving, and in this they are alike and equal.

They don’t know that the rains wash their remains away to the foothills where everyone else is buried, where their bones mix with those of the sparrows and hogs and fish, to mix and form the loam in which my roots clench deep, to strengthen the trunks and branches for the shade – the shade of my boughs.

Unmerciful Torture Devices

There is one terrorist clan that is the most feared out of all the terrorists in the Valley of Doom, where they seem to sprout like weeds.

These terrorists use such unmerciful and cruel tactics that even the other terrorists cower in fear.

  • First, captives’ access to wifi and the internet are completely cut off.  By the second or third day, prisoners usually cave and divulge all information.
  • Unlike other terrorist clans, they do not kill their captives.  Instead, they are closely watched and given food and water and comfortable beds.  But, in a cruel maneuver, captives are completely forbidden to stretch upon their waking.
  • Next, captives are placed next to the nursery, where the most troublesome clan infants and toddlers sleep, and are woken several times per night to shrill and unbearable screams.  The terrorists, who are followers of the sleep-it-out method, do not come in to comfort their children.
  • Captives are then given updates about their so-called friends and acquaintances on social media, and shown the most envy-inducing pictures, the ones that show their friends making more money, having more fun, traveling to more places, and partying with beautiful people.  The psychological damage this inflicts on their prisoners is immeasurable, and international NGOs have called for an end to this practice.
  • Lastly, for the most obstinate prisoners, the most feared treatment of all.  This is the absolutely barbaric practice of tying the captives into the economy class seats of old American airlines.  After flying senselessly for hours in the nausea-inducing cabins, strapped to seats that offer no back support, all prisoners finally yield their fortune and any information they’ve been holding on to.

The physical and psychological toll these kinds of measures take on their captives is savage, and has elicited widespread condemnation in the international community.

Even from North Korea.

Fathers

It is summer.  He moves his tusks, snorting in the mud, speared out of a delightful nap.  He grits his teeth, snaps behind him.

The older beast is deft, dodges the wild slash of his son’s deadly horns, and drives his tusks in again, safely out of reach.  And again.

He grunts and snorts, watching his father through vengeful eyes, feeling blood pound as it courses through his veins.

Every day he is stronger.  And he takes solace in that fact, in the gnarled growth of his sinews, in his strength.

The daily nudging is a reminder that he is not yet a master of his fate, that in the eyes of the world, he is still prey, that he is still young.

He bristles and snorts and feels his own hot breath, but moves sullenly, slowed by the curdled rage of youth.


He remembers this as he watches his own sleeping boy.

His child, his creation, so beautiful.  So beautiful, but he knows the boy is still defenseless against the predators of the night.  Reflexes still unsharpened, movement unrefined, muscles not completely knit.

And for this, they must move or die.

He knows the next part will break his heart, but he lifts his tusks anyway.  There.  He nudges, and nudges so that the little one will go forth into the world, nudging even though he is nudging his baby away from him, nudging even though he knows it fills the little one with annoyance, annoyance that will soon evolve to rage, nudging even though he knows it pushes the boy away, and it will eventually alienate them from each other. He nudges because he must.

He remembers his father’s tusks.  He has wondered if they were really as piercing as he remembered.  Maybe not.  After all, it must have been filled with love.

Nightmare

I used to have this recurring nightmare that haunted me ever since I can remember.

First, a normal dream, its web of sights and feelings with no logical storyline.  Usually bright, carefree.

Then I would feel it coming, a creeping terror.  A slow, syrupy feeling of suffocation, ringing in my ears, something locking down my limbs.  Darkness invading the edges of my vision, a nameless horror.

By flailing and thrashing for my life, I could eventually wake up.

But the waking was agonizingly slow.  By the time I did, I was covered in sweat, panting, my sleep wrecked for the night.

The worst part is that I could feel it starting, but be powerless to stop it.  The darkness would wrap up my limbs, make me unable to move, and I would be powerless in its grasp unless I flailed in a soundless scream.

At some point, I had enough.  Maybe I was around 10.

I knew it was a dream, after all.  Perhaps I could face the fear.  And so I tried.  When the darkness started to cloud my vision, I relaxed.  But its grasp grew tighter.  And when I waited, the creature began to appear.  A dark, demon-like dwarf.  I never saw its face.  I only saw its heathen movements at the edges of my vision, moving faster than a child, a little beast.

When it began to appear, I kicked and punched violently, even as I felt the pins and needles in my arms and legs and stomach.  As I felt like I was being gored by the darkness itself.  Without any reason or logic or name.

As I grew older, in my teens, I decided to try something different.  When the dwarf came, I decided to fight it.  Only I didn’t really fight it.  I picked it up and heaved it as hard as I could, as you would pick up and heave a cockroach, resolve accompanied by a full-body scream that blocked out any sensation of actually touching the little demon.

First it was here, now it was there.  Then I ran.  Straight into the wall of dark, nameless, fathomless syrup that I would have to kick and thrash against in order to wake up, knowing all the while that the dwarf would be coming back.

I never found out where this nameless, faceless terror came from.  And why.

As I entered my teenage years, exhausted with this particular nightmare, I decided to try something different.

I knew it was a nightmare after all.  And so instead of flailing and thrashing for my life, what if I just saw where it took me?  Instead of fighting it, what if I did nothing?

It worked.  When the darkness came, after a momentary tightness, it faded, as smoke would.  Expecting a fight, and getting none, it was as if the darkness just decided something wasn’t worth it.  Although I would never know why; of course, the darkness was without rhyme or reason.

And it continued to work.  When the dreams came, I just paid it no attention.

During these years, something else was happening; I became disinterested.  This transition to adulthood, and young adulthood, was accompanied by a lot of realizations about my limits.  I gave up on certain dreams.

Maybe in shutting down parts of myself, the bright, clear edges of youth faded.  And with that, maybe the vivid, crystal-clear and fathomless, reasonless darkness, also faded too.

And when I entered college, that’s when the dreams almost stopped altogether.  There were isolated moments of terror, here and there, but I didn’t even have to fight it, or even give up, anymore.

The terror came, and my mind’s eye looked at it, grew disinterested, and looked away.  Although I could feel the creature there too, beyond the darkness.

The last time I felt the creature, it felt almost sad.  Like it was waiting for me, but I refused to come.

The dreams faded altogether once I started my first job.  Because when I started working, I didn’t have time for anything else.  For recollection, for deep reflection.  I worked.  I started traveling for work, all around the globe.  I woke up in hotel rooms and sometimes had a moment of terror – but because I didn’t know where I was.  I was fully conscious.

I went back to sleep with a smile on my face because I knew I was free of the demon dwarf and the smothering darkness.  I had left them behind.  I traveled everywhere, for nearly a decade.  To Bali, to Dubai, to London, Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai.  To Tokyo, Merida, to Panama.  I met with clients.  I left my previous life behind.  I lived out of hotel rooms, I became deep friends with other career itinerants from a home base in Hong Kong.

But one day I grew tired.  Endless traveling is a great career perk in your 20s.  Less when you’re thinking of starting a family.  I began a period of reflection, perhaps for the first time in a very, very long time.

What dreams had I left behind?  Who had I become?  I hadn’t kept any journals, and I had completed purged my emails and letters multiple times, mostly for heartbreak-related reasons, so it was hard to find a compass.

I began spending some time in cafes and restaurants, eating by myself.  Reflecting.  Thinking.

And then I saw it, in a dark corner of a vegetarian restaurant right around closing time.  This vegetarian shop, on the 2nd floor on Henderson Road, was staffed entirely by deaf workers.  It was a completely silent shop, except for the sounds of other diners, clattering dishware and the beep-beep of credit and Octopus cards making payment.

I was the last diner in the shop when I saw that little bastard.  The demon dwarf, who had terrorized my dreams and childhood.  I couldn’t believe it.  Would you?

In a dark corner, next to where the shop had stacked extra chairs, it was sitting there calmly, eating a meal.  By now I was over my fear of it.  I was more curious, for various reasons.

It was a memory of my past, my past that I’d been trying to find.

Maybe it meant something that the creature would come find me.  I had never allowed it to get close to me.  I had never said anything to it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so afraid, maybe it was trying to tell me something.  Or remind me of something.

After finishing my sweet and sour fried mushrooms, I approached it.  It didn’t have a face.  It had a top of the head, in a shape, that was its whole head.  It was more of a pitch dark shape in reality.  A shadow.

“Why were you always chasing me.”

It got up.

“Well now you’ll have to chase me now, m*****f****r!”  It bolted, scurrying away into the space under the chairs.

I ducked, looking for it.  But it was gone.

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