It starts in small, indiscernible spurts. Little lapses of time where I have left my body and returned to it again, a flickering of a dream that’s forgotten the moment I wake. But I continue to practice, and soon I can leave and return more easily and for longer stretches, the memories of my experiences in the Second Space, as I have come to call it, growing less blurred around the edges.
The hands are always the starting point. I wiggle my fingers, moving them in rhythm the way a conductor swishes his wrists, until they come unstuck from my physical body. I feel them float above me without gravity, and then I move to my forearms and into the creases of my elbows, following the line of my shoulders and down through my back. The stomach is the hardest part to unstick (my theory is that it’s because of all the organs that must be left behind when one fully projects), so I usually skip it and move to my feet, up my legs and then my hips, until the stomach is the only thing left to separate. Sitting up is easy, but I have learned not to twist my spine and search behind me for my own body, still lying splayed out on my bed. The body does not like to be separate from the mind, and the disconnect is disorienting enough without the visual reminder.
There is always a moment, the Last Moment, where I can choose to resettle my astral form back into my body and abandon the project. It is the moment before I swing my astral feet over the side of the bed and fully untether myself, bound by only a single, invisible string to guide me back home. This Last Moment never gets less terrifying, but I broach it each and every time, because this is the way to get what I want.
I once saw a video of a stout that killed a rabbit ten times its size. “Stamina is not enough,” drawled the narrator in his lilting British accent. “It requires patience and a well-placed bite.”
He is easy to find, always walking the same corners of his small and filthy world, always filling up the space with too much of himself because no one has ever bothered to tell him that he can’t or shouldn’t, that what he is doesn’t deserve even an inch. I have been watching him for a long time, ever since I began this astral dance, so I know his habits. He is where he always is at this late hour: sleeping like the dead, wrapped in his high thread-count sheets and as still as a puddle frozen all the way through. I like to watch him like this. It only takes one well-placed stomp to shatter ice.
There’s a humming to this world, a vibration I wasn’t in tune with until I began to astral project. I have not skipped a day since I began, and I imagine that even after my initial goal in pursuing this practice is complete, I will not be able to stop. Once a bird learns to fly, it cannot hunt any other way.
Something shifts outside the window, a glint of silver caught in moonlight seeping in through half-closed curtains. I envy the way he can sleep so deeply without the full weight of the dark around him. Ever since the day his long arms wrapped too tightly around me, the dark is the only place where solace can reach me, and even then it is fleeting and sunken and the shadows move on the walls.
The glint outside the window is a knife, and the woman who wields it is a stranger to me. She searches along the sill with her fingers for a moment, intent on using the blade to unlock the window, but stops when she realizes it’s already open. The woman huffs, disbelieving. I mimic the sound unconsciously, watching as she opens the window inch by inch until it gapes wide enough for her to slip through. Men like him never think they can be touched.
She hasn’t bothered to wear a mask, perhaps hoping to get caught. Auburn hair curls around her shoulders in sleepy little ringlets. She draws closer to the bed, closer to him, and I know the look in her wild eyes. I am accosted with the same one each time I stare too long into the mirror.
The woman readjusts the knife in her hand, searching for the perfect way to plunge it into the sleeping man’s sternum.
I let my voice filter out from me like a breeze, a soft thing. The woman startles, her body coiled to spring. She waits. Slowly, gradually, I move the air around me, rearranging protons and neutrons like flecks of wet paint. I know the exact moment she sees my form begin to shimmer and solidify before her, and I watch her face morph from shock to terror to disbelief as her eyes meet mine, as she sees the easy way I hold my hands out to her, a call for peace.
“Who are you?” she whispers, redirecting her knife to point at my jugular, even from across the room.
I know what he’s done to you. He did it to me, too.
The woman’s face crumples, the air pressed out of her limbs. She almost sags. I move to catch her, even knowing that I can’t from where I am inside the Second Space. The woman steadies herself without my help, her spine realigning to stand taller than she was before. “If you know, you shouldn’t try to stop me,” she says finally, voice sharper than the knife grasped tight in her hand. The man in the bed rolls over in his sleep, as if sensing a threat in the room. But those born with the world at their feet never truly learn to walk through it, and he sighs deeply and is still once again.
I shake my head, now standing only a few feet away from the woman. “I don’t want to stop you,” I say. “But I hear that revenge is best when shared.”
The woman tilts her head at me, one of those lazy ringlets brushing against her cheek. She grins, toothy and cavernous. “I’m Iris,” she says.
“Lily,” I answer. We almost wake the sleeping man with our soft snickers. “Seems he has a type,” I say once we’ve recovered ourselves.
Iris says “Irises look pretty, but they’re poisonous.”
“Calla lilies make you vomit,” I counter.
I take Iris’s hand and she takes mine, and together we guide the knife home.
There is a door in the middle of the woods that pulses like a heart and whispers like a secret. Behind the door is a world we do not yet know, one that promises something better than what we have. Steady and alive, this is where quicksand melts to a soft pillow of land beneath tiny toes and rainbows shimmer like little diamonds, reflecting their colors on the faces of the children who always have a place there.
If dreams did not die in youth, this would be the hollow clearing where they unfurl themselves from old cocoons, where laughter serves as currency and it is plentiful; infinite. In the middle of the night, the sun shines. In the middle of the night, no tears are smeared across the small cheeks of those who have already seen too much.
There is a war outside the door and we are losing because there are children who drag their parents across the hardwood and drop their empty bottles into the trash and there are those with wide eyes who ask too many questions and find only bruises on their ribs as an answer and we cannot see the purpling beneath their shirts until they are already broken. Dreams settle inside the hearts of the young and lie unprotected, waiting to be scooped out from the inside.
If children are the future then we will soon know boundless ruin because the door in the clearing in the woods is only fantasy and wishing for better does less than feathers tossed against glass houses.
We are the ones who shatter.
When I first awoke, my limbs were separate and writhing things, extensions of myself that I'd forgotten how to control. It took weeks to learn to walk again, enough time for the scientists to do their tests: poking and prodding, drawing blood and measuring oxygen levels and pupil dilation and hormonal balances, all the while reveling in the marvel of their success. To them, I was not so much a human as a revelation: the first subject to successfully be reanimated after sixty-seven years in cryogenic sleep. But then, inevitably, their tests were finished, I could stand on my own two feet once more, and I was free to go.
I didn't think this far ahead. In 1952 I was thirty-five years old and thinking only that I was done being who I was: a woman with a dead husband, no kids, and nothing substantial enough in my life to warrant continued survival. So I'd volunteered to be frozen in time, mostly believing that when I'd entered that tank and closed my eyes, it would be a death sentence. And yet, here I was. I didn't think the conductors of this experiment had thought this far ahead, either. The woman who'd handed me my release papers and payment had seemed quite terrified for me. After a debriefing on the current state of the world in which I was pummeled with too much information to properly retain any of it, she'd grabbed my wrist as I'd begun my walk to the door.
"Be careful," she said. "It's different out there now."
"Don't worry, Hon," I'd assured her. "I'm carved from rougher things than stone."
This, of course, was not a reflection of my internal thoughts. I was terrified, and that fear only grew as I walked out into the world. The streets were a wide, a swelling mass of cars-- endless rows of headlights sweeping along with the consistency of ocean waves; ceaseless things with rounded edges and quiet engines.
When I'd first volunteered for the cryogenic study, one of the first questions the researchers had asked was what I expected to see in the future should the study be successful. Not wanting to give my real answer, the answer that involved their failure and my death, I'd requested time to think. And in my thinking, I had only been able to come up with one certain prediction: noise. I'd expected a cacaphony of sound: billboards that shouted their messages aloud; cars that hovered inches above the street, driven by invisible hands and humming like livewires; loud music pulsing from various sources at all hours; and an endless flow of boisterous and busy people, zooming down sidewalks on their automatic skateboards, dragging their robotic dogs along with them. I had been wrong.
The streets were not empty of people, of course, but there was a hushed kind of busyness I had never expected. People seemed to live inside the tiny screens of what the woman behind the front desk had warned me were cell phones- revolutionary technology that had apparently expanded beyond simply making phone calls and had instead become a way for people to watch television, listen to music, play games, send electronic letters, and read the news. Small, white cords hung from many people's ears, and I soon understood that those were headphones, helping to further separate people from their immediate surroundings. I didn't understand how they did it-- even without such distractions, I found myself having to dodge unsuspecting people and watch for traffic from multi-faceted intersections whose patterns were impossible to predict. Disturbingly exhausted, I ducked beneath the awning of a store called "Sprint," which I could only imagine specialized in exercise gear, to get my bearings. I had imagined a world that flowed like a stream, but instead, all around me, it seemed to move with chaotic and ill-timed jolts, the rhythms of so many people's individual movements out of sync with those around them.
Not caring how ridiculous it might look, I sat down on the curb outside the exercise store and focused on breathing deeply. Truth was, I had no idea where I was letting these unfamiliar streets take me. I had no one and nothing but the small wad of cash in my pocket from the cryo clinic, and I suddenly longed for my husband with a ferocity beyond comprehension. I had not missed my grief, but it came to me now as the only familiar feeling left of the world I'd reentered. Decades of unconscious years had done nothing to quel its violent ache, and I found myself leaning into the feeling, if only for something of my old life to hold onto.
"Are you alright, lady?"
Startled, I looked up to find a young boy no older than fourteen standing inches away from me on the curb, pulling a pair of those white headphones out of his ears. His wide, blue eyes were overflowing with concern, and I wiped at my own, only a little surprised at the moisture I found there.
"I'm alright," I insisted, though my wobbling voice didn't lend much certainty to the claim. "Just sad."
To my surprise, the boy sat down next to me, shoulder to shoulder. "You wanna hear something?"
I shrugged, and the boy brought the headphones out of his pocket again. He gave me one and put the other in his own ear, waiting for me to do the same. The plastic piece felt foreign and unnatural, but I followed his lead and inserted it into my ear. I sucked in a shocked breath as sound began to flow into my ear, the sensation made even more surreal by the fact that I recognized the song. My hand flew to my mouth in disbelief.
They call...no date. I promised you I'd wait...
"My grandma used to play this sometimes. She had an old record player," the boy said, swaying gently from side to side in time with the music. "Now I can listen to it and remember her whenever I want."
I'll walk alone, because to tell you the truth, I'll be lonely.
I don't mind being lonely when my heart tells me you are lonely, too...
"Oh no, I didn't mean to make you cry more!" the boy exclaimed, seeing my fresh tears. He moved to pause the song coming through impossibly clear on his phone, but I shook my head.
"No, no. Keep playing it, please," I said. "It helps me remember, too." I matched my movement to his, the two of us swaying back and forth on the curb together for a while. The song ended, and I smiled, wiping at my eyes. "Thank you," I said, believing myself ready to figure out what to do next. But the boy didn't move from his place beside me. He watched my expression carefully.
"Want me to play it again?" he asked, finally.
I nodded, and almost immediately, the familiar notes reached me again, holding me in their embrace. We listened again in silence together, and it was over too soon.
The boy didn't seem ready to leave. "You wanna listen to some AC/DC next? I just downloaded them from my dad's old CD's."
I was deeply aware of three things in that moment. The first was that none of my impending issues were solved. I was alone in a strange world with no idea what to do next and no real hand to guide me. The money in my pocket wouldn't last long, and I would have to figure out how to support myself. The second thing was that I hadn't understood a good portion of the kind boy's last sentence. And the third was that I wanted nothing more than to sit on the curb beside a blue-eyed stranger and watch the day pass us by. I shrugged again.
The music that next came to my ears was unlike anything I'd ever heard before, a buzzing of strings and a crashing of drums that seemed to perfectly reflect the disorder I could see all around me. One day soon, I thought, my shoulder brushing against the boy's as I settled in to listen, I'll know how to be part of the chaos.
The creak of old ship beams
the sighs of tired men
fog drifts over water
like paper pressed to pen
Out past the bowsprit
from the unseen beyond
comes a voice like spun gold
casting spells with no wand
Pressed flat to the deck
hands slapped tight to his ears
a man screams his warning
through the mist of his tears
The ship moves with purpose
pulled tight on a string
to the source of that song
to the end of all things
Long and shimmering fins
mouths stretched tight with glee
they wait for the ship
black eyes and wild teeth
Sharp rocks up ahead
but the ship isn't turning
the men sway like lovers
held trapped in their yearning
Wood splinters jagged
high screams split the air
decks drenched in saltwater
the topsails stripped bare
The songs runs its course
then laughter like fire
it burns and it burns
witches strapped to a pyre
On the banks sit the guilty
their cruelty untamed
dense fog lifts around them
their shoreline bloodstained
Claws dig deep into feasting
lips smeared with dark red
and the wind softly echoes
through the bones of the dead
There is blue in the water
there is sun in the sky
and tomorrow a new ship
will surely pass by
There is dust and there is us
And they are the same.
Our bones are ash, our muscles soil
that greets the roots of an impossible tree.
I live only in the backs of other people’s minds now,
and not always fondly.
I wish there was more to say for a life such as mine,
but I can speak no more.
Time is cold, a waiting that shivers and writhes
like fingers over flame.
I am not ready for the end
I did not do enough, I did too much.
This is the path of the good-intentioned.
The ones whose stories fade with passing days
and whose suffering is a woe best unthought of.
I do not hold things like regret, but I wish Them to know
what agony it is to be human.
To wake and walk in a world of such vast
and unconquerable shadows.
My hollow cheeks are stung with tears, my wishes fallen
to the wind that whips past ears no longer pricked to listen.
I ache not for lost time, but for a different one
An age in which I could’ve been the best of myself.
We lost sight of the Good inside all the Greed,
forgot to look past green pastures to the skies beyond.
I got lost, too,
and now the Doors open to greet me.
I am not ready to be an ending
I did too much, I did not do enough.
This is the path of the damned.
I imagined Hell to be an insufferable heat,
scorching and unrelenting flames.
It is Cold here
And it is only me.
You think you know what’s real, but we all see a different red. Mine is a deep and pulsing hue, a crimson that coats the light of stars so many galaxies away. If you could see it too, you would understand how all the pieces connect, how the constellations draw a map to the edge of the Atlantic and the sand there whispers where next to go as I walk it with bare toes, just as I was meant to.
You tell me it’s delusion, but the entirety of our existence is based on the lies our own brains feed us, images giftwrapped as Ultimate Truth. I know enough to question the things seen at first glance, and I have begun to find what lies beneath. One, two, three. The clock ticks away the seconds, but what about the time in between? You cannot clearly see the rotation of a hummingbird’s wings (for it is a rotation, not a flapping), and yet this is the only thing that keeps it in the air.
Between the radio waves, there is a voice that calls. Inside the television static, a face is forming, mouthing words I don’t yet understand. But one day, I will. If I listen hard enough and watch close, I can collect the forgotten pieces ignored by the rest of the world. Perhaps I can even save it.
It’s okay if you won’t listen, because I will. It’s okay if you can’t see, because I can be your eyes. Do not presume to know the depths of my sanity simply because it is not a reflection of your own. I am the eagle soaring above, privy to things not in your view. There are simply places you have not attempted to travel. You are busy. You have things to do. You do not catch the signs that connect the dots that form the picture in my head. You tell me it’s made up, that I’ve created something that doesn’t exist, but what is a placebo if not a capsule of nothing that relieves the pain only because you think it will? I am not in pain. I am only awake.
I don’t blame you, of course, for staying in the place where you are. For laughing at what you believe are impossibilities and thinking no more of the still and silent corners barely wandered. After all, it’s warm there. Safe. But not so long ago, science was magic and the moon was untouched. Not so long ago, you and I were dust (and will be again).
We do not know what waits in the ocean’s deepest caverns, but at least I wonder about it. I am following the answers now, the voices that hum in my ears and bicker like old friends and find me in the dark. I’ll tell you when I’ve come to the light at the end, and perhaps we can share in the meaning of it all together. If you don’t want to, I’ll understand.
Dogs see only in blue and gray and yellow, and it seems they are a happy bunch.
My First of Many Days
The world is bright and there is too much that surrounds,
an overwhelming cacophony of sound and light and touch.
My bones are fragile but my heartbeat is strong,
and this is what it means to grow.
We begin so that one day we may end,
and in the middle
we can create.
They call me daughter and I am theirs
as surely as the sun rises in the east,
though I do not yet understand what this means.
Perhaps, neither do they.
They will know me even as I barely know myself,
and in my eyes they will see
what can one day become.
There is a scattering like broken rocks over a bridge,
a whisper that happens when a new day arrives,
and in the sound of it you can see ripples that bleed into water,
break into a million different directions.
These are the choices I will make, many and shifting
but there is a path before me, cleared for those first, hard miles
if I so wish to walk it.
And even as I begin to wander, I will know that I am not alone,
linked to them in the way the reeds beneath the water
twist round one another and sway inside the ocean’s rhythms.
This is the life I was born to and it is a lucky one,
for even on this first day of all my many days,
I already know what sweetness it is
to be loved.
It is a wonder how winter slides so willingingly into spring, how the world begins to come alive again after a long and steady sleep. I have always been one to listen to the changing breeze and to relish in the feel of once-frozen ground gone soft beneath my feet. I watch the animals emerge from their hidden, temporary tombs, scampering into the new day. And I watch people, too. People who do not notice the things that I do, too preoccupied with ‘more important things.’
You are easy enough to spot, walking briskly along the crowded street, your face aglow with the light of your smartphone, white earbuds poking out from beneath your long hair. Too busy to be bothered, too engrossed in the tiny world of your screen to see the one around you. I fall into step several paces back, an unhurried pace. The back of your jean jacket is emblazoned with an animal of some kind, and though I am not yet close enough to distinguish if it is a bird or a dragon, I can find you easily enough as you sidestep the people around you and turn the corner.
It’s late, almost dusk, and I wonder if your day was a good one or if you had hurried through it the way you are hurrying now, thinking that tomorrow or perhaps the day after will bring more satisfaction. There are small clumps of snow lining the sidewalk, little reminders of how cold and dead the world had been just a few days ago, and I avoid them easily as I follow close behind.
You like the song that’s playing in your head. I can tell because you bob your head to the beat just slightly, though never so much that you would look strange to anyone passing by. You are conscious of this small, ultimately insignificant detail, at least. The streetlight above your head flickers, and for a brief moment your movement stutters like a brief and exaggerated gap between movie frames that is usually imperceptible.
You turn down a side street. Dark and shadowed, though you seem comfortable and unbothered here, as if you have taken this route many times before. I am closer now. It’s a sparrow on your jacket, not a dragon as I'd first believed.
It’s not difficult, you see, to be a killer nowadays. You would think that the security cameras and advanced knowledge of forensics would serve as a buffer, or at least a deterrent for people like me. And yes, if you’re not smart about it, these things can provide a challenge. But the truth is that we were safer in the days of the mammoths and sabre-toothed cats, the days where we would crouch together in caves and share our warmth and paint our stories upon the walls. In those days, we understood that survival was entirely dependent upon the people we were surrounded by, and we knew each of them intimately.
Now, you are walking alone.
The song has changed, I can tell. It’s loud in your ears. You never hear me coming.
What I’d Like to Say (Is That I’m Not Sure What to Say)
There are no words to be wasted, so I will not waste any with pleasantries. I think you might already know the things I am going to tell you, but we are a forgetful breed, and certain things must be repeated often enough that they may seep below the skin and stick to the tendons in the same way salt sticks to the sea.
I do not claim solution with these words. I am simply pushing them out into open space the way a boat drifts out to catch the growing currents and doesn’t know if it will return until it has. Sometimes the wind howls too loudly and nothing can be heard or seen past the roaring water. Sometimes fish soar overhead and land, flopping and alive, against the rough deck. I only know that what I say has a harbor to return to inside my heart if it can make it there, and I hope that you might open your own, too. I hope you might turn on the beacons that rest atop your lighthouses and search for wisdom inside the dark.
I will start and end only with my own thoughts, for these are all I have to give:
I think life is figuring out what you’re going to give to it. Even the smallest gust of wind aids the coming storm, so you must decide which direction to blow and you must do so with great vigor and great urgency, for your tomorrows are as lucky and as fleeting as the long-dead stars that bore you. It’s easy to forget our power, the aching and raging thing that is pulled from deep inside the earth and pushes against our open palms like a spark waiting to catch. Let it catch. Burn it down and build it all up again. Just because we can’t see the cages we are born in doesn’t mean they do not exist. You must travel far enough to reach the bars, and then to split them apart like a butterfly only just realizing it is no longer a caterpillar. Unfurl your wings, my brothers and sisters, even if they sometimes feel too heavy to lift.
I think life is accepting that you are always lost. Even the sharp lines of an artist’s brush must swoop and swirl to make the picture bleed together, so you must allow the questions of your heart to guide but never dissuade you from taking another step, even if you are unsure of the soil beneath your feet. It’s easy to stand still, to watch the passing ticks of the clock with frozen indifference and to one day awaken to a body made of old skin and a mind of blank and glaring walls, never filled. Fear is a sinking stone and so you must be the ripple that surrounds it, pushing outward into the great and wild beyond. For it is those who are lost can find the hidden things that shimmer just out of sight.
I think life is shared, no matter how we hide. Even shadows find a partner in the dancing candlelight, so you must let the souls around you be the wisps of hope you cling to, and let their crashing laughter fill your heart and push you steadily into daylight, out into the terrifying open. It’s easy to remain unknown, to huddle against the blunt edges of your existence and wonder at your lasting loneliness, at the wavering glances from those you were meant to love. Sometimes it may seem that the only thing more terrifying than being forgotten is being remembered, but in the remembering there is love, and this is life’s most precious and sacred thing, for love is the instrument and we are the music created.
I think that surely, I know nothing. I speak because you have given me the chance to do so, but my words are only as sure as the bells that toll simply because the breeze permits their movement. I wish to tell you of the things I have learned, but I do not know how far they echo. I wish to reach you and pull you from the crumbling walls of a world that seems beyond our help sometimes, a place so fraught with ugliness that we may well forget to see its beauty. I fear my words are wasted even as I speak them, that there is nothing I could say that will change the way we are now, for we are slow in our transforming and hesitant in our alterations. And yet I have still spoken, and perhaps this is the difference.
We take stuttering steps over concrete roads that will one day crack apart and be consumed by a slow and steady growing of green. We rest our heads on the memories of another, buried time even as the dirt shifts and swallows where we are now. The forgetting is how the sun sets and fails to rise come morning, and so we must not forget. We must live for the days we still have and for each other. We must cling to ourselves and to the world and to the people we love and to the strangers we pass on the street, for each of us is a small and invisible shifting of air that ripples past with barely a whisper. But together? Together, we are a storm.
I think what I am trying to say, with the few words still left to me, is that nothing stays. Nothing stays, and this is as it should be, for real and tangible beauty can only be found in a thing fragile enough to be destroyed. It is in its mortality that it is remembered in the same way it is the ashes that give story to the fire that burned. I am grateful to have burned brightly beside all of you, to have done what we could with the time and the words and the place that we have found ourselves. We are linked, you and I, and we have much left to do.
So I will end here, before all my words are used up. This way, there will always be more to say. This way, maybe someone else can come to fill in the blanks. Because we need each other to finish the things we start. We need each other to remember the power of the storm that sits inside us all.
Without rain, nothing grows.
If You Are Here (So Am I)
Heavy looms the evening that ends with sunset’s final rays
for in this eternity of rising and falling
all colors bleed
Hollow be the glow of stars that burn like embers
for theirs is a death seen from eons away
beneath the endless sea
I am holding a prayer inside my palms that echoes like a whisper
spoken in a deep and narrow canyon
the meaning clear
even when the words don’t reach.
If the rivers were to stop their roaming
and the clouds were to cease in moving across open sky
I would run to you again
as I have always done.
There is a steadiness here, in the space between your breaths
and I find myself shaping the words I say
around the hollow points
of your shoulders.
I have found a spot between your ribs
where I can rest my head till morning
and hear the beating of our hearts
synchronize to one.
Chaos roams the streets as though she owns them
her long fingers curled around the loose ends of my errant thoughts,
but when your smile lands against my lips,
I no longer know her name.
Wistful is the way I walk beside you
our hands clasped together like the iron rungs of a gate
that will not open, the secrets of our love
held forever within.
I do not fear the last of sunlight’s rays
nor the dead stars or driftless clouds above our heads,
for I am not alone beneath their heavy gaze and I am looking
only at you.