I got a really cool idea for a story, which I’ve started writing, but all I was really sure about was the ending. I’ve started the beginning, but I decided to write the ending, which I already pretty much knew, and then bridge the gap. Here’s what the ending is, as of right now. I don’t know if it will make sense, but I hope it will.
Pink light starts to close in, which confuses me. I guess I thought if anything would be closing in, it would be darkness, and if it were light, it wouldn’t be pink. But. I am no expert in dying.
The light settles over everything, filters it through a washed out, rosy splash. Everything it infects begins to fade before my very eyes, like a magic trick. The people in the room with me, who I can’t even remember now, they’re gone. The bedside table and the chairs and the heart monitor and the television, they’re all gone, too. Before too long, before barely any time at all has lapsed, the only thing left in the room is me, but then I realize that they weren’t the ones being erased — I was.
I don’t know why I keep thinking of myself as being in the hospital room. I’m not. Now it’s just a wall of pink. It is, at this point, pretty clear that I have died. I am completely dead and I feel young again. I am thinking like I’m young again. If I had anything to react to, I would react like I’m young again. But there’s nothing here. Just loud, quiet, loud pink. And me, I guess, whatever I am now.
Trying to approach this with as open a mind as possible, I consider my options. Dying’s not one, anymore. Even if there was a way to die again out here, there’d be no way to do it. I could starve to death, maybe. Or die of thirst. But that wouldn’t be immediate, and I have a feeling that food and water are only things that used to be necessary. Maybe this is it. This is where I am, now, forever. I try to access old memories but discover myself locked out. I can still feel their presence behind the lock, can almost remember them, but they’re wispy like cotton candy. They disintegrate before I can form my mind around them, and even the shadows of them are fading fast, like a dream.
I am, for all intents and purposes, a completely different being than the one who just died. Maybe I didn’t even just die. Maybe it was eons ago and time just works differently here. And maybe I’m not even a person anymore. A person has to live and breathe, at the very least. I’m certainly not living and I’m only breathing out of habit. I’m pretty sure I could do just fine without, but I don’t even want to test that. Going through the motions of breathing feels like my very last connection to humanity.
Why I can’t I remember my own memories? I want to rip my head open on a hinge and grab onto as many memories as I can as they drift out. I deserve to remember them, right? I own them.
You deserve nothing, I am told. You own nothing.
“What?” I say. My goal of open-mindedness is fading, a little bit, as I say it again. “What?”
I don’t know if I even heard the words or if I just imagined them. Maybe they were beamed directly into my brain — or, whatever, the space my physical brain used to occupy. Maybe the words were just always there and I just that second happened to stumble upon them.
“Why is it pink?” I say into the void but get nothing. “Why can’t I remember anything? Why does this feel like a…like a dream?”
“Will I remember any of this?”
“Hal? Oh my God, I think he’s awake. Hal?”
Rebirth. His head crowning through into the world as death squeezes him back out. He opens his eyes and, before he can even register anything, helps himself to a big, greedy slice of oxygen and lets out a wail.
Fast, shallow breaths, now. Hyperventilating. In, out. In, out. In-out. In-out. Inoutinoutinoutinoutininininininout.
“Am I dead?” Hal shouts, not wanting to believe the situation he’s found himself in.
“You tell me right now if I’m dead, I need answers. And where is the pink? Where did the pink go?”
“Hal, I…no, you’re not dead. You were in a c-…a coma for three days.”
“I’m not dead.”
“But you’re dead. How am I talking to you right now, if I’m not dead?”
“I don’t kn…I think I’m going to get the doctor.”
“Don’t you leave me! Don’t leave!”
“I’ll be right back.”
“No!” He reaches out to grab for her, but a gentle force restrains him. Dad.
“You’re dead, too,” Hal says to him. “Don’t think I don’t fucking know what you’re doing to me.”
His father just shrugs and thinks Jesus, drugs have gotten scarier since I was his age.
His mother returns, followed by a doctor and two interns, who crowd behind the doctor, eyes wide with curiosity.
“Hal,” the doctor says. “My name is Doctor Wurster.”
“Hi.” This is your enemy, Hal. Everyone is your enemy. They all know, and they won’t tell you.
“Can you tell me what year it is?”
“No. I don’t know.”
His mother moans a little bit, somewhere out of frame.
“Can you tell me what year it was when you fell asleep?”
Fell asleep? Is that what they’re calling it?
“Seventy…” Hal drawls, trying to remember. “Seventy-six? I think? Or eight, maybe?”
“What? No. 2076. I wasn’t born until 1991.”
Glances are exchanged.
“Look, please, just tell me what’s going on. Where am I? I’m still Hal Wallace?”
“Yes. You’re still Hal Wallace.” It’s just Hal and Doctor Wurster, now. Everybody else has slipped out of concentration. “You fell into a coma on July 17, 2010. It’s now just past midnight on July 21, 2010.”
It simply fails to compute in Hal’s head. His brain tries every possible equation but comes up with an error message each time.
“It was 2076 when I died. I almost remember all of it. I was surrounded by people who I can’t remember in a hospital in Queens.”
“Queens?” The doctor has a remarkably straight face, but Hal can see the telltale twitch of confusion.
“You’re in Edmond, Oklahoma, right now.”
“Jesus. I haven’t been to Edmond in years. Since the…”
Oh, no. That’s the trigger. Edmond. He hadn’t been back to Edmond since the coma, the year before he was supposed to go to college. Years and years and years ago.
“Oh my God,” Hal says. The same coma he’s waking up from now.
“What?” says his mother, completely alive and suddenly back in the action. “What, Hally?”
“I can’t do this again,” is all he says. “Not again.”
“Do what again, son?”
But he’s already gone, zonked out from the sedative Doctor Wurster gave him as soon as he realized, about a split second after Hal did.
He dreams of nothing, and when he wakes up he’s the same.
Hello everyone, here is a new short story. I have never done heroin.
You call 911 and wait for the firemen to plunge their big ladder into you. By this point, you’ve become a routine call for them and the ladder has no problem finding its way through your window; it enters a clearly designated point, deploys the little firemen, the ones who are going to save you, and then it withdraws again. The firemen don’t come out of you but they never manage to stay for long. And they’re giving you less and less of their time.
You gasp and moan and shrink as that first little fireman drops down, hits you right there with a wink and a nod and a grin and then all thought ceases besides just fuck, repeated verbatim until it becomes a little mantra, the only thing tethering you to that place you were in before you allowed that fire wrecking your soul to be put out. Because you don’t want to untie yourself completely; then you’re just a satellite, orbiting whatever life you used to know, and it’s much easier for something to knock you off course that way and then what? You’re just floating, lost, without anything but vague memories, little judgmental ghosts running around in your head. You don’t want that. You want to come down, eventually. You want to be able to not have to call the fire department every day, eventually.
So in your head, a little spell, a counter-enchantment. fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck for the first few minutes until the fog of possibility begins to fade like sleep. Like a dream. And then you blink and notice you’re on the floor and you’ve been crying a little, it looks like, but you don’t care. You are floating, hovering a few feet off the ground. If you could feel anything, you’d describe it as good, but you can’t and so you don’t.
Somewhere on the floor is a dirty rubber tourniquet and a spoon whose underside is charred a deep, angry black. You wonder if it’s so burnt that you can’t see your reflection in it anymore or if that’s just your reflection now. A wall of black, a universe of nothingness. An absence. An after school special playing out on an unplugged television.
You have enough foresight to find the needle and wrap it up in a tissue and drop it in the little metal chainmail wastebasket you own for that exact singular purpose. Hazy little chunks of your mantra bump around your head like astroids. fuck. Wasted. fuck. Fuck.
When you wake up, you feel the most extreme emptiness you’ve ever felt, except you’ve felt it so many times now that you can’t keep count. You used to be able to do that, keep count. Every time you did heroin — because, now that you’re sober (or not high, at least) you can lay off on the stupid fireman metaphor — you would make a little notch in some invisible bedpost. But now, it’s a mess of hashmarks, a little jungle of scratches in the headboard. Trace them with your finger. Try to find the first one, the one where you meant it the most, the one you scratched the deepest because it was a caution against having to make more scratches, which lasted for all of, what, two weeks?
You wish — fuck, stop it. I wish. I’m the one writing this. There’s nothing second-person about this. It’s just me. Singular. Very much alone and mired in loneliness and angst and a drug addiction and the silence of everything that’s so much louder than it was when it wasn’t silent, when it was actually too loud to bear.
My family. I wonder how they’re doing. I wonder if they wonder how I’m doing. Probably not. That whole thing kind of got fucked a long time ago, and it’s not the sort of thing you can un-fuck, you know? That’s fine, though. It’s fine. I’m fine.
I scratch at my face until I don’t feel like doing it anymore, and my nails are stained a little red at the tip. Shit. This loss of feeling, this is…it’s indicative of…it confuses me.
I’m floating again, which is weird. I shouldn’t be floating. The needle is in the garbage, where I left it. The spoon and the tourniquet and the lighter, the little yellow one that reminds me of my old friends, are in a trail on the floor, ordered by me dropping them once they did their part in getting me high. My sentences are getting worse now. They feel weirder, every day. Like they don’t fit when they come out of the innermost part of my brain and into the part that’s right at the forefront. The consciousness. Is that a thing? Why don’t things make sense anymore? Am I still high? I can’t still be high. I don’t feel high. I feel bad. I feel sober. I feel dead. I feel like I feel every second there’s not tar gunking up my veins, only this time it’s worse. Is this it from now on?
Is this some side-effect? That wasn’t my first hit from this batch. Was it purer than the other shit? I’m still floating. I’m starting to panic now. I’m panicking. No. No no no. Stop this now. Fuck. FUCK! I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’M SORRY!
My memory ejects itself from me and wraps itself around my body, weighing me down. It gets tangled in my hair, like a spiderweb. Some of it gets in my mouth and I choke on it a little. Everything darts back and forth across the room, brought into being from some cosmic slide projector that doesn’t mind that we’re sitting in different dimensions. Fishing trips. Marriages and divorces. Hatred, misplaced and correctly categorized. Clichés. Bad grades, good grades. Turning into a bad person. Riding my bicycle in the freezing cold night, alone and alive and the happiest I’ve ever been. Blowjobs and real jobs, clocking in and worrying about money and leaving home and losing home and doing things I didn’t want to do to get what I wanted to get. Suicidal thoughts. Digging the teeth of my keys into the pale, fatty underside of my skin and striking like a match, watching as the little lines started to fill in with blood and get puffy. Some thoughts are clearer than others. Some are in high definition and some are coming out of a bad radio transmitter. Smiles. Warmth. Beckoning.
I’m hit with the knowledge that I went too far, that — yeah, that I fucked up this time, bad, and I think I might be dying. It doesn’t upset me, because what does it matter now? I’m still floating, but I haven’t moved. The projector is showing things that happened, like, this week and that’s how I know I’m close. My life is almost over flashing before my eyes. It blinks a few times, makes a little click, and then shows me lying on the floor. Dressed in what I’m wearing now. Today. We’re here. It clicks again and it shows my family, and they’re doing family things. They’re not sitting around worrying, they’re not experiencing some immense sensation of loss as whatever life I had left in me leaves, and that’s fine. I shouldn’t have expected them to. I’m not worried anymore. They’ll get over this eventually, because the whole point of death is getting over things and I get that now. I get that. I’m here, I’m ready. I’m healed. So take me. Take me.
The projector goes dark and I disappear and it feels like I’m falling, that’s the only way I can describe it. Like I’m falling, but not into a bad place. Just…falling.
My computer’s desktop is a mess, which might explain why I lost this poem until now. I wrote it some time earlier this year, when I was apparently going through something. It’s kind of emotional, and so am I. I make no apologies! Also, I will put up a new story tomorrow. Sorry for the radio silence!
I am in a blind panic in the shower
as the water dances between too hot and too cold on a whim.
I am panicking because the shower is an echo chamber
and I am alone
and so the only thoughts I hear
Usually I can blame sound on the city
but here, among the soap suds and the little smears of shampoo that drip into my eye,
I know the truth.
I can’t handle the truth.
Hence the panicking.
Breathe, the voice inside of me, the one that sounds like my mother, instructs me.
I can’t, though.
I mean, I can, but with each breath comes renewed panic.
Because to live like this is to live in panic
Of the future, obviously.
Of the past, when sudden stabs of embarrassment cut up my body.
And of the present, where it’s so easy to shut those fears up
with a few quick little strikes of something sharp against my skin.
Pale and fat,
red and bloated,
bumpy like a trail,
follow the lines.
Follow them all the way down.
I worry about what women might think of me in bed. But that’s like worrying about what to do with the money before you rob the bank.
It’s been a strange day. Though I never came anywhere close to meeting the man and wasn’t even aware of him until long after he’d died, I’ve found myself (in my own distracted and typically non-committal way) mourning Elliott Smith.
If you’re rolling your eyes, thinking oh brother, I don’t blame you. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I can understand how I might come off that way.
There’s a huge mythology surrounding Elliott Smith (referring to him as just “Smith” from here on out feels weird). His life is over. He is dead and he is done producing anything new, which means now we’re able to pore over his life and death and analyze any possible bit of information from it. There have been books, plural, as in multiple, written about him, none of which while he was actually alive. People obsess over the life and death Elliott Smith.
This is, without question, my absolute favorite musician. My love for him has seeped into my own identity, his songs have attached themselves to my soul, written themselves into my DNA. But still, until today, I’d never really considered who the man was or what he meant to the world. He was just a ghost, to me, because I didn’t start listening to him until 2007. A ghost who made gorgeous, impossibly perceptive music, but still a ghost.
It’s been ten years since he died and the Internet has, appropriately, memorialized him. Pitchfork and Spin are running fantastic pieces right now, both better than my essay could ever hope to be, pieces that put a lot into perspective for me. It is October 21, 2013. I have been listening to Elliott Smith for six years now and I’ll listen to him for sixty more, until I’m an age that he didn’t get the chance to see, and today is the first day I’ve actually mourned his death, actually felt tangible loss.
I never met him and I never will, but my heart aches for him. For the fucked-up life he lived, for the abuse he suffered and for the way he used drugs to keep those memories dormant. For the fact that, once he cleaned himself up and those memories floated to the surface, he suffered a break. But, most of all, for the bitter irony that his music, his way of coping, couldn’t save him like it saved the countless number of people (myself included) who listened to it.
Cry for Elliott Smith. He deserved better, but the gifts he gave the world will live forever.
We rocket along toward New York City as night falls in slow-motion around us. I watch the sun set as a pair of overweight women carrying coffee cups return from the dining car, and then calculate how much money I have and how much money I’ll have once I get paid and for how long I’ll be able to hang on.
I’ve been going through what a lot of very smart-seeming texts call existential crises, but I don’t even have enough of a set definition of what existence is to have a crisis about it. Maybe that’s an existential crisis in itself, though. Actually, it’s probably exactly what that is. Stop over-thinking things. Stop over-thinking things. Stop over-thinking things.
So sometimes I don’t see life as worth living, anymore, and sometimes I feel so full of life and joy and awestruck by everything around me that I feel truly happy. Usually I reach these poles in extremely close proximity to each other. I’m talking, like, five minutes apart. I hate it. And then, you know, I love it.
Night hasn’t so much fallen, I guess, as slowly established its reign, like a leisurely dictatorship. Either way, it’s here now.
And so am I. I am here. I am in here. I am heading north.
“You need to wake up.”
“Time is it?”
“It’s…I don’t know, like, nine in the morning.”
“You need to wake up.”
The urgency in her voice sparked something in him, so he sat up.
“Okay. I’m up. I’m here. Are you…are you okay?”
“Look,” she said, and unmuted the television. They watched it for a few minutes, almost unconscious of the fact that they were both in bed together.
“Oh,” Henry said. “Oh. Oh.”
“What are we going to do?”
“What can we do?” he said. “I mean, honestly?”
“I don’t know. It just seems so…everything is so…”
“Yeah. Okay, hang on. I’m going to call som — okay, never mind, I’m not going to call anyone. No service. That makes sense.”
“It could be a joke?”
“It isn’t a joke.”
“But it might be. Or maybe it’s, I don’t know, maybe a PA at the news station is getting laid off or something so he did this.”
“Sarah, you don’t just blast “END OF THE WORLD SLATED FOR THREE WEEKS, LEADING EXPERTS CONFIRM” when leading experts haven’t confirmed the end of the world in three weeks. You just don’t.”
She started to cry.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Come here.” She collapsed into his arms, her breasts brushing against him with her velocity. He tried not to notice them as he stroked her hair. All he could do was breathe in and out through his nose, with purpose, and stare at the television, which he’d muted again. After fifteen minutes he began to notice a pattern to the images and interviews, could understand their order and their flow. They repeated themselves ad infinitum. It’s not like there was really anything else newsworthy happening.
He became so engrossed in working out the pattern, deconstructing the news report like a puzzle, that he didn’t see Sarah staring at him. Once he finally noticed out of the corner of his eye, he jumped a little.
“Oh,” he said. “Sorry. How long were you looking at me?”
She didn’t say anything.
She started to cry again. Her nose crinkled up and her eyes grew shiny, somehow more alive than when they’d been dry.
“Fuck me like the world is ending, Henry,” she said, sniffling through the tears.
And so he did.
By Danny Hatch
So what happens is — you still with me? Okay. So what happens is I’m riding my bike and I’m miserable but that isn’t really true. I mean, in a general state, yes, I am miserable. But in this exact, you know, moment? And for the last half hour or whatever? I feel good. When I ride my bike I’m powerful. Nobody can fuck with me. I’ve been hit by a car. I got into a fight with a dude in a truck. I even broke both of my wrists (minor fractures) once. But none of that shit stopped me from riding my bike, because the feeling when you’re going, when you’re soaring, when you’re not having to stand up on the fucking pedals and work your ass up a hill, is untouched. By anything. Seriously. I’ve had sex. Not a ton of sex, but whatever. I’ve had it. Doesn’t come close to this. You feel like you’re flying. Going downhill on Ayers, that hundred yard stretch of pure acceleration? It’s…you can…you become it. You just become the wind. And I know how stupid that sounds but it’s true. I even yank out my earbuds when I go down Ayers because I want to experience as much of it as I can. I want to close my eyes and see the future, uninhibited, and feel like that’s what I’m riding into. Which, technically, is true but that’s not the kind of future I’m trying to aim myself into. And I can never keep my eyes shut for too long because I get nervous. Wiping out on that road, going at that speed, without a helmet…that’ll kill you, easy. And I guess you can take it as a sign of my evident self-worth that I do not want to die like roadkill, leave this world as a fried egg mess on the pavement.
So anyway, yeah. I’m riding my bike. And I feel this weird tugging sensation. Like something is lifting me and pushing me forward at the same time. So I guess it’s not really a tugging sensation, then, is it? A tug is a pull, right? I don’t know. I always thought of it as a tug. I can’t remember that part so well, but that part isn’t really that important to, you know, to the core of the story.
Excuse me. Sorry. I’ve been getting a little sick. Sorry. So. Yes. This tugging feeling, right? It’s like something is accelerating me from behind, and I’m starting to get nervous. I’m approaching the light and it’s turning yellow. It’ll be red by the time I get there and I don’t want to go screaming through that intersection, begging to get creamed. Begging to become the new hood ornament on somebody’s Hyundai.
So I start to squeeze the brake a little bit, but nothing happens. There’s no resistance — the little trigger just goes all the way down without slowing. My brake line’s out. Shit, right? I’m only picking up speed now, right at the bottom of the hill, the fastest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I am a blur. If you took a picture of me, you’d think I was a vampire or something. There’s no way you’d catch me in that picture.
And I’m reaching the intersection now, and it’s very busy. I’ve sort of resigned myself to my fate and even I’m a little surprised at how quick that took. I’m not even nervous. My brain is working on autopilot, like, maybe I can weave in between cars or something, become Frogger, but I’m not concerned in the least. It’s like I know I’ll be okay.
My front tire passes the crosswalk without fanfare.
I close my eyes.
And then I’m gone, even though it takes me a few minutes to notice.
Just like that. Poof. Vanished. No smoke, no trail of flames like in Back to the Future. I’ve dried up and disappeared like water in the desert. No trace of me.
I don’t know if anyone saw it. They had to have, right? Nobody just, you know, disappears like that.
When I open my eyes again, I’m not where I was when I shut them. I wonder if I’m dreaming, or if maybe I was dreaming when I was going downhill, but that feels like such a hollow explanation. It was five in the evening in August in Oklahoma when I left (left?) Now it’s, I don’t know, it feels like midnight. It’s cold and dark, the exact opposite of where I was. Tiny little dots of hail rain down upon me. In the distance I can hear ocean.
I know, right? I can see from the look on your face that you don’t believe me, and that’s fine. I wouldn’t believe me, either, but just let me keep going. I promise you’ll see by the end of this.
So anyway. Once my eyes adjust to the dark, I can sort of make out that I’m on a cliff. I guess I’m lucky I figured that out before I walked off of it. Beneath me is the sea or the ocean or a big lake or something, some huge, churning body of water, but that’s way beneath me. I mean, this cliff is high up, man. You know? It’s the highest I’ve ever been, easy, and by this point I’m starting to freak out. The numbness of transition’s starting to wear out and I’m now looking at this reality where I’m way-the-fuck high up and way-the-fuck alone. And with no clue as to how I got there or how to get back?
And then, way off in the distance, I hear something that makes me freak out even more.
It’s large, that’s all I knew then and all I really know now. I feel like my brain sort of shut most of the details out, even though they’re right there. I can see it clearly. My brain’s just telling me it’s not real, despite, the…you know, despite everything else.
What my brain is trying to tell me that I didn’t see God, but my memory is telling me that I obviously did.
And what I’m about to tell you, Officers Kent and Downey, is going to make you believe me too.
Officer Kent, you were born in 1979 in Chickasha. Your parents divorced when you were twelve, and you had a delinquent phase as a result of that. You graduated high school a year later than the rest of your peers and had to take extra entry tests to convince the Police Academy to let you in. You lost your virginity when you were nineteen, and you regret how it went, and I’m not going to go into the details out loud with everyone here but if you really don’t believe I can show you in private. You woke up this morning with a headache and you stubbed your toe on the way to the bathroom and you thought about drinking for the first time in seven years, which is making you more and more nervous.
Officer Downey, you were born in 1974. You spent a few years in New York City, specifically Manhattan, more specifically the Lower East Side. You were briefly a part of the art scene there before you ran out of money and moved back here to Edmond to live with your parents, whose only provisions were that you had to go to school if you were going to live under their roof. You tell people you took the entrance exam to the Police Academy on a lark but you actually studied very hard for it for months. If people knew anything about the exam, they’d know that you can’t just take it on a lark, and they would’ve called you on your bullshit, but they don’t so they didn’t.
Something out there, that big thing that I heard in the distance, found itself face to face with me and looked me in the eye and imparted me with this curse of knowing everything about everything I see and I don’t know how to get rid of it.
So the thing, this dinosaur looking thing, it cranes its giant neck down and stares me in the eyes, like I said. They were as big as I am, those eyes. This thing was giant, and as soon as we locked eyes, I understood, I knew that this is the thing responsible for the entire universe. For you, for me, for everybody. It created everything and now it just wanders around in this vast expanse of nothing—or, almost nothing—and just fucks around. Ruins things. Ruins me.
And then I was back here and I was upright for a second and then something big hit me and my point of view went all sideways.
And then I woke up again in here with people whose personal histories and most fucked-up secrets I know everything about telling me I’m lucky to be alive and that a car hit me, which it obviously would, because I rode my bicycle into the middle of a busy intersection like an asshole.
And I guess that’s it.
And also God wants you to know, apparently, that the world’s going to end in three days.