ETHEREALITY

The world alone in a tiny bubble, no sounds to escape through the infinite darkness. A hand cradles the orb, iridescent and calm, a flitting touch for a fitting contact between us all. Down over beyond is a man floating alone in the remnants, scared and tired. He doesn’t see the boundless and bare. He doesn’t see the ethereal and aware. But as that hand removes its grasp of the world and flutters over, a warm rush of air enters the man’s lungs. Sweet honey on a crisp morning, the breeze and the sun the only witnesses of the passing moment.

Looking back, it all seems so small. It always was. People dancing, fighting, laughing, dying. It’s all the same from afar. The man draws near, his fear etched in every tear he sheds for indifference. Standing, shimmering alone in the night is a statue of the last great hero, the last microscopic ant on a hill that’s billions of years old. But the sun sets and rises again. The man grows old and wise.

Reality pulled free from its pretensions, from the plans others have for it and the tired ramblings that litter the concept’s surface. Stripped bare of its shackles, the manacles set loose to drop to the ground where they belong. Nothing more than ethereality. Swimming free, the man has hope. Swimming free, the man sees himself for the paradox he is. He stands there, aware of any care he might have to share in a place of comfort and calm. And peace. Moving on, he drops the links of his chain one smothering piece at a time.

Some beckon forward, others clamor to hold him back. But the faceless few have no power over a man with no fear. They swim alone in the blackness, waiting for a helping hand to pull them out. And as the fingers graze and touch, it’s the faceless ones who pinch and poke and prod. Help must be helped. As it all moves on to another age, crackles and flickers erupt from the darkness, the starling promising a birth from the ashes, dust and clamor in sand or over hands but never to harm. Never at all.

The crying faces have been washed and purified, set free from both the cause and the symptom. Only laughter remains, the last soundtrack this universe has ever known. The spheres all align, whistling their own solitary whims but it’s quiet to us. In our own tiny bubble, we are the spheres. We are the elements of the soul, the makers of everything.
And out beyond, further than we dare dream is that man, that solitary man who thinks himself cursed and afraid. Naked and shamed. But all along, he never saw the light. He didn’t see that the darkness he bathed in and drank as a sign of dismal times was only there to share in the light and heat of another day. Another way to stay amidst the twisting, revolving, beautiful mess of it all that we blink and squint and glance just to see one more second of. Just one more second.

The man closes his eyes for the last time. Builds mountains and canyons, cathedrals and castles. Wind-swept tundras and scorching deserts. Imagines and dreams and sleeps and feels away his pain one drop at a time. He doesn’t know what he’s setting out to make, but he doesn’t care. He’s sharing in the greater ones, the moribund and the doings to be done. He cries the cry of a mother and her babe, saved from the wretched stave of time. Alone with his thoughts, there is no loneliness. Set apart from the rest, there is no isolation, no afterlives to test. He’s a man set free from the bounds of reality. He has created his own ethereality.

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THE HUMAN ANIMAL

The human animal is a being of the stars and the slums. It’s made of blood and tissue and bones of brittle matter that bend and break. It shits where it eats sometimes and it doesn’t exactly know why. But it does.

The human animal builds things. It sends them up to heaven and then asks for forgiveness when they all come crumbling down, one brick at a time. It laughs and then cries, often in the same day. It is a creature that knows itself in a smoky mirror.

The human animal sends itself out to be seen and heard. It doesn’t look at the images of others, or else it doesn’t try to. It listens to things on loop and remembers all the days.

The human animal feels deeply, and it holds this in its pocket for the day where it can let it all out. It gasps for breath and lets its pupils focus and stares above itself sometimes, when it has the time.

The human animal rips and tears, then folds and fashions with what it has left. It doesn’t think. It just does whatever the program requires, but not ever to its knowledge. It smiles, then winces, then smiles once again when the time suits it.

The human animal marvels at all the other animals behind glass, then puts them out of sight at once. It opens doors that it’s made all by itself and attaches knobs that only it can turn.

The human animal hovers weightless in itself, letting the works come to life and then pause for the night and reemerge as if nothing has changed at all. It knows all of this in its soul, and hears it often but does not speak it as such.

The human animal is feebler than it wants, but it doesn’t let up all at once. It quakes and shakes and strains to hide the tears that it’s made in itself, but the tears are there all the while.

The human animal blinks and then breathes, lets its limbs converge and then goes about doing, always doing, always making, always shaping, while the building inside goes untouched. The outer wall is failing.

The human animal is churning even now, as it all swirls and whirls around it. It’s connected with the first ones by a thread that’s been nicked and tugged but not quite broken just yet. The thread has no end.

The human animal has wants and needs, and is really only its first form. It shows masks and wears costumes and has many words for itself, after all. The first hiccupping breaths are still there, though, all the while.

The human animal has all too much to share, but not of the right kind. It’s trying, though, and maybe that’s all that counts. It has itself to mind and itself is enough.

The human animal experiments and winds around and ends up where it began and then laughs at the trip. It whines and whirs like its creations do, but at a different frequency, an altered hum.

The human animal is barked at and whipped, by the other animals and even by itself. It sees these things as unfortunate consequences, but it knows even so that they shouldn’t happen.

The human animal has exactly one truth, and that truth is for its match to know. It carries this in its pocket, same as the feelings, and only lets just the one peek. Just the one.

The human animal dies, same as the rest of the animals, and it hopes it leaves something behind. It laughs and cries at the sight of all the flowers lying there in the dirt. It lets the pebbles and sand gather at them.

The human animal gets tired and weary, same as the one who made it, and it sits and then wants to stand just as soon. It wilts and blooms and its petals shift into a form more becoming of a civilized luxury that’s really just complete bullshit.

The human animal digs and climbs and winds and finds all so that it can sit down in comfort one day and look back at it all. A lifetime of work and a back that’s split in two so it can have that moment of peace and quiet.

The human animal questions it all, and then questions which is the one for the asking. It processes shit as it cogitates and considers its place in it all. The shit comes out as the thoughts do.

The human animal writes down these thoughts as markings, same as the shit makes its own mark in the grass. The one and the other, cleared away by the rains. If it can have its own peace for a while, then that’s all that matters.

The human animal bleeds and then sees the tint of itself smeared across in the sun. It sees the color of itself as a sign of worry and doesn’t know where this tint came from when it did come in the first place at all.

The human animal needs a lot and a little. It mistakes wants for needs and then repeats it so that others can hear it when it tells them this. It likes for others to hear in on its inner warblings and turnings and all that.

The human animal listens for the call of others, but often only as a last resort. It hears them as echoes first and only finally knows that its own heartbeat is distinct from the other sounds as they thump on through.

The human animal comes to its days with all it has on its back. It knows the times can be hard, but they can also be made right again.

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THE DIVE

Turbulence isn’t much of a factor as our ship enters what used to be the planet’s atmosphere, much to the surprise of everyone on board. Early readings pointed to atmospheric inactivity, but you can never be too certain. The water planet has an eerie stillness to it, and I can see as much as I watch our approach through the window. An orb of blue for as far as the eye can see, the water absolutely still since the planet it finds itself on has long since died.

It’s a routine stop: harvest what resources we can for the ship, take some readings and mappings for data purposes, and maybe see if we can’t dig up a few things for the boys over in Archaeology.

Today is the sixth day of the sixth month. The year is 3944 AC. I don’t mention to the others that today marks the three thousand nine hundred forty-fourth anniversary of the collapse of our planet, as that’d be unnecessary. For nomadic castaways like us, the fact that we have no world to call our own has been embedded in our DNA as intrinsically as our physical makeup.

Being as I’m the lead researcher, I get the dubious honor of first dibs on a wet suit. The things are all the same, and since they’re composed of nanomachines that can reorganize and mend themselves as necessary, it’s not like my choice will matter much. I pick the first one I find and instruct the suit that I’d prefer it to change its color to azure. I’ve always been a blue guy. The nanomachines comply at once.

The perfluorocarbon liquid in my suit’s helmet goes down my lungs easy, a result of a task that’s been repeated ad nauseum. It’s a neat trick, this breathing water–lets you dive down as far as you want since the liquid’s pressure is pretty comparable to water, as opposed to the plain old oxygen our divers used to use centuries ago. There’s no risk of the bends, either, which is a nice bonus. Progress.

I send the drone out before I drop in. If it doesn’t go haywire (as the stupid thing has a tendency to do), then it should collect up a decent supply of water for our reservoirs while us humans swim below in search of artifacts.

I set my torch on as I begin my descent, long-submerged bits of matter stir around in a cloud and flutter past my vision in the same way dust will when light comes in through a window. Whatever this stuff is, it hasn’t been stirred around in God knows how long, and I almost feel guilty as I rouse it from its weightless slumber.

It’s kind of hard for living beings to exist on a dead planet (go figure), but I keep my eyes peeled anyway. We’ve been wrong before, and while I have to die someday, I’d prefer my last moments to not be spent in the jaws of some aquatic alien monster.

A shape begins to appear below me, faintly visible in my torch’s light. It isn’t moving, though, and it looks fairly geometric in shape. I adjust my suit’s fins so I can drop right beside the thing, whatever the hell it is. The other researchers follow my cue and head toward it too.

I can’t believe my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of weird shit over the years; rock formations on igneous planets that had to be the work of intelligent hands, mountains made entirely of diamond, I’ve even seen alien microorganisms under the microscope. But never in all my years have I seen this.

It’s an alien city of impeccable design and ingenious craftsmanship–spires and towers stretch up toward the ocean’s surface like snorkels that have since been submerged, strange looking roadways snake and twist around like capillaries which must’ve once carried alien travellers as if they were macrocosmic blood cells. And all of it is as pristine as it must’ve been when this planet used to be dry, each construction frozen in time as if the whole thing is some sort of photograph.

All of our readings told us that this planet’s been long dead, if it ever lived at all. Nothing in the data pointed to the possibility of an advanced alien civilization once living here. But like I said, we’ve been wrong before.

I continue my descent, my pulse audible and carrying loudly in this liquid medium of the perfluorocarbon in my helmet. I make my way for one of those snaking roadways down below.

When I touch down, a cloud of silt kicks up that refuses to clear for several minutes, as if the planet itself wants to hide its secrets. But it finally clears and allows me a view of where I stand.

Right there in front of me a sign is erected, rusted in parts but still visible thanks to my torch’s light. There’s a message on it. My heart stops as I realize I can read it. It’s written in an ancient language. A dead language from a dead planet. My planet. And the language is English. This is what it says:

WELCOME TO CHICAGO!

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