Demarcation: An Interactive Story

The world flows from darkness to light in degrees, blink by blink. Snowflakes the size of your eyes fall from a sky whorled in impressionistic hues. Aurorae blaze the night into a multihued day. Dried blood asserts itself in the lines of your palms, lines you once had read for signs of health and vitality as a child. The fact that you were once a child is incomprehensible to you. This is no longer a world of children, or of the old, because this world has no past and no future. Only an endless present, the way the snowy hills run off in every direction you look. Your left ankle is painfully twisted. It hurts to put any weight on it.

What do you do?

Check your pockets.

Call out for help.

Twist your ankle back into place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In your pocket you find a ticket for a movie you saw last year, the last one the two of you saw together. It’s been ripped haphazardly, so the title’s incomplete. This was her ticket, but you traded with her so she could add a complete one to her collection. It seems a lifetime ago that these things happened. Besides that: a matchbook, half the matches gone, snatched from a bar. Some crumpled-up receipts.

What do you do?

Start a fire.

Call out for help.

Take a step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your words bounce off of snow-laden trees. They ride along the howling wind and into the hills, the mountains beyond them. An inhuman growl rises up in answer. It comes from everywhere. Darkness closes in before light can travel, before sound can follow, before even thought can come. It envelops you and takes you away.

GAME OVER

Try again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain like sparklers flickering in the night. Where your foot once was is a gnarled claw leading up to an iridescent, shelled body. The pain is gone and so is the snow, the hills, the night. You are at the bottom of a deep, vast ocean, all sounds piped in from a location out of sight. Your eyestalks twist and turn on their own, like fingers probing for a lover in the dark. You open your mouth to speak, but only a muted, ancient rasp comes out.

What do you do?

Search for food.

Burrow.

Snip your eyestalks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You dig out a small hole and replace the snow you find with kindling, the receipts, the ticket. The fire doesn’t last long, but it’s enough to bring the feeling back to your fingers, warmth to your cheeks when you lean in close. You’re struck by a preternatural urge to put your injured foot in the fire, as if you haven’t eaten in weeks and before you sits a feast. The longer you stare at the flames, the stronger the urge becomes.

What do you do?

Indulge the urge.

Call out for help.

Look away from the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moment you turn from the flames, an inhuman growl echoes out into the night. It comes from everywhere. Darkness closes in before light can travel, before sound can follow, before even thought can come. It envelops you and takes you away.

GAME OVER

Try again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You gather protozoa and diatoms into your mouth. Your movements are instinctual. You have done this for millennia, and you will do it for millennia more. The farther you wander out onto this abyssal plain, the less you remember of your human life, the world of air and land and beings that creep in the soil. You sense a shift in your consciousness, a clear demarcation between your previous life and the one you’re living right now. You know you have only two options. That you have always only had two options. This is your life.

What do you do?

Stop to remember.

Wander.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your mind and body flicker through the interstitial: first foot, then claw, then foot again. Ocean, forest. Home, wilderness. It all stops in the in-between, at a place unidentifiable to your senses or any concept of time or space. You feel as though your body is incomprehensibly vast and connected to the ocean floor, spread out and undulating with the current. You try to move, but you have no parts to move. You try to look around, but you have nothing to look with. The ticket, her face, your claws and eyestalks, these are like watercolor dabs on canvas to you. The sound of nothing is all around. Far above, the sun shines through infinite water, golden prickles finding you all the way down. All the way down.

END

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Your claws fade with the force of the current; iridescent shell gives way to flesh. The water’s density leaves you as the ocean evaporates in seconds. The ocean floor turns to snowy ground, but no more flakes fall from the sky. Your body warms by degrees as your feet slide into the steps you took to get here, like a film playing in reverse overlaid atop its forward-playing self. The trees move aside to let you pass. There is no growl. There is no sound. The snow gives way to bare earth, then verdant grassland. Your memories are stories you can choose to consult. But for now, you don’t choose the memories. You choose to walk.

END

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The People Who Aren’t People

On the shore, all you can hear is the sound of the tide coming in: wish-wash, wish-wash. The sun is a brillo-scuffed marble suspended behind a steamy shower door. The birds circle inky water, waiting for the divers to surface for breath, when they will peck at already-scarred scalps and sustain themselves off of the flesh they find there. There’s no other food for them.

An unincorporated bedroom sits at the spot where sand meets water; the waves lap in under the bed and tease open the doors of the armoire, where mildewy clothing hangs limply on rusting hangers. It all smells of salt. Nothing of the rest of the house remains, except an ascending corkscrew staircase that leads from the bedroom door up into featureless sky. At the top of the stairs stands Abel. Sea foam clings to the rags that clothe him, plastered to his frail body by the mist that hangs over everything. He looks out past the shore, hand over eyebrows, for a sign of something–anything–other than endless water. His son, in the bed on the floor below him, calls “Papa, Papa” in a parched singsong, like a scarecrow who just learned how to talk. He goes to him.

Abel’s son collects discarded video cards, filament-less light bulbs, bits of frayed copper wiring. Right now the pieces are collected and connected in the form of a tiny automaton, with diodes for eyes and AV cables for limbs. He stifles a cough, pulls the robot up to his ruddy face and breathes warmth onto it to keep away the incessant mist. Far away and behind the boy a diver surfaces, gulps air, dives again before any of the birds can attack.

“Tell me about the people who aren’t people.”

The bed is the type with taffeta curtain running around it, thin enough to turn everything beyond it into a dusky golden version of itself. Abel encloses himself with his son, tries to ignore the pained screams of a diver too greedy for air to dip again in time.

“You are sick. You should sleep.”

“But I want to hear the story about the people who aren’t people. I’m not too sick to hear the story, Papa. I promise.”

A gust of wind eddies the sand, sends it onto Abel’s bare feet. He kicks the grains away, but some of them stubbornly cling to his sole. His toenails are yellowed, dog-eared pages in a book that hasn’t been read in years. He takes his son’s robotic homunculus and sets it on the scuffed nightstand. His eye sockets are darkened graves.

“A long time ago, before the mist and the flood and the broken buildings, there were people everywhere. People so numerous you couldn’t even count them all.”

His son’s eyes go wide. This happens every time, no matter how often the story is told.

“The streets were filled with people. There were so many people that they had cars to drive themselves to where they needed to go. There were too many people for them to walk, even. There were so many people that they sent them up in great ships out past the sky and into the stars. There were so many people that they sent the bad ones to islands in the sea to starve. There were so many people that they took down buildings with people in them and built more buildings over the ones they took down. There were so, so, so many people.”

“How many people, Papa?”

“So, so, so, so, so, so, so many people. So, so many. So many that they needed to figure out who among the people weren’t people, so they could get rid of them.”

“How could they be people, but not people, Papa?”

“Anything can become true if enough people say it is. So they found the people who weren’t people, and they killed them. But there were still so, so, so, so, so many people.”

“How many people?”

“So many that they decided there must be even more people who weren’t people than they first thought. So they broadened their definition and killed many more people. They pushed the people from cliffs. They hanged them. They shot them, until the bullets started to run out. But there were still so many people.”

“How many people, Papa?”

“So many people that they took the souls of people and put them into stone, where they could be locked up until there was more room for people again.”

The robot shifts on the nightstand. The taffeta curtain rustles.

“When they put their souls into stone, their bodies were burned or set into the sea or buried up where they’d never be seen again.”

“And that’s where mother is? In the stone?”

Abel’s beard brushes against his caved-in chest as he nods, at the place where the rags give way to skin, the transition indefinite and hazy as the fog all around them.

“We’re going to bring her back.”

Abel lifts his son from the bed and slings him over his shoulder. His feet sink into the sand as he leaves the bedroom behind, the birds still circling and the tide as it goes in and out, wish-wash wish-wash, over and over and over.

And over.

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