Air Then Blue Then Black

Icy Detroit River

He’d catch her in the corner of his eyes, stalking, inhabiting spaces like cancer in human form. She was the absence of sound, devoid of identifying features, always just out of view. She was always moving, always coming closer, lights going out around her and a stench like mildewy clothes that have just seen the light of day after years of stewing. She had no eyes, or none that he could see in the glimpses in sewer puddles, bloodstains on cuffs and spreading through old clothes torn to tatters.

She’d catch him when he slept, sit on his chest till his breaths came out like the wheezes of the dying, beeps in the background from machines busy keeping them alive. He’d awake in the middle of the night to find her noneyes staring into him, opening his mouth with her own and replacing his tongue with sour, hot air. She’d squeeze him out till all vitals were gone, till he could see everything go to black and then she’d bring him back again, over and over till sunrise when she’d have to return to the cracks of the floor.

When he passes shadows, she’ll cling to his heart like spines stuck straight through it, tingles down his left arm till he collapses under the weight. He collects himself and tries to stay in the light, all around him the dead and dying. He’s pinioned by her presence, trying to keep upright, forced to relive all of his worst memories whenever she’s near. And sometimes, only sometimes, he can swear that he sees his own death, blood leaving his body like a liquid crowd, pooling under his back and sticking his spine to the floor. She’d stick his limbs to every surface they touched, pull away skin and leave him skinless and bloodied, going numb and cold from shock. That’s what she is: a skinned body lurking in corners, stinking through walls and doors, leaving streaks of her skinned self for the downtrodden to slip on.

She subsumes him when he’s alone, enters him like so much intercourse, feeling her way through his guts till he can do nothing but retch in the toilet if he’s lucky enough to make it there, more likely emptying himself onto himself, the light flickering above, a brutal wind sending shivers down his spine which is being raked by her rancid fingernails.

He plans a trap for her, silent so as not to let her hear. She’s always around. She might be able to hear his thoughts. He walks through the chilly air to an arts and crafts store, selecting the sharpest blade they have. He finds a little nook outside and sits down on the grass, trees all around to shield him from view. He pulls up his sleeves and empties his arms with the blade. But she’s there quick, knocking the blade from his hand and suturing his arms with her scalding touch. He stifles his cries as his skin sizzles and hisses in the freezing air.

The last of the blood drying on his arms, he leaves her behind and goes out looking. When he finds what he’s looking for, he stops and stares out at the river that courses below the bridge he’s standing on, little floes of ice slowly making their way through. She appears behind him, hissing her fetid breath into his ear. In one swift motion, he pulls a length of cord from his jacket and faces her, binding her tightly to him. For the first time, looking into her mangled face, he can see a hint of fear. He clutches her tightly, her skin flaking off in sheets beneath his fingers, and leaps over the side. Air, then blue, then black.

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A Sun They’d Never Catch

The funny thing about almost dying is that in a lot of ways it’s similar to what you’d expect. It’s the little departures from expectation that fuck with you. Let’s back up, though, because my situation’s a little different from most. I wasn’t going into cardiac arrest or total organ failure or anything like that. What I did was I left work on my lunch break, caught an Uber downtown, and picked out a good X-Acto knife at the art supply store. I wouldn’t recommend using an X-Acto knife, by the way. Not because it’ll fail, but because there’s a very good chance it won’t. Take it from someone who immediately regretted their decision: You’re going to want to give yourself a chance to climb back up the hole of everlasting blackness. So the X-Acto knife. There was leaving the store and thinking in a matter of fact way that, well, I’ve got the knife now, so I have to go through with it. That it’d be a waste not to. There was walking down the busy lunchtime streets of Chicago, understanding that this would be the last time I’d see a driver flick a pedestrian off. This would be the last time I’d see a light’s red turn green. The last time I’d hear a thumping Reggaeton bassline as the car playing it passed by. There was receiving a text from a friend, then a Snapchat from my little brother, and having to look away from the phone, put it in standby mode. There wasn’t any of the second guessing you’d expect, not even during the more grisly parts of the story. I’m not saying these things don’t happen, I’m just saying I was past all that. My case was different. There was picking the right bridge and planning out the logistics, realizing this would be the last time I’d plan something, the last time I’d be thinking something at all, that I’d never experience being human again. There was ignoring these thoughts so I could get on with it. There was finding the little secluded spot across from the bridge where I could do it, “FORGIVE” intaglioed on the wall behind the trees and grass. Yes, it really said that. I couldn’t make that up. There was finding the cardboard mat on the ground, empty liquor bottle next to it, diseased pillow off to the side, and apologizing in advance to the homeless guy who’d have to come across all this blood. There was the one pure moment of pain, after I rolled up the thick woolen sleeves of my winter coat and the blade entered the flesh of my left arm, then almost nothing. Almost peace. There were both of my arms open, bleeding freely onto mildewy cardboard. There was me wondering what was taking it so long, squeezing the skin beside the gaping wounds to speed up the process. There was sitting there wondering if I was getting sleepy or if I was placebo-ing that based on my expectations. There was shifting my position because my legs hurt, and almost laughing about that seeming so important. There was pissing my pants and my vision being almost apart from my body. There was getting up and leaving the secluded spot, trailing blood as I climbed up to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway. There was the comical moment when a cyclist stopped behind me to snap a pic of the Chicago River in all its January glory, me turning away so he wouldn’t see my arms as he passed, him apparently so focused (or mortified) that he didn’t say or do anything. There was studying the way the bridge sloped like a slide just past the easily bypassable guardrail. There was, like I said, no hesitation whatsoever. Just sliding for a second, then air, then icy green enveloping everything. There was seeing the sun shine through briny black, and somehow swimming for it. There was hearing my terrified yells, almost automatic, almost outside of me, and realizing I wanted to live. There was swimming to the pylon sticking out of the water and streaking bloody hands on it, having nothing to grab onto, and almost wanting to laugh if I wasn’t bleeding out and drowning in the Chicago River. There was swimming around the pylon because there was nothing else to do. There was finding the ladder and almost not believing it. There was climbing this ladder and not even feeling the pain in my arms, though it must’ve been terrible. There was getting to the top of the structure and the person across the river who somehow saw the whole thing (again, I couldn’t make this up), megaphone-telling me that help is on the way and I should stay put. There was thinking, well shit, now that I actually want to live I better not bleed out. Etc. And the fire engines. And the paramedics. And the heated blankets to pull the chill from my bones, and the straps to keep me stabilized but really probably to stop me from looking at my arms. Eventually there were the Frankenstein stitches, sixty in total, and even those went away after a while, in the way that everything does. But more than that, than any of it at all, there was lying in bed on the locked ward and watching the birds fly past the window, wingtips grazing glass, all of them darting off for a sun they’d never catch but which they’d reach for anyway.

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A DROP RETURNED

In the third century LE, mental incarceration became a thing of the past. Speaking for the Bureau of Interdimensional Beings, Larry Fleming was practiced in the art of lobbying for a cause he never had a stake in.

But what started as a paycheck turned into a belief when Mr. Fleming lost his wife. Thirty years, two kids, and the God he wasn’t sure existed had taken her away from him. Malignant melanoma. Two words, two otherwise insignificant words that had sent his world crashing around him.

When the dust had settled, Larry realized that there was nowhere he’d wanted to be less than his 1300 cc of skull space. His wife was gone. His life was gone. A difference of one letter, but not much of a distinction. Her perfect flaxen hair, her pure emerald eyes… Nothing that the miracles of modern science could muster could compare.

And so he thought of it. If magic had swapped its wands for microscopes long ago, why couldn’t the limitations of the human mind be superseded? When it came down to it, he was little more than a slightly evolved ape, so how hard could it be? He’d get the eggheads from R&D to free him from his prison. They’d do it. If not for the benefit of their boss, they’d gladly do it for the glory of a fresh discovery.

After months of research, the answer was found. The universe was ninety-six percent dark matter and energy, ninety-six percent undiscovered stuff that even eggheads of the past had struggled with for centuries. It wasn’t until they pondered the idea of it being a medium for transmission that the answer was clear. The entire universe was one giant aquarium of consciousness. Unfiltered, unfettered by the limitations of one individual.

And why couldn’t that fact be used to the advantage of our protagonist? Why couldn’t he use his legislational pull to escape the realms of existing reality? If he entered the plane of consciousness he came from he’d be nothing but another drop in the ocean. He wouldn’t be himself any more, but that was the point. He’d never suffer the pain of her memory again.

He tried to get the legislation passed, his excuse being that no one should be sequestered to the limitations of their mind if they didn’t want to be. His in-charge personality was an asset. The legislation passed without a hitch.

And so there he sat in that cold metal chair, on the verge of undoing what fifty years of nature had seen fit to create. His whole life had seemingly been coordinated for this pivotal moment of manufactured oblivion. After he pushed that button, he’d never have to agonize over her loss again. He’d never have to cry again. He’d never have to be himself ever again.

It was well publicized. After all, he was to be the first being to willingly reenter the plane they came from. Sure there was suicide, but this was absolute. This was diving into a black hole without a single look back. The ratings would be unreal. There was money to be made. The product tie-ins alone could put several lines of offspring through interdimensional college.

The clock ticked. The breathing patterns of dozens were kept to a standstill. The only thing that mattered was the spectacle of Mr. Larry Fleming willingly giving his consciousness to the oblivion of the unknown. His hand hovered, the button called. Tears trickled down rhythmically.

He touched the button. Felt its rigidity, its texture. With the push of something so finite, he’d be sent to the realm of the infinite. He looked at the others. At their spectacle. What would his wife think? How would she balance out the pros and cons of the situation?

Honest? She’d fight. She’d push to make her own corner of the universe as harmonious as possible. She’d refuse to let human heartache interfere with her universal responsibilities for good. And so he refused. For the sake of her memory he refused.

Fuck the legislation, fuck “mental incarceration.” We’re all relegated to our own 1300 cc of skull space for a purpose. We’re subjected to the triumphs and the failures for the same reason: we can take it. We must take it.

Larry Fleming walked away from it all. He did it for her memory. For his own. But most of all, to be an example for all living beings throughout the universe. He wanted them all to know that they could bear it all and more if they believed they could. They could do as he did, and they would.

Mr. Fleming didn’t know it, but she watched him that day. And she was proud.

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