Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Tree Hugger

One Wednesday, seven-year-old Jemima Sidney went into the woods to visit her tree. He was a nice tree. He reminded her of her grandfather, whom she’d seen two summers ago when she was five, but they hadn’t been back there because he lived all the way the other side of the country and they lived in Trinity’s Field, NC. But that was all right, because she had her tree and the tree smelled like her grandfather. And he talked like him, too.

Jemima’s mother was in real estate. That meant that she sold houses to people. Jemima often wondered what her mother would sell if she was in imaginary estate, but when she asked one time, her mother told her not to be silly; and another time, she told her not to be rude. Jemima also wasn’t sure how you could sell a house because it’s far too big to put in your pocket, see, but she also wasn’t allowed to ask that question. Her daddy was a lot easier to understand, because he didn’t sell houses; he built them. He often told her that made him and her mother a perfect pair.

When they had first moved to Trinity’s Field, NC, just after the last time she’d seen her grandfather, one day she decided to go out into the woods. It was easy because there were woods just behind their house and they went on for miles and miles. And she knew all about Little Red Riding Hood, but she wasn’t scared because there weren’t any wolves in this part of North Carolina, only bears and everyone knows that Goldilocks got away because bears only eat porridge.

But she didn’t meet a bear, because twenty-four yards from her house, she found a small clearing (called a “Glade”, Rembert told her) and that’s where she met Rembert the tree. At first, though, she didn’t really care about Rembert, she only really cared about the vine that was going up his trunk, because the more she looked at it, the more that vine seemed to shimmer and glow. And when she reached out to touch it, she could swear the vine moved.

“The Demno doesn’t like to be touched,” said a voice nearby.

Remembering the story of Little Red Riding Hood, Jemima gasped and turned, expecting to see the Wolf, or a Big Bad Bear behind her. But that wasn’t where the voice was from.

It was the tree that had spoken to her. It was easy to miss that it had a face in it, but once you saw it speak, it was unmistakable. His name was Rembert and he explained that he used to be a human boy, but he had given up life as a human more than a hundred years ago to live as a Dryad. A Dryad was a man in a tree, like Rembert. She got to be friends with him because she remembered where he was and she visited him and he explained to her another time that people needed Dryads so that they could communicate with the Demno, and the Demno was the shimmering vine that crept up the bark of his trunk and didn’t like to be touched.

“But why do people care about shimmery vines?” At first, Jemima thought it might have been a rude question and she scolded herself, but Rembert didn’t mind and he answered her.

“The Demno is very powerful,” he told her. “More powerful than most of us realize. It controls the fate of all of the trees and all of the flowers and plants on the planet. Most people don’t know the Demno because it hides from them—that’s how the Powers that Be want it…” He had been getting excited, but now he slowed down. “There are things out there more powerful than the Demno.”

Her parents didn’t approve of her talking to trees. That’s why she did it in private; when they weren’t looking, she’d sneak out, and be sure to be back before they noticed. But sometimes she would tell them things Rembert had said.

“Who’s Rembert?” asked her mother one time when she found herself listening to her daughter.

And Jemima explained that Rembert was the tree out in the woods—

“You’re not supposed to go out in the woods,” her mother reminded her.

“Oh, let her go,” her father spoke up then. “Don’t worry, we’ve got the whole place roped off, fenced in. Let her enjoy the woods while she still can.”

Jemima wasn’t sure what that last part meant, but she was glad it was safe to go talk to Rembert in the woods now.

So that Wednesday, she went out into the woods to talk to her favorite tree. But when she got there, she saw the strangest thing.

There was a man there, huddled on the ground in front of Rembert, and the man kept saying “Please… please, Demno, let me back in, oh! Praise be to Lord Gollobor, don’t make me do this!”

The man was wrinklier than her daddy, and his hair was wiry and grey, and he wore this big robe that kind of looked like tree-bark and leaves—and why was his voice familiar?

Then she looked at the tree and realized Rembert’s face was gone!

“Rembert!” she screeched, and the old man turned.

“Jemima,” he called to her. “Oh, my dear Little Miss Sidney. I wish you didn’t have to see me like this…”

Why did he know her name? And why did he have Rembert’s face? Slowly, it started to dawn on her why the Demno had cloven her favorite tree in two.

“I wish I could spare you this,” said Rembert, the man. “I wish you hadn’t come today, now, of all times, to this place. I wish you didn’t have to know.”

But she did know. She knew her best friend was no longer a tree—but she also knew he was sad, so she went up to him and put her arms around him.

“We’re just not powerful enough,” he sobbed. “Deals had to be made, sacrifices. If we didn’t give them this, they’d take it from somewhere else. But now they’ve made me human again.”

“It’s not that bad,” Jemima apologized. “Now you can move around, and you can dance with me!”

A curt laugh broke his sobs. “Yes, of course I will dance with you, but that… what are we going to do now? Now… where will I go? And what will become of the Demno and all of their trees?”


There was nothing more important to Dorothy Rogers than her family.

She married Hal right out of college. He had talked about going into politics, but business would do. It was just as respectable. He had come from a good family (so important) and became quite successful. She, too, was successful—by the end of her twenties, she had given her husband three beautiful children, two boys and a girl.

Timothy was rambunctuous as a child. Always getting into trouble. He was precocious and not afraid to speak up, but he was a good kid.

Stephanie, though—she was a handful. She was abrasive and obstinate as a young child and in primary school, she was quite the tomboy. Getting her into a dress was like pulling teeth—and yet pulling teeth was not something she would shy away from.

William, though… William was different from either of his siblings. He was quiet and shy, he disliked fighting so much that he didn’t even seem to have a problem with his sister fighting his battles for him—and she was willing enough to do so.

“We need to toughen him up,” Dorothy would complain to her husband before bed.

“Leave the poor kid alone,” Hal Rogers would groan at his wife. Hal didn’t care about family like she did. “He’ll grow out of it.”

In a way, he did. But not in the way that his mother would have preferred.

Stephanie, at the tender age of eighteen, just months from graduating high school, became pregnant. Her mother was distraught. “How could you do this to me?” she kept screaming. “How could you do this to your family!”

“‘My family’ is not the one this is happening to. I am!”

“You are the one who did this!”

“You think I asked for this? You think I wanted to get pregnant?”

That, of course, launched a tirade about knowing to keep your legs together.

In the end, there wasn’t really any “choice” involved for Stephanie. Dorothy insisted that her daughter go out of state “to visit relatives” so that she could have the procedure done in secret. She wasn’t, strictly speaking, pro-choice, but if it was that or be a grandmother before her time to an illegitimate mistake, then so be it. As for Stephanie, she’d been debating herself and was relieved to have her mind made up for her. If I’d wanted to have it, she told herself, I would have told Michael first, and forced her hand. But she also knew she would regret her decision.

“At least you’ve never gotten a girl knocked up,” Dorothy said to both of her sons together.

William looked away shyly, as was his way, but it was Timothy who said “Yes, mother,” even though it was Timothy who had by that time funded two abortions of his own to keep girlfriends quiet—and one of those times, he had had to force the poor girl into it.

William was the next one to be disgraced. It took a long time for him to acknowledge his sexuality, even to himself. For his parents’ sake, he did his best with girls and even slept with them, but only to keep his secret. It was one of those girls, though, who finally confronted him about it. “It’s okay if you are,” she said, more heartbroken than she let on, “I don’t judge. I could even hook you up if you want.”

And she did. She had a cousin who was William’s first love—the first that counted for him, anyway. But he let his mother continue to think that “Natalie” had been the one who had gotten away, since it pleased her to think that and since he wasn’t one to make waves, much as his later boyfriend Serge wanted him to. “It is a new world,” he told William in the world’s thickest, saltiest French accent, “She will know now from you or she will find out later. Like this, you can control the narratif, no?”

But William had no control over narrative. He just moved to a part of the country where his mother didn’t hold sway—or so he imagined—and lived as private a life as he could manage.

“Won’t you come home, though?” his mother would beg, and there was only so long he could put that off until she sent him a ticket and told him to make it work.

She found him with his boyfriend in flagrante.

He assumed after it happened that she would tell people—his father, at least—but when he brought it up, Hal Rogers was speechless. He had no context for having a gay son. It was unthinkable to him.

It was as unthinkable for Hal Rogers as it was unspeakable for Dorothy.

“I always knew,” Stephanie told him. He didn’t bring it up, but it was all their parents wouldn’t talk about. “I mean, I figured. Guess I’m just smarter than Mom and Dad.” She put her hand on his. “And more supportive.” And then she hugged him and kissed him on the forehead.

Stephanie, meanwhile, had ended her series of shallow affairs by falling in love with a successful black man. If Linus Hinkle had been any lighter-skinned, he would have been exactly what her parents required in a son-in-law. He was a respected doctor, about four years from going into private practice, he had no tattoos or piercings, he was handsome, strong and healthy and just not anywhere near good enough for their daughter.

“I’m not racist,” Dorothy assured anyone who didn’t just cut her off right there, “I’d just prefer not to have grandchildren who come out looking like they’ve just spent nine months up a chimney!”

It was a phrase that had Stephanie and William both cracking their knuckles and gritting their teeth, but Linus, whose mother had “raised him right”, as they say, just smiled, nodded and never spoke to his mother-in-law unless she addressed him.

After she had had two children of her own, Stephanie volunteered to act as a surrogate for William and his husband, Adam. There was some strangeness, perhaps, in a woman bearing a child for her brother, but since the egg wasn’t hers and the sperm wasn’t his, they didn’t think much of it—and nor did they think of their poor, distraught mother and what she might think of it.

“Of all the things!” she bellowed when she found out, and soon she called her favorite son. “Your brother and sister are determined to ruin me!” she cried to Timothy. “It was all supposed to be perfect! They were my little angels! But now I see you were the only angel I bore, weren’t you, Timothy? You’re my little angel!”

“Yes, Mother,” said Timothy Rogers.

He had married well: the boss’s daughter at a Fortune 500 company he was now about two years from running. She was nearly as vapid and shallow and conceited as he was, but she was just starting to realize there was more to him than met the eye. When she actually caught him with their youngest daughter, when she saw what he’d been doing to her, all the pieces fell together and something changed inside her as she made a decision about him in the last few moments of her life.

Stephanie wasn’t surprised when she heard he’d been arrested. She was shocked, shaken, but some part of her had always known what he was capable of, could almost remember…

William was there with their mother when they heard the verdict. He knew Timothy had tried to cover it up, had tried to make it look like a burglary gone wrong, but his brother had never been as smart as their mother had always made him think he was.

She insisted on seeing him before the sentence was carried out. She begged him to tell her the truth, to tell her that he was innocent, but he couldn’t do both of those things, so instead he told her “I had to do it, Mother. Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? Think of what that whore could’ve done to our family name!”

Dorothy never did accept any responsibility for spoiling her favorite child, for teaching him that appearances and perceptions were more important than real people’s lives.

“Why do you think she doesn’t get it?” William asked his sister.

Stephanie shrugged and sighed. “She has a very different idea of what Family means. Family is blood to her. It’s a name. It’s a history and a future. But that’s not what family is, is it? We know that. You and me? We know that family is the people that we choose to share it with. Family is a present.”

The Bird, the Cat and the Little Boy

Once upon a time, there was a bird flying care-free through the air. Do you know the expression “as free as a bird”? Well, this was the very bird they meant when they said it. Each morning, she would wake up, ruffle her feathers, spread her wings and leap out of her nest, out into the world.

One day, though, it was raining. Now, rain didn’t generally mean that much, it just meant that she had to fly closer to the ground, that was all. She needed to be more careful about obstacles that might be in her path. But she could still feel the wind—a bit wetter, perhaps—hoisting her up and carrying her around.

The problem was that today of all days, the Cat living with the Humans next door to the Bird’s tree had decided that one bowl of food from his masters (or, as he called them, slaves) wasn’t nearly enough. He needed more food. And he didn’t mind feathers too much. So he clawed his way up the cabinet and over the sink and perched himself on the low-hanging branches that dangled in front of the kitchen window. Something was bound to come by.

Sure enough, within moments, the Bird came into view. It perched itself on one of the higher branches to rest for only a moment.

But suddenly, there was danger. The branches all around her started shaking, pulled down by the weight of the enormous cat flinging himself ever upwards, hissing and miauwing for his prey to do its job and come the rest of the way to him.

Of course, the bird wasn’t having any of that, so she took off, darting through the branches, branches that kept whipping from side to side, either from the wind or from the cat’s advances, until the bird decided it was safer to go down.

So down went the bird, to the cat’s great surprise, and swept, of all things, through the kitchen window, so that she now found herself in a new place. It wasn’t the open air and it surely wasn’t forest, either. It wasn’t even town. There were walls, it seemed, on all sides, closing in on her, no matter which way she flew. In one wall, there was an opening, but beyond that were more walls and just as little space between them.

How had she got here? What was this evil place?

In the third set of closed-in walls, she detected movement and perched herself up on a cabinet to watch. A little boy was playing with something on the ground. It looked like one of those huge metallic monstrocities that fly way up high and hurt when you hit them and make a terrible noise, but this one was much smaller, enough to fit in the little boy’s hand, and the little boy waved it around from side to side, making a noise that wanted to be the airplanes’ terrible racket when it grew up.

Then the little boy looked up and saw the bird.

“Birdie!” said the little boy.

Uh-oh, thought the bird. She knew all too well that humans couldn’t be trusted. So she launched herself off the cabinet and through the door, now even more desperate to find a way out and getting so utterly scared at the walls closing in that she was finding it hard to breathe. So she finally found the front door to the house and bent down next to the keyhole, where she could feel a very thin current of fresh air entering the building.

But the keyhole, sadly, was too close to the ground and the little boy caught her.

“Birdie!” said the little boy in its annoyingly high-pitched voice. “I don’t know why you’d fly away from me. I just want to put you in a cage, a little house all your own just like this one, and that way you can sing a pretty little song for me all day long!”

A cage? The bird tried to conjure up an image of this. It seemed like a space, just like this one, with walls all around, only smaller. A place where the bird could never fly, would never feel the freedom of the wind beneath her wings or even the crushing wetness of the whipping rain.

That was no way to live.

The bird, without another thought, jabbed her beak quite roughly into one of the hands that held her, making the little boy scream its fiendish little lungs out, distracting it for enough time that she could safely get away. At last, having come full circle, the bird returned to the kitchen and found the open window she had just come through and flew back outside—

–straight into the jaws of the cat.

Satisfied, the cat closed his jaws, sinking his teeth through feathers and flesh to her crunchy bones, just as the little boy entered the room and started howling.

“That wasn’t nice, kitty!” screamed the little boy. “I was going to make him my pet. He was going to be your brother!”

But the cat ignored him, enjoying the extra meal. If only the little boy knew how much happier the bird was there in the jaws in this beast than she would have been in a cage.


High school is a fucking nightmare.

Imagine taking dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of hormonal teens and locking them in a room together with adults who are instructed to teach. These kids don’t care. They have no investment.

Middle school is arguably worse.

These kids are stupid. Literally. Cognitive development stalls when the body has better shit to worry about. Like, uh, puberty? Why do you even try getting them to sit still and think? Put those bodies to work so they’ll know how to use them!

And how not to.

Maybe school is for some people. It should be for everyone, but come on—let’s be real. On a fundamental level, it doesn’t appeal to our baser instincts—tries to crush those baser drives under the weight of thousands of years of “Aren’t we better than this?”

What if we’re not?

What if we aren’t better than this?

What if we don’t have to be?

Why are you trying to push this?

There’s a boy at my school who’s in love with me. I don’t know who he is. I don’t know what he looks like. But I know him.

I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I can see inside his mind.

I know when he looks in the mirror. I know what he sees—I don’t see it, hair color or the shape of his eyes, but I know what he sees. I know what he looks at and how he feels about it.


I don’t know who this kid is, but I pity him, the way that he feels about himself, the way that he thinks—that he knows—other people feel about him. It’s inhuman. And all he wants is to connect…

But then he starts thinking of me and in his mind’s eye, I can see all of the things that he wants from me, specifically. Compassion? Of course, but that’s only the beginning. Compassion is not an endgame, it’s the boy’s way in. Compassion, he believes, is the hook—or at least whatever it is in the fish that makes it follow something shiny.

But I am not a fish, and this kid isn’t shiny. Not even enough that I know who he is. I have tried, looking around the cafeteria. Trying to see who looks me in the eye.

I assume that once I’ve looked him in the eye, I’ll know.

But maybe it doesn’t work like that.

Maybe I’ve seen him and I still don’t know.

The things he wants to do to me, the things he wants to do to other girls, to other human beings… What made him this way?

Did we do it, we, with our neglect? But thinking that way is succumbing to gaslighting, it’s the victim embracing the criminal, excusing the crime to blame it on fate. That’s not helpful.

But is it so helpful, then, to lay all the blame on him? From the sound of it, from the feel of it, he has been villified from every angle for a very long time. It’s hard to imagine him having survived this so long with so many people hating him—or even with the belief that they did. Can’t anything be done? Maybe our actions didn’t cause his outlook or desires, but could they stop them? Curb them? Is there nothing to be done?

I keep this self-loathing boy at the back of my mind as I sit with my girlfriends. Kayla knows that I know things, but I don’t want to tell her all I know. I don’t want to burden her. So I just sit and I let them talk and I wonder and wait for a clearer premonition of these terrible things.

You Knew What This Was


DAMIAN: Cathérine…

CATHERINE: You’re leaving already?



DAMIAN: Can I speak with you for a moment?

CATHERINE: Why else would I be here? What is it?

DAMIAN: I’m leaving.

CATHERINE: As in… leaving?

DAMIAN: For New York. Tonight.


DAMIAN: It’s uh… it’s complicated. It’s family. Business. The family business, it’s this whole—I don’t know. It’s complicated.

CATHERINE: How long will you be gone?

DAMIAN: The ticket is one way. Not that I won’t come back, but… I’m moving. There. To New York. Permanently.

CATHERINE: When were you going to tell me?

DAMIAN: I wanted to, I just… I don’t know, I kept…

CATHERINE: Damian… when were you going to tell me?

DAMIAN: Listen, Cathérine—


DAMIAN: I didn’t want to make a huge deal out of this—

CATHERINE: How is this not a big deal?

DAMIAN: What are you angry about?

CATHERINE: Are you serious? You’re serious.

DAMIAN: Katrientje—

CATHERINE: Don’t you dare!

DAMIAN: No, you’re right, I should have told you. It’s good manners, I suppose. Oh, come on, don’t look at me like that.

CATHERINE: Good manners? Good manners is telling your girlfriend about your moving to another country? How about making her the first person you tell?

DAMIAN: He is a business partner—

CATHERINE: I am your girlfriend! Aren’t I? Do you even want me to come with you?

DAMIAN: Is that what you want? I don’t know how you’d—

CATHERINE: It’s not about wanting, Damian, I—

DAMIAN: I’m not going to ask you to uproot your life—

CATHERINE: Well, good.

DAMIAN: Why do you even care so much?

CATHERINE: It just would have been nice to be consulted. To be told.

DAMIAN: Well, now I’ve told you. Look, I don’t want to leave this on bad terms.


DAMIAN: I will be back—


DAMIAN: No, you’re right.

CATHERINE: Can you at least admit it? That I was only ever a quick fuck to you?

DAMIAN: That isn’t all you’ve been. But yes, our relationship always did have a shelf-life.

CATHERINE: What should I do with this key?

DAMIAN: You could give it to him, I suppose.

CATHERINE: And what should I do with myself?

DAMIAN: Come, now. I may have bruised your pride, but you know as well as I, I haven’t broken your heart. Friends?

CATHERINE: I’ll get back to you.

The Geology of Commitment

JACK: What you looking at?

PRISCILLA: Water. Lots and lots of water.

JACK: I know, right? Classic. Or should I say “classical”—get it?


JACK: Check out Delos.

PRISCILLA: She’s not so hot.

JACK: That was Apollo’s island. It’s where he was born.

PRISCILLA: Don’t forget Artemis.

JACK: How could I?

PRISCILLA: Always was partial to Athena, myself.

JACK: Yeah, you are.

PRISCILLA: Jack, why are we here?

JACK: You said you always wanted to go.

PRISCILLA: It was all so sudden, though. I mean, thanks, obviously, just…

JACK: Look… I was gonna wait. Do this somewhere… maybe on the stage at Epidavros or something, but… maybe here, on the deck of the nigh ferry, just the two of us…

PRISCILLA: The fuck is that?

JACK: What’s it look like?

PRISCILLA: It looks like a pearl.

JACK: I know how much you like oysters.

PRISCILLA: You know how much I—are you serious?

JACK: It’s a perfect pearl, ‘Scilla.

PRISCILLA: But that’s not… ugh…

JACK: Priscilla—

PRISCILLA: How can you not know that it’s bad luck to have a pearl for an engagement ring?

JACK: Oh, come on, it’s not that bad.

PRISCILLA: It’s just the pressure, OK? Pearls are fragile—it’s not like I could wear it all the time!

JACK: Look, you don’t have to. I’m not the kinda guy who likes to hang a label.

PRISCILLA: But I want a ring that I can actually wear without being afraid that I might break it.

JACK: So you do want a ring?


JACK: ‘Scilla, this isn’t just a ring. You know it isn’t.

PRISCILLA: Right. Yeah, no, obviously.

JACK: So that’s a yes? Hold on, got to do this right—will you marry me?

PRISCILLA: Will you get me a decent ring?

JACK: I really thought you’d like it.

PRISCILLA: I’m sorry. I do.

JACK: Is that a yes?


JACK: Priscilla….

PRISCILLA: Oh. Yeah, no. Of course.

JACK: Thank you.


JACK: Thank you for making me the happiest man in the world—or at least on the night-ferry.

PRISCILLA: I don’t know, we got all those Brazillians here and their team just won.

JACK: Priscilla—

PRISCILLA: I know, I know, I love you, too.

“She Will Always Be a Broken Girl”

Sometimes I get confused.

That’s part of the drawback of being psychic. Sometimes I get so unstuck in time, between predictions of the past and memories of the future, that I forget where I am for a minute. If that was all, though, maybe I could live with that.

But that’s not all. I don’t just have visions of my own future, sometimes I see other people’s, too. Sometimes I see other people’s pasts. Sometimes I don’t even know whose future it is that I’m seeing, whether it’s the future or the past, and the memories of my future stay with me.

Raven is the worst at that. Maybe it’s that she kinda looks like me—similar height (once I’ve caught up), similar build. Something in the eyes. But what I end up with is a person I have a hard time distinguishing from myself. Am I in her past, or am I in my future? My past or her future?

This would be harder if we were closer. Between her being in my brother’s band and the crush I sometimes have on the man I know she’s going to end up with, it can be hard to know where she stops and I begin. Keeping her at arm’s length, I think, helps me think of her as a character in a story. Someone I can live vicariously through her. There is more to affinity than intimacy. But leeching off Raven’s life comes with a price.

I started having nightmares shortly after I met Raven. They felt like more. They felt like memories. They felt like a part of me—something that would always drag me down. But I guess most nightmares do.

I noticed the next day how uncomfortable I felt around my father, like I couldn’t trust him—why couldn’t I trust him? (I found out later, of course, there might have been something else).

Then I started to notice that Raven had a certain way of moving—how can I explain how I knew? Maybe I’m just psychic. But by the next time I saw her, I was sure.

Raven had been abused. She didn’t like to make a big deal out of it. Her father was out of the picture—the hazards of driving drunk.

It wasn’t something she dwelt on. She had nightmares, ones that reached out and touched people like me, but other than that, she’d learned to lock all the memories themselves away as long as she was awake and never think about them. That was then, this was her.

She wouldn’t have talked about it—not then. If someone—say, Declan—had asked her about it, she would have found a way to change the subject, or just looked off into the distance until they did. But at the same time, I almost feel like she wore the history of her abuse as a badge of honor. Not like an excuse, not like a get-out-of-jail-free card for bad behavior, but more as a…

Hell, I don’t know. Maybe it was meant to be some kind of excuse, but not towards authorities. Authorities didn’t matter so much to her—she acknowledged them, but didn’t crave their acceptance. It was about her peers. There’s a kind of virtue in suffering, that was what this was. She would always know, in a way, how much better she was than everyone around her—after all, they hadn’t been through what she’d been through. Their lives were only Angst, where hers was real-life trauma.

Or maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe I’m making this all up—like I said, I’ve never really known her. Maybe this is just one more way I’m living vicariously through her, seeing her abuse at the hands of her father with the twisted envy of an angst-ridden brat who’s never known real pain—I mean, seriously, how fucked up is that, though?

But however it was she dealt with it, I know her pain was real—is real—will be real, once it comes to how she deals with love in her later life. How could it not be?

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

You may think me a lonely person, but I’m damned if I ever admit to it. Yes, I spend all my days and nights locked inside my room without so much a bed as a mattress in the corner on the floor, a bar stool for a chair at my junk-covered desk and books stacked up on the floor. But need I therefore be lonely?

Then one day, I suddenly noticed the door in the far wall. It isn’t that it wasn’t there before, mind you, I just hadn’t really thought about it, about what it might mean, about where it might lead. I had written it off initially as a way to get from my room to my roommate’s, but acquainted as I now was with the approximate dimensions of the house as a whole, that now seemed unlikely. A closet, perhaps? I decided to investigate.

I opened the door–mind you, it took some effort to do so, and once the door was open… well, I’m not quite so sure you’ll believe me.

Behind the door, there stretched an endless tunnel.

As far as I can tell, this is no exaggeration. Being as I am, and not other, I entered to explore and set out with reckless abandon down this tunnel. On I marched through this endless darkness, having nothing better to do, and looking back occasionally to see how far I’d reached, to make sure I didn’t get lost.

Yet soon, I found no matter how far I adventured, the door I had come through was never all that far behind. I wondered, then, whether I really was getting anywhere, but, paying better attention, I noted the patterns of stone and moss and the occasional spatter of paint on the wall shifting their various dimensions and knew that something, at least, was changing. Was I really walking down at all, or was the tunnel walking down me?

Why was I walking down this tunnel? Was it idle curiosity that had driven me this far? Was it just that I needed to know why this endless tunnel separated my room from my roommate’s? Or was I just too bored to think of anything else to do?

And then, out of nowhere, a light appeared at the other end of the tunnel. I remembered, of course, the old joke about the light at the end of the tunnel being a train, but that didn’t concern me–after all, it wasn’t getting any closer to me like a train would, and besides, the door to my room was never very far away.

I wanted to know what there was at the end of the tunnel–of course I did–who wouldn’t?

But how much time was I willing to spend on this?

Well, what else am I going to do?

Sagittarius Rising

Leah lies in bed and peers through sleepy eyes at the cell-phone on the other side of the room. She wants it, but she doesn’t want to get up. She wants to stay all cozy and warm under the covers while she Facebooks and Netflixes her Saturday into oblivion.

I know what she wants. I understand her desires and the conflict, so I indulge her. I pull the phone by its center of gravity, lift it up and carry it through the intervening space until it rests in her hand. “Yay!” she croons by way of thanks, and that brief exclamation is all the thanks I need as I wrap myself back around her under the covers.

It took me a while to realize that she doesn’t know that I’m there. She thinks that I’m a part of her, something she can do with her mind, and that’s fine, I have thought that, too. When I first came to her and she discovered she could call on me to move things around invisibly, it took me a while to realize that I had some choice in the matter, so I can’t really blame her. She is good to me, gives me the attention I need, taking me out to play with a kind of clockwork spontaneity, but never abuses my services.

The first time, Leah was twelve years old. She was sitting on the toilet in a stall and realized the door wasn’t really closed, but she couldn’t reach the latch and she heard someone come in. Not in a position at that moment to get up and walk over to the latch, she found herself thinking “If only I could do it from here,” and I heard the thought and I thought “Well… why not?”

That first time, she wasn’t sure. She was grateful, but didn’t know to what, or whom. She couldn’t tell, until she had worked up the courage to try again.

“If you had a superpower,” she asked her best friend Penny, “what would it be?”

This was a mistake, considering how Penny knew about everything.

“Every zodiac sign has its own superpower,” she enlightened, and then she named them:

“Aries is super-strength; Taurus is invulnerability; Gemini is mind-control and illusions; Cancer is this weird, like, emotional control; Leo is control over energy; Virgo is matter-transmutation; Libra is telepathy, I guess?—Libra is weird, though; Scorpio is the death-touch, but it’s more like Entropy-control, and there are some really fun ways to use that, like applying Entropy to probability-against, to make things happen; Sagittarius is telekinesis—“

Sagittarius? Leah thought. But that wasn’t her sign…

“Capricorn is time-manipulation,” Penny continued, “Aquariuses are Psychic—” side-eye to her friend, though, who definitely wasn’t. “And Pisces?” which is what Penny was. “It’s supposed to be Empathy, but that’s lame, so I’m gonna go with oneiromancy: power over dreams!”

It bothered Leah to think that she’d somehow come by the wrong power. But when she did a little more research into it (“Mom, what was the exact minute I was born?”) she realized that her Ascendant was Sagittarius. “Aquarius sun,” she would say from now on, when asked her sign, “Sagittarius Rising.”

She never did it in public. Not yet, anyway. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust anyone close to her. She had ideas about secret government agencies wanting to capture her to experiment on her—or worse: to recruit her to do terrible things. But she knew that her parents or Penny, for example, would keep her secret. And it did make her think that maybe there was some possibility that everyone could do what she did, just kept it a secret, but she’d seen Penny try to keep a secret, for example, and it didn’t seem likely to her. She just didn’t want to tell them. Didn’t want to share her gift.

And that was fine with me. I appreciated having her all to myself, as it were. We had plenty of down-time together, practicing in ways that felt intimate. Every now and then, I would surprise her—I’d catch her thinking about a particular book in the back of her mind while she was in her room and I’d bring it to her and she would be surprised and think My subconscious must be able to use it without my direct control. It took me some time to realize that it frightened her—but the more it scared her, the more time she set aside to practise with me, to get me “under control.”

One time, in a geometry class, she was missing a compass and was expected to draw a perfect circle. I checked around to see who had one and make sure no one was looking, then fetched her one from nearby.

It was the first time I realized just how scared I could make her, and it gave me a glimpse of how much trouble I could get her into, even without meaning to. I never did that again.

I promise it wasn’t because I was bored or wanted attention. I really thought I was helping out.

But then came the boyfriend.

It wasn’t a new-kid-in-school, struck-by-lightning sort of falling in love. She’d actually known him for years—known who he was, at least, knowing his name, recognizing him from afar, knowing things about him he might not want other people to know and falling in love with him anyway. It was sweet, I suppose. I should have thought so, anyway. But for me, it was an inconvenience.

Time she spent with him was time she couldn’t spend alone, practising. With me. And much as she enjoyed sharing other sorts of intimate details with him, she still didn’t want to tell him about “what she could do”. The very thought made her nervous.

But didn’t she have to tell him? Didn’t he deserve to know?

Wasn’t he worthy of her secret?

I spent some time studying the motion of her hand when she held a pen before I realized it was much more useful to study the movement of the pen itself, the shifts in weight and balance. I had tried by then speaking to her mind, but for whatever reason, her mind couldn’t hear me, so I decided to write her a note. One night, after the boyfriend has surreptitiously climbed out the window, I gathered a paper and pen at the desk and I wrote out a simple note. It was in her own handwriting, but only because that was what I’d specifically studied. “Tell him,” said the note. And once she saw it, I picked up the note and added “Tell him what you can do.”

I hadn’t thoguht she could still be so frightened of me. Hadn’t she known I was there? Did she still think of me as some impersonal force, or some long-buried aspect of herself, pre-verbal, that she had to tame and keep quiet?

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice shaking. So I explained. It seemed odd this was the first time we’d ever really talked, after all the time we’d spent together, but it changed our relationship in ways I never thought it could. Before, it was like I’d been a pet she was training, but now that I had a mind of my own, now that we were speaking, exchanging opinions and ideas, there was so much more to us.

“But you still ought to tell the boyfriend,” I reminded her.

“Why?” She smiled. “Do you think he’ll be jealous?”

“It’ll open up a lot more possibilities,” I typed—don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before to use a computer. “And besides, it’s never fun to have secrets, not in the long run. Better to share. Have secrets together. I mean, look at you and me!”

It’s scary how we can so casually write our own doom.

He didn’t take it well. I figured it was jealousy—he wanted to be telekinetic, too—but Leah insisted that human beings don’t like things that they don’t understand or can’t explain—so maybe it was a good thing I’d kept myself secret from her for so long, given her a chance to grow accustomed to me before introducing myself.

But we still had the problem that now he knew.

“He won’t tell anyone,” she assured herself.

But he did. He told everyone.

“What?” Leah said when rumors of herself got back to her, “That’s so ridiculous—is that even a thing? Telekiwhatnow?”

For most people, that was enough to paint him as a bogus ex making up excuses and trying to discredit her. But it was Penny who cut through all that: “I can’t believe you told him!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m not an idiot, Leah! I know that it’s true! I’ve known for months now—“


“I’m your best friend, doofus! What, you think I wouldn’t notice? I just figured you weren’t ready to tell me—but then you go and tell him!”

I tried to imagine if I had told Penny I was conscious before I’d told Leah, and I think that made Leah understand.

“This can’t stay secret for long, though,” she reminded me. “Now that it’s out there, someone is going to figure out that it’s not bullshit.”

“And then the men in suits will come?” Men in suits was code, of course.

“We’ve got to be ready for them.”

So there was one silver lining, at least: we got to spend a lot more time practising together!


At first they really freaked me out.

I heard a friend talk about having a mouse living in her apartment she just couldn’t seem to get rid of. I’d be lying in bed trying to fall asleep and think about that every little noise I heard in my freaky old house. I thoguht about what it might do, diseases it might carry, but more than that, I thought about how it might feel if I woke up in the middle of the night to something wriggling under the covers—something not a part of me. Not human.

Then one day, I started hearing something specific.

It took me a while to figure out even where it was coming from, but when I finally heard enough of it to track, it was behind the bookcase. This kind of rustling, creaking noise that my brain kept translating as a squeak.

But I never did see a rodent in that place.

When I finally got enough of the big books off the bottom shelf, it damn near leaped out at me: a cockroach.

No. Not a cockroach, as I later found out—not technically, at least. It was enormous—almost the size of my thumb, I figured—but it wasn’t a cockroach. Cockroaches don’t fly. This was something called a waterbug.

I bludgeoned it to death with my shoe.

There were other things I caught in that little duplex I lived in. A couple of times, I came home to find a lizard flippity-flopping all through the cardboard boxes my frozen pizzas and Mountain Dew came in. I couldn’t bear to kill it—possibly because it was a vertebrate and I didn’t want blood everywhere or the tiny crack of bones—which makes me wonder what I would have done if I’d found a mouse.

One time, it was a snail. If you’ve never been disgusted in your life, try imagining a snail on the floor of your kitchen sucking a broken piece of uncooked spaghetti into its slimier recesses. I loaded that one onto a piece of cardboard Dr. Pepper twelve-pack container and brought it out into the slowly but steadily overgrowing backyard.

But the roaches.

I eventually came to know three kinds of insects. The full-grown waterbugs, the smaller spindly brown things—never did care to look up whether they were just some previous larval stage of the big ones—and then of course the itty-bitties. They each seemed to have their preferred habitats. The spindly ones shared the kitchen with the spiders that I never actually saw but for their webs. The spiders got the wide-open West end of the room while the spindlies conquered the counters. The itty-bitties seemed to prefer the bathroom. When I finally realized after two years that, yes, there was a medicine cabinet behind the mirror, I found droves of them there.

The waterbugs liked the bedrooms.

One night, for reasons I don’t care the remember, I slept on the spare mattress in the front bedroom that I had not yet converted into an office. I think I was reading, lying down, when I turned and saw one close enough to my face it might have been making a pass at me. By then I had roach-killer spray on-hand, but it took me a minute to get it, during which time the waterbug hid back in the corner, obliging me to toss the mattress across the room. I think that was the fourth one I killed.

The second and third had come as a pair. I’d been hearing that odd chirping sound again from the bathroom and thought I knew what it was this time. After washing my hands, I got the biggest book I could find that would still be easily wielded—somethign Mulisch, either The Discovery of Heaven or his nonfiction De compositie van de wereld—and chased it from my room out into the hall. Just dropping the book on it turned out not to be enough, so when the book moved, I stepped on it until I heard the crackign sound that had started to become familiar.

I breathed a sigh of relief then, but almost instantly another one came flying out of nowhere at me, an insect—an abnormally large one, but an insect nonetheless—trying to avenge its brother on the giant that had slain him.

That was the first one I got with my bare hands. I had to wash them again after that.

They were the vanguard. I think that even then, I knew it. Or thought I did. I used the knowledgeof their encroaching strategem as an excuse for leaving their bodies as they lay in the hallway. For many months. As a warning, I told myself.

Not that waterbugs were disturbing by their dead.

I sprayed every crevice with products that promised to make coated surfaces uninhabitable to pests. I stuffed powder into crannied nooks that promised to kill them slowly enough they’d track it back to their hovels and root out the whole nest. Then I heard about bombs. Cans of poison mist that would feel its way into cracks you’d never think of. But I lived in a duplex. “It’ll only chase them over to his side,” they told me, “and then they’d come back. Plus, it would poison the whole house for a weekend. You’d have to coordinate with him and both do it at the same time.” I suck at coordinating. I suck at talking to people.

I knew why they came to me. It wasn’t just my winning personality—well, no, actually, it was my personality. I’m lazy. I leave food out, forget to do the dishes in a timely fashion. I don’t like cleaning the toilet—I don’t even like wasting water by flushing when there’s no solid waste; and I never even bought a vacuum cleaner. They kept coming. More and more of them breeding in the walls, generations living and dying on my scraps and ineffectual traps. There were so many times when I thought to myself “this is it, I’ve had enough!” I never saw one inside the oven, but one time I saw a black speck on my pizza when I pulled it out—was that a spindly? An itty-bitty blistered in the heat? I never knew. I shouldn’t have taken the chance, but it was my last pizza that day, so I cut off the suspicious black spot and ate the rest. That should have been my call to arms.

I have a habit of opening cans of soda and not finishing them. One time, though, I raised a can of Coke Zero to my lips and something solid brushed my lips, something crunchy with appendages that could only be called spindly. I spat it out, poured the rest of that can down the drain. But did I change my habits? No.

I never had friends over. How could I? They were all over the living room and I had pretended for so long not to know how to get rid of them. I’d feel them brushing up my leg and at first, I would twitch and spasm, first flinging them off me and into the wall full-force, then pushing into whatever surface was nearest to kill them, but finally, I stared to change my thinking. I noted that I was still healthy in spite of them. I remembered that none of them had ever actually bitten me or hurt me in any noticeable physical way. So I let one of the waterbugs crawl up my sleeve. I tensed and trembled, fearful as he crested the cuff, but when she put her dainty feet on my wrist, I found myself releasing tension. “I’m sorry,” I whispered to this insect queen as she fluttered her wings. “I am sorry for killing your kind.”

I couldn’t tell if she cared one way or the other, but she seemed to nestle into my arm-hair and I blew a soft breeze over her head. I knew I should be disgusted, repulsed, but my laziness had left me weary of this endless war on nature. It was either do the dishes on time or live with the pests, and I had made my choice.