Sunday, May 15, 2016

"Do you feel alive?" he asked me.

Last night I went to a Rocket Summer concert. This post is not about that concert, but about a realization of mine that concert brought about.

You see, The Rocket Summer has been one of my all-time favorite artists for almost 13 years now--literally half of my life. So when I found out he (The Rocket Summer is basically just one dude, so "he" not "they") was performing just down the street from my apartment, on a Saturday when I would be all alone with nothing to do ... the obvious course of action would be to go, right? Buy tickets in advance, invite all your friends, and go rock all night at the front of the stage?

So why did I almost stay home? Why did I have to force myself to go?

When I first fell in love with this band's music, I was what you would call an introvert with extrovert tendencies. You know those terms? Basically "introvert" = shy, antisocial; "extrovert" = outgoing, expressive. So in high school I was an introvert--maybe due to my insatiable love for books and my struggle with bullying--but when put in a social setting I became the life of the party. Like some weird shy-guy-turned-class-clown version of the Hulk.

But certain life experiences exorcised my inner extrovert. Now, at 25, I find myself experiencing social anxiety for the first time. Even my closest friends know seeing me in public is like that blurry photo of Sasquatch. If it weren't for my wife, I'd probably grow an unruly beard, fear sunlight, and forget who's currently President.

I've always contented myself with my current life choices by thinking that this is just what I prefer. I love books, I love writing, I love solitude, and if there's something crazy like traveling the world I've always wanted to do? Meh, I can do that later. Those are just "daydreams."

But then I forced myself to put on shoes and walk down the street to a seedy concert venue. I ordered a Jack and Coke, sat at the bar, and watched one of my musical heroes pour his heart out on the keyboard. I talked to a few drunk people and one geriatric gentleman that was there with his daughter. I helped one drunk lady keep her balance. I joined the crowd in a circle around Bryce Avery (aka The Rocket Summer) on the concert floor in one of the most intimate concert experiences I've been a part of.

And I realized. I had stepped out of my current comfort zone ... and I felt alive.

Not everything that night went as expected. Not all of it was great. But that was OK. I had put myself out there and was obtaining one of those "life experiences" I'd heard tell about.

Picture it: I'm at the bar, sipping my drink, watching this amazing performer--a guy who used the same producer, the same Santa Monica studio, as I did once; a guy performing on the same stage that I did once; a realization that spiked a This-could-be-me thought of brief arrogance. Suddenly, this guy dismisses his band from the stage and begins recording loops--drum kit, guitar, bass, keyboard, beatbox, gang vox--until an intricate accompaniment loop is washing over the crowd. Then, over the swell of music, he speaks to the crowd, but he's really speaking to me:

"My new album is called Zoetic, which means 'of or relating to life: living, vital.' And that's what we're doing here, together. We're living alive. We're coming alive."

Then he walks down from the stage and invites the crowd to surround him, and we all sing a simple chorus over and over, screaming at the top of our lungs:

"Come alive, come alive, come alive!"

And later on, during the encore, he asks the crowd, "Do you feel alive?"

And I do. I decide I need this more. I promise the ice melting at the bottom of my drink that I'll come alive. I'm going to go back to that Kung Fu class I loved so much. I'll play music more. Go out with friends. See more concerts.

Travel the world. First up: Scotland? India?

I realize I've spent the last 3 years stuck in the first act of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Now, don't misinterpret my words and think that I'm saying it's bad to be an introvert, or that I'm going to try to become an extrovert. No. What I'm saying is, forget the terminology. There's so much out there. Even if you think you prefer curling up to a good book at home, or you like your small town ... Do you feel alive? Do you want to feel alive?

So do it. Come alive. Try something new. Something you secretly have always wondered about. Go eat squid, skydive, learn Japanese, something. Challenge yourself.

Or don't. This post isn't meant to be preachy. It's meant to explain my small bit of existentialist freak-out from last night. To explain for myself, and if you get anything out of it, then that's beautiful.

Find your definition of "zoetic." And live it.

"Do you feel alive?" he asked me.

I do. Or I did. Or ... Let's just say that I've learned to look for the zoetic. And I fully intend to keep finding it and to come alive.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Step 10,000: Colla Voce

This is a serialized writing prompt, explained here: 7 Steps for the Lonely Writer.

Step Ten Thousand. Colla Voce.

The world had not been given back its color, was still the washed-out gray of neither day nor night. But she was herself the image of color. She embodied light. She embodied Life. She did not climb down from the wall, but instead spoke to him from atop it, smiling down at him with her radiance.
     Have you come to understand? she asked.
     He hesitated. He did not want to disappoint her. Had he missed something? He still did not know what he was supposed to come to understand.
     He told her so. He could not lie. Not to her.
     And, graciously almost, she did not seem upset over his answer.
     Perhaps, she said, you spent too much of your journey wondering what you were meant to understand, and not enough simply observing.
     He did not respond, hoping she would say more. He realized her humming, the distant singing he had heard when Time had first frozen, still floated on the air all around him, despite her vocal chords not currently vibrating with song. Perhaps she had sent the song into the sky and it flew about like a bird.
     Virgil tells me you did not linger at the party, she said.
     She laughed. Your companion, she said.
     Something wet touched his foot, sandpaper-rough yet pleasant. He looked down to find the cat licking him, purring with affection.
     Virgil? he asked it.
     It paused from its rasping licks and blinked its large eyes at him. 

    He laughed.
    Virgil also tells me, she said as the cat resumed its lapping of his skin, that you found yourself among the giants’ worship, but you exited their valley with as much impunity as at the party.
    Was I meant to stay? he asked, thinking impunity was a curious choice of phrase.
    She laughed again. No, she said. Neither were you meant to entertain the beliefs of the conspirators. You were not meant to be caught up by one thing, but rather to view it all from an equal distance.
    What was this all for? he blurted out, frustrated that he still did not understand.
    Perhaps, she said, it is best that you see things from my perspective.
    And she reached down from her perch, proffering her hand for him to hold. He grasped her slender fingers, her smooth palm, and was elated by her creamy skin. She made to pull him up and he placed a foot against the abrasive wall, and in this way she helped him walk up the side of the wall to stand beside her.
    So this is the “edge of the world,” he said.
    She laughed a third time, and her laugh echoed around them, cutting off the humming sound of her singing disembodied voice once and for all. The world’s color burst through the gray like paint splattered on a canvas.
    Tears re-welled themselves on the brims of his eyelids.
    It’s... His voice faltered. He meant to say “beautiful,” but it did nothing to convey what lay before them.
    It’s called “the ocean,” she said.
    The ocean, he repeated, tasting the words on his tongue.
    Something suddenly occurred to him and he wished it hadn’t.
    You’ve kept this from them, he said. The conspirators. You’ve kept the ocean from them.
    She smiled sadly, shaking her head, never taking her eyes from the ocean’s horizon.
    Never, she said. They only see what they want to see.
    You mean, he said, that they’ve seen the ocean?
    I don’t understand, he said.
    Don’t you?
    Explain, he demanded. And then, in a softer voice: Please.
    She sighed. The conspirators, she said, are living a life of mezzo forte, though they claim that they are being denied fortissimo.
    He blinked at her, uncomprehending.
    These are musical terms, you must understand, she continued. An array of Italian words used to describe a musician’s dynamics. A musician’s dynamics are simply how loud or quiet they play a section of music. But dynamics are so much more powerful when next to one another.
    He stayed quiet, waiting for her to continue.
    Consider, she said, if a cellist bows a sonata pianissimo, from start to finish. This is the quietest of dynamics, meant to express tenderness and fragility, but if it is all the listener hears, how are they to gauge its true expression? When all is quiet, nothing is truly quiet. You must, in order to appreciate the delicacy of pianissimo, compare it to fortissimo. Staccato is peckish without tenuto, without the smooth melt of legato.
    She finally broke her gaze from the ocean and turned to look him in the eyes. He was surprised to find that she was crying... yet still smiling.
    Sforzando! she said abruptly, making him jump. Molto diminuendo!
    He had never seen this side of her. She seemed manic. She threw these words at him with an air of desperation. And so he did his best to understand. He turned back to the ocean.
    When you left me, he said to the ocean and to her, it felt as if all the color in the world left with you. With your dress. With your smile. This wall we’re standing upon, it stretched forever, just... dead stone. Gray. I hated it.
    He sensed her nod slowly by his side, and she took his hand again. His heart skipped a beat.
    And do you think, she said, that the wall would have seemed so unpleasant if you hadn’t had me to compare it with?
    He shook his head wordlessly, and the tears finally fell.

    And, therefore, on the opposite end of this vast spectrum, she said, the color of my dress and the brightness of my smile might not have left such an impression of happiness upon you without that of the wall to compare them with.
    Yes, he whispered.
    Some, she said, call this “opposition in all things.” But I find that crass. Misleading. A tidy scripture of ignorance, more about all that Heaven-and-Hell, Jesus-and-Lucifer nonsense than about actual Life. But I cannot deny that they are on to something. Let us, instead, take a page from Tchaikovsky and call it dynamics.
    He considered her words for a moment and said, So these ten thousand steps. You knew they would take me to places unpleasant. To the partiers, to your statue, to the conspirators. And... did you know of the giants?
    I did, she whispered.
    What exactly were they? he asked.
    He waited for more, but that was all she had to say about the beasts that were born from the earth. He supposed not all things came wrapped in tidy bows of explanation.
    So all this was meant to help me understand... the ocean?
    Not exactly, she responded. Think of the ocean as a metaphor. You and I, we can leave right now. You see that sailboat down by the shore?
    It’s meant for us. And Virgil, if Virgil so chooses.
    His laughter was hesitant this time.
    But I had to be sure, she said. If you and I choose to leave this land, together, forever, there’s no coming back. And the dynamics of our relationship, the dynamics we may sing to one another, one-on-one at sea, might seem like a lot. But I needed you to understand that there are bigger things.
    Like giants? he asked.
    Like love, she said.
    She rested her head upon his shoulder, her fingers still knitted with his, and he could smell her hair, tainted by the salty breeze.
    I wish you had told me, he finally said.
    He felt her stiffen. How was I to explain something such as this?
    With your words, he said. But this way... those ten thousand steps, Virgil, the giants, the partiers... Somehow I find it hard not to view it all as some sort of... test.
    She lifted her head from his shoulder, looked at him.
    No, she said. Please try to understand—
    You’ve said that already, he interrupted.
    And are you? Trying?
    Yes, he said.
    She paused, holding his eyes in her own, holding his hand in her own.
    I will be at the sailboat, she whispered. Please try—
    To understand? he said, unable to hide the desultory tone of his voice.
    Without warning she stepped into him, and he found himself embracing her, something he had dreamt of for far too long. She was as warm as the custard of her dress.
    Please, she whispered once more. Please know that I was not trying to hurt you. I was trying to... to...
I have seen people fall apart for things that seem so trivial to me after living this life for so long—a hundred hundred lives, ten thousand—and I could not bring myself to see the same happen to us. I needed you to—
    To understand, he said, and this time it was not a question.
    Yes, she said.
    You needed me to understand... dynamics?
    Yes, she said, laughing softly, sadly. Yes. In a way.
    After some time, she pulled away and left him on the wall. He sat on its rough lip and watched the ocean, watched her, in her yellow dress, pick her steps down to the shore and to a sailboat with white sails furled.
    He thought of it all, in dynamics. Crescendos, decrescendos. The sun, the night, the fog, the clouds. The giants, the conspirators, their bandages, the discarded hills. The partiers, the pop! and hisss! of beer, the crunch! of a broken nose. The humming melody flitting about like a lark, the soft and insistent Mew!
    He sat listening to the music, and poco a poco he began to understand.

The End.


Step 1. Ten Thousand Steps.
Step 2. A Companion.
Step 3. A Drunken Detour.
Step 4. The Hills Have Eyes.
Step 5. Her Graven Image.
Step 6. The Earth, Flattened.
Step 7. Back to the Beginning.
Step 10,000. Colla Voce.  

Step 7: Back to the Beginning

This is a serialized writing prompt, explained here: 7 Steps for the Lonely Writer.

Today's prompt is: BACKWARDS!
Step Seven. Back to the Beginning.
Time crashed to a standstill.
     The very air seemed to solidify, and his body was trapped as if inside some intangible glacier.
     The conspirators froze. Their limbs stiffened against him.
     The cat became a statue, a quaint portrait of a cobalt-gray kitty sitting on a grass-green lawn.
    The greens washed away. The sky blanched. The sun dimmed. All color seeped into oblivion—everything down to the cobalt in the cat’s suddenly-lackluster coat.
     The world was Time in a bottle, stoppered. He couldn’t move. Even the perspiration glistening down his brow had stopped in its tracks.
     He did not know how long this nothingness prevailed. Seconds and hours passed in tandem. His mind had not escaped reality’s molasses effect. He could no longer process his own thoughts. All that stood out against the vast blankness of his faculties was a number, stripped of all meaning: TEN THOUSAND. He stared out across the still landscape and all he could do was think that number, over and over.
     The first change in this frozen tableau was a sound. It came to him from the abyss imperceptibly—one moment, silence; the next, this sound. It was...
     A voice.
     Her voice.
     She sang, and it was the most beautiful melody he had ever heard. Her voice hummed wordlessly, and for some reason he intuited that she was singing the world into motion once more.
     Time trickled back with treacly viscosity, one grain of sand at a time. He felt his left foot push off the grass, felt his head rock forward, felt it connect with the bridge of a nose...
     Wait. Something was wrong.
     Something is wrong, he said. At least, he tried to say Something is wrong. But the words fell out of his lips in foreign vowels and clipped consonants. They weren’t right.
     What was happening?
     The cat was getting further away, and yet it did not move from where it sat—the conspirators had reversed their direction, pulling him backward. Time sped up, the cat receded faster, and limbs pulled at his body, words screamed themselves from his lips—alien sounds, not words—and from the lips of the conspirators.
     Woo-yeem, said the cat.
     “Woo-yeem”? he thought. What the hell was “Woo-yeem”?
     And suddenly it clicked.
     He was being pulled backward—away from the pits, thankfully; he was reliving things he had already lived. He had head-butted the woman’s nose again, but her nose hadn’t spurted crimson; it had, in fact, absorbed the blood like a sponge, and now her nose was perfectly whole, as if nothing had ever happened. Because, in a way, it never had. It had been undone, like threads in a cross-stitch of Time.
     And “Woo-yeem,” of course, was Mew in reverse, as if the cat’s meow was one of those vinyls with hidden meanings if spun the other way.
     This was the work of that humming melody—of her humming melody.
     She was singing Time in reverse.
     Time was flowing backward.
     He had no control over his body. He had read as a child that time-travel, if ever made possible, would be pointless—it was impossible to change the course of events, for if you did, the change would have already happened, and you would have already felt its effects in the present; Time, therefore, was a Homo sapien construct used as a measurement of something over which we hold no actual control. And that was how this felt, this rewinding of Time. He felt helpless against whatever it was that controlled it all—her voice, humming, he supposed—and resigned himself to relive recent events in reverse chronological order with an all-consuming sense of impotency.
     Counterclockwise, he moved.
     The conspirators were back to their huddle, once again ignorant of the man walking toward them who had seen her just beyond the “world’s edge”—only now he walked away, not toward, his legs backpedaling strangely; and now he observed something new about the conspirators. Had he simply not noticed before, or were their bandages soaked through even more now than when he first met them? It looked to him, before his backward-walking put them out of sight behind the hills, as if the white gauze wraps were practically rotting off their bodies, too slick with blood and puss to cling to the wounds.
     Now he retraced his steps through the endless expanse of hills, rolling, rolling, rolling.
     Now he looked over his shoulder at the back of her statue, and now he walked in reverse once more into the valley, and now her gargantuan statue stood before him, and—
     He gasped—or, at least, he tried to; even his lungs weren’t free of Time’s grasp. All he could do was stare at the giants surrounding her monument. The giants weren’t praising her stone any longer. They lay prostrate, their bodies intertwined with one another due to their sheer numbers, and he could see that they were dead. The giants’ corpses were rotted away as if they had simply stood at her monolithic feet for days, weeks, months, wasting away, and then Time had had its way with their bodies for years after that. Thick rib bones poked from chest cavities, eyes sagged in sockets, and these once-bulky, barrel-chested monsters now resembled matchstick marionettes whose strings Time severed.
     This isn’t a true reversal of Time, he realized. His body flowed retrograde, true, but the things around him... they were in the future. He was seeing what would become of them.
     This revelation was followed by another: the cat was nowhere to be seen.
     By now he had left the valley, and his body was mimicking a desperate sprint—like the sprinting he’d done to escape the stampeding giants, except in an awkward backward galumph that defied natural physics. But now he ran alone, for the giants that had originally precipitated this frantic sprint were currently decomposing on the valley floor.
     He was suddenly very afraid of what he would see when he reached the partiers’ bonfire, remembering what the cat had said: I’ve seen where they’re headed, and they’ll regret tonight for years. I don’t envy them their morning.
     And here they were. The first thing that caught his attention was not the carnage but the fire, still roaring at an impressive height, its strange colorless flames dancing beneath a sky that was no longer day or night.
     Then he saw the bodies, and he wanted to cry out but could not.
     They weren’t dead, which was perhaps the worst part. The partiers lay scattered about the remnants of their night of reckless abandon, screaming and moaning and sobbing.
     He could imagine perfectly what had happened after the party of the previous night—for yes, he was seeing their immediate future, not the distant future of the withered-giant graveyard—and his theory was only confirmed by the clods of broken earth surrounding them. The giants had burst from their earthen hillock wombs all across the land, and here, at the partiers’ bonfire, was no exception. He could almost see the stampede of giants trample through the party like a herd of elephants, could almost hear the drunken revelers’ nonsensical shouts of horror.
     He wished they hadn’t survived. That would have been a small mercy.
     The partiers had woken the following morning with wounds much more serious than their usual hangovers. The ginger-bearded man, for example, was now moaning and hiccoughing over his own legs, which had both been thoroughly trampled and had discarded their contents like a tube of toothpaste. The man’s tent-sized jersey dripped with blood and gore.
     He could not bring himself to hone in on the details of the other partiers. He attempted to close his eyes against the atrocities before him, found he could not, and instead resigned himself to Time’s insistence that he walk away in reverse.
     His revulsion over the things he had seen, the least of which was not the aftermath of the party, obscured his memory of his own timeline. He did not realize that he was approaching the wall until his body finally turned around, his arm reached out, and he was touching it. The wall’s skin, just barely brushing the skin of his fingertips, felt awfully rough. Abrasive. His arm dropped back to his side.
     The stone wall filled most of his sight, its gray a perfect description of the dull monochrome Time imposed on the world in this backward adventure.
     His eyelids squeezed shut, and a salty wetness climbed his cheeks. Tears forced themselves back into his tear ducts. His eyes opened, then closed again, then opened again, in a rapid blink against the wind rushing from his face.
     A swatch of yellow. Bright yet soft, warm. Like custard.
     And suddenly Time released its prisoner, and he could breathe in his own circulatory fashion, could blink by himself, could move his own limbs.
     He looked up and he saw a woman.
     You kept your promise, she said.
     Always, he whispered.

To be concluded...
Step 1. Ten Thousand Steps.
Step 2. A Companion.
Step 3. A Drunken Detour.
Step 4. The Hills Have Eyes.
Step 5. Her Graven Image.
Step 6. The Earth, Flattened.
Step 7. Back to the Beginning.
Step 10,000. Colla Voce.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Step 6: The Earth, Flattened

This is a serialized writing prompt, explained here: 7 Steps for the Lonely Writer.  
Today's prompt is: CONSPIRACY THEORIES.
Step Six. The Earth, Flattened.

It was on step nine thousand exactly that he joined the cat on the other side of the giants’ valley.
    He looked back. Even from behind, her statue was so lifelike he wanted to stop and call out to her. Beautiful, he muttered, more to himself than to the cat.
     I suppose, replied the cat with a hint of boredom in its voice. But you do not want to join the giants. Wasting their lives fawning over the image of a woman... They are no better off than the partiers whose bonfire we passed.
     He looked away from her statue and down to the cat, which had already padded off. He had given up trying to decipher all the enigmas this feline spoke.
     He stepped away from the valley, away from her.
     Nine thousand, one. Nine thousand, two. Nine thousand, three...
     The clouds were but a memory, chased away, perhaps, by the giants; now the sun, bright and brazen, was unforgiving. It rose to its place in the sky impossibly fast, so it was no longer in his eyes—but it was oppressing all the same.
     Nine thousand, five hundred, twenty-seven. Nine thousand, five hundred, twenty-eight.
     Time followed the sun’s swift trajectory and passed like water through a sieve. The numbers, the steps, they all blurred together and sped up and skipped around and—
     Nine thousand, five hundred, twenty-seven. Nine thousand, five hundred, twenty-eight—
     Was his mind playing tricks on him? Or had he miscounted?
     He did not care.
     The rolling hills on this side of the valley were still intact, obscuring what lay ahead, and he wondered if these also contained hibernating giants. If he placed his hand on one’s grassy surface, would he feel it breathing? Would he feel its heartbeat?
     As he followed the cat around a bend in the path, he saw something on the other side. He squinted in the harsh sunlight. A crowd of people, no larger than the group of partiers, but this one seemed subdued—and none of them looked intoxicated, thankfully. They huddled together, their heads bowed and practically knocking into each other, like they were swapping gossip and paranoid of eavesdroppers. Which he supposed he was.
     As he and the cat approached them, their whispering floated to him on the still air; it was as heated and harsh as the sun, more hisses than whispers. One of the group noticed him and pointedly shushed the group. They turned to him as one.
     The one who had spotted him, a weaselly man with ferrety eyes, looked him up and down with suspicion and said, “Where’d you come from?” and again before he could answer, “How much did you hear?”
     The entire group shared a similar slightness in build, almost malnourished, sickly, and they all wore the same strange white cloth wrapped around their bodies like gauze. He noticed blotches of red seeping through bits of the fabric; maybe they were bandages. The entire group stared at him, sniffed at him, shifty and distrustful.
     I came from the wall, he said.
     “The wall?” repeated the weaselly man with ferrety eyes. He seemed to be their spokesman. “You came from the wall?”
     Yes, he nodded.
     At this, the weaselly man must have believed him, for his eyes opened from their constant squinting, in amazement, and utter shock was writ on his face. “Then...” he sputtered, glancing conspiratorially at his companions, “then you must have seen it!”
     The wall? he asked, wondering where the cat had gone off to.
     The group snickered amongst themselves, a bit too patronizing for his taste. The weaselly man said, “No, no, not the bloody wall! You’ve seen it.” The man looked about theatrically. “The edge of the world.”
     Excuse me? said he.
     “The edge of the world, the edge of the world, the world’s edge,” the group chanted excitedly amongst themselves. The weaselly man skittered over to him and nudged him over to the rest, inviting him into their huddle; he flinched, not wanting to be touched by someone whose skin weeped from countless wounds, not caring that they were bandaged. “The edge of the world,” the man said, grinning madly, “is just beyond that wall, son.”
     He stared around in disbelief for a moment, wondering if he’d rather be accosted by the partiers than by this crowd. Then, taking in their eager yet earnest faces, his judgments fell away. Who was he to say they were wrong? All he’d seen from the opposite side of the wall was the flick of her yellow dress, and hadn’t he believed giants were a myth only hours before? Anything, he supposed, no matter how absurd, could be possible. Couldn’t it?
     He smiled kindly at the people surrounding him, and they beamed back.
     “Did you see it, son?” the weaselly man asked him.
     I’m not sure, he responded.
     This did not arrest their enthusiasm. “Tell us,” the man said—practically sang it—“tell us exactly what you saw beyond the wall.”
     Well, he began. He wondered again where the cat had gone off to, and if he should follow it, if he was wasting precious time. I saw, he said, just above the wall... I saw her go over the wall. Yes, I saw her climb the wall and I saw her dress disappear over it.
     He smiled at them, expecting excitement, but their faces fell.
     “Her?” asked the man, echoed by many of his companions: “Her?” “Her?” “Her?
     Yes, her, he said. You know, the woman whose statue—
     “You... know... her?” the man seethed, his cheeks caving in and blowing out like bellows. The man was furious, and he saw that the man’s companions were as well.
     He backed up. Yes, he said, almost defiantly. What’s wrong with—
     “She keeps the truth from the world, boy!” said the man, advancing on him. “She doesn’t want us to know what’s really out there! She is our enemy—and so are you!
     As he backed further away, he heard a distant Mew! from behind the conspirators and knew that was his cue to run.
     “Get him!” screamed the mob.
     He ran. And he counted.
     He yelled, Nine thousand, nine hundred, ninety-one! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine!—
     He cycled his feet in the air, desperate to make contact with the ground, to scream out: Ten thousand! But the conspirators had caught him, had lifted him by the arms, and he was pumping his legs in futility. He saw the cat sitting on its haunches just ten yards away, watching as if they were performing some avant-garde ballet. He called out, Help, cat! and for the first time realized he did not know its name, did not even know its sex.
     Mew, it replied, and that was all. He would find no help from his feline companion.
     “To the pits!” bellowed the weaselly man with ferrety eyes, and the others chanted their approval.
     The pits did not sound like a place he wanted to go.
     He fought his captors with renewed vigor, rocking his body against their grip until he swung like an awkward pendulum. He kicked out, not at the ground this time, but at the shins of the nearest conspirators. His exertions were rewarded with shouts of pain.
     Let me go! he screamed. LET ME FREE!
     He did not let up his struggling. Relentless he was, kicking and punching and swinging and screaming. His vision burst into stars when he managed to connect his head with a woman’s nose with a satisfying crunch!
     And finally he was free. He felt his left side, the side on which the woman whose nose he broke stood, slip through the conspirators’ clutches—just barely, mere inches, but it was enough. He kicked his left foot down and it slapped audibly onto the springy grass.
     No sooner had the words parted his lips than his entire world ground to a halt.

To be continued...
Step 1. Ten Thousand Steps.
Step 2. A Companion.
Step 3. A Drunken Detour.
Step 4. The Hills Have Eyes.
Step 5. Her Graven Image.
Step 6. The Earth, Flattened.
Step 7. Back to the Beginning.
Step 10,000. Colla Voce. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Step 5: Her Graven Image

This is a serialized writing prompt, explained here: 7 Steps for the Lonely Writer.   

Today's prompt is: FAME.
Step Five. Her Graven Image.
He ran.
    The cat had disappeared in the fog. He didn’t know where he was going, only that he couldn’t change course. He was caught within the rumbling walls of a stampede. The giants—he didn’t know how many; innumerable, it seemed—had been birthed from the very hills that had served as a landscape until now. Now the horizon stretched flat, loose folds of discarded earthy wombs strewn about as if the hills had simply deflated.
    So now he was trapped following a direction dictated by a stampede of countless skyscraping monsters. And even if the cat called to him with its signature Mew! it would be drowned out by the giants’ thundering footfalls.
    He did not know how long they ran. But it did not feel long before the sun began to rise. It peeked above the horizon without warning, spearing the giants’ eyes with its rays, and they let out a collective guttural moan. But they did not stop running, so he did not stop either.
    Soon it was clear that the giants ahead of him had come to a collective halt. He slowed down with the rest of them and suddenly found himself hemmed in to a gigantic flock of giants. Now, with the sun up and the giants stationary, he was able to get his first detailed glimpse of these rolling hills come to life.
    Each one stood seven stories tall, so that he barely reached their calves. Their craggy skin was caked in earth and clumps of grass like a recently-plowed lawn. They wore no clothes, but their uncleanliness obscured their sex, and they were packed so tightly together he could not discern their expressions. They stood hauntingly still, their stillness incongruous after their violent excursion from the hills, and he weaved through the stationary feet in order to see why they had stopped.
    Eventually, he came to the front of the herd. He stood at the lip of a deep valley that plunged about a mile into the earth. This was what the giants stared into, transfixed.
    The valley was plain, an empty expanse of mossy earth except for a stone figure standing in its center. A statue ten times larger than the giants, weathered and worn, but its identity was unmistakable to him. He felt as if the wind had been knocked from his chest.
    It was her.
    Before he could contemplate these new implications—Was this what she had meant? Had he reached ten thousand steps already?—the giants stepped forward together, into the valley. He was caught unawares and swept onto the broad foot of one giant; he grabbed fistfuls of tough grass—was that its body hair?—and hung on for dear life. Butterflies burst in his stomach with every swing forward and bones jarred together with every stomp to the ground.
    They reached her mammoth idol in this manner in mere minutes.
    He wished he’d stayed at the valley’s entrance. Now, literally at her feet, he could only see hewn boulders of stone that he guessed were her toes. He could not see her body, nor her beautiful face. But his view of her from the valley’s entrance was etched clearly in his mind. How could a lifeless gray rock seem to emanate so much color?
    A speck of gray detached itself from the stone above and landed on his lap, startling him.
    Mew, said the cat. Its claws protracted themselves into his legs and it purred, rubbing its face against his hand.
    It likes me, he realized.
    Why is this here? he asked the cat.
    Not pausing from its affections, it said, You weren’t aware of her... infamy?
    Infamy? he repeated.
    Wrong word, I suppose. Would fame be more to your liking? God-like?
    He did not respond.
    I do not mean to offend, human. I’m only here to help.
    Help, how? Help me to understand? Help me to see her again?
    Ah, that would be telling, it purred.
    But what does this mean? These giants, this statue—
    Don’t forget the party.
    Yes, the party, too. I don’t understand.
    The cat sighed. I can see that. What’s the count?
    The count?
    The count, it repeated tetchily. How many steps?
    Oh! he gasped. I’ve lost count.
    You were chased by giants. That’s gotta be worth a few thousand, wouldn’t you think? And you hitchhiked your way down here, so we don’t have to count that, unless you want to be technical and say it took the giant a few dozen steps to get you here.
    So..., he said.
    The cat stared at him expectantly.
    So, he said, tallying numbers in his head, I’m somewhere around eight thousand?
    Sounds good to me. Come on.
    And the cat was off. 

To be continued...
Step 1. Ten Thousand Steps.
Step 2. A Companion.
Step 3. A Drunken Detour.
Step 4. The Hills Have Eyes.
Step 5. Her Graven Image.
Step 6. The Earth, Flattened.
Step 7. Back to the Beginning.

Step 10,000. Colla Voce. 

Step 4: The Hills Have Eyes

This is a serialized writing prompt, explained here: 7 Steps for the Lonely Writer.

Today's prompt is: MONSTERS. 

Step Four. The Hills Have Eyes.
The giants stirred from their slumber.
    What was that? he called.
    A noise, the cat called back without stopping.
    Yes, but of what? he called again, following.
    The cat halted a hundred steps ahead and stared at him. What’s the difference? God, I thought I was the pussycat, it mewed sardonically.
    He stopped too and matched the cat’s glare. They stood ninety-three steps apart now, between rows of rolling hills from which he was positive he had heard a rumbling noise. And this cat was taunting him. Why should he follow it?
    If she sent you, he called to the cat, then you must know. Why I’m here, where I’m going. How is this supposed to make me understand? She said I would understand with each step. I’m stepping. I’m counting. I’m keeping my promise. What am I supposed to understand?
    He fell silent, panting in the night air; he almost missed the warmth of the drunken partiers’ bonfire. The cat just watched him in silence.
    Then it said, Are you finished?
    He sighed. Yes.
    Good. Keep counting. It turned back to its path, paused, and mewed over its shoulder, Or don’t.
    He sighed again, stepped forward.
    Three thousand, nine hundred, ninety-nine. Four thousand.
    He paused. There it was again, the rumble. He could feel it in his feet. But the cat didn’t stop, so he carried on as well: Four thousand, one. Four thousand, two. Four thousand—
    He kept his eyes on the cat, less so he’d know where to go and more to see if it would finally react to the unmistakable noise. Because the noise was growing.
    Now he could see it along with feel it, hear it. The hills surrounding him were rolling, actually rolling. This couldn’t be normal. He ran to catch up with the cat, shouting out his steps as he went—Four thousand, seven! Four thousand, eight! Four thousand, nine!
    It was almost vindicating to see that the cat indeed couldn’t ignore the rumbling any longer, that it was in fact peering skittishly about the landscape, its pupils dilating further with every RUMMMBLE.
    Will you tell me what it is? he asked.
    The cat seemed to consider this for a moment before stating in measured monotone, The hills have skin.
    The hills have—what?
    You mean the hills are... alive?
    I thought that was obvious.
    He didn’t know how to respond to this.
    The hills, the cat went on matter-of-factly, must be restless. They’re rolling—
    —a bit more than usual
, it finished.
    Just as the most recent rumbling grew beyond comprehension—He imagined this must be what entire continents sounded like when ripping from their moorings to secede from Pangaea—the air was rent with a tearing sound like none he had ever heard. An image rose unbidden to his mind of claws, much longer and sharper than his companion’s, tearing into flesh, sinew, tendon.
    The cat’s reaction was immediate. It shot forward like a cork from a bottle, hissing, Run!
    He ran.
    The tearing and the ripping was ever present, pressing itself on his eardrums. The rumbling shook his world from stern to bow, like that of an earthquake. He could see things, towering things, monstrous things, rising in his peripherals, in the dark. They were bursting from the hills and from the fog hugging the grass, ripping the hills’ skin from their monstrous bodies like embryonic sacks.
    As the monsters rose from the fog, a realization rose from the fog of his mind:
    The hills. They weren’t hills at all. And they certainly weren’t “fallen giants.”
    They were sleeping giants.
    Sleeping giants that had now awoken.
    Five thousand. Five thousand, one.

To be continued...


Step 1. Ten Thousand Steps.
Step 2. A Companion.
Step 3. A Drunken Detour.
Step 4. The Hills Have Eyes.
Step 5. Her Graven Image.
Step 6. The Earth, Flattened.
Step 7. Back to the Beginning.
Step 10,000. Colla Voce. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Step 3: A Drunken Detour

This is a serialized writing prompt, explained here: 7 Steps for the Lonely Writer

Today's prompt is: A FRIDAY NIGHT GONE BAD.
Step Three. A Drunken Detour. 
The cat was fast, already far ahead, a ball of gray hovering in the gloom, bouncing between the fallen giants. He was panting under his breath—Two thousand, seven hundred, one. Two thousand, seven hundred, two.—and it was all he could do not to trip on the slick tufts of grass, which were becoming unruly. Back where they met the wall they stood short and manicured; now they were long and tangled, with dead patches every so often.
    And it had become dark.
    Not long after the sun went down—at his back, mercifully—the grass had become slick with dew and the cat had become almost impossible to spot. If it weren’t for the occasional Mew! in the distance, he would have been lost two hundred steps previous.
    But just then—that wasn’t a Mew. That was a new sound coming from ahead. What was that? It sounded like...
    Two thousand, seven hundred, thirty-three. Two thousand, seven hundred...
    It sounded like voices, like... cheering.
    Hoping he wasn’t veering too far off the cat’s apparently predetermined path, he threw caution to the wind—for there was a wind tonight, and it began to make him shiver—and followed the new noise. Cheering. Jeering? The crackle of a fire—and there was the tell-tale glow, dancing on the backside of the fallen giant he now circled. Shouts. Catcalls.
    The noise broke over him like a wave, explosive in the silence of the surrounding hills, and he found himself in the middle of a party.
    “Hey, motherfucker! You bring the hookers an’ blow?”
    He didn’t reply, couldn’t, he was so stunned that someone was addressing him in such a way. The speaker was a robust man, almost a giant himself, in a jersey that hung over his large frame like a circus tent. The man leaned into his personal space before he could react and suddenly he was smelling strong spirits, still glistening in sloppy strands of the man’s ginger beard.
    “Ahhhhhhhh, I’m jus’ fuckin’ with ya.” The man slung one arm around his shoulders and yelled to the crowd, “Get this fucker a beer an’ a blowjob, in that order! Haaaaaa!”
    The rest of the crowd cheered and laughed with the man, calling out similarly profane streams of nonsense.
    He had walked right into a party, and the cat was nowhere to be seen. Where had these people come from? They were all equally inebriated, knocking into each other like bowling pins around what appeared to be a bonfire. Its flames licked the night twelve feet high, cracking and snapping and popping in derision at its drunken revelers.
    A pop! and a carbonated hisss! announced another partygoer opening a beer can. On their way to him they spilled most of the beer on the grass, but he didn’t mind. He had no intention of drinking.
    Have you seen a cat? he asked his beer-giver. Just now?
    “A cat?” said the partygoer, this one a petite female with cropped blue hair shining in the firelight like chrome.
    Yes, I was just looking for my cat, he said, not sure why he referred to the cat as his.
    The female leered at him in a knowing way, as if they were sharing some privileged information, and said, “A cat?”
    Yes, he said again.
    The blue-haired female lunged around and slung her arm around his shoulders, a feat much more difficult for her than for her gigantic ginger-bearded companion, and called out to the party, “This guy’s lookin’ for some pussy!”
    After he had disentangled from the female and ducked away from the partiers’ raucous calls of “Fuck yeah, motherfucker!” and “Titties!” he heard it very distinctly in the distance: Mew.
    There it was, just outside the ebbing waves of fiery light, sitting on its haunches and licking its paw. What took you so long?
    Sorry, he said. I couldn’t get away from... He glanced pointedly back at the fire, his voice trailing away in embarrassment.
    We can stay if you’d like, the cat said, still not glancing up from its grooming.
    No, please, he said. Let’s continue.
    The cat raised its head to look at him with its almond eyes, glinting in the firelight, and he was surprised to feel vibrations in the grass at his feet. It was purring, as if it approved of his answer.
    Yes, well, that’s probably for the best. I’ve seen where they’re headed, and they’ll regret tonight for years. I don’t envy them their morning.
    Having fulfilled its enigmatic duty, it turned, flicked its tail, and picked up the trail once more.
    Shaking his head, not daring to look back at the partiers he and the cat were leaving in their wake, he followed. And he counted.

To be continued...
Step 1. Ten Thousand Steps.
Step 2. A Companion.
Step 3. A Drunken Detour.
Step 4. The Hills Have Eyes.
Step 5. Her Graven Image.
Step 6. The Earth, Flattened.
Step 7. Back to the Beginning.

Step 10,000. Colla Voce.