Updated my journal

Excavation of the stars

They fell during the day, silently and invisibly, and so when night came, and they did not appear, we were taken by surprise, and we were afraid. We looked for them in the hills and forests, the meadows and lakes, the rivers and valleys. We never found them. Not a cinder, not a trace. The mother of souls told us they had fallen through the earth, because the earth to them is as the air is to us. So we began to dig, and continued to dig, and we are digging still.

On the crooked mile

You’ll have to take the crooked mile. The straight won’t get you there. Do not, under any circumstances, open your eyes. Trust me, you won’t want to see where you are. Take small steps. Be careful. The crooked earth moves just as you do. If you’re not careful, you’ll trip. If you trip, you’ll fall. If you fall, you’ll die. Death on the crooked mile is more painful than a thousand deaths in straightspace. Crooked pain could bleach the deepest and most excruciating straight pain into bliss. Make it, and maybe you’ll understand. Maybe you’ll be crooked, too.

Disentanglement: a post-love story

Listen, I know something? I’ve been talking to me, and, well, I know how I can be, right? That icy logic? Sometimes I’m ruthless. I was ruthless with me, so now I’m being ruthless with me. Just as I’ve convinced me of the truth, I’ll have to convince me, too. I know I don’t want to hear this, but I need to know: I don’t exist anymore, okay?

Yes, I know that I know that, intellectually. What I’m saying is, I need to understand it. I don’t exist, so – this is what it comes down to – I have got to stop acting like I still do. I want the truth? I already know it but maybe I have to hear it again: I have not existed for a while now.

I want an example? Let me be blunt: The last time I was intimate with me was over a year ago. I realize this, right? I haven’t even spoken to me in months. Why (I now ask me, icily and logically) would I persist in thinking about me, then? Why would that make any sense? In short, whence the wistfulness?

It bothers me that I can’t pinpoint the moment I stopped existing. Given causality, given linear time, there must have been one. Let me make it more concrete: there must have been a last time that I kissed me. When was that? I didn’t realize the last time would be what it was. If I’d known I would have tried to remember it, though, actually, I’m still trying to remember it, aren’t I.

Before I didn’t exist, I didn’t quite realize that pretty soon I wouldn’t. Now that I don’t, I still don’t quite realize it. If I don’t exist, who am I?

Another day, another limb

They’d long since stopped surprising her. She recognized that this was understandable but kind of weird. Understandable because people can, and do, adapt to their circumstances, however strange they may be. Kind of weird because, well, these were actual limbs. It seemed wrong that waking up in the morning to find she’d grown an extra arm or leg had ever become normal. But it had.

An alarm woke her up at the same time every day. She’d yawn, climb out of bed, and walk to the adjacent bathroom. While brushing her teeth she’d return to the bedroom and look at herself in the tall mirror next to her dresser. Without surprise or interest she’d make a mental note of the size and location of the new appendage, and then she’d go take a shower.

She would be thorough and gentle with the new limb, making sure to rinse between its fingers, or toes, as the case sometimes was. She would try to avoid making it move – other, older limbs would pull its fingers apart, or pass the bar of soap along its length. Freshly-grown limbs tended to be weak things, shrunken and pallid. Typically it wasn’t until the end of the working day that they were healthy enough to function.

After she dressed she’d use a pair of scissors (which she kept on her bedside table) to give the new limb some space to breathe. After a quick bite she’d drive over to the office, where her coworkers usually made a point of noticing the newest addition to her family of appendages.

“Looking good, Jenn,” they’d say. “I like your style.”

She’d smile and nod and wave one of her many hands.

After work she’d hit the gym. She had so many limbs that she could lift weights and run on the treadmills (she typically would need at least two) at the same time. Then she’d go back home. Watch some television. Relax. Sure, the limb thing was a little weird, but life was good.

Exit interview

I see you looking at my phone. It’s beautiful, isn’t it. It goes on sale this holiday season – too late for you to buy one, I’m afraid. What I love about this thing is that it’s really just the right size and weight to sort of idly play with. You can swing it from one hand to another, back and forth, while making difficult decisions, which I make, by the way, all the time.

This really was a difficult decision. I hope you understand that. I looked carefully at the whole team’s output, and you know what? The variance was almost nothing. You were chosen, but it easily could have been someone else. Does my saying that that make you feel “better,” or “worse?” You guys have to help me out with some of this. I don’t really understand how you people work. But I’m trying.

Yeah, the phone’s nice. We’ve talked about this. You don’t have to keep looking at it. You could look at me. Look me in the eye. Any eye. I’m trying to have a candid conversation with you here. This is very hard for me. It might actually be harder for me than it is for you. No offense. I just mean I’m more thoughtful than you are. I meaning all of us, you meaning all of you – not you specifically. You are exactly as unthoughtful as any one of your co-workers. Does that make you feel “better?” Honest question.

You don’t want to talk. That’s what I’m picking up here. You’re doing that thing with the arms, where you cross them. That means you’re being petulant. Am I right? I’m right. You really want to go out like this? You really want to be sulking when they start slicing?

Something you might not appreciate: I’m kind of in your corner, insofar as any of us is. You know a lot of us don’t even bother talking to any of you? I did not have to work down here. I could have stayed in orbit. Called the shots from above. Guess what, I took a pay cut because I chose to work among you. A lot of us only know two things about humans: that they’re delicious and that they seem to thrive in office environments. But I know so much more: that you have these “feelings” that are sometimes “better” and sometimes “worse”; that you have that arm-crossing thing you do when you’re displeased; that you like cell phones.

I know these things because I’ve worked with the team – the team that you’re a part of. Were a part of, sorry. What I’m getting at is, in your own small, feeble way, you’ve taught me a lot. I appreciate it. I’m sorry things had to end this way. I would wish you good luck in all your future endeavors, but since we both know you won’t have any, I won’t say that. I would tell you this won’t hurt, but since I’m given to understand that it actually will hurt a great deal, I won’t say that either. I guess our meeting is over.

Ghost log

The one time she mentioned to her father that a ghost whispered a word into her ear every night, the big man laughed. “What a coincidence,” he said. “Me too.”

When she was a few years older, she realized he’d been joking. Nobody, except for her, ever heard the ghost. This seemed significant. Perhaps the ghost’s whispers were a message, and perhaps it was her duty to record it. She started keeping a log.

Every night she waited for the whisper. Always a single word, often one that was unfamiliar to her. “Viscid.” “Gangrenous.” “Fissured.” “Mutagen.” “Excoriation.”

There was a deep dread in her that kept her from consciously stringing the words together and reading them. She didn’t want to look at them in sequence, didn’t want to puzzle them out into sentences. She thought only in single words, one after another, night after night.

She took the log camping. She took it to sleepovers. When she went off to college, it traveled with her. It was always a part of her ritual, until she lost it. After that, the words stopped. She still listened for the ghost, out of habit, but it had nothing to say.

One night she watched the moon lose its shape and trickle down the sky. The stars went dark. She felt the ground beneath her shake, and watched as pillars of flame rose in the distance.

Someone had found her ghost log.

The pipe shaman

There’s a law that says whenever we have a drainage problem, we’re supposed to call the pipe shaman. His number’s in the yellow pages. I looked it up last week, after our toilet stopped flushing. I had already started dialing when Toddle put a hand on my shoulder.

“Kat,” he said. “Are you sure we need to do this?”

I said, “We have a drainage problem, don’t we?”

Toddle said, “Do we know that yet? What about the plunger?”

“I tried the plunger.”

“Well, what about if we just wait it out? It could solve itself, if we give it a little time.”

I sighed and put the phone down.

Five hours later, the toilet still wouldn’t flush, and the bathroom was really starting to stink. I told Toddle that I was going to call, and that he’d just have to deal with it. He got really quiet and went to the bedroom, probably to curl up and pull the covers over his head. What a pussy.

The pipe shaman answered on the second ring, speaking in a smooth baritone. I described the problem to him and he said he’d be happy to come by, perhaps in fifteen minutes? I said that sounded good to me.

When the knock came at the door I opened it eagerly, and greeted the pipe shaman with enthusiasm. Between you and me, though, I’ve got to say, he disappointed me a little. I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly, but I’d sort of been hoping for something a little more colorful, a little more, I don’t know, ethnic, than just a black three-piece suit.

As if reading my mind, the pipe shaman smiled. “I don’t look the part, I know,” he said. “What can I say? I like to look good.”

“Sure,” I said, “right. Let me lead you to the bathroom – ”

“Oh, no need. I’ll find it myself.”

I shrugged. “Feel free.”

He said, “I always do.”

An hour later the work was done. I’m not sure how. The pipe shaman had brought no tools, and his suit was as immaculate as it had been when he walked in.

“I’ll give you a demonstration,” he said. “Observe.” He flushed the toilet, and together we watched the water swirl down the drain.

I put my hands together. “Looks great. How much do I owe you?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it now,” said the pipe shaman.

“Uh, okay.” I walked him back to the front door. “Thanks for coming so quickly. We really appreciate it.”

“We?” For the first time, the pipe shaman looked interested. “I thought it was just you living here.”

“Oh no,” I said. “It’s me and my husband, Toddle.”

“Little Toddle. I see. He didn’t come out to say hello.”

“No.” The hell with it, might as well tell him – he’ll get a kick out of it, probably. “The truth is, and this might sound a little strange, my husband’s afraid of you.”

“Of me?”

“Yeah, it’s a complicated story. His parents died when he was young, and for some reason he’s always had it in his head that you were responsible. Apparently they’d coincidentally called you to fix something just a few days before the car crash. So he formed this association.”

“I see.”

“You know how kids are.”

“Little Toddle.” The pipe shaman seemed lost in thought.

“Anyway. Thanks again,” I said.

“No, no,” said the pipe shaman, shaking his head slowly. “Thank you.”

Rain surgery

The rain surgeons have no faces. They come when they’re called, on black wings. They do what they must, and then they are gone. They are inhumanly fast, because they are inhuman. They are inhuman because they must be. The job demands it. The rain surgeons don’t, can’t, think about implications. They only act. They match patterns. They follow rules.

When the surgeons fly in, life on the ground changes. Fingers are pointed at the sky. Tears are shed. Appeals are made. The surgeons are, as always, unmoved.

Every surgery’s an algorithmic procedure, carried out with ruthless precision and without anesthesia. Yes, the clouds scream. No, the surgeons do not hear. They work in swarms, each with its set of tools – blades, nozzles, seeders.

When they leave, the clouds have been transformed, and so has their freight.


Like her mother before her, like her grandmother, too, she watched the sky every day, waiting for what would come and save them all. One morning, at last, she saw it: a distant point of light, arcing toward the horizon. She hurried after it.

The landing site was not what she’d expected. No burning trees, no dust in the air, no gaping crater. The only sign that anything had come down was the nautiloid itself, twitching silently on a patch of grass.

The twitches came faster, harder, until the nautiloid flipped over. Unnerved yet transfixed, she watched as the shell crumbled and the creature’s multiplex limbs unfolded.

An eyestalk turned to her and blinked once. She waved, uncertainly, at that single eye, a flattened disc with no iris. There was so much to communicate. She didn’t even know where to begin.

The eye blinked again, and the stalk seemed to sway. Shaking, the nautiloid fell back into the grass. She waited, but it did not get back up.

Dark as land, pale as sky

There were two children. In the same reality, they might have been one, but an infinity separated them, and neither would ever know of the other’s existence. Each was a version of the other. Their lives were mutually exclusive.

Both were born in the starmelt, on a burned planet drifting in the plasma. One’s hair was as dark as land. The other’s was pale as sky. One was raised by a machine. The other, by monsters. Each was, as far as she knew, the last human alive.

The burned planet did not turn and had no orbit. Light had hardened into almost a solid. No days, no nights.

“You talk about time,” said dark-as-land. “I don’t understand.”

The machine pivoted around a rusting joint, bent a sensor. Its amplifier pushed waves into the air.

“Time is progress,” the machine said. “Time is change. What was became what is, and what is will become what will be.”

“But how do you measure it? What does it mean? How long have I been alive?”

The machine said, “You want to know your age.”


The machine said, “You have been alive for eleven billion, three hundred eighty six million, four hundred thirty two thousand, five hundred forty nine increments.”

“And what’s an increment? How long is that?”

The machine gave an exhausted rattle. It said, “Long enough.”

The long monster frowned.

Pale-as-sky said, “What’s wrong?” but the monster was already shaking its heads.

“I thought I heard my name.”

The short monster said, “I’m tired of this place,” and pale-as-sky said, “Agreed.” She lowered herself to the scorched ground, stretched and sighed.

“Tell me,” she said, “about what happened.”

Long said, “We’ve told you what we know.”

Short said, “We don’t know much.” It raised an appendage to its proboscis and wiped away a stream of thick liquid.

“I know. Tell me again.”

Long said, “Starmelt. We have heard the word. We’re not familiar with the details. Maybe that’s for the best.”

Short said, “It was an event. Now it’s a condition. We are in the starmelt.”

“What do you mean, in?”

Long said, “We don’t know.”