Thursday, January 5, 2012

DeadGirl - Some random shit and there's like a theatre or something?

((FROM LAST TIME (i remember REALLY NOT LIKING THIS AT ALL and there are a lot of notes about how awful it is LOL)))

He led me outside. It was chilly, and the hairs on my arms stood up, but I wasn’t uncomfortable. We skirted the edge of the lake and took a rocky path up and around the mountain. The path was narrow and blocked by short shrubs. The rocks come away underfoot and I slipped more than once. It was steep as well, and I felt as if I were bent parallel to the mounatinside to keep from toppling backwards. I wasn’t winded or tired as I might have been in life though; my muscle made no complaints. Mariano, as usual, proved to be much nimbler than I and waited for me at the top.

“Oh wow,” I said when I caught up. Below us, but higher than the lake on the other side, was a valley. It was much greener than the scenery on the lake side, and a deep blue stream curved and pooled lazily around it. I imagined it emptied into the lake, though I doubted the afterlife needed such sensical details.

We walked along the ridge of the mountain for a bit, two worlds laid out on either side of us. It wasn’t level, but the walk was easy enough that I kept up with Mariano. After we’d skirted around the new valley, we came to another slope upward and I marvelled at how the larger-than-life mountains could be even taller. The path here twisted around itself so we weren’t headed straight up hill, and Mariano decided it was time for conversation.

“Have you thought at all about what you’re going to do?” he asked.

“Not really,” I answered, struggling to stay two steps behind him. “I wish people would stop asking. It’s making me feel like an unambitious bum.”

I felt that I should be panting. I wasn’t. Not needing to breathe had its advantages.

“Well, I had a thought,” Mariano said. He paused, then clambering up a slope to where the path continued, like skipping from the middle of a Z to the tip. (WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN, ME) A shower of pebbles slid away under his shoes.

“What is it?” I asked, eyeing his short cut dubiously. “And will I die again if I fall off the mountain?”

He kneeled and held out a hand. I took it and managed to scramble up the slope, my feet slipping about beneath me. For an instant standing safely on level ground again, I thought I could have done that without help, but then I turned and looked down at the spot where we’d been standing. It seemed too far down from us, and the valley itself seemed dangerously far away. I felt myself sway with vertigo. Mariano put a hand on my shoulder.

“Do you have a fear of heights?” he teased.

“No, just a fear of falling.” I looped a finger under his and moved his hand from my shoulder. I pushed past him and continued along the path, sticking my tongue out at him from over my shoulder.

We went up a few more twists in the path before Mariano started talking again.

“Anyway,” he said as if there had been no pause at all. He was right behind me and I could almost feel him straining not to step on my heels. “I was thinking that you would make a good herald.”

“A what?” I asked. There was a rock on the side of the path– the side not looming over a fatal plunge– and I stepped on top of it so he could go around me. Instead, he stood in front of me, looking up at me with his hands in his pockets.

“A herald,” he repeated. “Someone who guides others and has a good control over gates.”

I stared down at him. From this angle he looked like he was right on the edge, and the little stream was so, so far below, and he was just staring up at me with his back to it all, as if he weren’t aware that if he took one tiny step back he would fall–

I started scratching behind my earlobe, right below the edge of the hole through my head.

“No, that doesn’t seem particularly inviting,” I said. His hands were in his pockets so if he fell he wouldn’t be able to do anything. “I’d really rather just go back to school and figure it out from there. Could you please move?”

Mariano shrugged and continued along the path. It started to swoop back up another mountain and I straggled yards behind him, squinting in the harsh sun. He stopped abruptly and turned to frown down at me.

“Heralding people would be a lot of fun, you know,” he said. I rolled my eyes and kept forcing my legs up the mountain. “You get to know people, you’d get to know places, and you’d get really good at handling gates. Which, you know, you kind of suck at right now. A lot.”

“I just don’t want to, okay?” I said. I paused and looked for something to distract him. Noticing mountainside above us was dotted with little yellow dots, I waved ahead of us and asked, “What’s with the itsy-bitsy yellow polka dots?”

“Oh, those are flowers,” Mariano said and ran up the slope. I followed him and the same heaving pace as before.

We crouched down around the flowers, which were no bigger than my thumbnail. Their petals, yellow with red tips, folded up and met together over the flowers’s centers to create perfect little spheres. They sat nestled in their leaves like Easter eggs.

“Mellon baller flowers,” I said.

“Mellon baller butter flowers,” said Mariano.

“With strawberry jelly,” I added.

We stared at each other. Not taking his eyes from mine, Mariano plucked a mellon baller flower and flicked it at me. It hit my nose.

“You should really think about heralding,” he said.

“Maybe,” I answered. We were still staring at each other’s eyes. “After high school.”

We moved on. We scaled one slope after another until the land finally flattened out. Giant, sea urchin-like balls of spikey leaves began to appear.

“What is this?” I asked, stopping in front of one. It was as tall as me and wider than my armspan.

“A tree,” Mariano answered brightly.

“You’re kidding me.”

But he was not, and as we continued along the leaf-urchins grew thick, brown-green stalks that made them look exactly like upside down palm trees.

We had been discussing random things, with me very carefully holding back from questions about Menesthesus and him surely holding back from an interrogation on my reluctance to pursue any sort of post-death career. It must have been hours before he finally broke.

“We should climb up this boulder, and you should tell me why you don’t want to be a herald.” The casual way he said it made those two suggestions seem related.

“Why?” I asked after a pause. It was a response to both statements. The boulder he’d indicated sat next to a pool of water that looked exactly like every other pool of water we’d walked by. It was large and block-like, with one side carved out like a stairs. It looked so unnatural I concluded it was a sloppy human-addition to whatever real-world canvas this place was based on. It also looked slippery, and I could see no reason to climb on top of it.

Somehow, Mariano managed to dragged me up the unnatural steps, rambling about sediments and minerals and reflecting light.

“Oh,” he said with a note of disappointment when we got to the top. “Usually the light’s better.”

I peered over the edge at the water. It was perfectly still and clear, deeper than I expected. The mud lining the bottom was a rainbow of orange-browns and red-browns and even a few hints of blue-green. No fish or plants blocked the careful pattern of waves and swirls.

“Normally you can see more colors,” Mariano said, almost anxious.

“It’s beautiful,” I assured him. “Is this what you wanted me to see?”

He grinned. “No, just a side trip.”

We sat in silence for a while, staring down into orange-red-green mineral mud. A sudden breeze sent ripples across the water’s surface and the colors swirled as if they were the fishy inhabitants of the empty pool.

“So...” Mariano finally said.

“I don’t like sheparding people around,” I said before he could ask, “because that’s all I ever do with my brothers. I’m like the family chauffeur. I actually died avoiding driving them around.”

“Why don’t you like driving your brothers around?” Mariano asked.

I mulled the question over for a few moments. “You,” I said, “are obviously an only child.”


“I can only spend so much of my time on my brothers’ demands before I start going crazy,” I said. “And I don’t mind helping Mom out once in a while, but sometimes it seems like I can’t do anything I want because Logan or Matthew or Chris need to have their needs catered to more than mine. It’s the curse of being an older sibling, I think.”

“Sounds like the curse of responsibility,” Marinao countered. I frowned and dropped a pebble in the pool, the splash momentarily ruining the colors.

“I try so hard to be a responsible person,” I said. “But it’s not fair that I get shouldered with more of it just because I happen to be born first.” The pebble hit the bottom on the pool, sending up a cloud of brown silt.

“I wonder,” Mariano murmured, “if your mother feels the same way.”

I stared at him. “But… but Logan’s barely a year younger and he doesn’t have to…” I trailed off. The silt cloud settled, and he stood up and stretched.

“So what are all these things you want to do but can’t?” he asked.

“You can’t get off that, can you?” I answered, half outraged and half amused. I stood and followed him down the boulder. “Honestly, if I had all the free time in the world, I would probably just sit around and talk to friends and read things on the internet and eat cake. Maybe go on a bike ride every once in a while, or hiking.”

“Congradulations,” Mariano said, “you do have all the free time in the world! Did I mention this water was carbonated?”

I gawked at him, not so much surprised that the water was carbonated as that he produced a small plastic cup from his pocket. He knelt by the water and filled the cup, handing it over to me. I sniffed it.

“It’s perfectly safe,” he said. “Amoebas don’t make it to the afterlife. Plus, it’s supposed to be good for your skin.”

I rolled my eyes, and before taking a gulp said, “I don’t think good skin or parasites matter much, as I’m already dead.”

“Yet you still talk about your family in present tense,” Mariano observed.

I nearly choked.

We reached another mountain and climbed higher. The plant life disappeared and we only had lose rocks to hang on to as we scrambled up the mountain. Well, I scrambled and Mariano strolled along like rocky mountainsides were grocery stores. It seemed like we’d gone too far for how little time had passed, but I thought maybe time had just gone quickly because I couldn’t get properly tired and even though Mariano’s stories tended to be long-winded, they were usually interesting and he had a never-ending supply of them. But then I considered Mariano’s complaints about people getting the perspective of landscapes wrong, and thought maybe that was it. I tried to work this out and managed to give myself a headache.

“…when I start boring you so much you stop paying attention,” my ears registered Mariano say, “You can just tell me to shut up.”

“But talking makes you happy,” I muttered.

“Ha,” he said.

“How along have we been walking?” I asked.

“Long enough,” he said. I pouted. “Honestly, we’re almost there.”

The vegetation waned from a carpet of grass to a few patches to the occasional, sad little clump. When there was no more grass, the earth left over was dull gray-brown. Ahead of us was another peak, but this one had a peculiar outline, like a row of long, jagged teeth against the horizon.

When we’d climbed up it (I was really sick of climbing at this point), I realized the mountain-teeth were little towers made from stacking rocks, one on top of the other, like the chimneys of old houses.

The closest one came to mid-thigh and I squatted down to admire it.

“They’re called apacheta,” Mariano said. “It’s Quechua. Look.”

I stood and followed him to the very edge of the peak. Looking down, the other side of the slope was the same dull color, but I gasped in surprise anyway.

The little towers– the apacheta– covered the mountainside like a modern city in miniture. There was no order to them: they were arranged randomly, some clumped together here, a wide space for no reason, a lone tower here. They were all different sizes, short, fat ones sitting next to tall, slender ones that looked like they’d topple over at any second.

“People built these?” I asked in a whisper, suddenly feeling this place was very improtant.

Mariano nodded. “Tuki told me about them,” he said in a normal volume. “They’re– they’re sort of like spiritual towers, I suppose. I think the general gist is that, as you build them, you think about where you’ve been, and where you’re going. And you can ask for help.”

I stared down at them. “Help from who?” I asked cautiously. We were already in the afterlife. What else was there?

Mariano shrugged. “From yourself, I guess.”

“Have you made one?” I asked. He grinned half-heartedly at me.

“No,” he said. “Let’s make one together.”

We wandered around the mountainside, picking up rocks. I tried to focus on a particular shape (large and flat), but Maraino seemed to be picking up every stone he came across. We dumped them in an unstructured pile by where we wanted to build our apacheta.

When we deemed our rock pile large enough, I sat down next to it, cross-legged like a child. Mariano squatted next to me, and we set about building the tower in silence. I’d pick out a rock and put it down, and Mariano would follow. Despite his indiscriminant choice of rocks from the mountainside, he was much more selective when picking out which ones to add to our column.

With every rock I put down, I thought about a specific person. This rock is for Mom, I thought. And then this one is for Dad. This one is Logan. But as I was picking out the rock to be Matthew, the apacheta collapsed under Mariano’s third addition to the column.

“Your journey!” I cried, dismayed. Mariano snorted.

“We’ll just start over,” he said.

“Maybe we should make a bigger base?” I suggested.

We tried tried forming more of a pyramid structure than just stacking one rock on top of another, but the end result was an apacheta that grew out instead of up.

“I don’t like it,” Mariano stated.

“Picky,” I teased. We dissambled it and tried stacking again.

This time we were more meticulous with which rocks we picked. We picked out the biggest one we could find for the base, and Mariano separated out all the weirdly shaped ones from the pile. I added one stone for all five of my immediate family members, and then one for Grandpa Barry. After I added it, Mariano leaned back on his hands and looked the apacheta up and down. It was about as tall as we were sitting.

“You done?” he asked.

“Hm, wait a moment,” I said, getting an idea. I picked up a pebble– one that hadn’t even been in our pile of building stones, and carefully balanced it on top of the tower. For Serenity.

“Okay, now I’m done,” I said.

We decied to sit on the mountainpeak for a while, knee-to-knee between two apacheta, looking down at the city of stones.

“When I was a little girl,” I said after a while. Mariano peered at me in interest. “I used to tell everyone I wanted to be a ballerina.” He smiled. “But I didn’t. I just thought that’s what my mom wanted me to be.”

“Oh,” said Mariano.

“My parents bought me a car, which I thought was really generous,” I continued. “But then I realized they only bought it so I could drive my brothers around. I was actually biking… on that day… because I let Logan have the car. So, you know, it’d be his responsibility.”

Mariano shifted next to me. I couldn’t tell is it was because he was uncomfortable or not. When he spoke, he sounded perfectly calm, “So that’s why you don’t want to be a herald.”

“Yeah,” I said. I pulled my knees up to my chest and hugged them. “But I don’t know why I said that stuff about being a ballerina…”

He chuckled. “I told you I wanted to be a counselor, right? Well, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a cop and fight bad guys.”

I giggled.

“But then one day,” he went on, “my dad got a speeding ticket while I was in the car. And I thought, ‘My dad isn’t a bad guy!’ And so ended that dream.”

“How old were you?” I asked with a half-smile.

He shrugged. “Seven, maybe? My point is, responsibility is a burden, but it isn’t a bad thing.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Your conclusion doesn’t follow your premise,” I said. “Like, at all. But I mean, I didn’t mind taking care of other people. It’s just… here, I don’t have a direction. What am I supposed to do?”

“What did I just tell you?” Mariano countered. “You help yourself.”

I stretched my legs back out, avoiding an apacheta with my foot.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” I said.

“Sure,” Mariano answered, smiling amiably.

“How did you die?”

His face went blank and his body tensed. I immediately regretted my question. That story about the speeding ticket was the most I’d heard him talk about his personal experiences that I thought maybe he was openning up to me, but it seemed I was wrong.

“Y-you don’t have to answer,” I stuttered quickly, fearing I’d broken something in our friendship. “Just tell me something– any one thing– where are you from? How old are you? What’s your full name?”

He slowly turned his head back toward the sea of apacheta. And, ever so slowly, the corners of his mouth crept back into a little smile.

“My name is Mariano Vega,” he said. “I’m from California. On my eighteenth birthday, I was shot in the head.”

I gulped. I reached out and took his hand in mine, because it seemed like the only thing to do.

After a few moments he squeezed my hand back and grinned, and the dark atmosphere discipated in an instant.

“You’re pretty swell, Juniper,” he said. “Did you know?”

“Every morning,” I said in as serious a voice as I could muster, “I look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Damn girl, you so fine.’”

Mariano grinned and got to his feet, pulling me up with him. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go back. I think I’ve sequestered you for long enough.”

“Okay,” I agreed, throwing one last glance at the apacheta. I’d come back to this place soon, I thought. Then I followed Mariano back down the barren mountainside.

Halfway back to HQ, the sky filled with black clouds. It took only a few minutes for the mountains to go as dark as night, and only a few more for the rain to begin to pour. Mariano grabbed my hand, and we ran down the mountain, slipping and sliding in the mud, and laughing the whole way. I was too filled with the rush of running and the warmth from Mariano’s hand in mine to worry about falling off the mountain (which we did, once, but it barely hurt at all and we kept running). There is nothing like running without tiring.

It was so dark I couldn’t make out any of the spindly shadow people creeping around the entrance to the HQ. We burst in with a fit of giggles, water going everywhere. It rolled off me like rain down a windshield, but Mariano as drenched from head to toe. I laughed at him.

“Here, I’ll get you a towel…” I offered. We went to the elevator, him making the splerch-splerch noise of wet sneakers and me making the smack-smack noise water slapping tile.

Mariano refused to enter my room wet, so he waited out in the corridor for me to grab my towel.

“This is filthy,” he observed but dried his hair with it anyway. His curls were a mes and I giggled some more. He joined in, rubbing the towel across his face to try to cover his own mirth up.

“Well, aren’t you the happy couple,” a voice drawled from the elevator. The doors opened and Tuki entered the corridor, followed closely by Pandora. Her eyebrows were raised.

“I wondered where all the water came from,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, sorry…” I mumbled.

Tuki eyed me suspiciously. Aside from the mud all over my pants, I was completely dry. “What, did he gallantly loan you his umbrella or something?”

“No, I, um. I seem to be waterproof…” I trailed off and there was a very long moment of silence in which Pandora and Tuki looked nonplussed and Mariano tried his hardest not to laugh at me, burrying his face in the towel some more.

Finally, Tuki shrugged. “That’s fine. Pandora forgot her bellybotton.”

“HEY!” Pandora yelled and slapped his arm at the same time I said, “What?”

“People forget things all the time,” Mariano supplied.

“But your bellybotton?”

Pandora turned red. “It’s not like I think about it all the time,” she said. “I probably died suddenly and didn’t give it much thought when I put myself together…” The last part was mumbled. Tuki cleared his throat.

“Anyway, we came up here to find you two. Menesthesus had an idea for some field work.”

He explained the job briefly and Mariano nodded while I pretended I knew what he was talking about. Apparently, they were aiming to pick up some “supplies” from a man named Xavier, who I gathered had some sort of personal link with Mariano. Then Tuki turned to me.

“You’re pretty much useless,” he said. Mariano’s face faultered and he started to blubber something I hope was defense of my personal utility, but Tuki cut him off with a wave of his hand. “But we’d thought you could check out some schools, since it’s a pretty big city.”

“And,” Pandora cut in, “you could get experience and be less useless.”

“Does picking up things really require experience?” I asked, puzzled. They exchanged looks and I had that odd, cold feeling of being an outsider again.

“You’ll see,” Mariano said.


((LOOK AT ME, GOING EVERYWHERE THEMATICALLY. But anyway, then I started skipping around...)


Pandora led me down to the first floor, but instead of heading toward the main exit like I had expected, we found Tuki and Mariano idling in front of the supply closet. I stared at it for a proportionately long time before I realized the closet must also serve as a gate to wherever we were going.

“You guys can’t do anything normally, can you?”

Mariano smiled. “It’s not like we built it. The gate just came like this.”

Tuki knocked on the door twice and Mariano muttered in my ear that that was how to signal where you wanted it to open. I leaned over to rub my knees, then remembered I was wearing gym shorts. Tuki swung open the door. A mop fell out.

“I know you like ruining things for people,” Pandora said, exasperated, “but this is work. It requires competence.” I twisted a lock of hair nervously.

“It wasn’t me,” Tuki defended. He shoved the mop back into the closet with his foot and closed it again. I concentrated very hard. He reopened it to the closet on a different floor.

“Juniper,” Mariano sighed, pinching his nose.

“I’m trying,” I stressed back at him. “It does help that it’s labeled ‘janitorial supplies.’”

Tuki stared at me, then looked at Mariano’s face of vague disappointment, then fixed me with a sneer that very clearly said, I told you you were useless.

“What’s wrong with Juniper?” Pandora asked with a hint of worry.

“I, uh. Have a problem,” I said. “With gates.”

“You’re just full of inconvenient problems, aren’t you?” Tuki muttered. We ignored him.

I explained my issue with gates to Pandora. “My subconcious tries very hard to make sure everything makes sense,” finsihed. “Doors that open to strange things baffle it.”

“Hmm,” she said. I couldn’t tell if it was a noise of annoyance or just a sign that she was thinking. “I’ve heard of something like that… but how did you make yourself waterproof, if you’re so concerned with rationality?”

I shrugged.

“I’ve been getting around it by tricking her into going through them,” Mariano piped up. “But we’ve been practicing and I’d thought she’d gotten over it…”

“It’s just that I’ve seen the inside of that closet so many times,” I huffed. “Let me try opening it. If I’m engaging with it myself, and I can give myself time to visualize the other side, maybe I can switch it on my own.”


“What,” Tuki deadpanned, “is this?”

We’d stepped out onto an empty, dimly lit stage. It seemed fairly run down– the black paint on the floor was ripped up in several places and the back curtains had several large, gapping holes in them. I squinted out into rows of seats in front of us, all a burnt bown-orange color. Several had missing cushions.

“It’s a theatre,” I said.

“Obviously,” Tuki drawled back. “But we were aiming for a post office. Nice going, by the way.”

“There aren’t any doors,” Pandora observed.

“We still might be close,” Mariano reasoned. “Wasn’t there a threatre near the–”

“No doors,” Pandora said, louder, “as in no gates.”

Both Mariano and the usually stoic Tuki looked alarmed. I rubbed the back of my calf with my other foot nervously.

“That can’t be right,” Mariano said finally. “Everyone, look for a door.”

He said everyone, but only Tuki went off searching. He disappared behind the winds of the stage, and later we heard the thudding of his boots crossing the stage behind the back curtain. Mariano used the excuse that he was “unnaturally good at finding things” and Pandora stretched her arms.

“No sense of direction, though,” she added.

After a while, Pandora sat down on the edge of the stage and Mariano started telling me about a play he’d been in in middle school. I listened attentively, as he was talking about himself for once.

“It was The Wizard of Oz,” he said. “I was the Scarecrow because he had the most lines…”

I took to pacing as he talked to me, circling him while twirling my bag in one hand. When he got to the part about having to make his own costume because his parents were too busy to help him, he started following me in the circle. We must have looked ridiculous, because Pandora was watching us with a mystified look on her face.

Before Mariano could finish opening night, there was a scream from stage left. It wasn’t Tuki’s.

Before my mind could fully register what was happening, Mariano was disappearing into the wing of the stage as well. Pandora dropped her backpack and we both chased after him. Offstage was completely dark except for a light coming from a staircase leading down below the stage. I nearly tripped owver Pandora’s heels rushing down it. There were more screams.

The room at the bottom of the stairs was well lit. It was a large space, but it was completely covered in junk. There were moldy couches stacked on top of each other, a pile of unused carpet, and props and customes scattered around in unorganized heaps. Tuki and Mariano were wrestling with something in a pile of ruffly dresses.

“Lemme go!” it shrieked. “Maledictions! Maledictions!”

“Calm–down–” Mariano grunted, floundering with the thing’s ankles.

“Yeah,” Tuki sneared. He has behind it with his arms under it’s shoulders, ignoring its flailing arms. “Or we’ll cut off your tail.”

The thing froze. Mariano dropped its feet. “That’s better.”

The thing had the basic shape of a person, but its body was too narrow and its limbs were too long. It was dressed in a deep purple body suit and its greenish feet were bare, revealing long, yellowing toe nails. On its face it wore a glaring red mask, with a downturned mouth cut wide enough to see through it it snarling thin lips. Through the eye holes I could see large eyes as yellow as its toenails. It was completely bald, but had the ornate, heavy horns of a ram. All of its fingers had filed yellow nails and were the same length. It had a cord like tail, which hung limply behind it.

“Let me go,” it repeated. Its voice was oddly high and nasaly.

“Your not going to go biting anyone again, are you?” Mariano questioned. I noticed puncture marks on Tuki’s wrist.

I could just make out its eyes narrowing. “No. I promises.” Then it said, “Maledictions.”

Tuki dropped it and the thing leaped nimbly onto the back of a couch which had been propt on told of another one. It sqautted, animal-like, and stared down at us.

“So,” said Mariano. His voice was candid as always and his posture was relaxed, but I could see the outline of his fist clenched in his pcoket. “Who are you?”

The thing shifted, straightening its back.

“I am Melpo, Lord of the Theatre! I am saviour of the Room of Green! Proprietor of the Upstage and Downstage! Master of the Lights! All is arranged to my whim, all is set where I desire and nowhere else!”

I wanted to ask, “What are you?” but thought better of it. I scooted closer to Pandora (away from Melpo the Thing), who was whispering frantically with Tuki.

“Would you mind telling us where we are?” Mariano asked. “We’re trying to get to the City that Smells of Oranges.”

“YOU WILL GET NOWHERE!” Melpo screamed. “You have entered my kingdom which has no escape, and now you are all my slaves!”

I calmly began to braid my hair.

“Marinara,” Pandora said with fake sweetness, “would you mind coming over here for a private chat?”

Mariano moved over to them, and I scooted closer as well. We huddled together like a sports team, but Pandora kept her head up and her eyes trained on “Melpo.”

“I didn’t find any way out,” Tuki whispered hoarsely to us. “Pandora was right; there are no gates. I checked everything twice just to be sure.”

Pandora snorted. “More like you got lost.” Tuki ignored her.

“It’s definitely a deadend,” he said. “Maybe– hopefully– a puzzlebox house. I didn’t get to check properly because that thing jumped me.”

“What is it?” I asked. “Is it a built thing?”

“Stop calling Melpo a ‘thing,’” Mariano whispered back. “He– or she– is a person.”

I glanced over my shoulder at it. Melpo had the posture of a bird and the strange, fixated gaze of a cat. Its tail twitched behind him. “But how–”

“Sometimes,” Mariano explained, “People started to lose sense of themselves. And when you think you’re someone you’re not, your appearances changes.”

“This place was built with no exits,” Pandora said, her dark eyes still locked on Melpo. “It’s what we call a ‘deadend.’ He must have been here a very long time, all alone…”

We were silent for a moment. All alone for so long, and he had begun to think he was this creature.

“Then what’s a ‘puzzlebox house’?” I asked.

Tuki rolled his eyes, “I’m going to check and see if I can find anything else.” He broke away and Pandora followed, saying soemthing about keeping him from getting lost. Mariano took a step back and slipped right to lecture mode.

“A puzzlebox house,” he explained, “is an enclosed space that seems like a deadend, but it has a hidden gate. There’s a trick to finding it, and usually there’s a clue or two laying around to help you. They started as games, I think. Like a corn maze, you know? Of course, some people think it’s funny to make an unsolvable game, but. Well.” His eyes flicked to Melpo, who had laid down across the back of his couch, head propped up on one hand.

“Harlot!” He screeched when he noticed me looking at him. “You shall rot of malaise!”

I stuck my tongue out at him and turned back to Mariano.

“Can’t we just make a gate?” I asked.

He thought about it for a long moment. I could hear Tuki and Pandora arguing about if the shelves of shoes in the back were important. Tuki was insisting she put on a pair of heels for some reason.

“It’s possible in theory…” Mariano said slowly. “But making a gate from nothing is hard, Juniper.”

I shrugged. “What’s the worse that could happen?”

These are, I should note, what they call “famous last words.”

Mariano and I sat down on a couch as far a way from Melpo as we could, and he began to explain to me the theory behind making a gate.

“First,” he said. “You have to understand the concept of builing.”

(“I swear these are different,” Tuki was saying to Pandora. “These are children’s shoes,” she was arguing back.)

Building, Mariano explained, was all about visualization and perception. You had to picture something– something in very minute detail– and then so utterly convince yourself it was so real that it became a reality. It was difficult to tell which was more difficult: imagining every last detail of what you wanted or projecting it into physicality.

“Well,” he said, going off into one of his tangents, “I think they go hand in hand, actually. You can’t really convince yourself or anyone else something’s real if you can’t see it perfectly in your mind, you know? And then, if you do imagine something up so strongly, then it’s easy to think maybe it’s real. Do you get it?”

I narrowed my eyes at him and answered, “You’re a builder, aren’t you?”

He seemed taken aback. “I… well, yes.” He scratched his cheek. “How did you know?”

“Just a hunch.”

He stood up and looked around, as if seeing the room for the first time. Melpo hissed something about descent into melancholia.

“Let’s explore.”

One one side of the greenroom where two doorways marked as male and female dressing rooms. Oddly enough, the actual doors themselves had been removed. They were filled with piles of even more costumes and masks and wigs. One the other side was an archway into the shop: partially constructed set pieces were strewn around in piles of sawdust. Power tools laid about at random. In the very back, however, was the one clean part of the entire theatre. Melpo had apparently made his own set piece, a wall painted to look like the brick side of a house. It had painted on windows and outside he had arranged plastic flowers to look like a garden. When we poked out heads in through the cut-out door, we found a tiny, ornate bed (probably meant for a very little girl or a large doll) with a T-shirt neatly folded across it as a blanket. Next to it was an upside down crate decorated with a ceramic rabbit, a china plate and a brass clock that wasn’t working.

Red painted letters across the back wall read, “MELPO IS KING FOREVER.”

It hurt to look at. “Can– can you finish telling me how to make a gate now?” I asked Mariano. He nodded solemnly.

We backed away from Melpo’s “house” and sat on a bench that had apaprently been abandonned in the middle of a paint job.

“Places usually have gates built in,” Mariano said. “It’s basically a space you give the idea of allowing exit or entrance. And then someone can link up where that gate goes to. I suppose you can think of it as a specialized form of building. What you’ve been doing so far is altering the pre-set destinations of gates.”

I nodded. “I’m a modifier.”

“Right. But to make a gate out of something that hasn’t been designated one is… it’s like violating the entire concept of building.”

“I’d have to overpower whatever willpower went into making the boundaries, right?”

“Yeah…” He twisted too look around the shop again. “It’s especially hard in a place like this, since who ever built it was specifically thinking that there shouldn’t be a gate.”

“Reenforced walls, huh?”

Mariano opened his mouth to reply, but Pandora’s yell from the green room cut him off.

“Cut it out, you little demon!” This was followed by some crashing noises.

We went back to the green room. Melpo was trying to pry from Pandora’s hands one of the little shoes Tuki had wanted her to wear. It was dark green and sparkly, with a short heel and a little pompom on the toe. Tuki was trying to Melpo away from her, and I could see the other shoe sticking out of his back pocket.

“Melpo,” Mariano said in the same way one might chastise a small child. He rushed over and helped Pandora pry his little green fingers off the shoe.

“Maledictions!” Melpo screamed. His trashing tail knocked over a stool. I hurried over and righted it again without quite knowing why. With some effort they dettached him from the shoe and Pandora backed away sulkily.

“Melpo,” said Mariano very calmly, clapsing the strange little person by the wrists. Tuki let go of him disgustedly and went to join Pandora. “Would you like to leave the theatre?”

“Melpo is theatre lord is king!”

“Yes, of course,” Mariano agreed. “But wouldn’t you like the option of leaving?”

Melpo was quiet. From this angle I couldn’t see through the holes in his mask, but I could imagine his in human face curling up in suspicion. At least, I would suspicious.

“Melpo misses Madame Soleil,” Melpo muttered.

“Madame Soleil?” I repeated. What weird term was Melpo using that that had translated into French of all things?

Melpo was visibly calming down, his tail falling limp behind him and his muscles relaxing. Mariano let go of his wrists.

“Madame Soleil was Melpo’s beloeved wife,” Melpo said softly in his nasal voice. “But Madame Soleil’s jealous sister threw Melpo into fires. But Melpo became king of fires and now Melpo is Theatre Lord. Melpo is mighty but miss Soleil– Soleil is warm.”

How much of that was true, and how much of that was a story Melpo had constructed to keep himself sane?

“Melpo,” said Mariano quietly. “This girl is Juniper. She’s going to try to help us get outside.” Melpo’s face snapped toward me. His tail twitched. “But Melpo,” Mariano continued. “She’s going to need a door.”

“There are no doors,” Melpo muttered. “There never are doors. No doors, not ever.”

“Alright,” said Mariano patiently. “What about a cubbard or a vanity? A box with a lid a person could fit into?”

“All broken, always,” Melpo answered.

“Are you sure?” Mariano asked.

“What?” Melpo screeched back. “Curly man think Melpo has not tried this? Curly man think Melpo choose to rot in Great Theatre? Melpo is not imbecile!”

And with that, the little man hopped onto the make up table, climbed on top of a make up box, and grabbed hold of one of the pipes lining the ceiling. He swung from it with the skill and grace of a monkey, propelling himself back to the shop.

“Well then,” Mariano said, looking stunned at– at what? Melpo? His own failure to communicate? “I guess we’re doing this the hard way.” He turned to Pandora and Tuki and called over, “Found anything interesting yet?”

“Just shoes,” Pandora answered in distaste.

“These are special,” Tuki insisted. “I can feel it– there’s something different about them. Important.”

“Yeah,” Pandora agreed snidely. “The rest are for adults, and these are for a little girl.”

“If you’d just try–”

Mariano took my hand and led me away.

“You’re going to need a– oh, what do you call it–”

“A substrate?” I provided.

“Yes. You need something to work on. What type of door do you want to make?”

“Um,” I thought back through all the gates I’d been through. I remembered my first one. “How about just a blank wall?”

We moved aside the pile of carpet pieces so that I had a decided sized partion of wall to stand in front of.

“Okay,” said Mariano. “Do your thing.”

“What?” I asked. “What thing? I don’t know how to do this.”

“I told you everythign I know,” Mariano said. “If I knew all the details of building a gate, don’t you think I’d try it myself?”

I frowned. “What happens if this doesn’t work?”

“Then we help Tuki and Pandora. Or we try harder.” He paused. “The key is, you know, to go into this thinking that it will work.”

“Right, positive thinking.”

I stood in front of the wall, feet apart like I was about to do some heavy lifting. (That’s how my Mom always said it, I remembered with a jolt of nostalgia: “Stand like you’re going to do some heavy lifting!”) I put both hands on the wall and pushed. Nothing happened.

Mariano watched me, arms crossed. He said nothing.

On the other side of this wall, I decided, was an ice cream shop. I imagined that, since it was a otherworldly ice cream shop, the walls could be made of ice cream too, and I should be able to melt right through.

Nothing continued to happen.

I recalled what Mariano said about visualizing all the details, so as I glared at the grain of the painted cinder blocks I imagined the porous surface of a scoop of ice cream. I was working on convincing myself that the wall was very, very cold when my hands started to seep through.

I could almost feel Mariano tense up behind me. The going was very slow; it felt more like pushing my way through styrofoam than the half-melted dairy goodness I was imagining. When I was about elbow deep, I realized soemthing was very wrong. My arms weren’t coming out anywhere. If I had indeed made a gate, it didn’t seem to go anywhere. And, with this sudden spike of panic, I must have lost hold of something, because suddenly I was unable to push forward or pull backwards.

“Uh, Mariano? I think I’m stuck.”

I tried to wiggle my arms. I could not move my wrists or fingers at all, nor could I change the angle of my arms in the concrete. Yes, I was definitely stuck with both forearms in the wall.

“Just keep doing what you were doing before,” Mariano said calmly. I turned my head to look at him. His face was completely blank, but his shoudlers were squared in such a way that I thought I had probably just doomed myself to being stuck in a wall for all eternity.

This particular thought was extremely distracting, and now my brain was refusing to imagine ice cream and was instead demanding that I yank on my hair or scratch my arms or do something besides uselessly stand there thinking about ice cream. I kneed the wall.

“Ow,” I said.

“Why did you do that?” Mariano asked, bewildered. He came up beside me, staring down at my knee as if it had done that on its own.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Mariano raised his eyebrows. “You hurt yorself when you’re frustrated?”

“No,” I defended myself immediately. “I was hurting the wall.”

He crossed his arms and again and leaned his shoulder against the wall, eyeing me warily. “Juniper, if you had meant to hurt the wall, you would have kicked it like a normal person.”

“I am a normal person!” I scowled back at him. “You better watch it, or I’ll try kicking you.”

He smirked. “Normal people don’t have holes through their head.”

“That’s a cheap shot.”

“Normal people also don’t get stuck in walls.”

“That’s an even cheaper shot.”

There was a flapping sound behind me, like paper rustling. I craned my neck trying to see behind me. Mariano stood up straight again.

“Melpo, what are you doing?” He asked.

I couldn’t see properly, but it there were little booklets being thrown around– scripts? Programs?

“There are bugs and cockroaches and crickets and spiders,” Melpo muttered. “Cockroaches and cickets and bugs and spiders.” He continued repeating this list, although never quite in the same order.

“But what are you doing?” Mariano asked again.

“What happened?” Pandora’s mildly concerned voice came from the other side of the room. I craned my head in the other direction, seeing her and Tuki emerge from the men’s dressing room.


The other three dragged a couch over next me and sat down so we could discuss what to do.

“If it is a puzzlebox, there’s a good chance there’s a theme to the solution,” Mariano said.

“One would hope,” Tuki said. “Although if I made it, the answer wouldn’t be that easy.”

“If you made it, you would have a solution,” Pandora snorted. “Besides, just because it’s a theme doesn’t mean it’s easy. Can you think of any theatrical traditions?”

There was an very uncomfortable silence. Tuki looked thoughtful, but I was sure Mariano was thinking the same thing as me, as his face was quite taken aback.

“Um,” I said. “Aren’t there a lot?”

Tuki and Pandora looked confused.

“I think you should remember,” Mariano said politely and carefully, “that they did not exactly grow up with Western theatre.”

Tuki rolled his eyes. “Which makes us stupid. We know.”

Mariano looked very uncomfortable and Pandora covered her mouth and made a noise that was either a stifled giggle or a very strange cough.

“So what are some theatre things?” I asked. “I know you’re supposed to say ‘break a leg’ instead of ‘good luck’ because… uh.” Okay, so I didn’t really know why one said that.

“A bad dress rehearsal makes for a great opening night,” Mariano added. “Whistling is bad luck too. And getting flowers before the show. And, oh, something about wearing blue on stage…”

Tuki and Pandora were staring at him with faces that I interpreted as, What madness has your modern society created?

“What about ‘MacBeth’?” I asked. “Isn’t saying ‘MacBeth’ in a theatre–”

There was an unholy screaming and suddenly Melpo– who had appeared from nowhere– was clawing at my legs.

“THOU SHALT NOT SAY IT!” he was screaming as loud as he possibly could. My ears were ringing. I wanted to ward him off, but being trapped in the wall was greatly hindering this. Mariano and Pandora lept up to help subdue him.

“HARLOT!” Melpo was screaming, trashing around and trying his best to get out of Mariano and Pandora’s arms. “THOU SHALT NOT SPEAK OF THE SCOTTISH PLAY!”

He was flailing so violently Tuki had to chip in as well.

“What,” he grunted, grabbing Melpo’s furious tail and wrapping it around his wrist, “in the name of all that is holy, is Macbeth?”

Melpo went stiff as a board and let out one long, high scream that deterred any further words. Pandora dropped his hands and covered her ears. Mariano and Tuki quickly mimicked her. I tried to mash my shoulders up against the stubs of my ears, wondering how they could hurt so much if they mostly weren’t there.

Then the lights went out.

Melpo’s scream stopped abruptly, and all was very still and very dark. I could still feel ringing in my ears.

“Never mind,” Tuki finally mumbled. “I don’t want to know.”

There was a little point of light from the corner of my eye. Mariano had turned the illumination of his watch on, and the blue like cast a ghostly sheen across his face.

“Melpo,” he said very calmly, kneeling next to the little man, still stiff as a board on the floor. “Melpo, what just happened?”

Melpo did not answer. I could only see his silhouette, and it did not so much as twitch.

“I have a flash light in my backpack,” Pandora said. “But I left it upstairs. I’ll go get it.”

“I’ll help,” Tuki offered. I could hear their foot steps moving away, then the creak of the stairs. There was a thud like someone had tripped, but neither of them said anything.

“You know,” said Mariano, “I bet there’s another flashlight or a lamp or something around here. Juniper, can you watch Melpo?”

“Sure,” I replied automatically. The light of Mariano’s watch retreated quickly toward the shop. “Wait, how am I supposed to watch him if I’m stuck in the wall and can’t see anything?”

Mariano didn’t reply. I couldn’t see the light of his watch anymore; I couldn’t twist myself around far enough to see into the shop.

“Mariano?” I called, louder. My voice hung in the air eerily, they way loud noises do in the dark. There was a rustling noise near my feet.

“Hey, Melpo,” I said, squinting down into the dark where I thought he should be. “Whatcha doing?”

There was a horrible clanging noise from upstairs. The little blue light reappeared and headed for the stairs, banging noises following it as Mariano bumped into furniture.

“Be right back!” he yelled at me.

There were more clanging noise, but then they vanished and were replaced by a conversation I couldn’t make out. The rustling at my feet continued. When the rustling started comeing from both sides of me, I realized there was no way it Melpo making the noise.

“Mariano?” I yelled, pointing around with the tips of my feet. I found Melpo’s body– it definitely wasn’t moving. He didn’t even move when I nudged him. “Pandora? Tuki?” My voice was beginning to gain a hint of panic.

Something creeped along my ankle. I screamed and smashed my ankle against the wall. More things creeped up my other ankle.

I didn’t know what to do. Things were creepy up my legs. Light little things, like hairs tickling my calves, but they most definitely were not hairs. I kicked at the wall and wiggling my body, tryign to throw them off. I yelled for the people upstairs. Nothing helped.

When something was tickling my neck, I turned on Melpo, kicking him as hard as I could.

“MELPO!” I screamed. “Help me!”

“Maledictions,” Melpo’s voice came from the darkness.

“What’s happening?” I hissed. I didn’t open my mouth all the way, as I was having horrifying thoughts about the thing on my neck crawling into my mouth. I twisted my shoulder and tried to smash the creepy thing between my neck and shoulder. It didn’t work, and it crawled onto my cheek. “Melpooooo.”

“They are the spiders and the bugs and cockroaches and crickets,” Melpo breathed from somewhere around my knees. His fingers dug painfully into my arm and her crawled up me, picking the things from my body like a chimp. When he plucked whatever it was on my face away, I managed to relax.

“Melpo,” I said. “What’s happening?”

He poked me hard with his jagged nail. “The harlot called the name of the Scottish play.”

“Right, right, and I’m sorry for that,” I said, hoping he would get ot the other creepy-crawlies before they got much further up my legs. He was hanging from my shoulders. “But why did that make the lights go out? And could you stop calling me ‘harlot’?”

A bright light appeared at the entrance to the stares. I squinted at it, and Melpo jumped from my back and scampered away. The creepy-crawly-whatevers rustled away into the pile the carpet pieces next to me.

The silhouettes of Mariano, Pandora and Tuki appeared. Pandora had her flashlight out, and Tuki was carrying a large kerosene lamp– the type an old sailor in a horror film might carry right before the sea-ghost got him.

“Look what we found,” Mariano announced cheerfully. I must have looked extraordinarily pained, because he and Pandora immediately both asked me at once if I was alright.

“I think so,” I answered in a very little voice. “You didn’t hear me?”

“Did you call for us?” Mariano asked.

Apparently, I had been able to hear them, while they had not been able to hear me screaming.

“Oh, it’s not important,” I muttered. “Just don’t mess with the carpets.”

“What’s wrong with the carpet…?”

“Why did the lights go off?” I asked. “Melpo wouldn’t tell me anything.”

Mariano shrugged. “Operating under the assumption this is, infact, a puzzlebox house, we must have broken one of the rules.”

It was probably the most obvious of any rules that might be set in a supernatural theatre. I felt extremely embarassed and hoped no one could see me blushing in the dim light.

“What was all that crashing?” I asked.

“Trying to get the lamp down,” Pandora explained. “It was up on top of a– scaffold, I think you call it? A big metal thing to get to the ceiling lights. But it kept wheeling around and things kept falling off. So me and Tuki held it still for Mariano, and he went up with my flashlight… and then Tuki” –she shot him a dirty look– “decided he needed to grab a story book of all things.”

Tuki did indeed have a thin book tucked under his arm. He was staring off at something that wasn’t Pandora sulkily.

“And that made crashing noises because…?”

“Because it was half way up the scaffold, and he went after it with no warning. And next thing I knew– runaway scaffold!”


((and what is this scene i don't even))


The city, Mariano said, had once had a river running through it. But someone said it would flood, and so it was moved. But that some one else said that the river was an intrinsic part of the city, and how could it flood if they didn’t let it flood?

The problem was that at this point, the space that had once contained the river had been completely replaced with gardens and fountains and playgrounds and even a few cafes. It was a beautiful escape from the urbanity of the city. The city, therefore, was divided on its relative advantages to the river.

The comprimise was not one I would have come up with on my own. The put the river on top the parks, floating in the air like glass. Light filtered through the clear water in twisting patterns, with built fishing leaving the same shadows as built birds. Personally, I would have made the park the floating part.

“Because that would be awesome,” I told Mariano.

Because the park occupied the space left by the river, it was considerably lower than the steet and had several bidges going over it. You had to take stairs down from the road to get to it.

We were standing one of bridges going over. Its railing was wide, stone, and you could stand on it and reach up and trail your fingers through the belly of the river. Mariano was demonstrating this to me.

“But then,” Mariano said, hopping back down onto the bridge, “you couldn’t take a paddle boat ride through the sky.”

“But you could ride your bike through the sky,” I said. “Which I frequently imagined while biking. You know, until it killed me.”

Mariano smiled in a crooked way that made me think this comment was uncomfortable for him. Feeling awkward, I coughed.

“So paddle boats?” I asked.

“Actually,” he said, turning away, “I lied. They haven’t figured out how to keep you from going off the edge yet.” I looked down at the park below, imaging a paddle boat falling from the sky and crashing into the orange trees below.

We left the bridge and walked along the sidewalk until we found a ramp down. I could see why one might argue that a park was unnecessary. The sidewalk was very wide, with frequent palm trees planted along it, each surrounded by an assortment of colorful flowers. A narrow bike lane was marked. The street itself was very wide as well, most of its girth due to a wide median which had its own tiny garden surrounded by benches.

The bike lane continued down the ramp. We walked along beside it, and occasionally a biker zipped by. Down in the missing river the smell of oranges was even stronger: there were even more trees here. There were also all sorts of palms and flowering trees and bushes. We did pass a grove of pine trees– which I thought was bizarre, all things considered– and there were quite a few couples hiding in the shade doing… well. I politely averted my eyes.

We also passed an open, paved area dominanted by a huge pool of shallow water. Several children had remote control boats that zoomed around on the surface, avoiding the periodic spouts of water. A group of women sat on the side, chatting loudly and watching a group of young boys– who I assumed were their sons– skateboarding.

“How do families work here?” I asked, nodding toward a man showing his daughter how the work the controls of their toy boat.

“Mostly like living families, I think,” Mariano answered.

“No, I mean, if no one ages… and you can’t have your own children…”

“Ah, well,” Mariano said, glances over at the group of mothers. They looked too young to have children as old as the skateboarding boys. “When children… die”– he said this word very carefully– “They usually end up in an orphange. Sometimes they eventually get reunited with their own family. But usually they go to people who want children.”

I thought of Jin-mun. “What are the orphanges like?”

Maraino shrugged. “I’ve never visited one. I imagine they’re pretty variable.”

“And then… do the families just stay like that? Forver?” I couldn’t imagine having a six year old for all eternity.

Mariano chuckled. “It is possible to grow up,” he said. “You just have to do it artificallly. If you can imagine yourself as an adult, you can make yourself grow up. Or you can get surgery.”

“But what if,” I said, “The parents get sick of the kid?”

Mariano, to my surprise, completely ignored this question. “So if you decided that you most definitely had green hair, your hair would turn green.”

There was no way he hadn’t heard me. I walked along in dumb shock, listening to him list off strange bodily changes one could make. I considered asking the question again, but it was so out of character of him to not give me an overly thorough answer that I was hesitant. Usually he only avoiding conversation topics if they related to him on a personal level.

“Oh, Juniper!” Mariano gasped suddenly. “Look at that.”

He pointed to a dog. It was a completely unremarklable, small gray mutt, I thought. We had seen lots of people walking dogs earlier, and the only difference that I could see between them and this one was that it wasn’t on a leash.

It was sniffing at a rose bush.

“That’s nice,” I said.

“It’s a real dog,” Mariano said, weirdly excited, and rushed over to it. The dog, of course, run away.

I watched Mariano chase the dog, both amused and confused. A ‘real’ dog? I supposed this was one of those extreemly self-aware animals he had mentioned when we first met, the ones that made it to the afterlife. The ones with owners present must have all been built. Was that why this one was all alone?

Mariano eventually caught the dog. It had dived under the rose bush and and Mariano had coaxed it out, offering his hand and making those silly noises people make at animals. The dog licked his hand and he picked it up and carried it over to me.

“Did you have any pets?” Mariano asked as I petted its head.

“We had a cat for a while,” I said. “But it ran away. I blame Logan– he pulled out half its whiskers one time.”

The dog started squirming and Mariano put him down. It sniffed around our feet.

“Did you have any pets?” I asked. “You seem to really like dogs.”

“Yeah,” Mariano answered. “I had a–”

But then the dog started barking, and it ran off. Mariano chased it, laughing. I followed after them, dogding around bushes full of red and yellow roses.

We went through another grove of pine trees and came out to a small pond with a large statue in the middle. Then the statue moved, and I skidded to a stop. The dog kept going, barking fearlessly, and Mariano followed.

“What the– you have got to be kidding me.”

There was a dinosaur in the pound. It was probably a lot smaller tha it should have been, based on all those dinosaur books Matthew had insisted I read to him. It was what I think the book would have called a ‘duck-billed’ dinosaur– the type that loped around on two legs and made mating calls with its horn. (I remembered that one because I had had to explain to my six-year-old bother what a ‘mating call’ was, which was really awkward and I think I told him something like, “How he gets a dinosaur girlfriend.”)

The little dog ran right into the pond, stopping when the water came up to its belly, all the while barking furiously at the dinosaur. Mariano stopped at the edge of the water and waved me over.

I walked over, eyeing the dinosaur in utter confusion. It ignored the dog, along with me and Mariano, instead focusing on nosing around in the water. I realized there were ducks in the pond too, and they completely ignored the dinosaur as well. Probably because they were ‘fake’ ducks.

“Why,” was all I said to Mariano.

“I don’t have the slightest idea,” he answered, and his face reflected his words perfectly.

We stared at the dinosaur for a while, the little dog continuing to bark dutifully at it. Then we heard yelling and turned around to see two men running up to us.

“Oy, Sorolla!” One of them yelled. The dog looked up and then ran over to them, wagging its tail. “Nice work,” the man said, kneeling to pat the dog’s little head.

“Hello,” said Mariano brightly, and he introduced us. “We were wondering why there’s a dinosaur here,” he said.

“It’s from the museum, of course,” the other man said, jerking his thumb behind him. My brain hadn’t fully registered it because of the dinosaur, but in the ditsnace was a domed, skeletal white building. “We have a new exhibit on the old lizards, but this one got away.”

“Luckily Sorolla was on the case,” the first man said. The dog– Sorolla– had rolled onto its back and the man was rubbing its belly.

“You have actual dinosaurs in your dinosaur exhibit?” I said faintly.

“Newly dead?” The second man asked, eyeing the hole through my head.

“Yeah,” I said. “Wait, it’s normal to have actual dinosaurs in dinosaur exhibits?”

The first man laughed and stood up with Sorolla in his arms. “You bet it is,” he said. “Makes it much more fun for guests. But we thought it would be nice advertisement to let one or two roam around outide,” he said. “You know, to get people excited and make them want to come in. But this one doesn’t get that it isn’t supposed to leave the general area.”

“Is the dog yours?” Mariano asked, reaching over to pet it some more. There were actual dinosaurs being kept in museums and he was excited about a dog.

“I wish,” the man answered.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Meet Thera!


“Look at her!”

“What does she think she’s doing?”

“Shh, she might hear you.”

A crowded had gathered at the end of the breezeway. A handful of students stood clustered around the end that opened to the courtyard, whispering loudly to themselves and sending excited and fearful glances toward something that stood just out of Shadrack’s point of view. He pushed through them, intent on using the courtyard as a shortcut to the library, only to stop dead when he realized what had caught his peers’ fascination.

Thera– dirty barefoot mountain girl Thera, now nearly a woman– was standing in the gazebo, reclined against its wall. She had been eyeing the students, who were very poorly hiding their ogling glances, with a certain wariness, but when she saw Shadrack her gaze gained a devilishly glint. She seemed to unfold before him, like a carnivorous flower opening itself to invite a fly in, straightening herself and sauntering toward him. Shadrack stood in absolute horror as the group of students behind him buzzed with exclamations.

“Shadrack,” Thera purred. He looked her straight in her strange black eyes, glared furiously, then shoved past her and stormed toward the library. She followed at a much more moderate pace.

The path to the library passed through several low hanging trees, and when he thought no one could see them, Shadrack stopped and turned to her.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

She cocked her head to the side and took her time looking his tense form up and down in great amusement.

“Are we getting along with the other boys and girls, Shadrack dearest?” she asked sweetly. Shadrack narrowed his eyes and mimicked her actions, openly assessing her appearance.

Her feet– though now sporting sandals– were still covered with scabs from the thistles that grew over graves, and the marks went all the way to the hem of her worn gray skirt. Her hands, laying casually on her hips, were covered in small little cuts, and her fingernails were still cracked and discolored from grave soil and blood and magic. Shadrack shuttered inwardly.

Her hair was darker and duller than it had been and hung in an unstyled veil around her shoulders. Her skin, like her hair, was discolored from too much time spent working under a magicking moon. It was so transparent that Shadrack could clearly make out the intricacies of the veins of her temple.

Yet, in the end, it was her face that always frightened him most, more than her fading shadow. She had the normal purplish circles around her pitch-colored eyes that marked one of Them, but it was the almost hungry, feline look they held that made him uneasy. And the twitching smiling, like he was an especially entertaining pet, irritated him to no end.

“If that’s all you’re here for,” he said, “then I should get going.” He turned to leave and she pursed her lips.

“Wait,” she called after he’d taken several carefully paced steps. “I need to talk to you.”

He raised his eyebrows at her. “I’m getting along quite fine with the other boys and girls, thank you,” he said and made to leave again.

“Shadrack,” she answered, clearly annoyed. “I need to talk to head of research.”

Shadrack stopped and stared at her incredulously. “I’m sorry,” he replied, “I don’t think I heard you correctly. You need to talk to who?”

Thera bit her lip and suddenly looked unsure of herself. “The head of research. It’s important.”

“You do realize,” said Shadrack, “That our head of research is the head of research for the entire kingdom, right?”

Thera wrinkled her brows in such a way that clearly said, “So what?” Shadrack couldn’t help it. He began to laugh.

“You?” he managed to say. “You think you can get an audience with him?”

She tilted her head back haughtily, gazing coolly back at his mocking expression through hooded eyes. “And why couldn’t I?” she asked coldly.

“Thera,” answered Shadrack, bemused, “you are the witch living in the dark forest. You are the monster lurking in the woods that villagers warn their children. You are the thing that goes bump in the night. What would the head of research want with you?”

Thera arched her eyebrows, head still tilted back so that she looked at him over her pointed chin. “Society needs fuel to progress. I just inherited an entire estate full of fuel.”

Something deep within Shadrack turned very cold. It was true several forms of very powerful magic relied on that, but those rituals were not widely used. If it were employed more often, the practical uses of magic would increase substantially, and yet…

“You do realize that’s insane, right?” he said. “No one’s going to go along with that. It’d be easier on you to not even try.”

He expected those words to have some effect on her arrogant expression, but Thera’s face just broke into a wide smirk. “Are you saying you can’t get me an audience, Shadrack dearest?”

Shadrack scowled. “Of course I can. I’m just saying it’s not going to work out on your end.”

Her smirk didn’t change. “I’ll be the one to worry about that,” she said with a note of finality and then walked away the way they’d come. Shadrack watched her, dumbfounded, with the sense that underneath her moon-white skin, something was boiling.


And here's a conversation ABOUT Thera.


“You’re being ridiculous,” Shadrack chided, trying to hide his panic behind a mask of annoyance. “You know I’d spend more time with you if I could–”

“You mean if you weren’t spending so much time with that freak?” She hissed back, violently smashing away at the eye of newt with the flat of her knife. Shadrack considered pointing out that those were meant to be pulverized, not smashed, but thought better of it.

“I know, I hate talking to her too, but…” Shadrack edged around the table and put his arm around her shoulders. “We have the weekend, right?”

She shrugged his arm away and pulled some type of root toward herself and began chopping.

“That reacts poorly with iron,” Shadrack said quietly. “You need to use a bone–”

The sound of the knife against the granite slab become more resolute and she glared intensely down at her work. Shadrack backed away.

When she finished with the root, she calmly placed the knife on the table and turned to look at him with a stony face.

“This weekend,” she said, “You are taking me out somewhere nice.”

Shadrack brightened. “The park–”

“No,” she cut in firmly. “You are taking me somewhere that costs money. When you’re not studying, you’re working, and you say you need that job, but all you spend money on is fancy new tools and vanity items.”

“But I need those things!”

“No, Shadrack, you need some down time. With me.”

Shadrack squirmed under her harsh gaze for a few moments, rearranging vials of pickled vegetation on her workbench. “Are you sure the park isn’t–”

“SHADRACK!” She threw her arms up in defeat and picked the knife back up, cleaning it with her apron. “If you really need the money, maybe I should get a job too. Lord knows I don’t have anything better to do with you always out. Or maybe I should sell all my jewelry– you think it’s too gaudy anyway.” She stared down at the knife, her face reflected fuzzily in its blade. “Or maybe,” she continued, her tone gaining a hysterical note, “I should cut off a few of my fingers and sell them–”

“You want to talk to Thera?” Shadrack exclaimed, appalled. “But she’s so abrasive and rude! And she has horrid fingernails! In fact, she–”

“ARGH!” She screamed, throwing the knife at the ground. Shadrack gawked at her and she glared heatedly back at him.

After a long, tense minute, he said hesitantly, “But sweetie, Thera really is–”

We’re over, Shadrack!” she bellowed, and left him standing quite confused in alchemy lab number six.

Friday, August 26, 2011



but i think i bungled whatever the hell was was point at the end LOL


I notice my shirt is too tight when I can clearly make out my bellybutton. I stare at it in the blurry reflection in the car window. This melon-baller scoop is proof I am human. That I was born. This is proof I was once a mass of translucent cells incubating in my mother’s womb.

One day maybe I will have my own mass growing inside me.

I run my finger around the rim of my bellybutton, through the thin cotton. How would that feel? A taught, bloated stomach, like a balloon grown under the skin. And then inside– some alien thing, writhing, growing, turning. Feeding.

I stick my finger into the twisted hollow where I was once connected to my mother.

I imagine going in further, pushing my entire hand under my skin. I imagine the squish of yellow fat and the palpations of skin as I drum my fingers against my stomach. Intestines under my hands like fresh pasta. Warm. Safe. I could reach up into my chest, bent over with my forearm plunged into my belly up to the elbow, and wrap my own aorta around my finger. I could press my thumb against my heart and feel myself live. I could pinch my lung and feel it expand under my fingers as I inhale.

I could pull my bellybutton open further, I could put both hands inside, and I could rearrange my spaghetti-intestines however I want. I could push them all up to the top, wedged against the stomach and the pancreas, and feel gravity drag them back down as I straighten up. I could take them out and string them across my arms like Christmas lights. I could reach all the way back and push aside my kidneys and trace my spine, outlining one vertebra at a time. Could I feel the nerves trails out, I wonder?

I wonder what kinds of contortions I would have to do to reach all the way up to the tip of the spine and tap on the base of my skull.

If I had a little alien mass inside, I could take out my womb and look at it. It would be like a water balloon. I could turn it inside out at there would be blue latex fused with the inside wall of my uterus. And there would be my little alien baby in a bath of runny jello, connected to me with a latex-flesh-umbilical chord.

I could pull the chord feel and toss the little alien aside, or I could pinch its little head and crush it, or I could toss the entire balloon away. Or I could not. I could tuck it back away in its upside down home, to feast on me some more. Or I could not. It’s mine. The blue latex is mine. I could. I might.

My hands drift from my navel up across my breast, around my neck, to the hollow of the base of my skull. My eyes are blurry in the window. Mine mine mine.

(the file also has the incomplete "Hands." and "Feet.")

Friday, August 19, 2011

JUNIPER LIVES!! (or... no wait...)

“Juniper?” Mariano caught my wrists, his face horrified. “What are you doing?”

“I– I–” I stuttered. I few strands of hair were caught between my fingers. Mariano slowly pulled my hands away from my head.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said calmly.

“I know, but…” I pulled my hands from his. “It’s just…” I inhaled deeply and willed my voice not to crack. “I can’t believe I’m related to that man. And now I don’t know what to do with myself, and it just… it just all came out.”

I shrugged and accepted that I probably sounded completely insane. Mariano slowly raised his arm and put a hand on my shoulder.

“We’ll go to NAME OF ORG,” he said. “And you can figure out what you want. It’ll be okay.”

On impulse, I hugged him. He took a step back, startled, but returned it. On our way to NAME OF ORG, neither of us mentioned it.

Mariano took me to a hotel on the beach, which grew out of ten or twelves trees bending and stretching themselves. Instead of normal rooms, the hotel just had halls and halls of gates.

“I want to try something,” he said. He picked a random door and had me stand in front of it.

“Imagine a mountain,” he said. I did. “It’s very steep. It’s a faded green from shurbs and grass. There are more mountains around it. And in the middle of these mountains is a lake. The lake is very still and large. It’s not quite round but close enough.”

“Is there snow on the mountains?” I asked.

“No.” I was disappointed, but I removed the snow from my mental imagine. Mariano continued, “The mountain is completely hollow. Inside, there is a secret base filled with laboratories. The only way to get into the secret base is through a metal door at the edge of the lake. I want you to focus on that door, okay?”

“Alright,” I said. I imagined that that door was this door, th on in front of me, and that it would open up the to the lake and the mountains. I opened the door.

On the other side, there was a lake not exactly like the one I had imagined, but close enough. Mountains rose up around it. “Neat,” I said.

“Nope,” said Mariano. “Try again.”

It took eight more tries before I openned the hotel door to the right mountain lake.

“Fantastic!” Mariano cried and led me through. We closed the door, turned around, and Mariano opened it again to reveal the ‘secret base’ inside the mountain.

The walls and ceiling were dull metal sheets with fluorescent lights. Periodically there would be large windows showing off strange rooms which I supposed were the labratories. One looked like a medieval alchemist’s workshop, and another had walls of buttons and blinking lights like something out of an old science fiction movie. The end of the hall opened into a large room covered with computer screens and panels of switches and keys. A man was typing furiously in front of the largest screen, and a man and a woman sat at a table in the middle of the room. They were building a card pyramid.

“I’m back!” Mariano announced. The card pyramid collapsed and the three people looked up. The first man continued typing, his face toward us instead of the screen.

“Who’s that?” he asked, nodding toward me.

“It’s nice to see you too,” Mariano said and sat down at the table. “This is Juniper. Juniper, that’s Liang–” He pointed to the man who went back to squinting at the compter screen. “And these are Pandora and–”

“Tupaqyupanki,” the other man interrumpted, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms. “Don’t call me Tupaq. I don’t know why that’s funny, but some day I will figure it out, and Mariano will suffer.” He said this all very seriously. My eyes widened.

Pandora snorted. “Tuki’s just upset he can’t find anyone who can say his name.”

“Oh,” said. “Um, nice to meet you. May I sit down?”

“No,” Tuki drawled, “we make poor confused newly deads stand as a form of purgatory.”

I decided to interpret that as, “Why yes Juniper; after all, you’re our welcome guest!” I sat down next to Pandora. She looked about my age, I thought, maybe a year or two older. She was small, with long, black hair. She watched me hang my bag on the chair with brown, almond eyes.

Tuki, on the other hand, looked like he was maybe five years older. He was shorter than Mariano, but well built with dark caramel skin and glossy black hair.

“Where’s old Minestrone?” Mariano asked, propping his feet on the table. Tuki, who was sitting across from him, gave his boots a withering glance.

“Off thinking deep thoughts or whatever it is philosophers do,” Tuki answered.

“Hmm,” Mariano hummed.

“More importantly,” said Pandora, “why did you bring her back with you?” She jabbed a thumb in my direction.

“Couldn’t find a relative,” Mariano said, then kicked his feet off the table, leaned over and started on his own house of cards.

“Really now,” Tuki said dryly.

“Well, we did,” Mariano explained, “but Juniper thought he was a jerk.”

I turned red. Pandora laughed.

“Hey,” she said, elbowing me good naturedly, “I think that about these two everyday and I still have to live with them.” Tuki flicked a card at her, and the motion caused Mariano’s card house to collapse.

Pandora gathered up all the cards and delt them for spades.

“So,” I said after I’d lost my third game, “is Liang the only one who does work around here or what?”

“No,” Mariano protested at the same that Liang called over, “Yes.”

“Liang’s in charge of data analysis,” Pandora said. “The three of us do field work.”

“Are you peer advisors too?” I asked.

“Suuure,” Tuki said.

“No seriously,” I said. “Mariano can’t be the only one. To be effective you’d need lots of workers.”

“Well, um,” said Pandora, “There are more people, but they’re out now, doing… work.” She started dealing again. “Tuki and I do more specialized stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, you know,” Tuki cut in. “We just go out, separate confused youths from their support networks, then force peer advisors on them. It’s all one big conspiracy.”

I gaped at him and he smirked back.

Before we finshed our fourth game, the man Mariano had called ‘Minestrone’ waltzed in. He was dressed in a white toga and had a neatly trimmed, sand-colored facial hair.

“Mariano!” he said jovially and slapped him on the back. “You brought a friend.” He grinned at me, inviting and friendly.

“This is Juniper,” Mariano said. “She’s a bit of a special case…”

Mariano explained my situation.

“Ah, that happens sometimes,” the ‘Minestrone’ said. “Nice to meet you, Juniper. You can call me Menestheus.”

“Nice to meet you too,” I said and shook his hand.

He told me I was welcome to stay for as long as I wanted, and told Pandora to take me to find a room. As we left the room, I heard Mariano say, “We need to talk.”

Pandora led me to an elevator and took me to “the very top.” (The button next to it was labeled “almost at the very top.”) After a very awkward ride in which Pandora fixed her hair in the mirror-plated wall, we found ourselves in a tiny round corridor with polished wound floors and neon green wallpaper.

“This floor is for girls,” Pandora said. “For some reason we let Tuki pick the colors. Tuki is not a very nice person.”

There were only four, firehydrant-red doors lining the little corridor. Either there were female employees living elsewhere or ORG NAME was not an equal opportunity employer.

“This one is the least offensive, I think,” Pandora continued and let me into a decent sized, bee-themed bedroom. Everything was black and yellow, and the comfortor on the small bed had a bee pattern. There was a lopsided honey-comb shaped beanbag chair in one corner. The desk was a bright-pink flower: an actual one, facing upward and flat, with a can of writing utensils balanced on its golden center.

“It’s… nice,” I said. Pandora shook her head.

“Don’t ever let Tuki design anything for you. He will go out of his way to make it painful for everyone. There was actually a merry-go-round bedroom that was in constant motion, with little rainbow ponies running around and neighing. Completely uninhabitable.”

I stared at her. “I’d like to see that, actually,” I said.

“Can’t,” she answered with a shrug. “I redid it for my room forever ago.”

I tentively sat down on the bed. It was comfortably soft. I dropped my bag on the floor; Minerva clinked against it.

“How long have you been here?” I asked. “Er– I mean, with ORG NAME, not… you know…”

Pandora laughed and pulled out the striped chair from the flower-desk. It had six legs.

“You don’t have to tiptoe around the whole death issue here,” she said. “Most people are over it. And if they’re not, well, screw ‘em.”

I nodded. She flipped a strand of hair over her shoulder and started twiddling it.

“I don’t actually remember dying,” she went on, “or being alive at all. I don’t even remember my real name.”

“Not even your name?” I repeated, shocked. She shrugged as if it weren’t a big deal.

“I didn’t even have one for a while. Tuki just called me ‘you’ for years. But Menestheus, being who he is, suggested Pandora.”

“So you knew Tuki before ORG?” I said. She nodded.

“Tuki and I used to wander around together. I don’t have any memories where I didn’t know who Mr. Tupaqyupanki is.”

“How old is Tuki?” I asked.

“Well, we don’t really know that either,” Pandora admitted sheepishly. “He doesn’t remember much about life. He’s got to have died at least five hundred years ago, though– somewhere in the Andes, he thinks.”

“And have you been with him that long?”

“No, I… I’m not really sure. Maybe a hundred years, living time. It’s hard to keep track if you’re not being vigilant. But we’ve just been traveling around together for so long… until we met Minest– Menestheus, of course.”

“And when was that?” I felt prying, but I was genuinely interested.

“Oh, I don’t know… twenty years ago, maybe? The ORG was pretty new then. Minest–Menestheus had just found this mountain, ready-made with labs and stuff. And it ‘resonated’–” she made finger quotes “–with Tuki or something, so we signed up, moved in, and Tuki started decorating everything horribly.”

“And where’s Menestheus from?” I asked. I wanted to ask about Mariano, but there was probably a reason he avoided talking about himself, so I had chickened out.

“Ancient Greece, of course,” replied Pandora in a duh voice. “He was a philosopher, and now he has all these great ideas for research. And for whatever it is Mariano does, of course.”

I mentally battled two questions. First, I wanted to know why a Greek man would go by an Italian nickname and stroll around in a Roman toga. Second, I continued wanting to ask about the elusive Mariano. After remembering Tuki had been sporting a pair of cargo pants, I decided fashion choices of the dead were not worth analyzing.

“And where’s Mariano from?” I asked, giving into temptation.

“No idea,” Pandora answered flippantly, crushing my hope with a wave of her hand. “He showed up a few years ago and went and schmoozed and charmed everyone, including Minestrone.”

She then announced she needed to get something out of her room and sauntered out.

I laid down on my bed. What was I going to do with myself? For all I’d seen, I didn’t actually understand how this place worked. I’d barely met any people. At home I knew what I was supposed to do: finish high school, go to college, find a useful degree I didn’t hate.

What did dead teenagers do?

I curled into a ball. My borrowed skirt ended a few inches above my knees; I started to absently scratch my lower thigh there.

“Juniper?” A deep voice echoed around my room. I yelped in surprise. “This is Menestheus. Could I speak to you privately?”

“I, um…” I said, looking around the room. Did I have a microphone to talk into or something? I tried talking to a wall. “Sure, why not?”

“Excellent,” the voice answered. It didn’t seem to be coming from anywhere in particular, just around. What an odd PA system.

He told me where to meet him and I went to the elevator and pressed the button labeled “exact midpoint,” as instructed. The button next to it said, “The floor that smells like fish.” I decided to avoid that floor if I could.

The exact midpoint was a cafeteria. It was a wide, open room: along the the back were various centuries’ worth of kitchen tools, and on the opposite side of the room were a handful of square tables. It was lit with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling window over looking the lake outside. I found this perplexing, as there was no sign of a window from the outside.

Menestheus was seated at the table closeted to the window, a tray with all the accoutrements for teatime set before him. I sat down across from him, shoulders tense.

“Hello sir,” I said. “I wanted to thank you for helping me out and taking me in. If you need anything done, I’d be happy to help out.”

Menestheus chuckled and leaned back casaully. I relaxed.

“No need to thank me, Miss Gard,” he said. “Mariano told me your story.”

“Oh,” I said. “I guess it’s not normal to reject family like that…”

“It happens all the time; we’re always putting up newly deads,” he said and winked knowlingly. “Does sharing blood truly necessitate love?”

“Well no, but…” I mumbled something about ensuring one’s genetic code spread.

If bringing me to ORG was normal, then why had Tuki and Pandora acted like it was strange? Did they really enjoy being as contradictory as possible? Why was I trying to defend familial love using genetics to an ancient Greek philosopher?

“Have some tea,” the man offered. He served us both and offered me a plate of cookies. I took one politely.

We chatted pleasantly for a while, and I told him how I’d died and the adventures I’d had with Mariano. He told me about the Athens of his youth. He described the acroplois and the parthenon and his home to me, with all the detail of a painting. He told me about philosophical arguments he’d had.

“You must count yourself lucky to have such vivid memories of your life,” I said. “Since Pandora and Tuki can barely remember anything at all.”

“I do,” he agreed solemnly. “Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”

I gave him a brief summary of what I’d told Barry.

Afterwards I said, “May I ask what’s going to happen to me here?”

He stood up and walked slowly to the window, staring down at the smooth lake. He looked quite dramatic, with his toga and regal posture.

“Do you know what we do here?” He asked.

“I know you run a peer advising program for newly deads,” I said slowly. “But I guess you must do more.” I thought of all those labratories.

“Much more,” he said. “Death offers a lot of opportunity, Miss Gard.”

“If you say so, sir,” I said.

“The peer advising program is Mariano’s pet project,” Menestheus explained. I nodded. “My goal is something much greater.”

I waited for him to say more. He didn’t. He continued staring down at the lake, his expression hard as though deep in thought. I had the vague feeling he was purposely putting on a show. (no shit, junie)

“Sir?” I said. “What are you researching?”

“The link,” he said, “between life and death.” He looked me in the eyes expectantly.

“That sounds really interesting,” I said, having no idea what he meant.

“What, Miss Gard, is the difference between living and dying?”

“A pulse?” I tried, then pinched myself under the table for much a smartass reply.

“Did you know,” Menestheus continued, strolling back over to the table, “that people only come to life when they have died?” He didn’t sit. I felt he was trying to intimidate me and remained silent. “The truth is only apparent in hindsight.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. He smirked back at me.

“ORG’s goal is to bring all the opportunities of life to the dead.”

I thought “I still don’t understand” wasn’t a valid response and would make me look stupid. I hesitated, then said it anyway.

He looked thoughtful, as if my comprehension failure was baffling. He sat down and took another sip of tea.

“Miss Gard, you have noticed that we use computers here, haven’t you?” I nodded. “And we have elevators and coffee makers and blenders.” My eyes darted over to the mess of kitchen supplies on the other side of the room. They also had modern stoves and toaster ovens and Tuki wore cargo pants.

“But most of you are very old,” I said slowly.

He smiled wryly at me. “Exactly. We want to bring all the modern advances of the living to the dead, more quickly than they’re dispersing now.”

I thought of the library and their horrible information storage system. Spreading technology seemed like a worthy aim, but I tried to imagine bringing a toaster to everyone who had ever died or explaining the internet to early H. sapiens.

“Sir, don’t you think that’s a bit lofty?” I said.

Menestheus sighed. “Miss Gard, I will admit something to you. I regret my life. I regret not setting more ambitious goals for myself.”

I blinked, surprised. “But you made it sound so beautiful.”

He shook his head. “In the end, history hasn’t remembered me. I wasn’t Plato or Aristotle or Socretes. I never did anything daring. I never did anything worth remembering.”

“You found it worth remembering,” I said. He smiled sadly.

“Thank you, Miss Gard,” he said.

“I don’t understand what this has to do with that stuff about ‘the truth is only apparent in hindsight,’” I went on, swirling the contents of my teacup without paying much attention to it.

“I’m lucky in that I remember my life,” he said. “I can remember the best parts and the worst parts. And now, with ORG, I’m fixing my regrets– I’m aiming high and I will be remembered among the dead forever. But Tuki and Pandora will never have the opportunity to fix regrets.” (i hate this entire conversation DIE DIE DIE)

“Oh,” I said. My mind struggled to put what he was saying together. Modern technology would mean better information storage and easier access to new information and more efficient communication. “You want people to have more tech… so they can remember their lives? So they can have the good memories and fix any regrets?” (WHAT THAT'S STUPID STOP PULLING STUFF OUT OF YOUR ASS MICHELLE)

“Life is precious,” Menestheus affirmed. We stared at each in silence for a few moments, then he started asking me for details about my life– to learn about new advances, I supposed. I told him everything he wanted to know.

I didn’t think I had much interesting to say about myself (especially to someone who was trying to change the afterlife forever), but he seemed intrigued by everything I had to say. It seemed like hours had passed (although time was horribly relavent here) when he finally said,

“Now I should tell you want you’ll be doing to earn your keep here, Miss Gard,” he said. “You’ll be spending a lot of time with Liang.”

“Why Liang?” I asked.

“Liang will record anything new you have to say about the living world,” Menestheus. “I suspect not much has changed since Mariano arrived, but we want to be as up-to-date as possible.”

“Right,” I said. Again I found myself wondering just how old Mariano was.

“And you’ll be taking up some chores to keep the headquarters running,” Menestheus continued. “Cleaning, some paperwork– things like that.”

“Yes, sir.”

He told me he’d send for me when I was needed and we said our goodbyes. I retreated to the elevator and thought about what he’d said as I ascended.

Menestheus made a lot of claims I couldn’t quite agree with. I thought trying to keep up with the living world was a good idea, but I didn’t think it could solve everyone’s problems, nor did I think it was the key difference between life and death. And what was all that about people only coming alive when they were dead? Maybe Menestheus was a bit batty, having existed so long.

(juniper make better feedback on crazyman mk thanks?)

What would I be like, centeries from now? Would I remember anything at all?

The elevator doors opened, and I found a very strange sight in the neon green room. Pandora was in the corridor outside, chasing a small white creature.

“Is that a unicorn?” I asked, befuddled.

“Shut up and help,” she weezed. The little horse probably only came to my waist. It was quick, agile, and doing a very good job of dodging Pandora as she lunged after it. She managed to get her arms around its neck, but it wrenched free and she went toppling forward, her long hair splaying everywhere.

Having sufficient time to recover from the absurdity of the situation, I helped Pandora tackle the unicorn. I managed to get my arm over its back and my other hand tangled in its mane, while she demonstrated the equine equivalent of a half-nelson. The animal bucked twice and continued to rampage around the courridor, dragging us with it.

“What’s going on?” I yelled into course hair.

“Uurrrgh,” Pandora replied and dug her heels into the floor. The horse eventually slowed to a rest, although I doubted it had anything to with Pandora’ efforts.

“Okay,” she panted, smoothing her hair with one hand and fisting the unicorn’s mane with the other. “Thanks. They do that sometimes times.”

Another horned horse stuck its head out from behind her door, which had been left open a jar. This one was pink. She yelled a few angry words at it and it retreated back inside.

“It’s like the universe is conspiring to withhold explanations,” I said as Pandora led the tiny white unicorn back into her room, slamming the door behind her.

In my room I remembered Pandora mentioning the merry-go-round Tuki had made with real, miniture horses. Apparently she hadn’t been that annoyed with them afterall.

I sat down at my flower-desk and tried to think about my conversation with Menestheus more, but I was distracted by other thoughts. What would redecorating my room entail? Would I even be staying here long enough for it to matter? Why were the elevator buttons labeled like that? Why bother with an elevator and different floors at all if you could just link a bunch of rooms to the same gate?

Oh, I thought. So that’s why there’s only four doors on this floor.

I sat there for a very long time, mentally mulling over what I dubbed “ponder-tangents.” In the end, I managed to make very few conclusions.

Eventually I was summoned to go meet with Liang. He was still in the first room I’d encountered in ORG: the one where I’d played cards with Pandora and Tuki. He had moved to a new computer, however, and I dragged a chair from the card table over to him.

“You called?” I said.

He pushed his rolling chair back from the screen and reached above his head in a deep stretch. His dark hair stuck up as if he ran his hand through it frequently, and his button-up shirt had a coffee stain on it.

“Juniper, right?” he said. “I need you to answer a few questions.”

“Right,” I said. He asked me several basic questions, such as my full name and my birth and death days, and entered then on the computer. He asked where I had lived and and with whom I had lived. He asked for their names and ages.

“Why do you need to know?” I asked after I’d told him.

He shrugged. “Just formalities. What’s the most recent advance in the field of medicine?”

“I… I really don’t know. Sorry.”

“What about in any of the other sciences?”

“I don’t know. We only really talked about established things in school,” I explained.

“Hmm.” Liang typed something brief. “Why don’t you tell me about recent events, then.”

“Umm…” I was starting to feel uncomfortable. My parents watched the news during breakfast, and I tried to remember what was on the day of my death. I spluttered out something about a tree falling across a major road during a storm. Stupid, stupid, stupid, I thought and reached up and pulled at my hair with one hand. If Liang noticed, he didn’t care enough to show it.

“I see,” Liang said. He didn’t type anything and considered me for a moment. I started to braid my hair, and he watched without comment. Finally he said, “Who is the current leader of your country?”

I answered, and he asked me a series of questions about contemporary politics. I wasn’t as savvy as I would have liked, but I thought I did a decent job of telling him what he wanted to know.

When he was done quizzing me, Liang produced a ruler and carefully measured the diameter of the hole through my skull.

“The faster it closes,” he said, “the faster we know we’re losing your connection to your body. We can then also gauge how fast time is passing in the living world. Has it changed much since you died?”

I ran my fingers around the smooth edges. It didn’t seem like it had changed. Before, I had managed to squeeze my boney forearm though it, so I tried that again. I wiggled my fingers at Liang from the other side of my head.

“Nope,” I said.

“That’s good,” he said. “It means times is passing slowly.”

He led me down the hall to a supply closet and pointed to a mop and bucket.

“The floor with the cat skeleton has truly filthy floors,” he said. “See what you can do about it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, picking up the mop. “The floor with the what?”

Liang sighed and ran a hand through his already mussed hair. “The cat skeleton. I’d throw it out, but that’s what it’s called in the elevator…”

He turned and shuffled away before I could ask him why they didn’t just change the name then.

I mopped all the rooms I could find on that floor. It seemed to be a labyrinth of rooms of random themes: one had a handful of fishless aquariums and another had stacks and stacks of maps. The largest room was full of mirrors and inexplicably featured a full cat skeleton, displayed in a glass box on a podium in the room’s center. When I finished mopping, I dusted the mirrors and the glass case.

I kept myself busy cleaning and lost track of time. I ran into a few other employees, but they didn’t have much to say to me and for the most part the vast rooms of ORG were empty. I wondered about that– why was the afterlife so empty?

I asked Liang about that, and he replied by handing me a bag full of clothes he’d procured for me.

Tuki found me and handed me a file to run to Menestheus.

I slept for the second time since dying. It was a strange, habitual action. I never actually physically felt tired, although I was sure I had been wandering around the compound for at least three or four days. But my mind was going off on more and more ponder-tangents, and after he found me carefully studying the bristles of a broom, Liang suggested I take a nap. If I dreamed, I didn’t remember it.

I awoke to knocking. There was no intermediate feeling of drowsiness between the state of sleep and waking, so I hopped up and answered the door as energetically as if I’d already been awake.

“Good morning!” Mariano greeted when I opened the door. He appraised the pajamas I’d barrowed from Pandora. They were fuschia. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

I leaned against the doorway and grinned teasingly. “I fail to see the point,” I said, “in using temporal greetings when time runs according to whim. Look, I can make it evening: And will you be having the stake or the chicken at dinner?”

“Ha,” Mariano answered. “You make fun of it now, but you know you like it.” I shrugged and continued grinning. “And you’ll like what I want to show you,” he said. “Get dressed.”

I shut the door for privacy and rooted through the pile of clothes I’d obtained. Liang either had a very strange sense of style or had been very lazy with his shopping, as it seemed he had raided a series of high school locker rooms to produce gym clothes of varying colors.

Ignoring the morbidity of it, I put on the clothes in which I’d woken up dead.

“Okay then,” Mariano said when I emerged from my room. He was eyeing the tears around the right calf of my lucky jeans.

“Where are we going?” I asked, following him into the elevator. He pressed the “very bottom” button. Oddly, it was at the top.

“For a walk,” he said.