(An Imaginary Review.)
Ah, the 1970s, when the unprofitable and idealistic hippie cultures had collapsed in a wave of tragically-betrayed idealism, and, for a strange, gloriously soulless ten years, all the psychedelics and the drugs and the weird, weird aesthetic choices went straight into corporate culture. “I don’t know what that is,” said corporate America, “but a bunch of really strange stuff went down, and apparently people want that. Why not put it on TV and the radio?”
“Yes, I think that is a wise and well-chosen decision,” said 877,523 tons of cocaine.
Not everyone is privileged to know how much good this did for literary science fiction. And when I say “good”, I mean “The best parts have survived and made it through to today, but unsung and unknown, there are thousands upon thousands of gems of just the worst possible ideas. I collect old scifi books of that period. And let me tell you: it’s horrifying.
Go ahead and think of that era as being synonymous with”Rendezvous With Rama”, “The Shockwave Rider”, or, on very very slightly lighter note, “Gateway”.
You do that. I’m going to sit here with “Caduceus Wild”, a novel about a dystopia ruled by doctors, or “I: Weapon”, in which the human race is only saved by interbreeding multiple different species of human (humans are multiple different species in this distant future, each with their own superpowers) so that this one particular individual can go and win a war with space aliens by (at least partly) breeding with them (I am not making this up). (No, this isn’t porn; this stuff just…happens.) Yeah, we got “Illuminatus”, but we also got “Thongor and the Dragon City”, and sure, I worship the former book and really enjoy the latter, but I am too weird for words and the fact that I like things means you should consider running from them very, very quickly.
So for all those whose first criticism is that Star Wargs isn’t science fiction, you’re probably right, but the 1970s bent, twisted, mangled, spun, and warped “science fiction” so much that it doesn’t matter. Consider yourselves lucky that you got spaceships, you ungrateful sods.
Star Wargs had a lot of things going for it, but what it had, more than anything else, was an insistence on its own reality, and it made shameless use of force modifiers which tore through our sense of proportion and forced millions of us to fall in love.
It’s easy to call Star Wargs “Wizards In Space”, but that’s just part of it. It kept pushing past the sale, until few people had the ability to resist, and even fewer had the desire.
Realistically, Star Wargs had Wizards who actually did stuff. Consider how infrequent this is. Magic is generally either world-breaking or frustratingly limited. Either it can do just about anything—in which case, why do magic-users ever have problems?—or it seems to be so limited that one might just as well stick with physics and chemistry and reliable diesel engines. But The Force is an energetic field pervading all life. It can manipulate both matter and spirit because it is a bridge between the two, and its metaphysics do not depend on exterior powers, like demons or angels, nor on incantations, or (in general) on ritual (let’s not get into Sith sorcery, eh?) and therefore, it can do a multiplicity of things, limited mostly by individual strength of will, focus, attunement, and, obviously, as is essential with the supernatural in pretty much all video media, plot convenience.
And they had swords. You can (but I certainly do not intend to) run down the various arguments for and against the utilization of some sort of hand-to-hand weapon in an age of beamed weaponry. Sure, we wouldn’t consider bringing swords into combat now, and presumably our primitive firepower is pitiful compared to the power available in the far future. But these aren’t simply space swords; it’s actually a very natural mechanic for The Force, this combination of will and focus. It makes the magic into some combination of an extension of what we know we can do at the upper echelons of human achievement, and also something which is transformatively powerful, that, if you have the strength of character, the determination, the training, and the sense of self, you can do incredible things.
Some argue that setting these things in a space opera setting, rather than a fantasy setting, is dishonest. Hard disagree. The space opera setting was key to the Star Wargs universe. It said that humans were not, primarily, held to the devices and mechanisms of primitive times, dependent on the fickleness of magic; in fact, the Universe was full of sentient, spacefaring beings of all varieties, engaged in complex and sophisticated pursuits, the result of thousands of years of advanced knowledge, applied through engineering and technology, and even then, in fact, especially then, spirit and will were still the most ultimately meaningful things in the Universe.
This is part of why it was so crushing to find out that the entire set of films was a ruse.
When it was revealed that the creator of the series was, in fact, a Sith Lord, and when he bent, not just this world, but every world in the Galaxy to his will, and crushed our souls and minds in the relentless grip of his merciless dominion, we were shocked, demoralized, and utterly defeated.
Plus, he took away our space swords, and that was such a bummer.
I have long fallen in love with my cozy little cottage, sitting right outside the skirts of a lively, bountiful forest. Softly humming a little tune, I thinly slice the freshly baked loaf of bread sitting on my kitchen counter. The toasty smell wafting in the air summons deep rumbling sounds from my empty stomach. My mouth waters as I spread a generous amount of light, velvety butter on my bread.
Just as I am about to wolf down my buttered bread, I hear panicked shouts right outside my door. Slightly disappointed, I snatch a slice and rush out the door.
A young boy, anxiously crouched over the limp figure of what appears to be a young girl, is desperately crying out for help.
The children are so severely malnourished that I can see their bones protruding from their paper-thin skin. I rush forward and crouch down. I am shocked by the cuts and bruises covering their tiny bodies, but I am forced to collect myself to address the most pressing matter at hand.
I look into the boy’s eyes and give him a comforting nod, “Don’t worry, I’m here to help.”
Upon hearing the word “help”, the young boy promptly faints with relief written all over his face.
What a strong, caring child.
With as much strength as I can muster, I carry each child into my humble abode. I slowly trickle some water into their mouths until both of them regain consciousness, “Shh, shh. Don’t speak, please try to stay calm and just eat.”
I use two fingers to pull off bite-sized pieces from my fluffy bread and gently stuff each piece into each of their mouths, one at a time.
“There we go, you guys are doing great!”
At last, the color has begun to flow back to their faces.
I lift the children into my bed, and I quietly tuck them in. The muffled cries of my grumbling stomach and the lonely, half-eaten loaf of bread end up forgotten as, overcome with exhaustion, I collapse onto the ground.
The body sitting and resting on my back feels as light as a corpse. I’m even more worried about the fact that Em hasn’t said a word for the past few hours, behavior that drastically contrasts her usual talkative self. But her silence is understandable, considering the circumstance. Only a few days ago, we had both decided to run away from our orphanage without so much as a morsel of a plan in mind.
We may be starving and looking death in the eye but I don’t regret my decision at all, and I’m certain Em feels the same. The so-called “orphanage” was more like a match factory disguised as a home for orphans; the “caretakers” trained all of us how to handle the matches without regard for our safety at all. Em and I would’ve been able to endure it all if not for the horrendous disease that was rapidly spreading throughout the den. They called it phossy jaw. And little Mary was the very first victim. The sight of her violently shuddering on the floor with a swollen, decomposing jaw before drawing her final breath has been burned into my mind, haunting me to this very day. I refuse to let Em fall victim to the same demon. She was my ray of sunshine, my only source of comfort in that hellhole.
Despite the burning pain flaring up from my bony feet, I trudge forward one step at a time, telling myself one step forward is one step closer to freedom. When I see the distant lump sticking up from the ground gradually enlarge as I step forth, adrenaline rushes into my veins and I muster what little strength I have left to sprint towards it. My heart is thudding fast and loud as a drum, and I haven’t had enough water to sweat but I can feel the heat rising to my head.
As I near the door, I pause mid-step.
Wait a second. I don’t feel her breaths anymore.
Up until now, Em’s soft breathing had tickled my neck like a feather, and my notice of its absence sends my heart six feet under. I slowly set Em down on the ground and I check for heart beats, breathing, anything indicative of life. My heart drops even further.
No, there’s no way. We’ve already come so far. It can’t be…
I cry out in anguish and let out a guttural scream, a desperate plea for help.
As if to answer my cries, an angel descends from the heavens and gifts me the comfort of her aid, ““Don’t worry, I’m here to help.”
Please. Please save us. Please save Em.
And my world is suddenly sucked into a pitch-black darkness.
“Please, Miss Jane, let us help out around the house!,” I plead, “You already let us stay here free of charge, and you refuse to accept so much as a few words of gratitude, the least we can do is pull our own weight!”
Em eagerly nods in agreement, eyes full of energy and brimming with joy, “You’ve taken such good care of us for the past few days, and you’ve even offered us a place to stay, we are more than willing to offer our aid!”
Flustered, but evidently pleased to see the improvement in our health, Jane gives us each a light pat on the head, “Well, if you two insist.”
I grin wide enough to make my jaw sore, “You won’t be sorry, miss, I promise we’ll be useful. We’re willing to do anything if it means we can help you!”
Jane laughs, but I catch a hint of worry in her eyes, “My dear children, while I appreciate your offer to help, you mustn't make such promises to just anybody.”
“Oh, but Miss Jane, you aren’t just anybody!”
Jane affectionately ruffles my hair with a warm, glowing smile, “That’s nice to hear, dear Ren, thank you for your kind words.”
But it’s true... you saved our lives.
At this moment, I make a solemn vow to protect Jane, no matter the cost.
To protect every hair on her head, from her cozy, fireplace smile to her cheery little hum.
It’s only been a year and I’m already used to living with my two little helpers, Ren and Em. They fill my little home with so much life and joy that it feels as though they have been here from the very start. I absentmindedly wrap my fingers around the wooden handle of my pitcher to fill some glasses with water, and end up pouring out some air.
I sheepishly turn my head to look around only to discover that both children have witnessed my embarrassing slip of the mind.
I sigh, “Please forget what you just saw.”
Ren and Em, visibly suppressing giggles, vigorously nod several times and burst out the door with half-eaten loaves sticking out of their mouths. I can hear their giggles pass through the door to dance in my ears like a musical tune, and I can’t help but grin.
I slide a rope through the handle of the pitcher and secure the two ends in a tight knot, then slip on the makeshift necklace.
I call out, “Ren! Em! I’m heading into the forest to refill the water, alright?”
Em rushes back in through the door to cling onto me with a hug, “Miss Jane, why don’t you let Ren and I do it? You should stay here to rest!”
I pat her on the head, “Thank you for the offer, but I can’t let you two do all of the work, can I?”
Seeing words of protest begin to form in Ren's mouth, I quickly hush him, “Besides, it’s quite unhealthy to stay inside all the time. I’d like to get some fresh air every once in a while. Don’t worry, my dears, I’ll be back in no time!”
Humming, I lower the mouth of the pitcher into a gurgling stream and wait for a rush of cool water to flood in.
I notice some movement out of the corner of my eye but I choose not to pay it any heed, dismissing it as a wild creature or gust of wind.
I should gather some berries for jam…
With more water slipping out than rushing into my pitcher, I set it aside and cup my hands to drink straight from the stream.
The sensation of cool, refreshing liquid blessing my dry throat only leaves it begging for more.
A sharp pain abruptly pierces my heart and my body is thrown into the rough bark of a looming tree. A dark cloud of smoke arises from the throbbing point of pain on my chest and my vision blurs. Panic seizes my heart and I tightly clutch my chest hard enough to make my knuckles turn white as a ghost.
No...I have to get home...I mustn't stay out for too long or the children will become anxious...
I shudder as my thoughts are disrupted by a booming voice that consumes my mine and shakes my soul to its very core, commanding me to “SLEEEEEEEEEP.”
The light, tapping footsteps approaching the door spark excitement in my heart, and I dash over to the door to greet Miss Jane.
I creak open the door and run, barefooted, through the dirt until I am close enough to throw my arms around her neck, “Miss Jane, what happened? It’s pitch-black outside and we were worried sick!”
A sickeningly sweet voice trickles out of Miss Jane’s mouth, and a shiver runs down my spine, “My sweet, sweet child, there’s no need to worry about me. I assure you, I am perfectly fine. Look, I have the water right here!”
Miss Jane drunkenly holds up a half-empty pitcher with a jagged crack running down its side.
Something doesn’t feel right.
“M-Miss Jane? Are you sure you are feeling fine?”
Come on, Em, what’s wrong with you? How could you even think of doubting Miss Jane?
I shake my head at myself, but I fail to control my shaking limbs.
Miss Jane smiles and puts her hands on my shoulders, “Of course. My dear Em, why don’t you call me mother? I don’t mean to impose but I truly see you as my very own daughter.”
I freeze in shock, and a warm fuzzy feeling starts to melt away my irrational suspicions, “Miss Jane…”
I hear a soft creak behind me and the smell of Ren’s chicken soup fills the air. Ren must’ve overheard our conversation, because he’s standing in the doorway with his jaw hanging.
My stinging cheek causes tears to uncontrollably well up in my eyes. The warm, snug feeling that had filled my heart slipped out through the fresh cracks.
I look up in disbelief with a hand on my cheek, “M-Miss Jane?”
Ren put himself between me and Miss Jane, “Miss Jane, please calm down and let us right our wrongs. What have we done to anger you?”
“Please, call me mother,” replies a sugary voice dripping out from a twitching smile.
“M-m-,” Ren starts, but is interrupted by a harsh outcry.
Miss Jane, doubling over as though she were punched in the guts, let out a soft groan, “GO AWAY! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!”
I-I can’t control my body. It feels as though I’m a stranger in my own body… and my presence is being forced aside by another.
This other… “being”... seems to have access to the entirety of my past memories…
The demon in me drags my feet forth while lugging along the increasingly light pitcher of water, leaving a wet trail behind.
Though I remain a spectator of my physical form, I can tell that the perpetrator is becoming increasingly comfortable in my body, a disturbing thought that further alienates me from my own flesh. I can sense the demon’s intense craving for life essence as the energy is gradually sucked out of my soul.
And then it hits me. Oh god. The children. I have to protect the children. I have to fight for control.
I struggle and try to wrestle down the conflicting presence in my mind, and I must’ve taken it by surprise because, to my elation, I am able to take back control. My excitement and relief is unfortunately interrupted by the excruciatingly painful sensation spreading throughout my body at an alarming rate. My momentary display of weakness gave the devil a chance to snatch back control, and so I am once again a mere witness of my corpse.
I fight with all my might but can only gather enough strength to regain control for mere seconds at a time.
As my home comes into view, I am forced to make a decision.
If I use my short moments of control to explain my situation or tell the children to run away, they will only insist on staying to help me out. I refuse to put them in such a dangerous situation. I must scare them off so they will run away of their own accord.
Em, with her sweet but wary smile, cautiously approaches Jane with a steaming hot cup of honey lemon tea. The sweet and citrusy fragrant is soothing but also acidic, like the calm before a storm.
“M-mother, Ren and I made this tea just for you!,” Em accidentally trips over a crack in the floor, causing some of the hot liquid to spill over the edge of the delicate cup, into her quivering hands.
“EM! Are you alright!?,” I dash to her side and cradle her hand in mine, “Let’s run it through the cold stream.”
Jane’s head whips towards our direction, “YOU CLUMSY, FILTHY BRAT! You better stay here to clean up the mess!”
Em, slightly trembling, wobbles into my arms and starts to sob, “R-Ren… what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing, Em, you didn’t do anything wrong,” I tightly wrap my arms around her and lightly stroke her hair to calm her down.
What went wrong? We’ve already gotten this far away from the match factory. So why? Why haven’t we been freed? What more must we do to secure our freedom? Our safety?
I should’ve known it was all just a facade. The whole situation was simply too good to be true. I was a fool to think that Miss Jane would be any different from the other adults. She only wants us here to work for her.
It pains me to look at the devastation and betrayal swimming in Ren and Em’s eyes, but I must harden my heart if I am to save their lives.
I am using every single drop of strength I have to keep the devil in check, but I can feel its growing thirst for the young lives that are constantly within arm's reach. So far, the devil has resorted to countering my efforts by using honeyed words to convince the children to stay. But such trickery can only go so far. Love and trust must be earned, and once they are lost, they are not easily regained.
The thought relieves me, but it saddens me all the same. It seems I still have a long way to go before I become selfless enough to completely close off my heart. Despite knowing that everything I am doing is for the sake of the children, the selfish side of me just wants to spend what little time I have left in control of myself with them as their mother.
Though, ironically, the idea was devised by the devil to fool the children into staying, I have come to find the idea rather endearing after giving it some thought. Truly, Ren and Em are like my very own children, and I love them with all my heart.
Oh, what I would give just to hear them call me “mother” one time. Just once, for real, and to me.
Sigh…I’m getting weaker by the day. My body is increasingly slipping out of my control… I have to think of a solution before I am forced to give in to the devil…
A little voice that I have long pushed to the back of my mind called out, “Oh but there is a way to protect the children.”
I know… I know what I must do, but I can’t bring myself to do it…not yet… not while there’s still hope.
Snuggly huddled in bed with Ren, I turn to face him, “Ren, I’m scared.”
“Me too, Em, me too…,” Ren sighs, and I can hear the exhaustion in his voice, though it’s too dark for me to see his expression.
“Did something happen to Mi—I mean mother?,” I ask in a shaky voice, “She was so kind and sweet before…”
“No, Em. She was never kind or sweet. It was all an act.”
I try to hold back my tears, but I can’t hide the tremble in my voice, “D-do you really believe that?”
I hear the regret in Ren’s voice, “Oh Em, please don’t cry, everything is going to be alright, I promise.”
His words of comfort only serve to break my fragile dam, and the salty Niagara Falls come pouring down from my eyes.
To my astonishment, rather than embrace me in an attempt to calm me down, Ren joins me, and we mourn together.
All of this started the night Jane came back from the forest with the pitcher of water…I wonder what possessed her to show her true colors. Perhaps she felt that after gaining our trust, we wouldn’t dare to leave her side no matter how poorly she treats us. Every once in a while, she speaks sweet nothings to us—hands them out like candy—but I refuse to be fooled.
I get lost in my thoughts while drowning in silent tears until I finally drift off to sleep.
I’m running out of time. I’ve stalled for long enough.
The shimmering, teardrop stars spread across the dark veil over the once sunny skies call me forth, into the abyss.
I wrap my feeble life force around my soul to bind it to my body once more. The demonic flames that scorch my soul are nothing compared to the feeling of having my heart shattered into innumerable pieces.
I crack the door open as quietly as possible, but pause a half-step out the door. In spite of better judgment, I slip back into the house and step across the floor on my toes to peek into Ren and Em’s room.
I smile melancholically as I watch the bodies slowly rise and fall with each deep breath. And then I notice their tear-stained eyes and soaking wet pillows.
It's as though they know what will happen...
The sight of their sorrow tears apart my heart but also steels my resolve.
Without further hesitation, I step out the door and fall under the cosmic embrace of the glittering night sky. In a trance, I return to the home of the devil, heading deeper and deeper into the looming trees. My bone-deep pain only continues to grow as I near the stream where I was cursed.
I step into the burning cold of the running water and I follow the direction of flow. It feels as though I am walking on a trail of sharp shards of ice, but each step lifts a ton off my shoulders and lightens the load on my shredded heart.
The devil fiercely claws at me from the inside, but I have never felt so at ease. I sing softly with the whooshing water and harmonious chirps that pinch the biting cold of the air and cut through the otherwise dead silence of the night.
I can tell that I’m nearing the end when I start to hear rushing water crash into the rocky earth far down below. The rumbling drums tell me the falls are waiting for my arrival, and I quicken my pace to reach them.
I sprint with the current as I am drawn in by the chasm that beckons me forth. When my feet finally reach the edge, I curl my toes and...
It has been years since my leap of faith, and my fallen spirit has at last been gifted wings to soar once more.
I may have freed my soul, yet my heart cannot help but still ache.
My trembling hand can do no more than longingly reach out every second of every day as I watch my beloved children from above.
My precious Ren and Em, oh how I wish I could speak to you.
I am tremendously grateful for being able to watch them grow up in my former home, though from afar.
Are those tears I see?
I try to lunge forward but am stopped by a divine force that holds me back like a ball and chain. Defeated, I frantically brush aside the fluffy clouds to get a better view and firmly press my hands against the barrier that traps me in the sky.
Oh, they're smiling.
Em's face is glowing brighter than the sun, and Ren's lips are tightly pressed into her stomach.
My (spiritual) heartbeat gradually settles down...and then it rises astronomically high before crashing down like a wave as I fit together the puzzle pieces.
Tears of happiness and yearning overflow my eyes and fall through the clouds. I slump forward and helplessly bang at the invisible wall that separates us.
To my astonishment, my fists fall through and I find myself tumbling out of the sky in a blinding flash.
I am floating in a dark void, curled up and alone. But unafraid.
Where am I?
A deep voice that I immediately recognize to be Ren's echoes in the air, "I think she deserves our forgiveness. She may have lost herself in the end but she did, after all, save our lives."
Em's voice vibrates my entire body, "I agree."
I feel a hand lightly push me back, "You hear that, my dear child? Your name is going to be 'Jane'."
I watched as the watery surfaces smoothed out. The calming surface rose up and showed me the present that I could choose for her. It was an idyllic scene that showed her waking up on the dunes of a beach. The waters were the clearest blue there were, but it just felt so contrived and devoid of life. I breathed in and sighed out my disappointment. No, this present will not do. My creation needed something else.
I tapped my hand, once again, into the well, and the water, turning turbulent as it was in dismay at my rejection, bubbled up another image. This time, I saw the eruption of a volcano burst onto the scene with a screeching flame blossoming into her shape. A strange present—an intriguing start to life—but one not befitting for her. Deciding her present was more difficult than I thought. The well released a few bubbles to clear the image and then gurgled in disappointment.
What would a present befitting new life look like? I pondered many hours and yet here I was consulting the ancient well for answers. I thought of the dramatic, of the absurd, of the heartwarming, and the damning, but I could not set my heart on what was meant to be. What were the necessary ingredients for her present? I had summoned a few books of myths as inspiration to seek a beginning, a present, available at the moment of achieving consciousness to gift upon her, but all of them seemed dull and sometimes frightening.
It was critical to life that she obtain her own independence but also that she learned to avoid the same mistakes that my brethren made. She must be destined by fate to go beyond the selfish cruelty that left me as the final specimen of a cosmic experiment gone awry. She had to endure as the progenitor and the first sage of her people. She had to understand that life could not endure if it is fractured by sin. She must value life, despite being immortal. She must understand loss, despite having lost no one. She must understand suffering, despite no history to speak of.
The beginning must hold together the infinity of spirit that carried my people forward. The first breath should draw from the courage to thrive in this dying world but the second should draw from humility knowing that even the immortal and knowledgeable have much to learn.
I sat down on the ancient marble grounds, watching as the infernos of the magma swirl around me. The magical barrier kept the castle safe, but watching the magma swirl around, I felt so small. This place, hidden in the deepest core of the planet, is the final hope for us, but here I am trapped in indecision. The planet has waited long enough for healing after my siblings died fighting over it, scarring it beyond recognition. Could I prevent another catastrophe by removing all the original motivators of our hate?
I reasoned that hate could not come out of someone without need, but could it be that need itself is what lended to both our higher selves and our deepest tragedies? I looked at my creation, perfect in every way, but would a perfect present be, in all my hubris, the very folly that will lead to the void I sought so hard to fight back?
The well released a few more bubbles and fell silent again. The collective consciousness of the water seemed to agree.
At that moment and with no warning, I felt the planet shake and the magma chaotically ripple above me. The barrier began to shatter under the weight of the planet ontop. I felt the drain of the corruption on my mind expand ten fold. There was not much time left. I sighed again, and I carefully lifted myself back up, cursing myself for assuming that I had more time than I thought. I walked towards my creation, and created the runes on the ground. Each one needed precision that became increasingly more difficult as my mind became muddled. The roar of the magma rushing in grew faint each time I drew another rune. I redrew one rune a dozen times over, and another—how many times was it? Time was no longer on my side.
When all was ready, my breathing had become dangerously shallow. I summoned the last might of energy from inside of me and started the incantation. Citing the deepest magic ever known to my people, I created her, but during the incantation, whether due to my dying exhaustion, selfish imperfection, or unconscious will, I wove into her mechanisms a single flaw: she could not bare the pain of suffering. No, she would not suffer, because the magic was enough to protect her, but I knew as my eyes dimmed that her children will. She will eventually build them with her own hands with the knowledge and life I gifted her, but until she and her children succeed in rediscovering the most pure ancient magics, she would create life forms that, like her are immortal, but only if they are able to replenish themselves with source material. As mother, she will know the pain they will feel if they fail to do so.
I worried that this might lead to disaster—a mother so protective that she cannot let her children go, but I also knew her children’s sadness at lost independence would also become real in her mind. I thought about this with panic until I could no longer do so. I could not let my anxieties flood me anymore, as the peaceful draw of death was watching and falling over me. I gave her my blessing and faith. She would overcome even if the lessons would be hard.
Her eyes opened at my final moments, and in my final breath I saw her first breath of life. This was not the present that I wanted for her, and my mistakes would be her burden, but I knew it would be the only way empathy could exist. This would be my lasting memory for her at birth: a present that perhaps can only be found in the beauty of the flaw.
As the darkness started to take over, the runes triggered and sent her to the surface just as she was about to speak her first words, a mix of grief and exuberance on her face, with dream-like thoughts appearing in my mind. Before the final light went out, I saw her life: her grief overflowing onto the planet at my demise, her first discovery of building her children and home, her first awareness of emotion within them, and her family walking towards the light, that dimming light, drifting smaller and smaller, away, washed onto a shore I will never know.
On the first day of the Simon Says pandemic, many people mysteriously vanished. So many that humans have been declared an endangered species. By whom you questioned? By the woman on top of the world, Miss Simon. Although many have disappeared, some are still here. Including me, the last under 15 year old on planet earth! Trust me, it is NOT FUN. Now traditionally, only people named Simon can come to be Simon Says, but soon, that will all change.(I’m praying that I’m not chosen as the next Simon right now) See ya!
No, no, NOOO! I don’t want to be Simon! Okay, *deep breath* Alright, yesterday me and mom talked and said that if one of us becomes the new simon, we have to tell one another. So I’m pretty much obligated to tell her. As I walk downstairs, I hear my mom repeating the words “Leslie Magastine is the new simon. Leslie Magastine is the new simon.” As she says this, her voice gets fiercer and fiercer. Then it suddenly breaks into a yell “ Leslie! Get down here right now!” She hollered at the top of her lungs. Since I feel the need to keep this story PG, I will just skip 95% of what gets said next. “- and make sure you never come back! Toddle-oo” Yells mom, pushing me out of our abode and slamming the door behind me. Okay! Well that just happened! Now that I think about it, I realize just how bad me being Simon really is.At any possible moment, I could come up with some impossible Simon Says, and wipe out the entire human population! But at least no one kno- “That’s her!” An outsider yells. Oh crud-bucket. I think, then I break into a run. I need to focus on running. Bye!
I just ducked into an alleyway and sagged to the ground. Oh, right, I probably owe you an explanation on how I liberated that stranger chasing me.
First, I remembered that I am the Simon
Second,I said the simple words “Simon Says stop running”
Lastly, the mob behind me vanished.
At this moment, I need to figure out where I am. I tried checking my mobile phone while running, but found that it was dead, “ Can my life get any worse?” I yell to no one in particular. “Just so, it can” says a voice behind me.
“Where am I? Who are you? What am I doing here?” I say as soon as I wake up. “You a feisty one, ain’t you.” Says the mysterious voice. To my surprise,the owner of that bone-chilling voice looks like a child’s doll. I can’t help myself, I burst out laughing. After the laughter subsided, I took in my surroundings and discovered that I am strapped by belts to a chair. “Well that’s settling!” I think out loud. “ And that’s not the worst part!” Says the minute lady. “ Look up.” “Oh no.” I say, looking at a giant axe fifteen feet above my head.
She sits in a small, Venetian plaza outside of a small, easily passed-by cathedral snuggled in amongst the many larger, unmissable ones. The stool is hard on her bottom, the sun hot on her head. Worse, she is hungry. Not just now hungry, but days hungry. Weeks hungry even, so that her clothes hang loosely over skin drawn tight. It is all, really, that is left of her, hunger; hunger for success, hunger for a companionship which wouldn’t destroy any chance for that success, and the constantly gnawing hunger for food.
Hers in not the busiest plaza, but as with most any other via in Venetia there is a somewhat steady stream of tourists along this one.
And one has stopped. He is looking at her favorite, “The Bridge.” It is so much her favorite that she has only recently begun to bring it with her to show, hoping she might keep it while “living” on the lesser ones, but what she is doing could hardly be called living. If she doesn’t sell something soon then there will be no apartment to return to at the end of the day, and so nowhere to leave it behind, so common sense finally told her that she must offer someone else the opportunity to enjoy it.
It has been a minute, and he is still looking. She is growing uncomfortably anxious, though she tries her best to hide the signs. It is never easy to have a stranger critique your canvassed passions, even silently… especially silently. He does not appear to have the money for such a painting, but he is obviously American. She is told this by his clothes, which are nice enough, but have an odd, frumpy style which is definitely not European. With Americans it is impossible to tell about money. She once dated an American while at university, and one would have never guessed that Kenneth had money, nor where it came from, but he always did. She should have stayed with him, but he had demanded time that she could not give him, just like the others. It wasn’t that she hadn’t loved him, it was just that she loved her art more. Why is it that two loves must always collide?
Despite her reservations she steps from her stool, wandering closer while trying to appear disinterested in his interest, straightening “Il Leone” on it’s easel as she goes, the gnawing in her stomach ever present. Closer, she sees that he is handsome, but his eyes are only for the painting. She thinks to herself that she could take a lover… for a while… one who would feed her. A “patron” might be nice. Some handsome, rich, older friend to make love to her, and to offer her endowments, and to endorse her work to his or her friends?
“It is not the Bridge of Sighs?”
“No.” She answers quickly. Too quickly? Too desperately?
“Every painting of a bridge elsewhere that I see is The Bridge of Sighs.”
”Si. That one sells to tourists.” Her Italian accent is heavy. He is forced to lean towards her to better understand. “I do not paint for tourists." She is not meaning to sound condescending as she says this, but it still sounds a bit so. "I create art.”
”Ah. I see.”
His surety is offensive to her, though she could not have explained why. He is just another stupid-fucking American. What did he know of her? Or of art?
”It has no price," he wonders aloud. "The others are all priced?”
In her anger she had nearly forgotten her hunger… nearly. “It is new. I have not set a price.”
He smiles. "There is a date beneath the artist’s signature. It is not new.”
Fucking Americans, believing they know everything. “It is newly offered for sale.”
”It is a favorite then? Possibly even sentimental? What price would you put on it, were you to price it?”
She did not want him to have it. It was too good for him. “You could not afford it.”
”I paid €26,000 for The Spanish Steps yesterday.”
The heart in her chest stopped its beating. €26’000! What she could do with €26,000!
She did not want to undersell, but too high could be deadly, he might just walk away. Bianca could not afford to let this one walk.
”Well then, you are in luck! This one is only €20,000.” Her conscious screamed at her even as the words flooded out of her mouth, “NO! That is too much!“ But it was done.
He did not run away, as she half expected him to, but pushed his hands down deeper into the pockets of his khaki slacks as he contemplated her price.
”I don’t think so,” he finally replied. “I am looking for The Bridge of Sighs.”
The hungry voice in her head screams at her, "stupid, stupid, stupid!"
Panicking, she counter-offers, her voice weak with desperation, “I might let it go for €17,500?”
He shakes his head. “No. I want The Bridge of Sighs.”
“It is a stupid tourist site.” It was her way of calling him a stupid tourist.
”It is historic, and famous, and besides, an artist should give people what they want.”
”Then she is no longer an artist.” There was venom in her voice. “Then she is a sell-out!”
The stupid American actually smiled at her anger, pissing her off even more. “So now I am a capitalist pig, huh? Well, none of your other paintings has more than €3,000, and you are trying to gouge me for €20,000, so maybe I am a capitalist pig, but I am also the one with the money, and I know what it is I want.”
With that he turns. As he walks away the gnawing in her stomach spreads to her throat, and her cheeks, and her ears. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is not her. “Fuck you!” She roars as he fades into the tourist throng.
The stool remains hard on her bottom, the sun remains hot on her head, the gnawing in her belly remains unchanged. From where she sits The Bridge looks back at her from its easel, shaming her. It is pretty, but certainly no masterpiece.
Perhaps tomorrow she should paint that other bridge...
Epilogue for Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
The deucedly hot sun glared down on the sleepy town, tucked away in the desolate corner of America. The large, looming oaks were all too big for the settlement’s compacted population. The shade the trees provided served as relaxation points for the stray mongrels roaming the area deliriously, foaming at the mouth in the summer heat. The worn-out roads connecting one unpretentious neighborhood to another were, for the most part, unoccupied except for the rare occurrence of a Buggy or Hudson Hornet wheezing down the road. Just down the road was Tim’s Burger-and-Fries mini-raunt, a sort of play on a ‘restaurant’ by the local schoolboy called Timothy Carmine. Most of Charlie’s peers swung by there on Friday evenings such as the one in July 1972, the coolness of the air and the irrevocably “daringness” of going to the hottest spot in town lured them. Charlie, with her pin-straight brown hair and dull blue eyes, found herself strolling down the block in the opposite direction of Tim’s rip-off hot spot at precisely 9 pm with Lucy’s leash in one hand. She was an exceptionally remarkable dog. Her big brown eyes bore all the curiosity the world could offer. Her silky fur was Charlie’s favorite thing to sleep on, warmth always radiating from her pelt. Many commented on Lucy’s beauty, teasing that they should enter her in a dog show for extra change. The German Sheppard tugged on the leash relentlessly, throwing herself forward as if she had no other purpose in life but that. Charlie scoffed in response, her gaze tearing away from the charming fellow she’d made eye contact with moments before.
“Christ, Lucy! We ain’t goin’ anywhere crazy, just ’round the block.” Charlie scolded, yanking back on the leash with a newfound ferocity. Lucy shoved her face towards the ground and began sniffing repugnantly, her wide nostrils inhaling the crisp night air as she guided her owner towards the splintering fencing of a nearby estate. As if being commanded by the slight breeze passing through, Lucy sat down and tilted her head towards the direction of the house in front of them.
“Erm… OK. You’re a bizarre dog.” Charlie laughed uncertainty as she tugged Lucy’s leash, her gaze fixated on the house in front of them. Most residents of the uneventful town knew this house to be just another deserted residence that no one cared enough for to invest in. Charlie’s older sister, Betty, had been friends with the girl that had lived here before she took off eleven years ago. Her name was Connie, formally known as Constance. Run-aways in Charlie’s sleepy little town weren’t unusual. It happened often, and no one drew much concern to it.
“Did you know the Carmichael’s boy took off with that Pettishire girl?” Charlie’s mother said to her one morning while slicing cheese with her knife.
“No kidding! Jimmy and Alice?” Charlie had replied, taking a starved bite out of her apple as she settled down on the stool. It was forgotten about five minutes later.
Charlie recalled Betty being wistful whenever her childhood friend was brought up. Maybe the runaways weren’t always forgotten. “All right, Lucy, it’s time to go home!” She decided after a moment of synchronized staring at the house with her dog, flushing and hoping nobody had seen her snooping. What a stalker she’d make! Lucy let out a whimper of protest as she was pulled away from the house, looking at it with a certain longing in her eyes. Charlie, growing impatient, dropped the leash and threw her hands up. “All right, you dumb dog, what is it?” Lucy bolted towards the fence and through the open gate, howling madly. Home, home at last! thought Lucy as she did circles around the yard, absorbing the scenery. The overgrown, lush grass tickled her pelt as she went along. The smell of decaying wood flooded her canine senses, something she wasn’t used to smelling before. What had happened to this house in the years it’d been abandoned?
“Enough,” Charlie cried, running after Lucy and picking up the leash again. “You’ll draw attention, you old dog!” She hissed, directing them both back towards the sidewalk and down the block. Lucy’s ears flattened as she was taken away, padding beside her owner and watching the house disappear from view. When they got home and Charlie told her mother of the funny thing their dog did, they couldn’t have known Lucy, the normally unspirited and tired old hound, had been riled up by the fact she was coming home to the place she’d lived in twelve years ago with her sister, Jude. The place she’d lived in with her snobby mother, always comparing and contrasting her to the bore of a sibling she had. The place she’d lived in with her drunk father, always downing beers and wasting away into a shell of himself at work. The place she’d lived in when she’d been Constance, the beautiful girl with the untellable fate.
Sad Life of an Orphan
As an orphan, I don't exactly get the best stuff either it gets old or Billy takes it away from me. You might be wondering who Billy is. He is just another orphan in our orphanage who thinks he's the boss of everyone. I've always been adopted but then given back as I don't "fit in". It's just another way of saying that they don't like me. No one likes me, I always sit at the back of everyone. I rarely talk and mostly listen.
Everyone always thinks I'm weird since I never show any emotions. Which I think is why families think I don't "fit in". One day Billy started to act kind to me which was suspicious. I thought he realized how he had tortured many kids and wanted to change his ways. At the same time, I realized this was the boy about to throw a kid off the building. He told me to follow him and not say a word. He told me that since I was his dear good friend he was going to take me to the beach. Before I knew it I was thrown into a bus and knocked out. In my last moments, I could see Billy receiving money from a guy wearing a black hoody.
I hid all my emotions and tried to stay calm. 3 armed men on the bus were talking to the guy wearing a black hoody let's call him "Hoody" for now. Hoody hid his face and sounded like he had some voice changer. Hoody started to tell me how I was going to help him. I was completely dazed by what was happening. He started to tell me about his plan to rob a bank. Once we reached the bank they told me to go in and help them in whatever they do. I couldn't defend myself from these people as I literally was walking twigs. Which meant I had to do what they said. When we went in everyone was in sudden shock. All I could hear were gunshots, prayers, and screaming. Police came in and took the people I came with down.
What I had to do was to go into the armory and shoot these people. Since they were down I could just run away from this which I did. Sadly, the cops got me and put me down. The next thing I know I am in court. Sentenced to 2 years in juvie. No one is there to cry or defend me. No one is there to care for me. In my cell the tears continued to fall, drowning any joy that once existed. One thing I learned is that not all stories have happy endings.
Bathed in the blood of his foes, and covered in a shimmering cloak of shadows. It moved through the night sky— moving much faster than the speed of light. Carefully landing right on the edge of the house on the hill. The front door leading to the house welcomes it in, with what seems to be a shaky temperament. With each footstep it takes, the floorboards creak with a sound like a rubbery squeak, but it does not have any rubber shoes on. It flaps its wings, and prepares to take a much needed rest for a certain amount of time. As it wraps itself in a cocoon, a blanket of smoke begins to fill the air. It starts to wonder where the smoke is coming from. The house is now in flames, and making a mixture of sounds like a cough, back ‘n’ forth as if it’s human. It flaps its wings close to being ready to take off into the starry night, away from the firelight. The smoke starts to cover every corner, and space of the house. Soon every room is colored in grey. It rushes out of the house, & barely makes it out of the house. The flames continue to roar in power forming what closely resembles an image of a phoenix. It gasps, and thinks of taking off again. The phoenix flames rise higher, higher, and higher. Then they flap their wings, and go on a hunt for it. The phoenix flies, and zooms in the air at jet speed. Leaving a smoky trail of dust in the night sky that makes it look like a shooting star. It can feel the phoenix gradually getting closer, closer, & closer. The instance they collide, the two begin to spin like a tornado, until they finally crash into a corn field leaving a trail of burnt corn crops along the path that they crashed. It tries to stand tall, alas, the phoenix holds much greater might. With a final burst of flames, the phoenix hits it. Thanks to the phoenix now it will be able to take a long much needed amount of rest- this time it would be asleep for a really long time. It would now be a part of the ancestral realm, for all eternity.
Music by MINDSTEELNESS
The Z Machine
I very strongly disagree with the manner in which our pop culture both misunderstands and then subsequently "misuses" generation names. First to note, these are not hard and fast categories. It is not like the naming of a generation comes from either an official need to do so or a traditional framework that happens according to certain parameters. Every state has a state bird, every U.S. President has some favorite snack on record, pretty much for the sake of lightheartedly knowing weird trivia like Ronald Reagan was the jelly bean president. It's as if to say, "We've tracked it before, therefore it's a thing we should always track." I’m not against that, but that’s not how it works with naming generations.
Widely started with Tom Brokaw's book, "The Greatest Generation" giving rise to that phrase popularly being attached to those who fought in WWII; referring to a generation by a collective name was neither something we'd traditionally tracked, nor something that was even a sociological measure. The name of a generation is basically a meme, repeated enough times that everyone knows the ad hoc reference. It’s a matter of multiple authors or speakers through multiple platforms throwing different names against a wall and not even anticipating which will stick. We treat the names of generations (and even what we might numerically consider to be half-step generations) as if there is science to it, as if there’s a cut-off date where one officially begins, and another officially ends. We treat the act as if there is some sort of official process a body of similarly aged persons is filtered through to arrive at a factual result. There is nothing official and almost nothing resultantly factual about it. Sure, it’s somewhat helpful to collectivize voting blocs by age and, if you do you, you’ll need a manner in which to refer to them in conversation. But beyond that, the name of a generation, the span of time it supposedly covers, and the manner in which we come by a name is all traditionally happenstance by design.
Some of the names that happened to stick (Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Me Generation) generally did so in presumed relation to observable and pan-applicable commonalities shared by the persons said to be part of that bloc. Greatest Generation, as a title, was a broad capture, associating folks by who’d lived in The Great Depression and then fought in that world war. Though broad, that was an easy one to understand because, globally, no one was untouched by those two world events.
Flimsily trying to use that touchstone as what makes a generation, the commonality factor, then we had the narrower commonality of Baby Boomers, people born in large numbers soon after the war when soldiers returned home and started families. I mean, I am quite certain that with very few statistical outliers, all those people had something more in common throughout the longest lives in recorded history, than the mere timing of their births, perhaps even predominantly so. While not everyone in that group would have been a greaser or a rock ‘n’ roll fan or a target for McCarthyism, that generation could have just as easily been named The Tail Fins Generation or the TV Generation or The Desegregation Generation. How bizarre the stretch to need to start naming groups by birth brackets and how much more bizarre the almost accidental stretch for commonality to reach the name “Baby Boomers?”
I begrudge no one their attempt to add a literary moniker to a group. But the rest of us have lost the plot. Naming a generation, as is now a new tradition, carries about as much weight as being born under a given constellation. It’s a forced preamble. When you hear of a generation by name, your mind would do well to temporarily rename it in your head to something like The Scorpio generation before discussing it. Do not draw suppositions from these titles.
In fact, if we put that happenstance design under a microscope, in absence of the, say, every-digit meaning that goes into something like a social security number or, say, a system by which we know when the ensuing year will be the Year of the Monkey; the few “practices” you can conclude that go into naming a generation are thus:
1) They tend to be based upon a perceived commonality
2) They tend to be named after-the-fact, often by people not part of that generation
3) While there is an unconscious acceptance of the name, the way there is of a meme, people belonging to that generation generally do not get to pick and choose their own group moniker.
4) We call it a whole generation, as if global, but the chosen names tend to be situationally limited to Americans.
Fast forward to the name that stuck with my generation, Generation X. There are scant few born later than us who even remotely know that Gen X was the name that stuck to us as Coupland’s book was trying to follow this oh-so-loose commonality tradition. We were called Generation X supposedly because there was no, one single commonality between us. The X was like an unknown in a math equation. In fact, “Generation X” was an older phrase borrowed from previous generations, back then meaning disenfranchised youth or alienated teens, a phrase originally intended to separate out a body of persons from the larger generational bloc; which, almost ironically, was first applied to the same generation we now call boomers. Shorthand, “Generation X” as a term was meant for “greasers,” but never stuck. Decades later, post Me Generation and/or Silent Generation, Coupland’s version stuck during a period of time when everything out of Hollywood was made to sound more exciting by use of an “X” (X-Files, American History X, the origins of Netflix, the film for Malcom X, X-Men, The Matrix, and for those who get the Stargate meta-reference, “Wormhole X.”). This newer version was a sort of anti-commonality describing mainly kids of the 70s and 80s as having no, one, big, shared factor that would define us in distinctive parallel against other groups, named or unnamed.
So, this is where the misuse and misunderstanding comes in. Gen Y and Gen Z were then “chosen” to follow Gen X, misinformedly so, as if there had been a Gen D, Gen E, and Gen F. There were not. The scotoma-adjacent grand explanation for the appearance of the new terms is a repeated, meme-driven supposition that the practice is derived from an implied sequencing, like naming this year’s hurricanes in alphabetical order or sticking decimal points after new releases of computer applications. Again, this had never been. Such ignores all four, now frequented, ingredients to how generations take on names: perceived commonality in the title, not getting to choose your own generational group name, an American focus, and getting named in some semblance of hindsight. That’s before we even mention that “Gen Y” and “Gen Z,” likewise, lack much of the “throw it against a wall and see what sticks” quality, among several options, as had been the case for others since we’d started the practice.
Gen Y, if there is such a thing, whether referred to that way or alternatively labelled as millennials, are only passively referenced, without any more meaning or identity than being in direct shadow of another generation, or in an even narrower, boomer-like, birth proximity to a specific, but almost numerically mundane date. They have a date-name that linguistically prescribes everyone born for about 99 years into a single millennial status, despite the arbitrary and wildly disparate year brackets assigned them, those generally topping out across all barely overlapping OPINIONS somewhere in the late 90s. It’s all accidental, but nonetheless hogwash! The youth of Gen Y and Gen Z deserve better.
Further, the quick-to-stick presumption that there is only sequencing and no meaning in naming a generation, the precept that gives us “Gen Y” as a term, effectively erases the once au courant and poignant gravitas of “Gen X.” It is as if what little identity GenXers would take from that title has been erased and forgotten. We were on track to be predominantly called The Slacker Generation, The Latchkey Generation, or the MTV Generation, the lot having to do with the perceived breakdown in family values and work ethic, all names that we seemed to accept as we grew up and proved them ironic or wrong. Yet we happily accepted “Gen X” and its actual meaning as this sort of badge. It was as if the observation of our collective dissimilarity was an indication that we’d finally reached a flexion point in American freedoms. We were an unboxable, undefinable, je ne sais quoi, accepting enough of all peoples that no one trait rose to the top as widely applicable. It is a name that we continued to proudly embody well into our adult years. It was a name that simultaneously flipped the script from previous groups, while coming about under the same accepted conditions.
Now, sequencing it into a small, meaningless enumeration, Gen X is suddenly not the last fortunate generation to have had deeper meaning in its label, mine even against a powerful backdrop of disproven prejudgments, but instead the first generation in our ever-more-passive acceptance of thinking as if we are machines. Do we need to name generations? No. Nor do we constellations or ships or songs. But there is this inherent marginalization that comes from ascribing a namelessness to any person or any group. And when that namelessness has the absent-minded power to look back from a forced void and thrust that emptiness onto other people, ideas, and mainstays, it’s not just a misunderstanding…it’s a revisionist history, a poorly applied presentism that seeks to define the past in terms of today, including the baseline premise that today’s definition is zero sum. This is not the act of being misinformed as much as it is the black hole equivalent of what it takes to remain uninformed.
My 16-year-old, born in 2007, and my 11-year-old in 2012, have a full-out argument about once every four months as to whether or not they belong to the same generation, always followed by the conclusion that they do not, and the ensuing, unavoidable “why my generation is better than yours” debate in anger. They are only four-and-a-half years apart. And it’s no wonder when they are pulling their evidences from varied teachers, citing varied look-ups, all with sporadic assignments of year brackets and pop confusion about which name might belong where on a timeline. Plus, there’s all the misapplications of similar look-ups across YouTube voices and TikTok videos. “Why” never comes into it.
Is it not more useful to append those new labels and instead talk about the possibility of a Pandemic Generation, tracing their collective gap in education and/or income out into the results of seasoned adult lives? How about the Generation of Political Divide, the slews upon droves of children in the millions raised during the most politically divisive and longest sustained 50/50 split in our governance in history? I could list a hundred possibilities, none of which changes who an individual is, what they face, or how they overcome. The point is that the blind and uninformed acceptance of a non-existent system yielding meaningless names, works against anything that would allow an applicable name to stick; works against that last bastion of passive, unilateral agreement that is everybody looking up from a book or paper or a broadcast or even an Instagram post and silently nodding to themselves, saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s us.” One cannot hope to use a benign placeholder, now, and expect something better will automatically arrive to supplant it in the collective psyche. In a world where no 18-year-old can be provided the impetus to cross-reference beyond scanning the first couple sentences in each of the first two Google hits, the placeholder is their answer, their truth, their go-to, even when they do not know what the heck they are talking about. People have formed a comfortable, cognitive dissonance from their informational sources that functions much the same way that we’ve overwhelmingly distanced ourselves from our food sources. Using the term "Gen Z" is little different from ordering something from a menu that just says, "Meat."
Generations are strange, as we view them, collecting folks together in groups not by their true time on this Earth, but ultimately by their first twenty years. That’s quite the narrow gap in which to debate a shared start date and end date, particularly when there is disagreement. Then sometimes we skew the results around some linchpin commonality the way redistricting can either positively solidify voting blocs or disenfranchise them with an arbitrary line down the middle. The best thing we can do is to stop referring to present and future generations by letters and numbers and systems, and instead let them craft the umbrellas that will hang over all their heads until a decent, studied hindsight can identify what color that umbrella should be.