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And if the flames come licking at the edges of his dreams some nights, well, that isn't a disaster. If he remembers all too vividly the sooty sting of ashes in his eyes and the smoke curling down his throat to choke his lungs -- if he falls over his own feet sometimes, recalling the sound of wood splintering under too much heat -- if tears slip from the corners of his eyes when he does not mean them to fall, if his voice comes out in a whisper when he means to shout -- it is not, in the end, a disaster.
In the beginning the city was a miracle of lights and sounds and people, a center of ever growing life. She looked into its smoke choked heart and saw the faces of Hope and Possibility. She did not see Violence, nor Fear. In the beginning she saw only what she wanted to see, which was a new life, one in which no one would ever tell her, "You cannot do this," or, "You cannot say that," or, "You cannot live the way you want to live." In the beginning, she trusted in the metallic, gleaming promises of skyscrapers and limousines.
Five stages. And then it's over. Then he'll forget her, then he'll let go, then he won't care anymore about the dreams and the letters he can't write to her. He's written them anyway - three notebooks filled halfway because he always gets to a certain point and then stops. Then he thinks he really ought to try again. And he buys a new notebook and he starts scribbling away madly as though the harder he presses the pen to page, the more it means. But it doesn't matter to her, doesn't make a difference to anyone but him. Five stages.
O Hamster, O Hamster, O where hath thou fled? O Hamster, O Hamster, I have purchased thee bread. O Hamster my Hamster, I love thee so well. O Hamster my Hamster, O I am in hell. O where hath thou hidden? I am sorrow ridden. I have retrieved thy ball, and purchased thee treats at the mall. Thy bedding is fluffed and thy wheel is awaiting. O dear fluffy Hamster, art thou angry with me for that time I would not allow thee to fly? If thou leapt from such a height, thou wouldst surely die. Hamster come back please.
I am: Over the top, down to earth, insecure, full of myself, wandering around (though I know exactly where I am), afraid of change and bored with stagnation, unconcerned with format yet afraid of being judged as a poor writer because of the lack of it, a good horseback rider, an okay bicycle rider, good at languages, terrible at math, afraid of mirrors and robots but not snakes or bears or insects (usually), the most loyal friend you'll ever have and also the most flighty, and an uncertainly confident, determined fighter who's not afraid to tell you all my contradictions.
The arena lights cast shadows of us that are taller than we are. I can't see the stars because of the clouds, which is disappointing -- finally I'm away from the ridiculous amount of artificial light at school -- but still I feel peace, settling into my bones, because here I am at home. In the shadows there is no distinction between human and horse, girl and mare, and we appear to be one animal -- which is of course the ultimate goal of any serious rider, to attain such oneness with the horse that the two of you nearly become one being.
Once upon a time that nobody was really sure of (though some historians believe in may have been lunch time), there were complications in the relationship of Maya Papaya and Dana Banana. This was a terrible tragedy, for no two fruits had ever had such a whirlwind romance, and the love of Maya and Dana was an inspiration to many, including Courtney Coconut, who was already fairly upset that her name lacked a rhyme or reason. The complications in Maya and Dana's relationship only served to further Courtney's sadness. But then House was on TV and everything was cool again.
As far as she can see is an ocean of liquid amber streaked with copper, swelling up over her knees, burning hot and thick like lava or something but not quite so deadly. She's searching for a door but there's nothing here except dark walls and gleaming amber, and the walls are smooth, cold obsidian -- there is nothing left to hold onto. It's getting away from her a bit -- it's getting out of hand, isn't it? She wishes she could break out of it entirely, but this is the only way -- to be swallowed up, and then, to survive it.
If, in the end, it comes down to this: four hooves and a beating heart beneath my own --
If, in the end, a bunch of philosophical ramblings is just a bunch of philosophical ramblings --
If, in the end, I don't want to sit here and talk to you --
If, in the end, the walls are too heavy and my lungs ache for fresh air, real air --
If, in the end, thousands of dollars are lost and nothing of equal value is gained --
If, in the end, all of us could have been happier --
Then maybe -- maybe -- this was a mistake.
She thinks maybe this is what family means -- a hot cup of tea, a blanket 'round her shoulders, the t.v. droning on some channel she doesn't care about, clankings of dishes somewhere beneath the sound of running water. She's unprepared for it, this sudden onset of normalcy. She shivers beneath the blanket and pulls it closer, pressing wool against wind-chilled skin.
"Erica?" comes a soft voice. Lena is in the kitchen archway, holding a bowl of soup. "You must be hungry."
"Thank you," she whispers, taking the bowl in slightly trembling hands.
Soup. It's almost too much.
Funny how you can wake up one day and realize the world's not the way you thought. You walk around in a daze, but you can't let anyone know -- can't let them realize you're not with it, not on top of this shit. Gotta play the game, and you better play to win if you wanna get out alive.
I'm not sure when I started believing in that bullshit -- I mean, I know it's bullshit. But when you've got no cash and a million dreams, you want there to be a game. If there's a game, maybe you can win.
Once upon a time in the middle of a lime there was a coconut OH NO! It was not like the song AT ALL and everyone cried so hard every day for the rest of their lives every single time they woke up because all they thought about was how the lime was not in the coconut but in fact the exact opposite had occurred and WHAT WAS THE WORLD TO DO?
Well, the world was to do arts and crafts, and the world made some candles and scrapbooks and it was all so very lovely!
Hooray for glitter!
My roommate always sits there! Day in and day out, there is never any doubt that she ALWAYS SITS THERE! The roof could cave in and murder all of us but I'm sure that she would somehow remain sitting there!
Exclamation points are used here to indicate ANGER!
If there was a bear mauling us all, she would just sit there! If the room was set on fire she would be protected by a magical shield which would allow her to ALWAYS SIT THERE!
By the way, I'm not taking this one hundred words thing very seriously anymore, terribly sorry.
"Okay, Robbie," the boy, curled up on the carpet in his too-small pajamas, said to his stuffed giraffe. "You have to be quiet now 'cause it's story time." Robbie gazed up at him, obediently silent, with shiny button eyes.
"Good," the boy said. But he hesitated, uncertain. He knew that usually your parents were supposed to read the story, mostly because of watching the TV but also something else. Some vague, cloudy memory of pajamas that fit and a warm bed and a mother's soft voice.
He held the book up and cleared his throat. "Once upon a time..."
She eyed the new batch of recruits critically. Seven. A good number, a lucky number. Their expressions varied from terrified to enthralled, and they moved slowly as though unsure if the floor would remain solid beneath their feet.
One boy strayed toward the back of the group, staring curiously at the stars painted across the walls. He was the most unkempt looking kid. She figured he was probably one of the inevitable Unwanteds.
"Hey," she said. He jumped, blinking blue eyes at her. "Go catch up."
"S-sorry," he muttered, hurrying off.
She watched, and wondered. Seven. A lucky number.
So many apples on my desk
I will never get any rest
I have to count them everyday
Just in case they run away
I fear so deeply their decay
Oh apples, please stay.
So many apples on my desk
Not tomatoes, that's grotesque.
I have to count them every night
Before I darken every light.
They roll away out of spite.
This cannot possibly be right.
So many apples, it's true
I've no idea what to do
They stare at me, whisper taunts
My mind forever their juiciness haunts
Please help me eat them soon
At least before noon.
So I'm just relaxing in my house -- eating some gourmet food all nestled in my corner -- when suddenly the roof flies off! No, wait, the whole thing flies up into the air! I blink, utterly baffled, at the sudden appearance of the sky, then look around at where my house just was. What the hell...?
But I don't have time to get my bearings before I'm lifted up too. It's like I've been taken out of the world into a whole different atmosphere.
I gaze curiously at the face before me. The lips move. I hear sounds --
"Such a cute hamster!"
He stands at the bus stop by the skeleton of a tree and tugs his mittens down on his wrists. They're too big and they keep slipping. Everything is always too big or too small.
Maybe someone will come soon. People go to bus stops.
His breath comes out like a dragon's, whispering out into the cold air only to disappear within seconds.
How long should he stay here? His scuffed, plastic Mickey Mouse watch reads almost midnight.
Maybe if he goes into town, he'll find someone to help him. It's a far walk, three miles probably.
He starts walking.
What's the matter with the kids these days? an old man grumbles, and the man next to him grunts in assent.
Cayden walks past them without looking. If he doesn't stop, if he just keeps walking, no one will talk to him and nothing bad will happen. If he just -- right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, don't trip on that pothole, right left right. Just keep walking. Everything will be fine.
It's cold and he doesn't have a coat but he figures the more he walks the warmer he'll get. Doesn't it work like that?
Left, right, left...
I think I have been awake for several years at least. Time is both lengthened and shortened and stretched out like silly putty. What do these kids think they're playing at, messing around and stretching out time? And who are these kids? I don't know them.
I remember sleep as though it were a friend I have not seen in a while, though we do exchange letters and phone calls every now and then. Eventually we will meet each other and say, "Oh, you're still the same! It's just like before!" But until then I will stay here, waiting.
She listens as she is analyzed, picked apart and put back together again -- take that, Humpty Dumpty. She listens and she forces down the rage that is rising up her throat.
You tell her who you think she is, and what you think she could be. She bares her teeth in false smiles. She tastes the rage on the back of her tongue as it slowly floods toward the tip, toward her teeth, her lips.
Who the fuck do you think you are? she would like to say, but doesn't. Some kind of literary prophet?
It's not about perfect prose.
"Why are you here?" the boy growled, opening one eye to glare at her from his perch in the old willow tree. It was impressive, the ferocity of that one-eyed glare. Maybe he'd been practicing.
"Because of my undying love for you, of course," she said sweetly, giving a mock curtsy.
He sat up too quickly in his irritation and almost went tumbling down from his branch. Of course he steadied himself -- didn't he always? "Seriously, why are you here?" he tried again through grit teeth.
"I already told you," she said, flashing him a grin. He scowled.
Marathon writing makes my mouth wide in big aaaahhhh kinda yawns. My fingers feel light but my wrists feel heavy -- yeah, the rest of me feels heavy, because well I'm tired of course of course. Who wouldn't be? It's 2:44 in the morning.
I miss bubblegum pink and dandelion yellow, so I think I'll break out the Crayolas and have myself a crayon party! Oh yeah, hardcore.
Once upon a time you told me what you thought about the world, and I didn't tell you, but I thought you were pretty stupid. The world isn't your creation, you know.
"Ryuichi, you're defeating the purpose."
Oh! I love defeating the purpose, that's my favorite sort of defeating! Well, I mean...defeating is bad, usually, right? Yeah, defeat is bad, but the purpose is bad too because it's always in the way of things! Like today I just wanna color but then Touma is being all annoying and mean and telling me to do other things like businessy things and who cares about those! So I make the paperwork better by coloring it everywhere all around and Touma just sighs --
Raaaah evil purpose, you have been defeated! Super Ryu wins again!
Craaaaaaashing. His body trembles under the weight of who-knows-what. He groans, rubbing at his eyes and wondering if he's actually reached his limit this time. Tea. Tea will help.
He stands up and shuffles unsteadily toward the kitchen, but his toes haven't even touched the tile before he's on his hands and knees.
A voice from far away. It doesn't really matter. His breath comes up in short, ragged gasps. He reaches for something, doesn't know what or why but he reaches anyway and as he gazes at his hand it blurs.
"Cay, stay with me..."
Bear stands up and starts to pace, running his hands through his hair and feeling like the cliche of a worried parent. "You're such a..."
The boy's hackles raise at this and he draws his knees up to rest his chin on them and glare at Bear. "What? A bastard? A brat? An annoyance?"
Bear scowls but says nothing. He feels his body stiffening, his steps becoming more and more jerky, and he feels, incredibly, fear.
"THEN WHAT THE FUCK AM I?" the boy shouts, rocketing up to his feet, fists clenched.
Bear watches him and says slowly, "A kid."
The clouds start to rumble and your resolve starts to crumble -- you want to take him in your arms like a child and tell him that everything is gonna be okay, the way you could do when he still was a child.
But he's not now, and he's staring at you like you still have the power to kiss his scraped knee and make it better again. How can you tell him no? How can you tell him sometimes pain is too big?
You ruffle his hair and press your lips to his forehead and hope to god that it's enough.
"I don't want you to go," he said, so soft that he might as well not have said anything at all.
She paused, turning her head slightly to glance back at him. Her dark hair was falling out of its braid and her blue eyes were reddened and bruised from crying, but still she managed to seem infinitely powerful.
"I don't care," she answered, pronouncing each word slowly and carefully just in case he missed her meaning.
He stared helplessly after her as she disappeared out the door, her footsteps echoing -- click, click -- on the stone.
She left him cold.
But I didn't mean to run away! I wasn't running away at all! It's just the stars, see, they're up there all bright and cold and far away and what am I supposed to do? They're so far away. I have to find them.
The air was cold and the sky was beautiful even with all the stupid light pollution. You know, when you stand under lamp posts there's a kind of apologetic frost to the light that falls on you. The light's sorry to show you everything but it shows you anyway, it has to.
I wasn't running away.
The car swerves and I'm lost. Somewhere beyond my existence there's an impact and a crunch of metal. It doesn't matter. I can't see anything but her, can't smell anything but blood, can't feel anything but cold.
It takes years for the world to come rushing back to me. It should be overwhelming but it's not. I'm cold. The car is frozen in the middle of the road; I must've put it park without realizing.
I get out and walk away, slumping down to sit by a lamp post as warm liquid trickles down from my brow. Blood.
He surveys me over his desk, brimming as usual with syrupy concern. "I'm worried about you."
I snort, looking anywhere but his face. "Of course you are."
He releases a gentle sigh, smiling at me with such goddamn pity that I want to strangle him. "I'm sorry, Donovan. I didn't mean to step on your toes."
He's sorry. That's one thing I do believe. I'm sorry too. We're so sorry, the pair of us, so fucking sorry. It's the only thing we still have in common.
I stand. "If there's nothing else..."
His smile falls. "Donnie, wait --"
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