Freezing waters that flow too quickly to solidify into ice. A line on a map and not much more to those preparing to cross. They clutch their rifles, make sure the canisters on their grenade launchers are loaded. The lieutenant barks orders, getting the men into position and making sure the ammunition is passed around. It’s a buffet to the newcomers, all the guns you could ever need and then some, handfuls of bullets plucked from the backs of trucks and shoved greedily into pockets and pouches. Smoke and chemical grenades line benches, the barricades at the edge of the river are heavy metal and backed by the cannons of the warmachines resting on the higher ground with perfect vantage points. The battle is about to begin, and in the enemy lines a man shouts and screams at the brave souls about ready to storm the beach. A shot rings out and everyone ducks for cover, then from down the river boats move up at a clip and breach on the sands. Grenades flash amongst the grounds of the enemy, and they fall and scatter. Those who were prepared still stand and wave their shields as the muzzles of the rifles light up the early morning and the cannons roar. Dozens down in an instant as the troops storm the beach, shields and sword, battering aside the defenders, rubber rounds smash bone and bloody organs. Tear gas burns lungs and throats. Freezing water blasts against the blankets and signs, but at least there is no dogs this time. Skulls crumble against the clubs, jackboots dig into ribs and bruise hearts. All for a little money, cents on the dollar, for the corporate profit. Until the earth reclaims them, until the river swells in anger and washes away the thugs and their shiny toys. Until the men in warpaint are swept away by the surging waters. Frozen river runs high and rapid and in the early hours of the morning the battle is over as they retreat. A small toll of a dozen lost, to the hundreds wounded and killed in the storming of the beach. Frozen souls that stand in the ice and hold up signs so the eyes of the nation can see their plight – while the world forgets about their sacrifice.
Deserts tend to get a little dry. Soon enough we’ll all be drinking each other’s blood. When they come to take the last of the wells from us, don’t just stand aside. This is our land, they have no claim over it. Black-uniformed, jack-booted men come early in the morning. The barrels of rifles press into throats and the points of bayonets dig into immobile flesh. A woman screams, and is silenced. They’ve come to clear the ghetto, to drag out the slumdogs and pay the slumlords their thirty silver. In the streets we gather, mattresses and blankets, what little we have. The cudgels and shields of the Legionaries batter us, but do not break our lines. Walls of women and men, children hurling insults from behind their parents until they open fire. A sniper from a tower, inside a walled fortress a kilometre away, we have no response, no recourse but to scatter and leave our walls to crumble. The desert dirts drink, run red until the well is stained. The Legionaries do not care, as long as they crush us under boot. Children are dragged from screaming mothers, the fathers are broken by clubs. A brave handful rush the gunmen as they advance, the most radical, with nothing but stones to hurl against lead. And a young girl watches as her boyfriend dies, and an old man watches as his son is shot. They will pave over us for olive groves and settlements, for the living space they need to grow. We are just rats and mice to them, to be driven out and eaten by the eagles that swoop across the bloody earth. Let me tell you of the sorrows, of being driven from the sea. Of generations born to never see the ocean that once bore our name. Of a people who, despite their pride, was lost to the tides of a desert, thrust there by a monster that emerged from the waves. So that once the ashes have settled, we can stand again in the burning town and watch them drag the survivors away. This is our land, they have no claim over it. With a song, we raise our dead, bodies broken by the bullets and swords but spirits immune. We bring dark magic, we bring the swords of God and let it be the memory of the day – that here we stand, never to be pushed aside. The dead will be our shield, let the whole world know there are still some of us alive. And if it takes a thousand generations, we shall break the chains that bind.
Separated from the mainland by a small strait – the kind that children can swim on a hot summer’s day as a small kind of adventure their parents aren’t overly worried about – there is an Island. On the southern shore that looks onto the main-land there is a beach that people like to visit because it is quieter. The soft virgin sand is starkly white, and the way that the cliff overlook that looks over it curls into the mountain of an island itself, is fuel for young minds. The dream of finding some kind of lost world to explore drags young teens to the shores every weekend, even during the rainy, winter seasons like today. They are always disappointed when they find the trail that leads from the south shore to the north where, nestled amongst the trees, is a town called Pike Point. Dozens of people live there, and most work on the sole ancestral farm of a rancher who has bred cattle for decades. A hands on kind of woman that inherited the town from her mother and her penchant for cattle from her mother’s grandfather. The first place most people stumble is the gift-shop. The path and the ferry dock both lead straight to it, and the colourful history of the town is displayed very carefully by a slightly pedantic woman who spins a tall tale about the land. Perhaps the second thing most people notice is that most of the islanders are women, and the town historian explains why in short detail – it’s just the quirkiness of the island’s people. Then the Historian spins a dark fantasy to scare off the young boys, about how the island is full of monsters that only eat boys. Most of them rush off, thinking it better not to risk it being true. In truth, by night, it is any other town with one exception. There is a community kitchen where everyone gathers. The four or five men do most of the cooking, they are fishers from the mainland that ventured over and never really left, and every once in a while a sixth or seventh man would arrive for a while, the new interest of one of the town’s women. And even the rancher comes to enjoy the company of the people of her town. Tomorrow the ferry will come and bring more tourists venturing to see the strange little town amongst the trees, and none will really understand why it is like it is. Tomorrow the ferry will leave and take the last of the day’s slaughter to the Rancher’s son in a small town on the coast. Though at least one woman here is hoping tomorrow doesn’t come, because sitting about with her friends as they talk about nothing and eat the day’s catch and slaughter, or whatever it is the island has to offer – crabs, clams, roots and nuts, is much more enjoyable than work. She spends her days spinning tales about a town she knows the very simple story of, and every day feels like changing it so it is more interesting or flamboyant. One day she’ll dream of man-eating tigers, or an outbreak of man-flu. Another day it is just the standard explanation of focused immigration and old school fundamentalism. And that is far less interesting to her than a fisherman who broke a woman’s heart and left her unable to ever trust another man again. About a woman who walked into the sea and found an island with one lonely woman and together they began a life as mother and daughter. About a town that grew around those two women, and a town home to a woman that, despite suffering like her own mother had, did not make the same mistake. And so the rancher sits and talks to the men as they cook, all the while thinking of the only priest the town has ever met. After dinner, she takes the historian on a walk down to see the southern beach, and every saturday as the moon rises over the bay, they light a fire and wait together until another fire is lit. In the light of the two fires, four people stand separated by the dark waters, but not alone. The historian sits down with her, leans in and holds her hand.
Upon the misty shores, hidden in coves drenched in rainforest. Among the pines, among the shroud, the rivers from the east flow into the ocean and with it the trees are drowned and the land is covered in swamplands. There are those who live in swamps, but it is hard living because wet grounds don’t make for good plumbing or solid foundations. The town of Uca Bluffs, actually live on the rise that eventually falls into the lowland swamp, but under the surrounding cliffs that emerge from mountains. Most of them are fishers, the kinds of people that jump into the cold swamp waters to wrestle nets and cages onto small barges that are moored not far from the town at a place called the steps. Not all fish for actual fish, though the waters are rich with trout and pike. A group of women hunt for geoducks and oysters among the mangrove roots, while telling ribald tales inspired by their game. One of them regularly spends the weekends crabbing, and shares the catch with the rest. The Crabber doesn’t tell tales about the local men, her interests are squarely in her work, and it’s for the best because as much as she likes them as friends – they’re very close and very comfortable with each other. She likes being one of the girls, and she likes that they care enough to offer to set her up, but she likes to work. The salt of the sea blending into the fresh water has a calming effect. The only one in town that seems to think like she does, the young woman who runs the post-office, who is always there writing stories and sorting the few letters that pass through the town every day. They walk the streets, delivering the mail as they tell stories to the young boy that follows her around. They lack all interest in going out and being like the others. Because in truth, such a small town, the only men around are fishers and the elderly. A post office is the biggest luxury they have, the diner and the general store are the same building and a chapel is run out of the garage of a man who happens to be a priest from the east and fishes on the weekdays to earn his living. Some priest he is, came into town with one woman when she left him he quickly found another. Though she isn’t too quick to judge, as the woman he left didn’t seem too broken up about it. Maybe that is the way of things and that the Crabber doesn’t get. She likes crabs for a very specific reason, they get where they’re going by walking sideways. Why leave the comfort zone, when it is comfortable? Maybe she just doesn’t like change, she likes to be the same reliable, dependable person and every day after work she waits on her front porch to take the mail from the woman who delivers it and then for some reason instead of what she normally does – shut the door – she joins them for the last of their deliveries so they can talk about the sea and the trees and about everything other than fishing, crabs or mail.
The spines of the world, a towering wall of stone that disappears underfoot. Take a drive down the highway from sea to sea and you pass over it, and watch it vanish as you yourself ascend. There are towns in such places, the homes to hunters and fishers that venture down along the rivers, through the wooded slopes, congregating at the end of a long day or week to the town of Stag Hide. Each and every man in a mile comes on the weekend for the markets. Hipsters and day-trippers from the coast sip coffee in the cafe and buy venison and foraged mushrooms from the hard-workers who spent a week tracking that deer or a lifetime training that hound to sniff out a truffle from a clump of sod. One such mushroom hunter tends to find herself the centre of attention for two boys who fawn over her produce. Kelly, a young Chinese-American, happily living with her boyfriend, and yet every week she flirts to get the two young men to buy more. Her boyfriend finds it all hilarious, and gets a little jealous he can’t draw the same attention to his own stall in the market. It’s all in good fun, and as the sun sets, only Kelly’s boyfriend has anything left – probably because venison is an acquired taste and a lot of the day-trippers are vegans. He takes the left-overs to the rest of the town, hand delivers them free of charge. He smokes the rest to keep it fresh and heads home to find Kelly still cooking dinner. Their roommate Ciara has a girlfriend over and the three of them are talking about some movie. Across the road where the girlfriend lives, the overprotective father is looking for them, and in the house neighbouring them on the pristine little wooded street, an elderly couple sits down to dinner and talks about the mortgage, they’ve finally paid it off thanks to their daughter’s husband who lives off on the coast. A big fisher who moved from out east and had made their daughter so happy. Such a good man with a troubled past, yet even they continue to have their doubts as they talk. And the cafe they own could have paid for their bills, but now it looks more likely the young woman running the storefront could take over indefinitely. She, even now, is working with her fiance behind the counter serving up coffee and late meals to the few remaining day-trippers and hipsters still lingering about. Her best friend Kelly had told her about the beaches out west, and she definitely needs a vacation and a summer wedding. She can’t do it until the old codgers running the place give her a raise and some vacation time. Or maybe she should go with Kelly into the woods and pick some truffles to sell. She shuts up the shop a bit after dinner so she can go home and play with the new toys she bought off of amazon, while feeling guilty about it. After all, who complains about having no money then spends it all on toys to keep herself sane. Her fiance feels the same, at least until they get to sit on the couch and watch netflix on the brand new flat-screen.
Monocultures are unique sights to behold. Nothing but the gold of wheat-plains as far as the eye can see. The little town of Crow’s Crook, sits in the sea of wheat between the mountain ranges on the seaboards and is home to as many crows as people. The birds like to sit on the steeples of the local church and caw at the people passing by, but never venture into the fields. A few decorative trees roost dozens, while the steeple itself is home to the King Crow that surveys the landscape and ventures down of a morning to sit on the bench reserved just for him. There a young woman throws him scraps and thinks nothing of the old folk and their tall tales. She just sees a lover in the bird’s eyes, and she is not wrong. While the rest squabble for scraps, King Crow basks in the morning sun until his coven convenes and the flies off to leave the young woman to her daily grind. Even out in the wheat-sea the people like their coffee, and the only diner in town serves a mean cup of joe. Pair it with the fresh baked croissants and you have the perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner. The chef at one time had a restaurant in a foreign land before he met the barista who feeds the crows. There is something far more comfortable just cooking up burgers in a town no-one knows of, and getting local produce from a few miles down the highway where tourist traps abound. Crow’s Crook is the type of place where everyone knows each other by name and sits together in church. It has one phone tower and high speed internet thanks to a rich man who bought a farm and even now the young son of the Barista and the Chef is working on becoming a professional gamer. His best friend wants to be an actress, they’ve already talked about eloping without realising what it means. She read trashy books about vampires once, so now he tries to wear black and be broody to impress her. Her mother is single, though it’s slightly complicated. Some have spread rumours about the father, from the local preacher to the local cook, to the rich man who bought the town the internet. Truth was, he was just some guy from up north that blew into town for a few months before she decided she didn’t like him all that much. It doesn’t matter much, the church crowd like to gossip and in a town where nothing happens, you take any story you can and spin it out. The spiders do the spinning, trying to catch the crows in their webs but only land flies – then once in a while they’ll go fishing and forget all the fuss. They’ll bring their catch to the diner, catfish or trout, and after all the good bits are taken the Barista goes out to talk with King Crow. He watches it all from up in his steeple, and visits his daughter at night to guard her from bad dreams as she sleeps.
In the sleepy town of Wolf’s Run, a thousand kilometres from anywhere and anything of any note to anyone of any importance and any standing in any society, there is a cliff rising above the forested surroundings. A very literally named place, the wolves that gather nearby can often be seen jogging up the hills to to stand on the cliff and howl at the moon. Ask anyone of any repute in the town however and they will tell you that the name is from the river that flows not far from the edge of the tavern where everyone and anyone gathers of a night to listen to the television blaring on about a sports game of any kind that is showing on the one channel that gets reception. A dozen men and three women, all of them lumberjacks, and the four teenagers to the one sinister old matriarch who owns everything. The general store, attached to the tavern, the post-office attached to the general store and the chapel attached the the post-office. All run by the same four sisters, who should be getting schooled by the only teacher – their grandmother – but the schoolhouse burned down. The only police officer travels for two hours every few days just to check in on them, not that anything ever happens but a few dead wolves hit by trucks tearing down through the pine-lined roads. There is a trapper who comes to collect the bodies and sells the pelt and the meats to the town, she doesn’t say much but likes the attention from the local boys and Judy. Meanwhile every sunday the only ordained man in the county comes from his mission beyond the mountains to give sunday afternoon mass and stays the night to avoid the inevitable rain. He waits until after work so that he can give service in Baptist, Protestant and Christian, then meditates with the eldest of the Matriarch’s grandchildren and has started learning Buddhism to cater to her needs. No-one bats an eyelash when he tells them he’s going to start offering Muslim services when the new girl arrives in town, except for her – she’s lapsed and just wants a job at the general store away from her ex-boyfriend and has become fast friends with Judy. The busiest the town has ever been was today, when a tourist family stopped on their way through the state and ate at the tavern but called it a diner before leaving. They were nice, and it reminded the youngest girls that there is a world beyond the trees. Maybe in a few years time one of them would head out and follow their dreams of becoming a lawyer and helping people. Though the smart money is on the town growing as the forestry industry needs more wood to feed the industrial fires down south. Shame, because roadkill is becoming more and more common these days, and there isn’t much sense calling the town Wolf’s Run if there isn’t any wolves left to run it.
“I guess I’m just trying to be more positive about things.”
“Someone told me that if you want to make friends, you need to be positive.”
A skeptical look.
“I mean think about it, you don’t want to be around someone who always says negative shit about everything.”
A shrug, “You’re not wrong, I’m just trying to imagine you being positive.”
“See, that kind of thing makes me want to not be your friend.”
“We’re not friends.”
“Nope, you can be friends with whomever you want.”
A puff on a cigarette, “How do you go from being a negative, toxic human being, to a positive, cheery one?”
“Hard work. Gotta rewrite a lot of what you do.”
A soft-drink can for demonstration, “The old me would say, this shit will kill me. The new me would say, enjoy in moderation.”
“So, you’re becoming a spin-artist?”
“I’d finally be an artist as something.”
“That,” a soft-drink can knocked from a hand, “was negative of you. You need to work on your newspeak comrade.”
“Doubleplustrue, but you know I’m right.”
“Alright Kurt, be more toxic. How about you take one look at the world and tell me you’re still fine with pretending you’re fine with this shit.”
“I take one look at this world and think, we can fix it.”
“Go on then.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Then go outside, make some new friends, talk to the pretty girls with long black hair.”
A nod in agreement, “I really should shouldn’t I?”
“Yeah, but that would require you to leave this place.”
A pained smile, “It’s hard leaving pieces of yourself behind.”
“You leave a trail so you can find your way back.”
“Maybe that’s what I want to erase… not my past, but the trail I leave behind. If I carry you with me, I won’t leave pieces of myself behind – I’ll shed light on the darkness, and there will be no darkness to run back to.”
A person alone on a train.
“Be positive, I guess.”
Talking to themselves.
Life has no satisfying ending.
We leave more loose ends than frayed cloth, the threads of our being unravel.
Metal is surprisingly warm pressed against the roof of your mouth.
“What’s stopping you?”
“I don’t know, I was hoping you could help me work that one out.”
She sits on my bed, loose threads unraveling on the edges, legs crossed, arms back as if to invite me.
“I have none.”
“Dreams are for people unable to stomach being nothing.”
That gives her pause, but, “Sex?”
“You know I’m a sex worker right? It’s kind of my life.”
“You fuck men, which has a point to it.”
She screws up her nose, “What, so you’re a self-hating dyke or something?”
“Probably,” I look into her eyes, “Maybe I just like being a stereotype.”
“Sad lesbian? The stories always end with suicide.”
“The cycle of things.”
“Are you religious?”
“Then why hate lesbians?”
“You just said you do.”
I look down at their feet, dangling just above the carpet, “I said it is pointless. Why bother being, when you are erased as if you never mattered.”
“Happiness?” she says it with such ardent conviction, I almost weep for her.
“A toxin, it rots you from the inside.”
“Then what’s stopping you?” she speaks with utter venom.
Metal can be surprisingly warm.
Particularly when the world is so cold.
And afterwards, there is no feeling.
And yet, nothing stops me.
Time lies. There is a dormant kind of pointlessness to all of it.
We meet again, but not where either of us expect it. For six hundred dollars you can buy an hour of a person’s life. Expensive, messy, really more for those with more money than sense searching for an fake chemical high.
I never thought I’d become one.
She takes me inside, lets me sit awkwardly on the lounge and asks me to bare myself. Exposed and vulnerable I talk, nervously.
“I want to die.”
“What’s stopping you?”
“I don’t know, I was hoping you could help me work that one out.”
I smile, mad-hatter style, “Then I’ll know how to work around it.”
She gives me an awkward look, then one of condolence, “You need a shrink, not a whore.”
“My insurance covers STIs, not SSRIs.”
“Well you’re not getting either from me.”
If I were honest with myself, I am there for morbid curiosity more than anything. I don’t feel anything as she takes me from the lounge and towards the showers. I’m almost sure I should.
“Clean yourself up.”
It unsettles me that a brothel room has a better bathroom than my house. It almost feels comfortable to shower, and it is only a knock on the door that rouses me from thoughts.
“Are you gonna come out?”
I suppose, as I dress. I feel her annoyance as she realises what I’ve done. Usually people get less dressed. I strip, of course, and I lie on the bed wondering how many different ways I can be diseased by this.
“What am I doing for you?”
Nothing, truly. I gave up humanity long before I gave up.
“Just fuck me, make my pain go away.”
I give her pause, I break her. In her eyes, I have become human even as I am reminded by how little humanity ever meant to me.
I am Warsaw, a place not a person. A destination, not a traveller. Stuck between the evils of the world, burning until all resistance dies and I am consumed for the rest of eternity.