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orpheus—look back!

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He's washing his tupperware container and it just won't get clean. Why won't it get clean? He's soaped it and scrubbed it a hundred times now. It's so dirty, and his hands are wet. So damned wet. Ungodly and irritating. The walls of the room are dark and covered in something thick and seeping, which is also ungodly and irritating. But less so. It's fine. He'll get to it later. He continues to scrub.

The door opens. Someone walks in and sees him and says, "Oh. I didn't expect to see you here."

He glances over his shoulder, then looks away. Great. He scrubs harder. Just great. "Why shouldn't I be here?" he snaps. "I work here, too. I live here, too. Aren't I on the walls, same as you?" Yes, he's on the walls. He's in the walls. He is the walls. Why shouldn't he be here, scrubbing and scrubbing?

"Do you eat?" someone says with suspicion, peering over his shoulder. "I mean, do you even eat?"

I'll eat you! the walls growl on his behalf. He's too busy picking at the container. 

Someone turns to someone else, who has also arrived through the door. He turns from his chore to look and look away again. Oh, great. The something thick and seeping drips into the sink and smacks onto his wet hands. Oh, here we go. 

Someone says, "Well, what do you think? Well?"

The scent of chamomile. Oh, you know what that means. What a pain. Ungodly, irritating. Wait— At last! The grime chips free of the plastic and jumps out of the container and into the sink. There it goes! The water smells salty and bright, washing away the mess, and the walls are no longer seeping. Wonderful! 

Someone else speaks an ocean wave, golden and pale blue: shhh shhh shhh. A voice like—a mountain, peaking high and poking the sun.

"Sorry?" he says. He can't hear over the zippy song of crickets in the grass.  "Sorry, could you repeat that?" 

A sound like: a rock cliff, the sea, the soft packed sandy shore. shhh… shhh… shhh… J— 

"Well?" someone insists through a mouthful of something thick and seeping.

He wakes up, head jolting upright from where it had been resting on his arms. God, he'd fallen asleep at his desk—again. Tendrils of his dream wrap vague fingers around his thoughts as he swims toward full consciousness: a blurry recollection of the break room sink, somebody or other griping at him, and the echo of a sound—what was it? Grass in a field… But something else… Water? 

He rubs at his eyes, rubs the foggy dream away. Time to get home. He pushes, with great effort, away from his desk, dislodging one cramped knee at a time from beneath it. Always such a pain, squeezing under that thing to work, low as it was and sized for a child to boot. And that's to say nothing of the damned chair, which clings to his hips with a jealous vice grip, loathe to let him get up. He was no large man, to be sure, but this was hardly any way for a person to work.

Free of his desk, he begins to shuffle his papers, tape, and recorder back into the box they came in, when a wave of scent memory suddenly washes over him: chamomile and salt. With it comes that echoing sound, ringing hollow through his head: rock, sea, sand. A strange, panging feeling sings J— up his spine —n and hollows out his stomach. He rubs at his eyes again and pushes it away, too tired to linger on it. Some tea at home does sound good, though.

Materials all packed up, he walks to the appropriate filing cabinet to tuck it away, only he remembers its home is way, way, way up, on one of the topmost shelves. He glances over at the ladder resting on the cabinet, following its upward path until it disappears toward the unseeable ceiling. He shakes his head and places the box on the floor by the ladder, deciding to leave it for tomorrow. Even he has to draw the line somewhere.

He passes through his office door, eyes drifting up to try and catch sight of the top of the doorframe, a little game he plays with himself—maybe this time, he'll be able to see it! But he never can, and again he shakes his head, this time with the wry smile that speaks of a man who needs something, anything, better to do. 

He steps out into the corridor and walks jauntily up the hall. After a good, long stroll, he stops in front of a massive door. He pushes his way inside, grunting under the weight of it, and repeats the process once he's through the threshold to close it again. He toes off his shoes, paired neatly by the door; sets down his bag by his shoes, just as tidy; and takes off his coat to hang on the rack. Then he turns and strides over to his desk. Dropping to the ground, he quickly crawls underneath. This one is much more spacious, much more welcoming, and he sighs happily, curled up on the floor. Home shhh shhh, finally, and blessed sleep. Peaceful, he drifts off.

He wakes up. The world is cast in gloomy shades of pink and purple, sullen plums bleeding into a dusky, dripping rose. The air is maudlin, heavy and thick. Through the violet haze he can make out twisting shapes reaching upward, up, up, up, grasping and grasping before careening back down to nearly, nearly collide with the ground, then flirtatiously rising away again. 

He begins to walk toward these shapes and it is as though he is wading through swampy waters, dyed maroon. He forces his way through each encumbered step. He walks and walks, dragging along his body in a herculean effort. The shapes remain where they are, skeletal and warping. Monumental—but to what?

At last he arrives, and the figures finally manifest holistically before him: rollercoasters. Of course. It’s a theme park, the stands and rides growing like dark, barren trees within the thick magenta bog. 

He spots a carousel and feels a tug of desire, some fondness blooming from whatever hidden corner of his mind shh shh such memories live in, tucked away and clean. He starts to trudge toward it. The path takes him past a monstrous rollercoaster; his gaze is pulled away from the pretty form of a horse frozen in time, eyes lifeless and teeth gnashing, and he is forced to look up, as though magnetized, or hypnotized. He stops walking. The coaster tracks split and corkscrew, metal arms of ivy weaving with chaotic delight into the sky. His body turns. He takes the first step toward the ride and he closes his eyes and imagines the coral pink tongue of the horse lolling J— out of its mouth, the soft tail swirling around in an eternal —n wind. 

He opens his eyes. He is seated in a coaster car. The safety bar falls down, trapping him in its cold embrace. The car begins its slow ascent, the wheels clack clack clack clacking against the giddily trembling track. Up, up, up he goes, climbing high into the blood-wine sky.

The track twists and folds and he is hanging. He grips the safety bar; the bar bites into his palms with frigid teeth. Salty tears or sweat crawls down from his cheeks and slides onto his forehead, dripping from his scalp and escaping down, down, down. He is a stalactite in mourning. He keeps his mouth shut firm to prevent his heart from slipping out from his throat. Clack clack clack clack. The ground drops further and further away as he slowly inches into the syrup-thick mauve air. What a thrill! 

The car rolls calmly to a stop. The ground no longer exists. No, he pleads. No no no no. The ground no longer exists. The car rests. He grips the bar. The bar no longer exists. 

His heart falls out of his throat. His body chases after it.

He wakes up in a sterile hospital room. He looks at the bed in the center of the room. Empty. He looks at the body there, lying on the bed. Empty. The lights are off, and the room glows white. This is not his room. This is not his room.

GET OUT! the walls scream. GET OUT! GET OUT! 

"I-I'm sorry!" he stutters. He begins to cry rivers. Waterfalls. GET OUT! the room sobs with him. The room is the ocean. The ocean fills up the empty body on the empty bed. This is not his room. He closes his eyes. He keeps closing his eyes. The piano strikes out soft, sequential notes. Yes, that's right. The piano, the ocean. The m— mountain in the walls. Please. Oh, right—this isn't his room. He closes his eyes.

Fuck, he thinks.

He wakes up. He's dreaming. He wishes he could stop dreaming. He wishes he could w— 

—akes up. He's in bed. Thank god. Thank the equivalent of god. Thank himself. Thank god. He turns his head and gazes at the glowing form lying beside him. The sun. The slope at the foot of a mountain. Oh, thank god. Please, don't be mad. 

He can't move his body, but that's okay. He can't touch the chamomile scent beside him. That's okay. He's lying in water, wet and bright and warm.

"You would never lie to me, would you?" mumbles the ocean wave into the sheets. shhh shhh shhh… the wave sighs.

"No," he says quickly, "of course not." Bells echo through his head, loud, gonging reverberations shuddering around the room. Faintly, through the open window, the piano trills.

The wave starts to roll over, one sea breeze shoulder beginning to touch the pillows. The face of it is coming into view, its warmth, golden and pale blue, spreading out like wings taking flight. There— Just there— The glowing gives the impression of— The bells gong, gong, gong , and the warmth resolves itself— A m(M?)ountain, peaking— J— It's——n It's— 

—He's sitting on a bench. His feet, small, don't touch the ground. His hands are empty and he is alone. He's holding a book. He turns his head to look at the black space beside him.

"You would never lie to me, would you?" asks the black space. It has a vicious edge to it, taunting; mocking.

"No," he says sadly. He casts his eyes downward, ashamed.

"Maybe you should," says the book. He opens the book. "Maybe you should," repeats the spindly little creature inside. Its eyes are gaping and many. He slams the book shut. In his hands, cupped together, sits the little creature and its judgmental eyes. Oh, great. Just great. This is me, isn't it? Of course it is. How could he be anything J— other than —n a disgusting little thing in a disgusting little book?

"Obviously," agrees the black space.

"Oh, shut up," he sighs from his perch on the great big palms that hold him. Let's wake up, already. He smacks his palms together.

He wakes up. Fog rolls in around his feet. Ah. Here again. He breathes in and the fog smells of gone gone gone gone gone. Same old, same old. He turns to the sink and sticks his hands in the cool, soapy water. He ignores the lighthouse's bright beam cutting across the land as he washes a mug. What's the point? He's been here before. Cycles, cycles. He thinks about a window allowing in the sound of a piano—oh yes, there it is. The soft linen drapes puff and billow around the window's frame. What's the point of a lighthouse, anyway? Brilliant—the mug is clean!

"What's that for?" someone says.

"I wish I knew," he replies blithely. He opens the cupboard and a plume of fog trickles out. He neatly slides the mug into place on the shelf and closes the door, shutting in the fog just as it begins to say something. "Oops—sorry!" He opens the cupboard again and hears the sound of cliffrocks tumbling down into the shhh shhh crashing waves of a briny sea, water sweeping up onto the grainy beach beside it. 

Oh— god, oh, I'm coming! he thinks wildly, overcome, turning away from the cupboard and the sink, thinking of the rolling hills and the sea at its sides; gone gone gone gone where is the mou— mountain with the teetering sun, balanced on its stony peak? J— J— I'm coming! I hear— 

He wakes up. Statement begins: Here's a funny little story for a funny little man (that's you!). Alright , imagine, for a moment, a house. Yes, that's right, that house! Turn all the lights off. Close all the doors. Step inside. You're inside, great! Have your eyes adjusted to the dark? Be patient. What do you see? A window with linen drapes? A piano, standing tall and singing? A hill, a mountain, a sun? Stop thinking about that, what's the matter with you? Focus. Here's the story, little man: The house, dark and closed off. Everything shut in, everything shut out. Except you! On the walls, in the walls, are the walls. A star for you! A star for you!! Do you get it? Nothing ever seems to change for you. Haven't you been here before? We've definitely heard this before. Oh! Did you add bread to the grocery list? I forgot to write it down, sorry. A sound—a sound like a rocky cliff dropping off into the sea, the salty waves washing up on the sandy beach. Oh, drat. Didn't I tell you to focus? Doors and walls. Pay attention. Pay attention! PAY ATTE— 

He wakes up. He's falling. Again. Oh, hell.

The world is beige and blank and he's falling, rushing down along the side of a— Well, what is that? Something tall and grey. He's plummeting down some indiscernible distance to the ground he assumes must be there. Yes, it's certainly there—his stomach is down there resting on it, flat and beige and blank. 

He walks to the edge of the top of the tower and puts his hands on the railing. He looks over. Something is falling, fast. Oh, hell. That makes sense, he supposes. What else were towers for if not to fall from, fast? Pressure on his shoulder blades sends him tipping over the railing and drowning in the air. Well, that answers that question.

Cycles, he thinks, watching the tower, tall and grey, fly away from him, and the ground, flat and beige, fly toward him. I am an ouroboros of gravity. Falling and falling and falling falling falling plummeting ripping through the air and there's the ground there's the ground there's the ground running running running up to his face here it is here it is here i— 

——t's dark. Darker than that. No, no, no. Darker darker dark black nothing, and wet—no, damp—no, moldy and moist and tangy with must, clinging and slithering. No no no no no no no. No no no he can't move ohh no, no no oh no oh don't do this please please he can't move he can't breathe ohhhh please oh please please PLEASE no let him out let him OUT LET HIM… let him out. let him cry at least fuck fuck fuck he sheds a little creek of a tear and the dark drinks drinks drinks it up. please please please. please. ohhhhh no no no oh wake up wake up wake up wake up for once can't you LISTEN to me me me me me me me? no no no no me? no no no no— 

He crawls down a slim blade of grass, green and shining, sprouting from the soft soil. As he gets closer to the dirt, he hears something singing up from the ground: me me me me me? Creeping, creeping, creeping down, he sees at last his rotting bones, sunbleached and lonesome. me me me me me? the bones weep. J— Oh, right—that's where he went. —n.  

He stares down at his petrified skull, which stares back, imploring. "That's funny," he says at length, and scuttles back up the grass. 

It is, isn't it?

He wakes up. Bloody hell. Statement supplemental: I am the spirit that denies! And justly so: for all things, from the void called forth, deserve to be destroyed. 'Twere better, then, that naught were created.** I am the spirit that denies! I am the sp  

He wakes up to a soft pressure on his neck, coaxing him gently to consciousness. He floats to the surface through a vanilla-scented cloud. The touch moves from his neck up to his cheek. He opens his eyes and looks into the sun, orange-gold and warm. The room is dark, the world outside the window a black, starless night.

“You've been looking for me," he mumbles thickly, shifting against the bedsheets to move closer into the touch. 

A kiss on his mouth, a hand on his waist, a whisper on his skin: “Yes. And I've found you, sweetheart.”

He reaches up to wind his arms around solid shoulders: a mountain range, rounded and flushed. “I'm sorry for being… hard to find…”  he sighs, and kisses his love again, his half-lidded eyes drifting all the way closed. 

“Alright, darling. That's alright. Keep kissing me. Okay?"

He sighs again, contented and sleepy, held and safe. "Okay," he agrees quietly, lazily tipping his head back to accept another kiss to his neck. What else was there to do but kiss the sun?

Murmured against his jaw: "Keep your eyes on me," and he agreed to that, too. He opens his eyes. Where else were his eyes meant to go? What else were his eyes even for? Breathed into his hair: "Don't look behind you."

He stills. He glances at the wall by the window. Dark, dark. And something darker, spilling over the ceiling, stretching up.

A tender kiss to his ear. "Don't look behind you."

He stands in the middle of the room, watching. Always watching. What else were his eyes even for? The shapes in the dark rolling toward each other, becoming one whole entity, some new congealed creature. The mouth forming whispered words, not meant for him to hear. But he hears them. Of course he hears them. All words are meant for him to hear. Is he not still sweetheart? Still darling? He stands in the middle of the room, bare feet hot on the cool wood floor. He glances at the wall by the window; dark, dark, and how he spills over the ceiling, stretching up. Darker. Darling, sweetheart, vanilla and chamomile, don't look behind you! He watches himself slide his eyes away from the wall— his eyes slide away from the wall— he watches his head begin to turn— he turns his head— a rushing through his ears, loud and howling— rushing, rushing, rushing, rushing as he turns turns turns— He rips out of the darkness, running full sprint across the room and toward the bed, hand outstretched toward his ne— 

He wakes up. Why why why why why why w

—akes up running, panting himself hoarse and sprinting down a corridor, dark green and endless. A looming presence presses in close, eating up the hall behind him, nipping at his heels. Run run run! it laughs, delighted, grasping at the hem of his shirt before letting go; a teasing touch, a promise for more. Run run run!

"FUCK OFF!!" he screams frantically. His lungs burn. The walls are blurred, the floor a muddled haze, and he runs and he runs and he runs, sprinting jackrabbit fast toward Somewhere Else, Anywhere Else. Another flirtatious graze of a finger or claw on the back of his neck has him nearly tripping over his J—  feet, stumbling for just a moment and knocking his shoulder hard against the wall before he rights himself and —n pushes his legs to move move move. 

come in come in whisper the walls of the corridor, reaching after him from where he had brushed against it. come, be safe. you are meant to be here, and safe. come in. The walls trail after him, entranced, overcome with devotion and longing.

Run! Run! RUN! bellows the looming presence with hysterical, rapturous joy. 

These are his choices: running or hiding? 

No—succumbing or becoming. 

No… Dying or living.

Yes, that's right. On them, in them, are them. 

A bend in the hall races toward him and he doesn't slow, not hesitating for even a second, flying toward the corner and when he gets to it he SLAMS! into the wall face-first and the wallpaper and the brick and the mortar suck him in greedily, embracing him with possessive sick loving—

He is huge, and unending, expanding wide for miles and miles and miles in all directions. He is infinitum. He savors the feel of all the small creatures wheeling around throughout his body, inhales the sweet drip of their thoughts. They keep him together and he keeps them safe. Yes, yes, safe, safe, safe inside of him, right where they ought to be. 

Except that —there—there's that horrible thing, slithering and twisting around his corridors, searching searching searching. Come out, come out, it taunts. He closes off a hall that it approaches, then drops a wall behind as it turns around. He seals it in, pressing close. It turns and turns and turns in place. 

come in, come in, he croons with pleasure. Then he erases the corridor entirely, dropped from existence; out of Sight, out of mind. All is well again. Safe, safe, safe. Just where he ought to be.

He hears the crashing of waves. shh shh J— The crisp scent of brine. —n . shhh shhh shhh Where is that coming from? Nowhere inside him—something other, something outside—oh, oh, oh! J— I'm coming! I hear you, I'm coming! He is a b— he is a body!— he is a body that run run runs. Where are you where you where are you where

He wakes up.

“You should really learn how to braid your own hair,” she says from behind him.

He tries to turn his head but she pushes his face back around. “I’m sorry for what happened to you,” he replies. He looks down at his hands in his lap and finds they aren’t there, wrists tapering off into empty air. Just as well. They weren’t good for much. 

She yanks his hair and he gasps in pain. "I don't want your sorry," she says. "I don't want your anything."

His forearms are gone. He was sick of looking at them, pockmarked and scarred. Bitter reminders. Not good for much. "I know," he tells her, and doesn't say sorry. 

"Stop knowing." 

He laughs bitterly, armless. "I wish I could." 

She growls at him in irritation, tugging the end of his braid. "If I'm dead, you're dead, too,” she says. “If I'm alive, you're still dead. Either way, you're dead. Isn't that nice?"

"I… suppose it is." Feet, calves, shins, knees. Where did he have to go, anyway?

"'Course it is. Dead, dead, dead. Lucky you. You're done," she says, flicking the braid over his shoulder for him to see, only his shoulder is gone, so his hair swings back into place to hang over empty space, as he has no back.

"Thank you," he breathes with sincerity. …shhh, shhh, shhh…  

"I don't want your anything," she reminds him, "least of all your thanks."

"That's fair," he sighs, then closes his eyes, and fades away. 

He wakes up. He's sitting in his chair, at his desk. In front of him is his little recorder. He pushes his finger firmly to the button; it sinks down with a click. The tape whirr whirr whirrs its soft lullaby. He leans down and presses his mouth to the casing. Cold plastic and metal. The only lover he ever deserved.

He says, "There is no such thing as a happy ending. Or a sad one. There are only endings, and what you make of them."

The sky above him yawns open, wide and depthless, black and full. Then, now more awake, it asks, “What do you figure we’ll make of yours?” 

He picks his head up and stares out across the void landscape rolling endlessly before him. He doesn't feel anything about it all. Flatly, he replies, "Do I even get one?” then stops the tape's song with a click. 

He wakes up. Another room, bathed in white. Or perhaps the same room. Does it matter, really? He’s tired. Cycles, cycles. Dreaming and dreaming and dreaming. And waking, waking, waking. He’s tired and he wants to stop dreaming. He’s tired, and he wants to stop waking up. He wants to stop waking up. He wants to stop waking up. He wants—

—an open window. The sound of— the gentle— shh shh shh of the delicate linen drapes fluttering in the wind. 

"Hey," says a voice, "that's my sweater!"

He looks down at his own body and sees it clad in soft beige fabric, thick and plush. The sleeves are long and he slides the cuffs over his knuckles easily, hiding his hands in warmth. He pushes his nose down against the neck of the sweater and breathes in—sunshine filtering in through a kitchen window on a Sunday morning. Chamomile tea, French vanilla coffee. The snap sharp scent of salt in water.

"Yes," he replies, his eyes falling closed, "and you're not getting it back." He indulgently breathes in again. He wants to stop waking up. He wants to stop dreaming—he wants to keep dreaming. He wants, he wants, he wants.

"It makes me myself," pouts the voice, closer behind him now. He hears, again, the whispering of the drapes: shhh…. shhh… shhh… J… … … 

"I'm hoping it makes me a little bit you, too,” he says quietly. He digs his fingers down into his sweater-covered palms, sinking into the lush feeling of the dense, soft yarn. If anywhere he were to stop, he thinks, let it be here.

A warm touch to his arm, solid and soft. Gold light drips over his shoulder. He turns his head, just a little. He leans back—just a little. This is a dance he knows. He J—  knows it well —n. If anywhere, then please, here. He turns around, head lifted to gaze up at

nothing. He looks around and sees the open window with its chiffon drapes catching the shhh shhh shhh breeze, and he sees the pale blue couch and the worn wool blanket flung across the cushions, and he sees the book-full shelf, the picture-full shelf, the memory-full shelf. He does not see what he wants—and he wants and wants and wants… What? Where is that golden light? The… sun, balancing bright and even on the 

the mounta— The mou— The m— M…?

The sound— that sound again, crashing and flowing, drifting in and breathing out salty waves. J— the waves say, and he turns his head in recognition, taking in the scent of brine, the weathered rocks, every itching grain of sand that belongs, somehow, to him— 

Of course to him, it is him, whispered and shouted by this, the m— the mou— the mountain (M…?) peaking high and poking sun, the softly sloping hills that belong to this other —his other, of course, darling, I hear you and I'm coming, sweetheart! — the waves sigh and sigh, saying it again, beckoning, ocean salt and sand, J—, wake up, won't you wake up, —n, (Ma—!) it's alright, you're alright, J—, J——! 


"Jon," Martin says, "wake up."

He wakes up.