Mistake

You made a mistake.

Red stains on an icy floor, you are biting your bloody nails. When an antagonist says “now it’s your turn,” you’re usually used to an accompanying murderous intent. But the only things here are chilling silence and a notable lack of villains. Your nails are running out. You grind the old blood from underneath with your teeth, sharpened by the rocks and sand you use for sustenance. The blood not yours mixes with a solution of spit and hate deluging from your wizened mouth. Rinsed clean of proof of sin, you are slightly less disgusted by your own hands. About two units of disgust less. That’s 48 more to go, to be precise. Precision has always been your forte. It has killed many women.

A fragile man, a pile of assorted bones, had tasked you with the destruction of a place hated only by him. “The cold is bad for my bones. Ice can turn into water, which is bad for my bones. Rid the world of ICE DUNGEON PLUS and I will reward you with SKULL TREASURES.” You were reluctant at first, having so many good memories of refrigeration. Your dog lasted long hours longer, thanks to the cold. But the promise of SKULL TREASURES convinced you, the exact tier of treasure you care to make an effort for.

ICE DUNGEON PLUS was full of traps, but those can’t hurt you. You only take action when it is necessary. There is no room for error, no room for mistakes. Death is unnecessary; you don’t take any action towards it. It’s surprising how much time you spend staring at blank walls, listening to the crackle of your own skin. A lot of the things you do can lead to death. All this inaction hasn’t done much for your body heat. You once froze a dog by petting it.

Entering the final room of ICE DUNGEON PLUS, you expected a boss, certainly. You had it all figured out: how to kill it, how to escape, how to inform the pile of bones it was done, how to spend hours telling yourself it was necessary. But you did not expect her. Unlike the bosses you’d encountered before, she did not try to kill you. Not a single action performed was towards your death.

This was the first time nothing tried to kill you; you felt less cold. Instead of ICE III, she cast you a look like transparent icicles, sharp and clear with intention. Your lips and fingers knew exactly where to go. Dry, cold skin can be surprisingly warm when acted upon. This was necessary, she was necessary. Then, a low chuckle scared you. “Now it’s your turn.” Fear, panic, health bars running low, no action can lead to death.

This was necessary, you tell yourself, biting your bloody nails. It has been hours and you still don’t believe a word of it. You eagerly activate pressure plates, expecting to be skewered; you can’t help but dodge the cold spikes jutting from the ground. You unintentionally dodge the boulder rolling towards you. You dance through a fire trap, hoping that flames can melt a body as cold and barren as yours. None of it works.

You made a mistake and you can’t help but live with it.

Joshua

A# – glide to A. “Joshua. Joshua. This is your new father,” is what the words meant. A smile like Orion’s belt: askance, far away. A touch on my cheek – calloused palms, unintended chafing. “Indeed, your new father.” Words I already knew were repeated. I was told he is my father. I am told things to remember. He brought money. Animal skin suitcase, father never hunted before. Seven paper stacks bound by paper strips. I am paper, I was told; a document. Ink cascades down my forehead, down my face – an ovoid blank. Words appear, words I remembered: “Stars” “Heavens” “Orion’s belt” “Beautiful” “Fuck!” “Shit!” “HELP” “Help” “help”

G. Breakfast table, new father, five men, one woman, me. Velveteen covers, embroideries of flowers I saw in the forest. Don’t know the names. I know their occupations: flower. They are laughing, yelling, roaring, cannonfire. Woman has pink lips, a ruby choker. Expensive throat slit. Scar on her lip, she smiles at me – no laugh, yell, roar, Howitzer M109 – I feel the exact same. A plate is given to me – toast and eggs, one strip of bacon. The television family ate this once. I saw them do it. They had a lot of problems. Father was abusive but laughing people made it okay. Woman was not real, couldn’t have been, fantasy on paper. Children should have been happy with a home. “Pretty quiet, that one.” Five men laugh at me, one points. I tense up. “Whoa. Relax, kid, you’re with family now.” No defence ready, but no defence necessary. I am with family. I wish I was quiet. I wish it was quiet. Loud, like hand grenades, like exploding stars. That happens, I remember it being told. Will that happen to the sun? M67, frag. Ka-BOOOOOOM! Table falls silent. “Jesus. Where the fuck did that come from?” “Where’d you even find this kid?” Silence after a bang is a good thing, I was told. ‘That’s how you know it’s safe, Joshua,’ is how I was told.

F to E. Two months ago, 0300, new father set up equipment. Not for spotting, but looking at the sky. Night raid? No. Too dark. No lights on in camp. Radio silence. “There are more stars out in the heavens than guns, Joshua. Or so I’d like to think.” The desert is cold and dry. My skin hurts when I drink. I want to drink but I don’t want to hurt. I am thirsty. “On clear nights like these, you can see Orion’s belt with the naked eye. But looking at it through a telescope is even better. Isn’t space beautiful?” I close one eye and peer through the scope. Emptiness and lights, all above me. The lights make me readable: the Joshua paper, document 77. Joshua is a part of this family, belongs to this father. Bang. C14 Timberwolf, 2500 yards northeast. No silence. Bad. “Fuck!” “Shit!” “HELP” “Help” “help”. Silence. Good.

String snaps. Another bang. I scream; I have been killed, but I don’t want to be. Silence. Breathing. No silence. Screaming. My lungs are filling with air. My blood is my blood, not a stain on the ground. Good. Mother rushes into my room. She knows what has happened. I was shot, in my head. Not a real bullet. She takes my guitar, used to be father’s, and wraps her arms around me, but not a chokehold. She makes me live again, warmth and humming. I put my arms around her and I become silent again. Not a target. Silence again. Better.

Happiness

“WHAT AN UNEXPECTED SIGHT.” The excited yells of a random stranger quake through my skull. It doesn’t do my headache any good, although I do share the sentiment. I did not expect to see this, whatever ‘this’ is, nor did I expect them to be so legged yet so fashionable. Now that I think of it, I heard their voice in the baggage claim, too. Their personal belongings hadn’t warped in properly, or something. They made such a fuss about it! Their desperate shrills resonated at such a wavelength, the head membranes of seven respected Zone 4 diplomats popped.

It was a mess, it gave me a headache, a minor political crisis ensued, and now the fool’s at it again. But fair enough, those luggage warpers are truly terrible. Some poor sod’s husband’s ashes were transmuted into a grade 3B cosmo-terror. And now HE has to pay for damages! No wonder they still transport folks with ships.

Still, I’m just glad my stuff popped up alright. Heck, it’s a miracle the package is intact at all. I’ll forget to mention to my employer I made a little sidetrip to Old Earth. It’s been a struggle for the tiniest shred of joy to thrive there for the past few centuries, and last month central authority’s confirmed that it’s impossible for the natives to grow happy anymore. Least I can do is bring some happiness from the outside. Reaching Europa B5 is always a hassle. Levels B1 to B3 have been taken over by the central governing AI’s. It’s not that they malfunctioned and became murderously evil or anything; that only happened once, on Planet AI, formerly New Old Earth.

I mean, don’t run ‘feelings.exe’ and expect them to suffer your dirty fingertips on their motherboards. No, these AI’s are actually really nice, albeit a bit talkative. Since they failed their directives to “keep at least one (1) person alive”, but lack a termination sequence, they spend their time consuming ancient media and share it with me when I’m around. B1 loves science fiction audio-books spoken by its bethrothed ‘Microsoft Sam’, Sophia is into history and critical gender theory, and B3 really likes the sound metal currency makes when placed inside of a leather bag. It’s rather incredible what those Old Earthlings came up with, despite not being able to jump very high or love one another.

I’m sure you can see how it takes a while for me to get through these three levels alone. Just now, they had me read this work of fiction called “History of the Mighty Sovereignity of Humans Who Are the Best And Also of Non-Humans Treated as Second-Rate Citizens, Vol. 4 (2733 – 2850)”. Whoever you may be, Collective of Authors Chronicling Human History for the Good That Is Humanity, your name is weird and your novel is TERRIBLE.

Europa B4 is probably my least favourite place in the universe – and I’ve been to Planet Nightcore AND Zone 3. No offence to Zone 3’ers, but it’s no Zone 2, which is better than all the other Zones, which are not Zone 2. First time I went there, about fifty years ago, it took me forty to get through. Sophia told me that B4 was wiped out after someone who was happy had written a book about a palace. The author was so thrilled about putting her thoughts and fantasies on paper, one of her happiness crystals burst, spilling euphoria over the pages. Some kind of mold formed that rapidly expanded and absorbed all living tissue it came in contact with.

In a couple of minutes, B4 was transformed into an organic, baroque-style palace. Year forty of my wandering that exuberant hell, I had to go to the bathroom. Seated, it was there that I found a leatherbound novella titled ‘PALACE’. It was 60 consecutive pages of the selfsame sentence: “I will not wait in line for heaven, I will carve a palace from within.” Page 61, for some reason, was left blank aside for a scribbled “i sell all for heaven”. I thought that was a really weak ending, so I drew an anatomically-incorrect heart over ‘sell’. When I then left the bathroom, I was standing in front of the entrance to B5.

I’m pretty cheerful. I say this, because Europa B5 never fails to make me feel a bit hollow. Not in a ‘void of space’ kind of way, mind you. Because honestly let’s face it, the cosmos is full of life and it’s all so diverse and vibrant. It’s a rather Earthian way of thinking, that the universe is ’empty’ outside of that shitty planet. But yeah, Europa B5 depresses me. It came as no surprise that happiness can’t grow there anymore. I always visit whenever I pass by Old Earth, but I have to balance it out with an injection of euphoria or an overdosis of ataraxia. I need these crystals to live, to feel passion, to feel anything. The whole universe does. No one wants to be in a place or exist at all without happiness. But such is the case in Europa B5.

Imagine, just four unhappy kids, left to rule over 3,930,000 square miles of starless waste. From what Wesley told me, the governing AI was taught passion by his mom, the colony weaver. It tried to process that, and suddenly there was a whole lot of nothing. I showed them the package I was carrying. I could actually see crystals forming on their dried skins! OGRE-YOU-ASSHOLE produced a joyful sound that caused a minor earthquake. Joffri clapped his hands in delight. His many, many hands. Imp didn’t show any visible reaction to it, but I’m sure that, although xe is seven jet-black monoliths, it was appreciated. I said goodbye, and those emotional little critters cried an ocean that allowed me to swim back up to the surface.

Now I’m here on Planet X, with a headache and a space fashionista shining a loud and bright monochrome because they found their luggage. Five plastic cubes, filled with… weird liquids? Reality isn’t supposed to do that, I don’t think. “I’ll have you know, the universe used to be full of this stuff. It’s called ‘colour’. Here, I’ll show you.” Even though I didn’t say anything, the leggy alien starts to open a box. The liquid spills upwards into the world like it’s supposed to. Amazing! The buildings, the air, and even myself get covered with this ‘colour’. I feel the crystals growing, I can feel myself becoming happier. So very happy. Before my skin fully crystallises, I take out the package – a tiny, ornamented silver box – and open it. Apparently it’s ‘the last music note’ – I have no idea what that means, but it sure sounds nice. The crystals of my body begin to adopt a distinctly different ‘colour’ than what was poured into the world, begin to emit a distinctly different ‘music note’. I see everything becoming crystals. Not a single atom, not a single thought, not a single concept is left unhappy. The universe is happy. I am happy.

The number two

The number two holds a place in my life. There should be an adjective there, but I have two to pick from: “good” or “bad”. I’m not sure which one it is.

I have two of many: two ears, two arms, et cetera. Just one nose, though, but there’s two nostrils I get to use. There’s two valves in my heart that cough up blood. They spew that nasty liquid – who knows where it’s been? – into two chambers; chambers like abandoned music halls where the ghost of good times still resonates. Cobwebs and dust cover a lone drum set in the left corner of the stage, almost hidden by a curtain. Its red-stained rhythm reminds me I am alive, which is good or bad. I’m not sure.

I have two hands, the right of which I don’t like to use. My left I reach out with. Its clawy form grasps at the window, opened slightly. There is a breeze today, an ocean. My hand goes unanswered and I understand completely. When it comes to those two things: yes or no – help me or help me not – I’d go with no, too. Two angelic shapes carry me through that window – I’d successfully squeeze through, because it’s my dream – and they take me to the beach. Two towels are waiting there for me; well, just one. The other one keeps waiting, and so do I. I wait, and I feel. Or maybe I don’t, I’m not sure.

I have two eyes and I don’t like looking at myself. I avoid looking in front of me, only up and down. When I look up, I see a sky that’s wonderful. Beyond that sky lies something I enjoy thinking about. I imagine myself as a space hero with a powerful blaster gun, performing opportunistic mercenary work and hunting aliens. When I look down, I see two hands that have touched two things. I have held two mugs. One I fill with green tea and honey, the other I filled with coffee – no milk, two sugars, my gratitude. I clasp the tea with my left and I clasped the coffee with my right. There are two names on them. One mug isn’t used anymore, one name isn’t said anymore.

I have two lungs and they stop working. The air I breathe comes in two: dead space, and the air that carries my name. There’s so much that whispers me. Space, for instance, calls out to me pretty much all the time. I go there constantly, either visiting planets based around a single thing (my favourite is Planet Food!), or making lengthy jumps on the moon while a synthesizer plays noises I can only describe as “space sounds”. In space, I use both of my hands, look straight ahead, walk.

But that stops when I breathe in the dead space. I choke, because violin strings form in my lungs, the antechamber to the music hall. When struck, they play a melody a bit too solemn for my tastes but one that suits the mood. The dead vibrations remind me I am not alive, which is. It just ‘is’, I’m not sure if it is good or bad.

Unlike the number two, dead space does not hold an ambivalent place in my life. It is hated. Dead space is the space on the towel next to me, the space I no longer carry coffee to, the space in my air that no longer carries your name, the space you no longer occupy.

Our moon is jealous and ugly

Our planet used to have seven more moons. Each shone a different colour, each represented one-seventh of the rainbow, and each was worshipped by the people of Earth. Our current moon, then called the gray moon, had no worshippers of her own. She was dull and boring; she had no colours to be worshipped. She only reflected the sun, a cruel, tormentous fire. The gray moon desperately wanted to be loved, to be prayed to. But in order to do so, she had to become the only colour in the sky. She had to bring down the much more resplendent celestialities.

As they were all worshipped, each colour moon had a year devoted to them. Each celebratory year began with a lunar festival, during which the entirety of Earth was painted the colour of a particular moon. The gray moon had to look at this man-made unsightliness, until at the end of a seven year-cycle, her envy and hatred for the other colour moons had grown so cosmically, she decided she had enough. This contempt, this burst of emotion, flickered briefly on her surface; she briefly shone silver before returning to an ugly gray.

The gray moon manipulated her seven meteorite brothers to crash into her despisals. They, too, were ugly. But unlike their sister, they were also unnoticed. They would never earn the eye of Earth, and so laid down their unimportant lives for the gray moon. During the lunar festivals that followed, shortly after the Earth had been fully painted, one of her brothers would crash into a colour moon.

For seven years, at the start of each year, the Earth’s sky filled with a bang, followed by a ruinous shower of rainbowish chunks. The Earth people were shocked – how could the colour moons hurt them so much on the day they loved them the most! Fueled by vengeance, they built machines capable of destroying the colour moons. These devices were powered by the intense, scorching light of the sun. As they kept getting betrayed, humans rid the heavens of more and more colour moons until they were no more. The gray moon finally had her worshippers, or so she thought.

The machines the humans built were, after all, powered by the sun, who had thusly proven himself to be powerful, reliable and, most importantly, warm. He, who at first was feared for being fire, became Earth’s solely-worshipped celestiality. The humans did not even consider the last remaining moon. The still unworshipped gray moon, now without family and truly alone, started weeping. She has not stopped crying since. She shines an ugly, sad silver.

Nakanaide

Nakanaide is the name I was given. It is the one word that defines my existence: it is my word. Like every word, it has meaning. One that I have to live by, that I have to realise. I want people to say, “your name fits you.” I want them to mean those words. I want them to keep saying those words. I don’t want to disappoint my existence.

On an afternoon missing even the wind, with the sun in full burn, was when I first realised my name. A friend from another temple had come to visit. We were placed in a chamber together, forced to sit on our knees. We were surrounded by candles and were not allowed to move until each had extinguished itself. The shimmering haze of heat was the only thing that ever moved even an inch. We both knew this was necessary. The screaming men of our temples said that to appease the alien creature known as God, we had to endure it. I have been told God lives 15,000,000 light-years away, sleeping inside of a dying star in the M83 galaxy. The burn scars on my head and the trouble I have walking were given meaning by this God. I do not know what God means, but to me the word means bad news.

My friend always brought an abandoned fish tank along with him. It once contained a pet as well. He placed it on his lap and allowed his tears to fall into the tank. On our eighteenth time inside the chamber, my friend simply stood up. Sad water spilled into the chamber and did not wait for the candles to extinguish themselves. The screaming men burst into the room and took my friend away. I did not want to disappoint, so I did not cry. We had never once spoken, but I had given my friend the name Saiken, which means ‘bond’.

I remember another time I lived by my name. I had been gifted a pet for a birthday. It was small and frail, and I loved it for those qualities. It would lick my face whenever it was happy or when I was sad. During the day, we would play in the woods near our house and stay away from that building for as long as our hungered stomachs allowed it. During meals, I held it dearly as the cacophonies crashed down on me. In the evenings, we would stay huddled and hidden and shivered together until day arrived. We did not sleep. The stomping on wooden floorboards and the angered voices of those who did not love kept us awake.

It was in the leafless season that we escaped into the forest again. The sounds of snow trampled underfoot gave both it and I a sense of joy. Our one-sided snowball fights and games of hide-and-seek had given meaning to the snow. I was very good at hide-and-seek and was always able to reunite with my dear pet, no matter how well it managed to hide. The last place I would ever find it was inside of a hunter’s camp, on a spit roast. I did not want to disappoint, so I did not cry. I had named it Hatenaku, which means ‘forever and ever’.

I once loved a woman. She took me away from the screaming men and the candle room. She carried me on her back to the first house I would call a home. A house does not have to be a home; my first house was not. To me, home means warmth. The woman taught me how to read, she taught me how to write, she taught me how to talk. She taught me about the words in the world and how each word has meaning. She told me her name was Hakuchuumu, which means ‘daydream’.

It did not take long for the screaming men to find us. Hakuchuumu spoke to me: “Do not cry,” and so I did not. I asked her the meaning of those last words, raising my voice like the lost child I was. All she did was smile, a word that still means nothing to me. The screaming men took me away from my first home and brought me back to my first house.

Nakanaide is the name I was given. It means ‘do not cry’.

Our planet has but one sky

Our planet has but one sky. When we look up at night, barely removed from the safety of our homes, we see more stars than there are houses in our village. The stars form shapes – supposedly, seven stars in particular represent an ancient hunter. The main square is designed with this legend in mind. Funnily enough, no one has ever cared to call it anything else than ‘The Square’; no one knows what the hunter’s name was. Our whole village is laid out like that, shaped like things we are familiar and comfortable with. The way houses seemingly slither up the hill where the mayor has their residence, I wonder what the astronomers opposite the sky would call it. We just call it ‘serpentous’.

Our houses are all shaped differently. The shape of my house is familiar and comfortable to me. It’s a place I enjoy to return to. It doesn’t have a roof, nor does anyone else’s. We are all astronomers here, you see. Everyone is an astronomer – how can you not be when the sky is above you and beautiful? We think of our favourite shape, then go to sleep. While we sleep, we dream of our favourite shape. Those in the village who find their perfect shape, become that shape. These are what we call houses. My house is shaped like love.

The sky is filled with one planet by day. We share the same sky with the astronomers living there, but they are a bigger part of our sky than we are of theirs. What they do up there, we can all see from here. When they leave the house, which all have roofs, they don’t rush to the top of the hill like we do. For astronomers, they don’t seem to be interested in looking at the sky much! They wear strange headgear and walk in chaotic streaks. They don’t say hello and tell one another what their favourite shape is when they pass each other on the street – streets that are all shapeless. Nothing they do has a shape, nothing they do has any real meaning.

During the day, we go to the mayor’s residence on top of the hill and use their many telescopes to look at the sky. We’re supposed to look at the stars to find new shapes to dream of, but I often look at the shapeless astronomers. I peer at their covered heads and nauseating movements. How unpatternedly they walk. Fooling me into thinking they can move in a straight line before twisting and churning their blotty bodies to avoid colliding with another. I imagine their speech is burbled and terrifying.

They speak in seventy-five different tones per minute and cannot think about anything but repulsion. Their astronomy is slamming a pencil onto paper and scratching crude approximations of circles into their own skin. They are shapeless in every sense of the word. The mayor tells me nothing good can ever come of them. The mayor is right. They visited us once.

I was young when the astronomers opposite the sky came to us. They came in something we had never seen before. No shape we knew compared to it; it was vulgar and nauseating. Some of them emerged from that migrainous stain and started doing things to the village. Those actions in particular truly had no shape to them. People simply fell over.

The other astronomers turned them into something none of us had ever been before: shapeless. My mother held me close as one of them walked up to us. The way she held me, it reminded me of my favourite shape – love – so I went to sleep. When I woke up, the astronomers and their formless vessel had disappeared. I also had a house to call my own.

Traces

Everywhere I have my eyes wander, I see you. Well, not you in full corporeality. That’d be strange and it’d hold implications to how powerful you really are. I guess it’s more that you’ve left little pieces of yourself all around. Again, not literally; your body’s all intact. I made sure of that.

I notice you when I’m in my garden. Flowers are the only things I care about. Colours, aromas, life – they provide everything I need. I need to stay grounded, reminded of here. Your name is a flower. You said you loved the pink ones the most. You asked me what they were called, and I didn’t know. Neither does the flower. I don’t want to give it a name it won’t like. I was given a name I don’t like. You touched the flower and it left some of itself on you. You left some of yourself, too. I don’t go to my garden anymore.

I notice you when I’m at my beach. I had grown up there. I spent whole seasons throwing pebbles into the water. I was afraid of water, of what it might do to me. I still am. Drowning isn’t like in the movies. It’s a peaceful, solemn process, without resistance. I’d hate to have died like that. You and I met here. I was surprised you could see me, weren’t afraid of me. I showed you all the places I could remember where I once stood. We threw pebbles at the sea together. We left in the evening; you left footprints where you trod. I didn’t. The tides washed away those marks of you, but I know they were there once. They still are, in a way. I don’t go to my beach anymore.

I notice you when I’m in my home. I don’t know how long I’ve been here for, or how long you’ve been here for. You asked me about my birthday once. I think I’ve had 32, but I stopped counting after that. You said you were spending your birthday with me. I liked that. We sat near a tombstone engraved with a name I don’t like, and you ate the cakes you’d brought. I don’t eat. A breeze did wonders to how your hair looked for a short while. You left your basket here, and that was the last time you left a trace. I don’t go to my home anymore; it is our home now.

I still take care of you. Every day, I pick pink flowers from our garden and gather pebbles from our beach. I place them in our home, arranged in patterns we like. Your grave looks the nicest, I made sure of that. Everywhere I have my eyes wander, I see traces, reminding me that all of you is right here.

The nightly fool

Each mountain has a lord. This lord could be anything you see living out its simple life. It could be a shy fox, watching and hoping you leave its domain as soon as possible. Perhaps it is a nishikigoi covered in moss, swimming aimlessly in a pond at the basin of an unimpressive waterfall. Maybe even the low-hanging branch of a tree you brush aside to trot farther down a leaf-led path.

But the idea of the latter, that a branch could be something as powerful as an actual mountain lord eludes commoners and seekers alike. Everyone knows the lord of a mountain has to be something that’s alive – a discovery made after a dedicated many turned over and talked to quite the sum of rocks. But even then, an animal is considered much more alive than a plant!

Title and form are intrinsicaly related; they need to match one another. If title does not adequately suit form, a beholder of such will find it easy to ridicule. For instance, if a colossus of a man sporting a giant club and an impresssive musculature goes by the name of Bubbles, well, it would be hard to stifle a laugh, wouldn’t it?

On the other hand, if title outweighs form, then respect is nowhere to be found. I myself have once encountered a mountain lord who had taken on the form of a small white rabbit. When it demanded I flee the weakened mountain it governed, so its forests could heal in peace, I kicked it down a slope and set up camp. Not one of my finest moments, but I was desperate. I was searching for a herb growsome to only that particular mountain.

You see, rumour had it that wettening this maiban herb wettened with vitreous humour and incensing it, creates a smoke that grants its inhaler nightly vision! A goldmine, for sure, or so I thought. I had not thought through effective methods to capture the smoke, and my greedy hands did not make any effort to act with diligence.

So, after a night of squeezing out my own eyes, burning whatever herb I could find, and making fruitless attempts to capture the smoke in jars to which I forgot to bring lids, it was then I realised what I’d wrought. The mountain lord did not lie when it told me the mountain was weakened. The dawn sun showed me through what little eyesight I had created an entirely poisoned forest. The smoke I failed to capture acted as a miasma to the trees and to my eyes. That mountain now stands naked, incapable of life at all. Its lord, the small white rabbit, only cries.

As for me, I spend all my time since in this here inn, sharing words of not-so-much wisdom to travellers such as yourself. Despite my loss of sight, nighttime is unbearably bright for me. What a cruel twist of fate! People around here call me ‘the nightly fool’, a title that certainly fits me. And while I cannot know for certain, I think I may just look the part.

The dollhouse

You are standing in front of a rather rickety-looking manor. The windows have been boarded up, a clear sign it has long since been abandoned. You’ve seen that in a movie once. Everyone died in that movie. Well, not really. People that die in movies don’t really die. Those people are endless.  But this is the first time you’ve seen such a symbol for yourself. This makes you happy, yes, it does.

You walk up a little stairs onto the porch. The wooden planks are rotten, they creek and crunch under your weight. They are hurting, because of your feet. Those feet have hurt a lot. That doesn’t bother you, does it? No, of course not. Why would it. Caring has never been your forte. Let’s move on.

Opening the door, you expect a flock of bats to come flying at you, like in the movie. What a disappointment that turned out to be. You’re a bit sad that nothing would come to greet you. Is the house empty? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe nothing wanted to welcome you. But don’t worry, you are inside now, and at the very least, nothing is mad at you. That means you are welcome here. That’s a first. Let’s move on.

The manor’s interior is forgotten, wasted, cinematic. The windows are blocked up on both sides; wooden planks on the outside, curtains on the inside. Despite the layers of dust, you can tell they’re nice curtains; the dust hasn’t quite covered the tassels yet. Tassels are nice, aren’t they? You wonder for a moment about what fabric the curtains are made of. Wonder. You are not an expert on textiles, so you conclude you don’t know. But that’s okay. No one is angry with you here. That’s a promise.

The entrance hall echoes a deep silence, auditorily and visually. Dust and cobwebs spread in uninvited patterns over the sofas and tables, the paintings and chandelier. Sad, how the showpieces of the lavish and lucrative come to fade into corny props if you leave them alone for long enough. A ray of light sneaks past the double-prisoned windows, highlighting tiny particles of dust as if they were snow. Isn’t that nice? What isn’t nice is that you forgot it was daytime. You are very forgetful sometimes. Never paying attention, or maybe you just don’t care. What do you care about? Let’s move on.

That ray of light leads to a mirror, as if aimed at it. It’s like a laser dot from a sniper rifle; you remember that from another movie. You have seen a lot of movies. You are very wasteful with your time. You could have been gardening, giving life to the earth using your hands, your ugly hands. No, that is a bad idea. Watching movies is good for you. Do not touch anything. Do not ruin. Stop ruining.

You find yourself standing in front of the mirror. Smudged and broken, it neither reflects any light nor does it dramatically reveal your face. Do you want to see yourself? You could, if you wiped the mirror. Wipe. You look in the mirror. The mirror is slightly cracked, the reflection of your face torn apart by a fracture. What a disappointment. You cannot see how you look. You do not know the specifics yourself, of yourself. You don’t mind that very much, you think. Think. Good. Let’s move on.

As you move through the many rooms – carelessly walking into pieces of furniture and knocking over a variety of furniture, mercilesssly trampling over dolls, you notice how quaint and victorianesque this house is. You read those words in a book once, and they seem applicable now. No. You did not read anything in any book. You do not read. You watch movies. You are so wasteful, that is a cause for anger.

Anger directed at you. Again, you were negligent, unattentive, disinterested in your surroundings. Do you not enjoy exploration, knowing, caring? Of course not. What other reason could you have for not noticing all these beautiful dolls? How you knocked them over? But do not worry, no one is angry at you. You are fine, cribbed, cradled. Protected. You are protected. Let’s move on.

You are interested in the dolls. I can tell. There have been so many throughout the house. There’s two on top of every cupboard, hands interlocked, kicking their feet to the melody of a soft and violent nursery rhyme from a nearby music box. There’s three on the table closest to you; two look shocked and cover their mouth with their moldy hands, staring at the dolls on the floor. The third one’s scorn burns into you, scorching your face. You feel red, ashamed.

Then there’s the dolls laying on the floor, tears flowing from their out of disbelief you would knock over their chairs, their seats, sanctuaries. Their eyes are missing, as you made them fall out of the circle of life. They welcomed you and you killed them. How typically violent and disappointing of you.

But you only imagined that. How silly, that you would think dolls were anything but will-less and emotionless. That you would believe for a moment you could feel the consequence of your actions, the anger of your victims, because you cannot. You cannot feel. No one is angry at you. Let’s move on.

You should go upstairs. That’s the one place you haven’t explored yet. But don’t explore that. You cannot explore what you already know. Upstairs is the one place you are welcome. Go up. Do not stop and wait for a description, for what consequence your action may have had. That is over. There will be no more of that; you have proven incapable of learning. You are full of violence. You are violence. You are in a hurry. You should hurry and come up here.

Did you know? The dolls you trampled and the ones you traumatised with your brutality, they are spirits of children that were never born into this world. Raised without love or wisdom, their only emotion is a primitive sort of cruelty. They are not unlike you. But they were raised, nonetheless. Not perfectly, far from it!, but sometimes it is all a parent can do. What vessel better suited for depressed spirits than a doll?

Scared and lonely, worthless without acknowledgement, doll and child go along hand-in-hand. It was silly to expect dolls could ever grow independent, uncontrolled, masterless, but to think you did not realise you were home, realise you crushed your siblings until informed shows you just how terrible a parent I am. But do not worry.

No one is angry at you. Not even me.