Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Affairs of Advanced Capitalism

A man was trampled to death. That sounds like such an odd way of going doesn’t it? I mean, I can understand if it happened to a safari guide, elephant trainer, or kindergarten teacher.

Trampled. Stomped on. Flattened. This wouldn’t sound like such an odd way to go if it was in a third-world country with lots of religious pilgrims. But no, this man that died worked at Wal-Mart.

Objectively speaking I’ll be honest. I don’t like Wal-Mart. That goes on many levels. The most superficial being a bit snobbish, shopping in Wal-Mart is like walking into a warehouse full of cheap stuff and smelling of cold concrete. I used to dress up just to go, Yellow-Mellow trucker hat, Spalding sneakers, t-shirt that says “God Bless America and Guns,” I just wanted to blend in. I also worked for small businesses in small towns. The Wal-Marts and the Wal-Martians killed us. My boss used to say, “That person’s so fucking stupid I’d rather they go to Wal-Mart than stop in our store.” He had such a way with words. But the truth of the matter is that most small business can’t keep up with the prices, and there’s no way they can keep pace with the convenience of everything under one roof. Funny thing is we kept most of our products priced the same or even below as Wal-Mart, but some customers would swear we were so much more expensive. When he over heard them say that my boss would show them the door, he wasn’t the best store owner, he never knew how to brown-nose, but that’s why I loved working with him. I digress.

Back to the stiff. It’s the holiday shopping spree dubbed “Black Friday,” because for once stores can pull themselves out of the red on this magical time of year. I’ve never gone out shopping on Black Friday, but I have worked during it at a retail store and it certainly is deserving of its reputation.

So this guy is working at Wal-Mart. It’s 5a.m. There are two thousand people waiting for the store to open. This guy opens the doors and the crowd enters. It’s a herd of people. They knock him down, walk all over him; short story is he’s pronounced dead at a hospital an hour later, he’ll get a headstone and some news coverage.

This is the beauty of advanced capitalism. This is a beautiful look at what we truly are. Someone once told me we were different from animals because we had purpose to our lives, we didn’t live meaninglessly. My question that I’ve asked since I started questioning everyone around me (I started around 3 yrs old) is how are we so different? I mean an animal has its instincts, it knows what it has to do to survive and it survives. Maybe it encounters an unknown situation, it handles well and lives, it handles it poorly and dies.

My dirty little secret is that I hate the holiday season. I hate Christmas. I hate Christmas trees, I hate presents under the tree, I hate houses with too many lights, I hate live nativity scenes that are so outlandishly done that it seems only natural that all the characters are white and Jesus is plastic and silent. I like Christmas cookies.

Jeeze Matt, you sound like the Grinch. Why do you hate Christmas and the holidays?

Well…If you’re going to have Thanksgiving don’t you think you should uphold the original tradition and kill a couple of Native Americans first? And do Americans really need a day where we actually eat more than we already usually overindulge in anyways? I know the idea of the holiday is to remember all that we’re thankful for, but on the one hand does anyone really do that? And on the other hand why did we need to set aside a single day just to remind ourselves this?

All this about shopping, herds of bargain hunters, and dead Wal-Mart workers making minimum wage is my metaphor for advanced capitalism. I’m not an economics expert, far from it. I took micro and macroeconomics in college and didn’t like either very much. But this is what we are. Animals, driven with the desire to collect stuff. We’re like ferrets collecting scraps of tin and pull-tabs. I’m a hypocrite too, I have lots of stuff I don’t need. I’m part of advanced capitalism. I’m adding to the herd, our shepherd is the every mighty buck. Not Bambi grown up, no the buck, the dollar, the franc, the euro, the yen…currency. With this we judge our worth and our success in life, at least we of the advanced capitalistic society.

I know it gave my grandparents a lot of joy seeing me open up my presents. And sometimes I was really excited with what I got, I mean I loved Legos, and big wheels, and shiny things. That was genuine pleasure every time I opened up those carefully wrapped mysteries. But as I got older there was a twinge that grew stronger and stronger through the years. It’s the same twinge I get when I hear people in church boasting about how wonderful it will be when they get to be with Jesus. I understand that they’re excited and they want to share their passion, but it seems insensitive to be so wrapped about the afterlife that you become oblivious that in some eyes you appear no different than the people doomed to watch Survivor and American Idol reruns in Hell. But that too is part of advanced capitalism.

We are preconditioned to run after things we don’t need chasing down lives we don’t want. That is the way of our world, the way of the capitalist. Most of us genuinely believe these lies to be true; I need this season’s slim pants, an iPhone, Channel Sunglasses, and some dude’s name written on my underwear. It’s a role reversal, a switch, these things we chase end up owning us.

Don’t blame yourself. Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing you can do to escape it. Even knowing is pointless. Take me for example, a shining example of advanced capitalism. I sit here even new writing this on my laptop, in my CK sweater, TK sweatpants, and DKNY boxers. A hypocrite.

My best memories of the holidays was when I was giving stuff away. Not to my family or friends, not gifts like that. It was shoeboxes stuffed with towels, toy cars, and crayons I sent to Venezuela. It was the year I used my Christmas money to buy chickens and a goat for a family in India. It was the year that I gave half of my presents away to family with ten children and too much empty space beneath their tree every year. But lots of us do these little things year in and year out. I can’t tell if I did it out of kindness or just to save face or comfort my conscience. Advanced capitalism would indicate that it was just to justify my incessant greed.

How can we change?

We can’t. I can’t fight advanced capitalism. It’s like me standing up against a tank. It’s like a G.I. Joe figure against Optimums Prime. I’m not brave enough to try. I’m not asking anyone to try. I guess I’ve realized this dirty little secret about myself, about it all, and the only thing we can do is become aware of what we are and have become. Animals. Religious pilgrims who worship material things and a set of ideals. I hate Christmas because it just reminds me of what I really am.

Sheep waiting for the store to open.

10.2 megapixel camera: $69.

HP laptop computer: $349.

Mr. Damour trampled by advanced capitalism.

Buy new shoes, these are soiled with blood.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Conversation with Shadows

The human condition is teetering between darkness and hope; good and evil; half-full beers and half-empty ones. There is a skeleton of a building that is surrounded by a black iron fence. I walk around it with my camera, trying to get a picture of it against a cloudy sky. It’s not easy to do. The buildings have sprung up over the years. Tall windowed offices and merchant venues that reflect light and the images of a society re-sowed.

There are not many places you can say have been built from near total destruction. This city, over half a century ago, was leveled by one of two atomic weapons used against mankind. Some 140,000 people lost their lives here, 70% of the cities buildings were destroyed. Yet, today I walk through downtown Hiroshima and it is no different to me than most downtowns I’ve visited: there are kids running around with their parent’s chasing them, tourists look out of place and confused, high school kids move in packs, and couples ask you to take a picture of them, and you still have to ask which button to press on the camera.

There’s new concrete on the ground. It covers the ground that had shadows of people burned into it like some gothic Peter Pan theme. The trees are tall and thick again, too thick in my mind. It’s like they got fat off of all the human souls nourishing them through the ground. Maybe they’ve sucked up a shadow or two in their time.

We worry about all these things of today’s time. Politics, cancer, AIDs, mad cows, Georgia, steroids, twelve year old gymnasts, World Series, sex, money, diplomas…it’s nobody’s fault you know? There is just too much for us all to think about that we have the luxury of forgetting. And if we were close to tragedy we’d remember, perhaps a bit longer. But even New Orleans has new children being born. People don’t just give up and hide when in all respect they should.

Every evil person in the world is enough cause to damn the human race. Every sick psycho, pedophile, serial killer, deranged dictator, rapist, and school bully is enough evidence that people will always be people. If you want to see hate, just look through any well traveled blog, or the comment’s section of a Youtube video. Narrow-minded people are the backbone of civilizations don’t you know?

It seems illogical that when faced with crisis, a species like ours would respond positively. We’re like the prairie, or the forest. The prairie needs to burn to encourage new growth. The same with forests. It seems like the human race believes itself to be the same as the plants we eat. Creation through destruction.

Yet we travel onward, some of us dreaming of something called, “World Peace.” And yes, that’s the answer to the one-wish question in beauty pageants, but is it so wrong to dream a silly dream? Because dream aren’t something you take in the context of reality, but rather dreams are that stuff that drives children to grow up. I think that if children’s knew the truth about dreams then they’d all refuse to grow a day older. I know if I knew then what I know now then I’d still be eight years old.

Now I’m a school teacher. I guess I see grownups as gardeners of some sorts, cultivating our children’s dreams. Somehow, that idea makes me want to do as good a job as I can. Even though I never became an astronaut, or pirate, or marine biologist I can’t say I’m disappointed. And it seems like I’m cultivating lies if I’m a dream gardener. But you know, if just one of those dreams takes root and stretches branches past my own then I think it’s worth it.

The Genbaku Dome sits lifeless, surrounded by thousands of people, both dreamers and cultivators. I guess they want it to remind people about the horrors of war, but out minds are so full of other things we will soon forget its message. This is the horrible sacrifice that we consciously make. We acknowledge our affinity to destruction and have the audacity to look down upon the dregs of society.

One summer day, saw then end to over 100,000 dreams. Can you understand that number? So who is there to comfort those whose bodies were vaporized and only left their shadows in this world?

I finally get in a position where I can take a picture of a part of the building without any modern noise in the picture. But it is just the illusion that I wanted. Time travel. A chance to glimpse that summer day long ago. This is my attempt to remember what I will soon forget…and for what? Even the shadows covered by new concrete will forgive me... if I forget how expensive, unused dreams really are.

Friday, September 5, 2008

9 9 9 and the Words End

The pounding starts. Like in “A Tell Tale Heart,” it is some horrific noise that reverberates deep down touching a nerve that releases a note of anger and discord within my head. God, the pounding, why won’t it stop?

Emiko brought me to the library. It’s just a stones throw away from the local city offices where she works. She introduced me to the head librarian who is a friend of hers.

The librarian looks like a big boned woman. A descendent of a sumo wrestler perhaps, I imagine that if she peeled off her skin and slipped out of her flesh that you’d find that she isn’t fat at all but her bones are all twice the girth of the average human’s bones.

The librarian asks me if I want to watch any movies. Well, that’s what I think she asked me, she led me to a rack of VHS movies and spoke to me in Japanese with a “desuka,” the Japanese question mark. I shake my head and hold up my book.

“Hon,” I tell her.

She nods and smiles, “Soudesu.” She leads me to another room. It has wood six wood tables, three on the right side and three on the left. Each table has a matching set of six wooden chairs. She holds her big finger to her lips to indicate that this is a quiet room. She motions for me to enter the room, “Onegashimasu.”

I sit down at an empty table. Emiko smiles and holds her hand up to her face signing me to call her later when I’m finished. The two women leave having a hushed conversation together.

There are two girls in the room with me. One is a junior high student doing her summer vacation homework. The other looks like a university student who knows a thing or two about sleepless nights. Both are nondescript, uninteresting, and in a crowd would never draw a second glance from anyone who they had no prior acquaintance with.

I settle down with my book. I’ve had it for two months and I’ve yet to move past the first chapter. It’s a good plot so far, it’s well written, interesting, provoking, and penned by one of my favorite authors. There’s nothing that I have against this book, but I haven’t read it because I simply didn’t feel like reading it. Reading is something that I believe depends largely on your mood. The author can only do so much to make a book good, it’s a joint effort between author and the reader, or the reader’s capability to translate words on a page into something meaningful.

Mood or not, I’m in a Japanese library in a small town outside of Kagoshima. It’s a small library so they don’t have an English section. I’m surrounded by thousands of books and the only one I can read is the one I brought with me that’s been sitting untouched in my bathroom for the last couple months.

It’s ironic that my book shifts the main character into a library. Granted it’s a library full of only old dreams and skulls, but it’s still ironic that we’re both in a library unlike any other we’ve ever entered. A lot seems to happen in my book, while time seems frozen to me. I’m reading a chapter about the theoretical application of sound removal within a tangible space when ironically the pounding starts. It sounds like a heavy footed person is trying to catch a squirrel on the floor above me.

I look around, no one seems to notice at all, but since I started reading the occupants of the room have changed. It’s nothing new. If I get really into something I tend to wander away from reality. The two girls are gone. The room is now full of old men with thinning pale hair and half full bottles of green tea. There is one girl in the room. She’s sitting at the table closest to the door and I’m at the table in the same column furthest from it, so there is a table with six old men separating us. Her back is facing me and her head is bent low. I can only see her long dark hair falling down against her yellow top.

She looks up at the ceiling once or twice to indicate she also hears the pounding upstairs, but it holds her interest for only a moment.

I try to focus on my book again, but the pounding isn’t something I can just ignore. It’s almost as if the sound itself has worked its way inside me, taking over all of my senses. It must be because my guard was down. I was so engrossed with my book that I left myself completely open.

I throw my book into my bag and push myself away from the table. The old men sitting at my table don’t look up or even flinch. They stay there reading their books with paper covers that hide their books’ identities.

It’s a few degrees cooler in the hallway. The old men are real then after all, heating up the room with their worn out bodies. I turn back to survey the room one more time. Though I spent only an hour or so there it was time I enjoyed and anytime you enjoy even the briefest moment in life I think it is something close to a miracle.

In my seat there is already an old man who has taken my place. He must have been standing in the corner waiting for a seat to open up. With the pounding still disrupting my senses I’m not surprised I missed him. He doesn’t have a paper covered book like the others though. He has what looks like an expensive date book; a big full size one that gives you an entire page for each day.

He’s erasing page after page with a white eraser. Once he has deleted both sides of the page he carefully and silently tears the page from the book. The page is then folded and put into yellow stamped envelopes.

The girl is wearing a medium sized yellow sunhat now. It neatly matches her yellow top. Her shirt is low cut, it reveals more than is necessary, especially in a library room full of old men. This fact has not escaped the notice of the five old men at her table. All of them are stealing glances at her. If you count me then at any given moment, potentially, there are a dozen eyeballs looking her over like you would inspect a sports car before you bought it. She seems not to mind, or perhaps she just doesn’t notice.

Her head tilts upwards. Ten eyeballs click back into place, back to the pages of their anonymous books. Her head only raises enough to see her mouth. It is small, without lipstick. Her chin is small too. She can probably only see up to my chest. I hold my breath, not sure why, but the head stops. The mouth moves, at least I think it moves. It is such a slight change that if I wasn’t paying such close attention that I would have missed it. It forms just the slightest Mona Lisa smile.

She’s reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in English. A pink Japanese-to-English dictionary is open in front of her. She’s halfway through it, probably around the point where Eustace turns into a dragon.

The library is empty. I can’t hear anything. Even a library isn’t completely quiet, but then again the pounding is disrupting my sense of hearing. I try to remember if there were people here when I arrived, but that seems so long ago that I can’t be certain. I think about looking for the big librarian lady again, but instead turn around to the back of the library where the stairwell is.

The stairwell isn’t lit. I suppose I should explain that this library is built into a school. I don’t know if it is a shougakko or chuugakko, but they all look the same anyway. It’s summer holiday, so the school is empty today. The library stays open because it is a public venue. Well, the school should be empty, right?

The girl in the yellow hat is waiting for me at the top of the stairs. She’s got on a light yellow miniskirt. She’s sitting on the top with her legs together, but the skirt is so short that it’s impossible for her to hide everything. She waits as I mount the staircase. Her head is low, but I can still see her mouth and that wonderful mocking smile.

“You like yellow.” I open with the obvious.

“Yes,” she says with a slight British accent.

“The pounding, you’re curious about it as well?”

She makes the most miniscule move with her head, the world’s slightest nod. “Like the drums at the festival.”

I almost ask her what festival she’s referring too, instead I say, “Your English is fantastic.”

The mouth smiles. She whispers, “Thank you.” The pounding is still so obnoxious that it’s more like I’m lip reading than listening to her.

It seems so strange that a girl this shy would dress so sexy just to come to the library. She stands up, her hands holding her skirt in place. She tugs on it to push it down a bit. It’s an action that will be nullified with the first step and the swing of her hips.

“Lets be careful,” she says, “The line between losing and lost is shorter than the space between thoughts.” She opens the door, her skirt flies up, but she doesn’t seem to care. I have no idea what she’s talking about, however, there is an urgency in her voice that chills me deep within.

“When I was little I used to love yellow.” I say out loud as we walk down the darkened hallway.

“Really?” she pauses.

I turn halfway around to look at her. This hallway is too dark for midday in summer. I can make out her hat and her chest; her hands are at her side. “Yeah, no lie.”

She starts to walk again. We fall into stride together. I continue, “I made my parents paint my room bright yellow. The entire thing, no lie. I wanted to paint it chartreuse, but my parents told me that it would hurt our eyes. They didn’t understand that our eyes, my eyes and my parents’ were different. I would have been fine.”

“So what shade of yellow did they paint it?”

“Like your skirt is the exact same shade.”

She pauses again. “Really?” The mocking smile is now part of her voice. “This is a pretty strong shade of yellow. At least strong for a room color.”

I laugh, “Maybe now it is even to me, but at the time I didn’t think so.” We start walking again. “At the time I thought it was the happiest room in the world. I mean it was impossible to walk into that room and not be happy about life.”

She laughs quietly.

“What’s your name?”

She pulls on her skirt, “Don’t have one.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t answer that question,” she turns to me, grabs my arm, we stop in the shadows.

“What do you mean? You can’t answer because you don’t have a name? Or you’d like to, but you’re not allowed? Or you just don’t want to tell me.”

She says nothing. Even the pounding seems to be suppressed some by her silence.

I try again. “Okay, you said you don’t have a name right? But everyone has a name.”

“Why do you say that?” She asks quietly.

I wave my hands, “Because everyone who existed has a name, something to call themselves by.”

She draws a little closer to me. “Some people don’t. What about those horrible parents those refer to their children by number or a color? Or what about in those movies where they tattoo barcodes onto prisoners?”

“It’s still a name of sorts though, I mean, it’s just a manner of reference.”

“So a name is just a method of reference?”

“Well on the simplest levels, yes, I guess it is. But a name is something much more than that too. Names are like the binding that we’re published with. Technically not important right? What’s important is really on the inside right? Well, I believe that, and so do a lot of people I’m sure, but we still judge things by the outside first, no matter how hard we try to be deeper.”

“But what about some little girl who is only called ‘Two’ for her entire life as she grows up?”

I think for a moment. She is so close to me, but I can’t see her face because of her hat. Her chest juts out at me in plain view, but her face is hidden. I’m usually an expert at reading body language, but with her face hidden I have no idea who she is or what she is thinking. As beautiful as her chest is, breasts are expressionless creatures, maybe that’s why men love them. Finally I answer, “I never said that a name is something you have to like.” As soon as I say it I wish I hadn’t. I don’t normally say something so cold to someone I’ve just met.

Something hits my toe. I’m wearing sandals and my toes are fully exposed to the elements. Was that a tear?

She turns and flees from me. I watch her disappear down the hallway. The darkness swallows up her body and the pounding eventually envelops the slapping of her yellow sandals against the cold floor.

Now that I’m alone the pounding seems even louder. I search each classroom, but find nothing. Just rows of desks with the chairs pushed in. There are blank chalkboards, boxes of chalk, old erasers, empty goldfish bowls, stacks of notebooks… it is an ordinary school.

I can’t get her out of my mind. The more I try to not think about her the more I think about her of course.

The pounding stops as abruptly as it began. There is nothing I can do but go back to the library. Now there are people scattered around the shelves. They are all silent and the only sounds are the hum of the air conditioner and the occasional dry scrap of a page being turned.

The room is empty. All the old men are gone. There is a slight must in the room, the air is stale and stagnant from overuse. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, lies on the table still. This is the exact same version that I read as a child, same publisher, same art, same cover. It could very well be the same book. I leaf through it. Her bookmark is right at the chapter where they lose themselves near and island surrounded by darkness.

In my old seat there is a single yellow envelope. That old man must have misplaced it. The way that it is laying doesn’t indicate if it was dropped on accident or set there on purpose.

It isn’t sealed or anything. I open it. There is a single sheet of paper in it. It’s a page from a planner. It’s for today. There is only one sentence scrawled with a hard lead pencil.

“2:27 ~ find envelope.”

I check my watch. It’s 2:30.

I sit there thinking about what all of this means. I read the page a couple of times, check and recheck the date, my watch. That was a pretty clever old man right? I mean, how did he manage to time me finding this envelope at just the right moment? I didn’t even know little old men still were that creative.

I turn the page over. It’s tomorrow’s page. The entire page had been filled with writing, but it’s all been erased. Now it’s nothing but graphite smudges and pieces of letters. The only thing remaining relatively unscathed was the last two lines at the very bottom of the page.

It says, “9:99” and then the line below it read, “world’s end.” The word “world” is badly smeared, but I’m pretty sure on what it says.

“What the hell?”

I keep examining the two lines. 9:99 makes no sense to me. Does it mean nine hours and ninety-nine minutes? Does it mean 10:39? If it does is that in the morning or at night? World’s End is too ambiguous as well. Is it claiming that the world is going to turn over and die? Will Armageddon come? Who was that old man?”

This can’t be real, that’s ridiculous. But there is a chill with me that I can’t shake. Somewhere, there is a clear and urgent danger.

I stay for an hour rereading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I used to wish so hard that everything in those stories was real, that Narnia was only an open closet away and that there was still a need for chivalry and a broadsword. That’s how you recognize a great story. When children hear it or read it and they shut their eyes tight and truly wish with all their strength that it is all true. Because, children are so susceptible to dreaming about the reality of fantastic lies called works of fiction. But even children have little tiny grownups in them that say, “Yes, yes, but in the end it’s just a story, right?” Every time those little grownups say that they grow a little bigger.

After an hour I begin to worry about the girl in yellow. I know I didn’t even know her name, but maybe she tripped in the dark and hurt herself. You don’t just leave your unfinished book for no reason right?

The hallway is still dark. There is some indiscernible smell in the air. She is at the end of the hallway. She isn’t moving. Sprawled out on the floor her had is on the ground next to her. Her dark hair is falling across her face. She’s on her side, the arm on the side against the ground is stretched outwards; the other is curled up next to her. Her legs are similarly positioned, one straight down; the other bent at a pair of ninety degree angles, one at the hip and one at the knee. If her head was up it would have been a super sexy pose. Even her panties are yellow. I approach her, thoughts of concern and male corruption run through my head simultaneously. I kneel next to her. My hand reaches for her hair.

“Don’t touch her!” barks an unknown voice.

I whirl around, crouched and ready to spring in any direction.

“Don’t you dare touch her!”

“Who are you?” I ask. The voice is full of aggression. A figure comes out. It’s man shaped, but the proportions are all wrong. He has an enormous head. Even the wrinkles around his head are big. His eyes are huge, his nose the size of a fist. He has a stout body, thick and powerful. He wears huge read shoes that look like they’re made from velvet or something.

I’m speechless. He looks familiar though, it hits me suddenly. “Are you Grumpy?”

“Well, no, not really grumpy, more hungry with a bit of malice and touch of despair.”

“What? No, no, no. Grumpy, from Snow White.”

“NO!” he says angrily.

I quickly try to remember the other six dwarves. The only ones I can recall are Grumpy and Sleepy. I’m fairly certain one was named Happy, and there was one that looked slightly retarded with oversized clothes. Come to think of it maybe he was Happy.

“I’m Thumper,” he announces to me.

“Isn’t Thumper a rabbit?” I’m sure of it because Bambi was one of my favorites.

“I’m not a fucking Disney character.” Thumper really does sound grumpy.

“I’ll say, probably something to do with that mouth.” I’m having trouble not laughing looking at him. I look at his feet again, “Say, were you running around before?”

He nods.

“God, you were loud. What the heck were you doing?”

“Catching my lunch.”

“What was it? A sparrow? I’m pretty sure you could have bought it. Nowadays you can buy stuff you know?”

“I only eat children.”


“Precious children.”

A soft moan behind me reminds me of the girl. “What’s wrong with her? Did you do this to her?”

“You should wait for one answer before you ask more questions.”

“Did you do this to her?”

“Aye, ‘twas me.”

“Don’t talk like a pirate. What did you do to her?”

“I saved her.”


“I am a savior.”

“Riddles, riddles, speak plainly.”

“I can’t, ‘tis the paradox. If you could understand then I would speak clear as day.”

“What? Are you saying that it’s my fault?”

“Hey! We got a smart one here folks! Let’s get this man a tin hat stat!”


“Oh, so close, but your time has expired. Please feel free to play again. And now, it’s meal time, eh?”

“Thumper lunges at me. He is surprisingly quick. His mouth is wide revealing his huge white teeth. His is pas me in an instant. Now he’s holding something, something dark and squirming. I fall to the ground. I look up. Whatever he has, it is fighting him ferociously. There is a tearing sound. The dark thing screams. It is a high pitched scream, like a woman’s scream, or a child. A child. He has a child!

With everything I have I stagger to my feet. Thumper and his prey stop their struggle. They look at me.

“Impossible,” says Thumper.

“Save me,” says the dark creature. Its voice sounds familiar. Like someone I knew long long ago.

Thumper twists it in his meaty hands. It shrieks in pain. Thumper throws back his head and opens his mouth. A few quick squishy sounding chews and it’s done. Thumper stands there looking satisfied. I skin to my knees. Thumper approaches me. His leg shoots out and sweeps across catching me at my shoulder. I fly through the front side door of a classroom with a shower of splinters. Thumper follows me. His hand grabs me by the back of the neck. He effortlessly throws me through the door in the back of the classroom. I slide across the floor and slam into the wall next to the girl’s bathroom.

Thumper goes berserk in the classroom. Desks, chairs, empty goldfish bowls come flying out. The first desk smashes into the wall above me. It crashes down on me. The next two follow suit. I’m lucky because those three desks provide me with some protection from some of the better aimed furniture. I can hear Thumper approach the pile of desks and chairs. He reaches down and finds my hair. He pulls hard and drags me out.

We go into the bathroom next. My eyes are shut. I’m trying to imagine I’m in some other place, like the library room with my unfinished book.

“You want to see something freaky?” Thumper asks me with malice. He flips on the light switch. The fluorescent bulbs flicker and come on. The light is painful even through my shut eyelids.

“Open your eyes,” Thumper commands me and jabs me in the pit of my stomach. I vomit. He laughs. I can’t breath. “Look at yourself!” he orders.

Thumper pulls me up in front of a mirror. I slowly open my eyes. I’m dizzy; I can barely make out the vague outline of my head.

Thumper drops me. “What the hell?” I hear his feet shuffle away from me. “What the hell are you?” I hear the pounding of his feet as he flees. I black out, the pounding crushing my consciousness.

A cool hand caresses my cheek. I open my eyes. A wrinkled face hovers above me. An old man. My entire body aches. I feel like I just dropped everything and ran back-to-back marathons. I feel like I just swam the English Channel. I feel 100 years old.

The old man feels my forehead. His hand is so unbelievably cold it’s like a cadaver is touching me. I know this feeling. I once felt a cadaver’s forehead. Well, half of a cadaver’s forehead. The crown of the skull had been neatly removed and the entire skull was split down the middle. It was a high school field trip. Trippy right? What kind of high school sends you to a cadaver lab?

Lots of my classmates fainted. They’d just drop down lifeless. It was my first time seeing that. Well, both people fainting and human bodies chopped up. I suppose it takes some of the magic away. I mean, to not be moved by the remains of a dead human? something must be gone inside of you right?

I wonder if morticians see corpses as people or just carbon based structures that will decompose without preservatives. But even still, that rotting bit of flesh once held a living breathing human, full of hopes, dreams, love, hatred, pain, and pain.

This old man’s touch is the same feel as the skin of that cadaver back in high school. It is the touch of a dead man.

He helps me sit up. I cough.

“How are you feeling?” he asks me. His lips mouth the questions, but he’s really quiet. He sounds like my grandfather right before he died. He was always dehydrated, IV tubes and everything, he couldn’t get enough fluids.

“I’m dizzy.” I cough again. I feel like I’m spinning down a huge drain.

“I know,” the old man says.

“Where am I?” I ask.

“This is a bathroom.”

So it was true after all. I can’t focus on anything, even my thoughts are jumbled. Thumper…grumpy…cadavers…word’s end…no, WORLD’S END! “What time is it?” I ask.

The old man just makes a funny face. He doesn’t understand my question. I ask again. Quelle heure est-il? A quelle heure est-il?

The old man just keeps looking confused.

I realize I’m speaking French. Even my languages are getting garbled coming out. Gomen, gomen, sumimasen. I cough. Imananjidesuka?

Junanajihon. Says the old man.

5:30. Okay, how long have I been out? Une heure? An hour and a half? I try to lift my hand to hold my head, but I find I still can’t lift my arms. I’m sitting in a girl’s bathroom in Japan, with my head garbled and my body nonresponsive. An old man who feels like a dead man is touching me. 999, what is this number in my head? I can’t remember where it came from.

I remember listening to an interview with a savant. The man was pretty normal for a savant. He wasn’t a Rain Man or anything, but if you told him the year you were born in and the date he could tell you what day of the week your birthday is this year and every year that you’ve been alive. He wasn’t quite at Kim Peek’s level—a savant originally classified a severely mentally retarded but whose memory holds 98% of anything he’s ever read, every street name in America, and who can read the left page of a book with his left eye and the right page with his right. But this particular savant was unique in how he dealt with numbers. He saw them in shapes and colors, each number with individual features and movements; some beautiful, some breath taking, some frightening, some ugly and rude. Every number from 1 to 10,000 he visions in this manner. Numbers come to him like prophetic visions, “It’s like having a fourth dimension,” he said. Doctors and scientists hypothesize that the parts of his brain meant for numbers and the parts meant for shapes and colors have formed some connection that isn’t supposed to exist.

It’s funny, he has a photographic memory and I can’t even remember his name now. 999, I remember what he said about nines. I remember because he visited New York, New York. He said that wandering through the Big Apple was like being surrounded by nines. The number 9’s image was huge and imposing, a little scary. On the other hand an upside down 9, a 6, was tiny, it was a disappearing image, almost a blank space devoid of everything, cold. 999, world’s end! I can remember finally.

“Who are you?” I ask the old man.

The old man shakes his head. “That isn’t something I can answer.”

“Why? Why can’t anyone tell me their names?”

“What’s your name?” the old man counters.

I start to speak and stop. I have a name. I’m sure of it. But when I think about it, and go to say it, nothing comes out, just air.

The old man smiles, “You see,” he tells me, “some things are not as important as you think.”

I try a different tactic, “Why are we here?”

The old man nods, that is a good looking question he seems to think, but he doesn’t answer me.

I ask again, “Where are we?”

Be more specific, his eyes seem to say.

“Okay, we’re in a bathroom, physically. But where are metaphorically.”

“Metaphors need no locations.”

Dead end there. I try again. “Why are you here?”

“I am here because of a metaphysical thought.”

Dead end there. “Where are you?”

“I am between thoughts, slipped between realities.”

Hmmmm. ‘Between thought…’ that sounds familiar. Yellow! The girl! I try to stand. I can’t yet.

The old man pulls my bag out from behind him. I had left it next to the girl in yellow before the Thumper incident. He rummages around and finds the yellow envelope. He takes it out and looks at me hard.

“Is that yours?” I ask him.

“How could it be mine?” He shoves it at me. I can’t take it, I can’t lift a finger. He sighs and opens it. “I go through all this trouble and no one ever bothers to do anything. One more time, only once more,” he says. He unfolds the page and pulls out a yellow pencil with a pink eraser. It’s the first yellow pencil with pink eraser I’ve seen in Japan actually. He pauses for a moment, writing.

I can move my hands again.

He keeps writing. When he finishes he folds the page and puts it back in the envelope. He hands it to me and I accept it. He looks at his watch.

“What did you do?”

He holds up his hand, “Wait.”

“What are we waiting for?”

I start to black out again. I can faintly hear him say, “Now.”

A cool hand caresses my cheek. I open my eyes. A large pair of breasts wrapped in a tight fitting yellow shirt hangs above me. I pull my gaze upwards. She has big bright round eyes, like a ca, a small up turned nose. Her mouth still has that Mona Lisa smile. She is definitely my type.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi.” I say back.

“Are you okay?”

I sit up, “I think so. You?”

“I don’t know.”

“You look alright.” It is true, she looks fine. She looks great. I fumble around and find the envelope. I pull out the page from the planner. The old man has stuff written down, but it’s all in Japanese. I can’t read much of it.

“What’s that?” she asks.

“Nothing.” I struggle to my feet. I feel a little dirty, like when you go to bed after a long day without a shower. Uggg. I go to the sink and turn on the faucet. Water gathers in my cupped hands. I throw it on my face, rub my eyes, and look at myself in the mirror.

I do a double take. My reflection isn’t all there. It’s not the mirror’s fault. I can see the yellow tile of the wall behind me in the mirror just fine. But I can even see it where my reflection should be. It’s like I’ve turned opaque. I’m a watermark against the bathroom wall. I move my head. The reflection moves as well. I look up. It looks up. I bring my hand up. It’s not all there either.

I turn around, I jump a little because the girl in yellow is right there next to me. I look back at the mirror. It’s just the wall and my watermark reflection.

“You don’t have a reflection.” I tell her.

“I know,” she says, “my mirror-self was taken from me.”

“Who took it?”

She shakes her head. “Aside from you, I can’t remember anything about myself before I woke up.”

“So that means you still don’t know your name?”

“Why is that so important to you? You can’t remember your name can you?”

She’s right. How did she know though?

She gets close to me, “If it helps you can give me a name,” she waves her hand. “Nothing fancy, just something for you to refer to me by.”

“Oh,” well it makes sense, I have been calling her ‘girl in yellow’ in my mind this whole time, but that isn’t a name. I laugh.



“Like strawberries?”

“No, ichi- and –go.”

“Numbers? That’s cruel.” She looks hurt.

“No, no, ‘ichi’ means one, and ‘go’ means five right?”


“Well, ‘go’ can mean a lot, protect, clear, serenity, skill, giving, honorable, word…”

“So… one that protects…or is clear, or serene, or skilled or giving?”

“I like ‘one word’ personally.”


“I just do. Do you know what a savant is?”

“One of those really smart autistic people right?”

“Yeah, well there is this savant who sees every number up to 10,000 as a shape, color, and movement.”

She nods, “Daniel Tammet.”

That’s his name! “Well, he said that ‘one’ is like an enormous flash of light, practically blinding. And ‘five’ is like a clap of thunder.”


I shrug, “I think it’s cool.”

“But he doesn’t see kanji numbers I bet.”

I shrug again.

“So what now.”

“What time is it?”

Ichigo looks at her small silver watch. “5:30.”

“That can’t be right.”

“Why not?”

“Because the old man told me it was 5:30.”

“What old man?”

I don’t feel like explaining. “Let me see.”

She comes over and holds out her wrist. Sure enough 5:30. “Satisfied?” she asks.

“Wait a moment.” I take the envelope out, pull out the page. I flip it over. Written at the top of the page in English is, “5:15 ~ wake up.” “It’s not today anymore.”


“I mean, it’s tomorrow.”

“What is that?” She takes the page from me. She stares at it for some time. “9 9 9, world’s end… what does that mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where did you get this?

“One of the old men gave it to me.”

“What old men.”

That’s right, she wouldn’t know. “We have to get out of here.” I grab her arm.


The door back down to the library is locked. The front of the school is locked as well. Ichigo and I wander down the halls going to each door. They’re all locked tight. Ichigo suggests the windows. They won’t budge either. It’s like the school is enchanted and refuses to let us go until it is finished with us.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Ichigo tells me. She sticks close to my side. “I would be so afraid to be alone right now.”

I laugh. “Yeah, I know what you mean, I’ll tell you a secret though, I’m afraid right now, no lie.”


I decide not to tell her about Thumper. “I dunno, I have a feeling that I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be with you.”

“Which is it? You’re not supposed to be here? Or you’re not supposed to be with me?”


Ichigo sighs. She stops. “Let’s sit down.”

We go into a classroom. Ichigo sits at the teacher’s desk. I hop on top of a student’s desk in the second row.

“Do you think I would make a sexy teacher?”

A little surprised I just say, “Ummm.”

“It’s a yes or no question.” She squeezes her chest between her arms and leans over the desk. “Do you think I would make a sexy teacher?”

“Well, with the way you look and the way you’re dressed, you’d make a sexy anything. You could add any occupational name behind ‘sexy’ and it’d fit.”

She laughs. “I like how you talk. It reminds me of…Gatsby.”

“The book? Or hair wax?”

“The book of course. Sort of refined and relaxing, but still with a note of uncertainty.”

“I think most people have that.”

“What? Uncertainty? Yes, only the insane can truly speak with out a shadow of doubt.” She pulls the left sleeve of her shirt and exposes her shoulder.

“What are you doing?”

“What do you think?”

I try to change the topic. “I thought you couldn’t remember anything except for me. You remember The Great Gatsby?”

“You remember The Great Gatsby right?”

I nod.

“Well so can I now, it’s like the more time I spend with you the more I can remember.”

“Have you even read The Great Gatsby?”

She shrugs, “How should I know?”

“Well are you remembering your own memories or just absorbing mine?”

“I think the reason people forget things is that they leak their memories all over the place.”

I’ve often thought that very thing. I can feel on the verge of a discovery, like when you’re looking for your lost wallet. Something just tells you to look behind the TV. The truth is you already know where you’re lost thing is, but you’ve just forgotten. Well, not even forgotten, it’s still there, but it sank deep somewhere inside your brain, it’s covered by other memories. I ask, “What is your name?”

“Ichigo, you named me.”

“Why can’t we get out of here?”

“Because it’s not something you want.

“What do I want right now?”

“That’s a complicated question, because right now you’re divided. Instinctively you’d like nothing better than to throw me down and do it with me, but another part of you wants answers that you feel you can’t find on your own.”

“Why can’t I find my own answers?”

“They’re right in front of you, but you can’t see it. You could see it, but you let your reflection be eaten by Thumper. Now you’re not whole.”

“Thumper ate my reflection?”

She nods.

“Did he eat yours too?”

She shakes her head, “I don’t know that.”

“What did he do to you?”

“Nothing, he did something to you, even before you realized it.”

“Why do I still have a little bit of my reflection?”

“Because, you are someone who isn’t willing to let go of the mirror-self.”

“What was my mirror-self?”

“You know already.”

I pause before asking the next question. “Will the world really end?”

“Of course, as soon as it started it had to end.”

“No, I mean today.”

She smiles sweetly, “Maybe.” She slips her shirt down to her waist, “Now, let’s do it.”

With the world possibly ending it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

She grows cold. She feels like the old man who gave me the yellow envelope. I hold her, I press my body against her, I rub her back.

“What did you do?” she cries softly. “Why would you do that to me?”

“What do you mean?” I am despairing.

She won’t answer me though, she just stays there crying.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what’s wrong. “Was that your first time?” I ask her gently. “Did it hurt? Did I hurt you?”

But she has no reply except tears. I try to pull her clothes back on her, but she is like a corpse that is stiffening and I give up. I take off my green canvas shirt. I drape it about her shoulders. It is important that I hold her. It is important that I share my warmth.

“Didn’t I tell you not to touch her?” says a voice.

I look up. There is Thumper.

“I figured out who you are,” he says.

“Who am I?”

“You’re even crueler than I.”

I clutch Ichigo close to my chest. “I didn’t mean to hurt her. I never meant to hurt her.”

“That doesn’t absolve you of your crime.” Thumper approaches us. Ichigo’s body starts to shake. “Ichigo will die,” he tells me.

“How do you know her name?”

“Because I listened to it.”


Thumper smiles, looks up at the classroom clock. “10:30, only nine minutes left.”

“Nine minutes until what?”

“The end of the world.”

“Where are we? What is this place, this isn’t real.”

“Well, if you want to judge reality against what happens to that speck of a planet called the Earth, then no, you’ve gone beyond and behind that.”


“You’re between thoughts right now, and between realities. You never knew how to let go.”


“I am surprised to see you here though. Usually only the mirror-self can enter this place, and that’s where I catch them.”

“What is the mirror-self?”

“It’s a reflection of who you dreamed to be. Call it an alter-ego.”

“Why did you try to eat my mirror-self?”

“I did eat him, well, most of him. I eat everyone’s mirror-selves. What would the world be if everyone held onto that inner self? No, they abandon them and then the mirror-self wanders away and they find this place, where I wait.”

“You said you only eat children.”

“Mirror-selves are always children.”

“Why is Ichigo going to die?”

“Sorry, time’s up.” Thumper lunges at me. He grabs me. I let go of Ichigo. Thumper’s jaws come down on my left arm. He tears it off. It hurts. I kick out with my foot and catch one of his giant eyes. He screams in pain. I stumble away. I grab a pair of scissors off of the teacher’s desk. I throw them with all my might. The scissors impale Thumper between the eyes. His left eye is already bleeding. Thumper is really mad now.

The envelope! It’s there on the desk where I had set it before Ichigo and I did it. I grab it. Holding it in my teeth I take out the page of the planner. I know what to do. I pull a pencil from the drawer and write as quickly as I can.

“Thumper dies!!”

Thumper stops dead in his tracks. His right eye rolls back in his head. He sinks to the ground and never moves again.

The ground starts to shake. It’s an earthquake. I grab Ichigo. Her eyes are open. She stares at me.

“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s okay, this world needs to finish, but you will go back.”

“Go back? What do you mean?”

She smiles. “It is how it should happen. After all, lost thoughts are never really lost forever. You’ll find me again I know it, especially now that I have a name.”

I’m too confused.



I don’t want this world to end. I don’t want to lose this girl in yellow. There must be some way out of this. Every situation has some resolution. I just can’t remember what to do.

The place is really tearing itself apart now. There are flashes of light, loud crashes. So this is what the end of the world is like.


I stand. I run to the teacher’s desk. I search through all the drawers. I fling the contents out. No luck. My bag! I run to my bag. I search through it. There’s my unfinished book, my notebook, there! The old man’s pencil. The yellow pencil with the pink eraser.

“NO!” Ichigo screams.

“You can’t! If you do then you can never go back!”

“If I don’t you’ll die!”

She shakes her head. “Why can’t you understand? You’re not supposed to be here. If you don’t let this end then you will lose yourself here.”

“Where is here?”

“This is you, this is the space that you created between thoughts. A spot outside and inside out of reality.”

“Am I imagining this?”

“Do you think it’s just your imagination?”

I shake my head.

The walls of the school crumble and fall into the earth. The buildings sink into the ground like ships with broken hulls. Books swirl about me carried by a strong current of wind.

“Ichigo!” I cry out.

“Good-bye,” she whispers.

There’s someone else with us. A child. A mostly solid person who is only a bit hazy around the edges.

“Who are you?” I ask him.

“You know me.”

“How did you escape?”

“We were all freed when you killed Thumper.”


I’m dizzy again. It’s like the partitions of my brain have broken down. Past, present, future thoughts all run together into one mass. Shapes are colors, movements are one, dreams and nightmares are inseparable

All that you can do is choose.

“Where are we?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s dark.”

“It only seems like that because we don’t know what we’re looking at.”

“Your arm.”

“I’ll survive.”

“What did you do?” Ichigo starts to cry in the dark.

“There, there, this is no time to cry.”

“Where is your mirror-self?”

“He went back without me. Right before the end.”

“What does this mean? He went back?”

“Well, because we were separated by Thumper like that, a little of him is still with me. And he isn’t complete. There are parts of him that are like pockets of nothing. Eventually, something will grow to fill those patches of space.”

“What will fill them?”

“I wonder. I think it will be the grown up, grown ups love to dominate things.”

“What of the little bit of him still inside you?”

“I don’t know that. I think maybe it will grow too, maybe eventually enough to connect me back to the real world.”

She is quiet for a while. We’re like two people waiting for day break. At length she whispers, “The world ended didn’t it?”

“That world did.”

“I hate mirrors.”

“I know all about it.”

“So what happens now?”

I hold her hand. “Now we’ll wait. In a little while we’ll be able to see. I can already see your nose and the tips of your hair.”

Ichigo snuggles closer to me.

“You can’t really tell, but I’m actually very excited. This is like a story. It’s like we left it all behind. I mean, when can you truly not know anything about the future? Who has seen the birth of something completely new like this?”

“Can we paint our bedroom yellow?”

I’m not even sure that this new world will have something that resembles a bedroom. “Of course,” I tell her.

“I want it to be bright yellow. So bright you can’t help but be happy in it.”

A boy in a library closes his book. He packs up and leaves. A heavy set librarian waves good bye to him. In front of the city offices he makes a phone call.

Emiko comes out.

“You get off work now don’t you?”

“We really busy this time of year. I’m going to have to stay late. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“Did you finish your book?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“Well, it’s done, but not really done yet.”

“You still have to think about it? Was it that deep a book?”

“Maybe. I wonder. I might never finish that book.”


“No, I like it that way better.”


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