One Last Choice

                They say death is a dark tunnel, where at the end glows glorious light. That a comforting voice, soft like summer wind, beckons you forward. That you know, when you get there, all your lost loved ones will be waiting for you. And that is close to the truth. What they fail to mention, as they are living, and could not know, is the path forks. One leads towards light, a holy chorus, the afterlife of your choosing. The other to a pool of water, still and cool and inviting.

                You walk up the path to the pool, curious, and as you approach the water begins to ripple. Looking closer, in those tiny waves… you see…

                Loved ones, dressed in black, looking up—or down, from their perspective—into the pool back at you. They cannot see you, they hold each other and weep. You see they are at a cemetery, at a grave, at *your*grave. It is a gray day, the grass is damp as if earlier it was drizzling but now is only dreary. The air is still and heavy with rain yet to come. You see your mother and father, bent double with age’s burdens that you will never know, their faces ravaged with a toll they never expected to suffer: the loss of a child.

                “My son…” One whispers, sentence cut short by pain. The other only sobs, all words stolen by tears.

                You see your lover, whose cheeks are dry. All his strength focused on remaining stolid for your children, who themselves are silent. They surround him, like pillars holding up a leaning tower. If they separated, even for a moment, they would all collapse. Something is missing, and it takes a moment to realize that thing is you. You wish you could go to them, hold them one last time.

                And a voice speaks… Choose.

                In your mind’s eye, you approach the pool, submerge yourself in its waters. You drown, and open your eyes back on Earth, a translucent shade. A shocked voice speaks your name, disbelieving. Looking up, you see your family can see you. They surround you, hands passing through you. Saying your name, first uncertainly. Then louder and louder, with joy that you have returned, with sorrow that you are not fully there. You luxuriate a moment in the love of a life well lived, but eventually, sensing a force calling you back across the waves, your time drawing to an end, you cough to catch their attention.

                “I don’t have long, I- I- do not know where I am going, but… I couldn’t go there. Not without saying good-bye. I wish, I wish I had more time. All this love in my heart, for all of you, feels wasted. I should have told you every day…”

                Your lover approaches. “We knew. We know. Do you have to go? Can’t you… won’t you try to-?”

                Stay with me. With our family. The look in his eyes pleads. And you would. You would. If only it were your choice to make.

                He understands. This is only temporary. And for a moment he and the kids just exist in the space you inhabit and try to feel close to you one last time. You lean forward, to kiss him on the lips and, just for a moment, you feel each other, echoing a familiar, electric touch. The fire your lips once felt for each other that burned over and through you both, a passion like none other.

Then the feeling is gone, you are remote and dead once more. You speak the names of each of your children, smiling, telling the oldest to be brave, and the youngest to remember your love, always. You tell your parents thank you, thank you, you say that you were a good man, all because of a path they set for you. The greatest gift a parent can give a child is a map to righteousness, a demonstration of empathy. It is up to each person to walk that trail on their own.

                “But thank you-thank you for guiding me to it.” You finish. They collapse against each other, too tired and sad to even weep.

                And you begin to fade. You expect to return to the pool, and enter the light. But you just feel colder and colder and more and more distant from everything. You realize, this is it. The price for good-bye is you sacrifice the hereafter. Your last thought, as on Earth it again begins to rain, both from the clouds and from your family’s eyes:

                Maybe it was worth it…

                Your eyes flutter open back at the pool, looking up/down at your family. So… that was just a fantasy. A preview of what will happen if this death is the one you choose. You wander down the black halls, and back up the other hallway toward the light.


                As you approach, the brightness fades, and you see…

                A lush land of wonders. A resplendent field of impossible green, flowers—of colors and designs foreign to Earth—grow to incredible heights. These plants cast shadows on the men and women who wandered among them, some engaged in intense conversation, some laughing, some just gazing in joy and disbelief at the world around them. You close your eyes, and the wind tousles your hair. You smell the scents of enormous flowers, your head dizzied by their pollen. The air is a confection. You open your eyes, and are walking down a path accompanied by strangers who understand your greatest passions. For they are their passions too. You dance through the afterlife with unparalleled intellectual partners. But they are unknowns, and all the people you meet in this vast lands are unknowns. No friends, no family that preceded you into the vale ever cross your path. And you know, somehow, that none ever will. Your soul endures, but endures alone.

And you understand the choice before you: See your family once more and give way to the void. Or linger forever in the vast pastures of faith, exploring the universe’s mysteries that one life is nowhere near enough time to unlock.

You open your eyes back in the black, torn between two impulses. That of the past, your family, everything you have ever known, the desperate need for one more goodbye. That of the future, the unknown, the possibility for great discovery, the very human fear of non-existence. We all want to go on. We all wish we could go back.

Choose. The voice whispers again in your mind.

And so, despite the weight of the options before you, despite the impossibility of this choice and its implications, you head, resolved, toward the-


Kong'o Waystation

At the border of Basin and desert, I pass through a graveyard, burial ground for the teak jungle that thrived here. Branches of trees long since buried by sand reach out at me, scratching with skeletal fingers the high cotton socks that cover my ankles. The closer to the waystation I come, the more alive they seem, emerging from desert bit by bit. First only the gnarled tree-tops are visible, thin branches that, once burdened by green, are now only a desolate brown, fitting color for the death around them. Then trunks scrabble into view, hollow yet proud things. Eventually whole corpses become evident, the remains of what must once have been a lush, well-forested area, choked with life and dense vegetation.

                No more, such places on this Earth have long been scarce.

                I stop for a moment, unshoulder my pack, stuffed with a burden that might stoop a lesser man. Removing the canteen, I shake it to check the fullness. Almost empty as I suspected. The sun, unforgiving, glares down at me and I curse it back—silently, of course, I do not have the spit to spare. My mouth feels as dry as my brow does wet beneath fine, absorbent fabric. I must address both situations before continuing my journey. It would not do to enter Kong’o Waystation half-crazed with thirst and drenched in moisture many would kill for. One needs one’s wits in such a place. Who knows how the rules have changed, or what surprises might await me therein?

                I remove the reservoir from my pack, one of my few blessings, and place it on the sand. Standing over its open mouth, I unbutton my canvas pants and jerkin, stripping to the reclamation suit beneath. The long tube of my reservoir I hook to a tabbed opening in the suit, and I feel the suction cooling my skin, the sweat and the heat with it sucked away into the reservoir's filtrating depths. I fumble with the opening at the suit's waist and, uncorking another opening in the machine, relieve myself into the filters. The craft dines on thick, yellow soup; it whirrs, hums and shakes as it goes about cleaning the water I have reclaimed, making it fit once more to drink.

                That necessary work done, I assemble a small tent to shade me from the heat and lie naked in the cool shadow, eyes closed. I must rest before approaching the waystation, before the deathly business of trading can begin. Voicelessly I mouth the names, drifting through my sins into sleep.

                Alas, rest is not to be. Survival in the desert-Earth requires many skills. Chief among them the ability to discern between the random shifts in the sand, stirred by wind or entropy, and an intruder's attempts to mask their footsteps as they sneak up on the unsuspecting to rob them of riches—chiefly, their scrap and their water. The human body contains on average 1.5 gallons of blood. Enough to last one man a week if he stretches. Combine that with the water you recoup from sweat and waste, one murder can buy you up to a month of life.

                In these times, only fools refuse to take precautions against the desperate human thirst.

                I let him approach, I can tell by my would-be killer's footfalls that he is male, and large, and driven mad by the desert-heat. He is sloppy, too sloppy, not only can I hear his feet as he stumbles towards me, but I can hear the sub-vocal mutterings, barely coherent. The man works himself into frenzy.

Still I do not move.

Eyes shut, I hear the tent's flap pushed aside, and the brute breathes loudly over me. I know he is unimpressed by what he sees. A slight, naked aged man, skin wrinkled and dry, greying hair shorn down to the roots, revealing a burned and scarred scalp. What he does not notice is the danger, the whipcord sinew of muscle running up my arms and legs, hidden strength earned in decades of hard-living and sacrifice. And his end: the blade hidden between my palm and the ground, its blade slick with a solution distilled from Devil's Helmet—though the apothecary insisted on calling it Aconitum, a flowery name fit for a deadly flower.

Small knife in hand, I lie still. I hold my breath and I wait.

The man he creeps closer, shaking and trembling. Probably suffering withdrawal from some opioid in addition to his thirst. Our bleak world drives all men to seek self-destruction in all its wondrous forms.

This here is my addiction.

He leans yet closer, slowly, hoping not to wake me from false slumber. I can feel his breath, but still I wait. He reaches toward me, fist closed around some large scimitar, an unwieldly weapon for such close quarters. Likely he hopes to menace me up and out of the tent, before leading me back to his own scrap of desert where I can be properly drained.

He picked to prey upon the wrong helpless old man.

He nudges my side with a bare, calcified foot. Point of his blade aimed wavering at my throat.

"You, ol' mayne, get up and folla if you wan-"

My blade does not wait for him to finish before it strikes, I roll quickly, away from his sword and towards his tree-trunk legs. Lithe in my fingers she bites him, a shallow cut on the ankle. The countdown begins.


He roars with inchoate rage, probably more at being defied than any pain he might feel. I use the brief reprieve this grants me to take to my feet. I do not leave the tent, so exposed that would waste too much of my moisture.


“Now why’d y’have to go and do that?” He lumbers towards me, scimitar dragging in the sand. Suddenly, I am incredibly aware of how small this tent, what an eternity five seconds can be. Quickness can only get me so far.


I dance just outside the reach of another swing. “Yer quick ol’ mayne. How quick?” The dark look in his eyes, the look of madness, tells me that he cares not about my water any more. He will spill my blood wasted into the sand given the chance.


He swings again, more sluggish this time. I smile, the paralytic works fast. “I’m quick enough for you, young buck.”


                The change comes in an instant, every muscle in the killer’s body ripples, spasms and then goes rigid. He falls to the ground face down, stiffer than the wooden graves around us. I squat down on top of his back, standing on its still shuddering strength.

                “Now, is that anyway to treat your elders? Disturbing ‘em while they sleep? Waving blades around, tearing up their personal property?” My tent flaps uselessly in the desert wind, torn to canvas shreds. Both us of exposed to the unforgiving sun. I wave my hands around me, indicating the destruction.

                “I shall have to spend some of my hard-earned coin repairing or replacing this now.”

Eyes wide, he works his jaw uselessly, but no words 

                “What am I to do with you, eh? Teach you a lesson you won’t forget?” My tongue rubs against my chapped lips like sandpaper. I drag him by the legs from our brief encounter’s wreckage, conscious of the sweat that reappears on my brow, dripping from my naked flesh lost onto the sizzling sand. We come to a sturdy looking tree, where I leave him and hobble back to my pack. I wince. Those brief seconds took more from me than I like to admit.

I return, dragging a length of rope and my reservoir, sloshing, to the hanging ground. “When you come for a man’s water, you also hazard your own.” I tie the rope around his still twitching legs. “To the victor goes the spoils, eh? As close as lives like ours come to fairness.”

The other end of the rope goes up over a thick branch. I hoist him up. He dangles, lips swollen, eyes bulging as he faces the fate that awaits him. The begging will come. It always does.

“Puh-p-pleez,” He speaks, slow and slurred, the paralytic must be wearing off. I need to work fast. “Mer… merc-”

I would laugh if I had time. “Ah… mercy? Would you have granted me mercy, had I begged? I think not, each choice digs another shovelful from our graves. Yours-” I unhook the suction tube from the reservoir and hunch down before the swaying, breathing watersac.

“Oh, what’s your name, by the by?”

“Ho… Hobarth.”

                “Hobarth,” I commit his name and face to memory, add his to my list of sins, one of many souls I will atone for when my time comes. “Mine is Jethro. Nice to have met you.”

                His eyes bug even wider at that name. Most in the region know it, most fear… or revere it.

                “Seeker. O Gawd, it is you. I shoulda known… had I only kn-“

My blade bites into his carotid, and with the other hand, I press the tube to the open wound. No water lost. The reservoir whirrs and sucks loudly as it must accommodate the sudden intake of moisture. I smile.

“You ‘shoulda’ known, but you didn’t. And now here we are.” My eyes go soft as he quickly stops thrashing about, dangling ever stiller from the tree. The branch trembles, sheds cracked bark, but does not break.

The light fades from his eyes, but I trace the curve of his square jaw lovingly, hold the gaze of his dark, angry eyes until they see no more. Only just now noticing how firm and full his frame was. Such a pity, under different circumstances…

“Sleep well Hobarth. Go and know your death was not in vain. No more than anyone else’s at least.”

Pulling the straw from the res, I suck deeply of water tasting slightly of copper and ammonia. Still, it is cool and quenching and… delicious.

The sun creeps across the sky, falling beneath the dunes. The world turns cool. I pack up my tattered tent, my reservoir, my poisoned blade and dress again for my journey. The waystation is near, I intend to get there before sunrise.

I walk further into the copse of corpses. Muttering a long litany to pass the time. The names, always the names.

“Hobarth, for his moisture. Jean in self-defense. Rochelle, for her moisture. Hyman, for his artifacts. Roy, for his-”

Hours later, the waystation looms in the distance. Light begins to threaten in the distance, dark crimson and pink on the horizon, though still I walk in darkness. The names continue. It has been a long life, filled with much sinning. And still I have yet to atone.

Their faces… I remember them all.


A visit to Father’s house always recalls bad memories. By day, it looks just like any other old house, imposing, if not truly frightening in its forestalled decay. But the cleanly-kept lawn, well-appointed rooms and jaunty white fence merely paper over the past. It loomed far more perilously back then; when I was clothed in poverty and prisoner to Father’s vices. Even now, when walking the gaily lit halls or drifting through the midst of Father’s boozy parties and celebrations, I can still see it for what it once was: ceilings crumbling under the weight of age, the constant drip-drip of leaks sprung anew, walls curdling with old moisture, the damp scent of mildew plugging my nose.

At night, sleeping in my childhood bed—the site of many horrors—the fear returns with the dark. My eldest sister Bertha hangs lifeless in my dreams, empty eyes searching the distance; her legs stutter slightly as her choking brain futilely seeks ground for some solid purchase. The middle child Maria, pockets filled with rocks, disappears beneath the mercilessly roiling river waves. She stops and turns at my call, teary eyes reproaching me for my part—however slight—in her suffering, before she turns and continues towards her desolation, submerging completely, never to be seen again. When I awaken, again and again, each night shivering, sweaty and weeping, I scarcely stifle the screams engendered by my nightmares. I see him sleeping peacefully next to me, my love, that foul object of my misery.

Who is this man I married?

            Watching him sleep, unharried by the hoary ghosts of our past, I recall—through the haze of sorrow that haunts me daily—the first day we met. My future husband seemed barely human when I saw him then. On my father’s step he stood, a filthy wanderer. Swathed in unwashed, matted furs, he looked, and smelled, more like a wild animal than a man. His skin, dark and grainy, was caked in a patina of soot and muck dragged from whatever hellhole he crawled from. Hair sprouted wildly from his head, an unkempt mop smeared in something I dared not to identify. I remember my father beaming as he paraded this husk before us, his daughters, more happily than the glower that typically accompanied his omnipresent drunkenness.

“Girls,” he managed to speak for once without slurring, “Meet our guardian angel… the answer to all our prayers.”

Leading this gross, grinning thing by the hand, Father told of how they met: in a local pub while he guzzled our family’s last dimes. This bedraggled stranger—after overhearing Father bemoaning his financial troubles (the man loved to gamble almost as much as he loved to drink)—produced unimaginable riches from the depths of a rancid coat—emeralds and rubies and the purest gold—one he still wore when in our home. It may once have been a verdant green. Such an odd garment, the coat was clearly once luscious and rich, but now looked barely more than a rag. How did such a thing produce such beguiling wealth? Father asked no such questions, not with a path out of his self-imposed misfortune dangling before him. This stranger, introducing himself simply as “Bearskin”, asked for nothing but prayers in return.

            My father, who, despite his failings, took receiving something for nothing as a great shame, then suggested the deal which sealed all our fates: “I told him, ‘Nonsense! For reasons beyond my reckoning, you’ve helped save me and my family from the poorhouse. In return, you must make one of my daughters your bride.’”

At the suggestion that Father would offer us up like so much cattle, my sisters recoiled in horror. Accepting such a creature into their home and bed was more than their dignity could countenance.

“Me? I’d rather marry an actual bear!” exclaimed Bertha.

“The Devil himself can take me first!” Maria chorused.

Father glared at them angrily, but even with the unspoken threat in his gaze, they met his stare unbowed. This was one filial burden too far. We were always more commodities to him, to be used like beasts of burden, abused and then married off, than daughters. Countless times, after many a long and expensive bender, he came to my room shrouded in black shadows and an even blacker mood, darkly cursing us and our mother for how we tested him (our mother fled this world soon after I was born, leaving us behind to suffer Father’s unjust anger). He never touched me, nor my sisters, with anything but anger, but his words scarred all the same. His slurred accusations, always blaming us for his money problems. He promised one day we would pay him back… now it was time to make do.

And so I, the one young enough to still fear Father’s drunken displeasure, meekly nodded my head in quiet acceptance, and extended a fair hand to my new fiancée. Fixing me with his eyes, deep pools of gray, he seized my fingers roughly, and pulled them towards chapped, bleeding lips, wreathed by the unkempt growths of a man allergic to razors. His palm was greasy, slick with dirt, sweat and God knows what else. This “Bearskin” kissed my hand, leaving a scent I’ve yet to forget to this day… rotten like diseased gums, half chewed food and cheap wine. His teeth were yellowed and moved in his mouth when pushed up against my hand. They felt like my hand pressed upon damp piano keys. Pulling away, he smiled, a gap-toothed, rictal grin, forcing me to tamp down unceasing waves of revulsion.

“What is your name, dear child?” Speaking for the first time, his voice was softer, gentler than one might have expected, air cushioned in silk. Had his breath not reeked worse than his kiss, I might have found this comforting. In his excitement, my father, still staring daggers at my elder, prouder sisters (their refusal to submit to his will was a transgression that wouldn’t soon be forgotten), had forgotten to introduce us by name to this “Bearskin”.

“Iv-Ivanka,” I whispered, eyes downcast, afraid that if I met his face again, sickness would overcome me. My silent inner rebel screamed at me to flee my father’s yoke once and for all, pleading that this was one expectation too far. But I feared a wrathful reprisal too much to vocalize my misgivings.

“Ivanka,” He whispered, smiling, his breath like death in my nostrils. “A beautiful name, for a beautiful girl. I thank you for your kindness. Such a gift is not soon forgotten.”

He departed soon after, leaving me with half a ring and a promise to return. Time passed, and with a brand new fortune to blow through, Father largely left us in peace (though he never fully forgave my sisters for their insolence). My sisters reproached and pitied me in equal measure. Bertha who often bemoaned my docile acceptance of Father’s abusive persecution, scowled, “Fool, now look at the mess you’ve gotten yourself into. Say no to the old lush! When the time comes tell him you won’t go through with it!”

I knew she feared for me, imagining that a life married to some crusty vagrant, no matter his riches, might well be even worse than the hell we’d already endured.

Maria held me, crying, and tried to comfort me: “Perhaps he’ll never return! Father’s off skirt-chasing with his limitless fortune. We’re saved. We’re finally saved! Maybe things will be better now.” The years passed by. Eventually Bearskin, and the odious promise I made to him, were all but forgotten.

And so life continued until three years later. A stranger visited our home—this one, young, strong and smelling of roses. He introduced himself with a grand flourish of his velvet top-hat as Baron Fellmutze. Dressed richly in an emerald green waistcoat, bedecked with expensive rings adorned with rubies and diamonds from far-off lands, bearing a smile bright enough to blind the sun, this Baron also offered to marry one of Father’s daughters.

“I’ve heard great things about your family, and its sudden wealth, flourishing in the Rhine. Here I am, at the end of a long journey, and in my travels, I’ve not found one worth marrying, worth loving. Perhaps my search is finally at an end.”

My sisters swooned at his beauty, but his eyes, familiar and grey, they never left my own.

My sisters, now eclipsing marrying age, ran off to preen, hoping to look their finest for this eligible young bachelor. After they left, this mysterious houseguest kept his eyes on me, piercing through me with a loose grin and offered me a glass of wine. I drank hesitantly. Why did I know this man? But something solid in the glass clinked against my teeth.

In it was the other half of a wedding ring… here was the creature I promised to marry, far less loathsome in appearance than all those years ago. What could I do but fulfill the promise I had made? How could I have known how I helped to engineer the damnation of my beloved sisters?

Soon after we were married, and after the wedding my Father cast Bertha and Maria from his home, proclaiming triumphantly, “I only have one daughter now, the others died years ago when they defied their father.”

Bertha hung herself with the shame. She was always one of a fragile ego and volatile emotions. Maria, grief-stricken by her death fled quickly down Bertha’s path. I can still remember her eyes angrily fixed on mine; I can still remember how she blamed me for Bertha’s death. Even now, when I close my eyes, I hear her guttural cry when she found Bertha blue and dead; I see her turning from me in contempt and disappearing forever beneath the roiling, storming seas.

After their funerals, where I buried my sisters alone, my father too disgusted to attend, I turned to my husband, bereaved, lamenting my part in their death, he just smiled—his perfect white teeth flashed menacingly. “Fear not, dear Ivanka, the Devil has already claimed them. They will take my place in his unholy legion, those poor tormented souls.”

At this thought, he laughed, a deep-throated chuckle that blanched me to the core. Here is when I realized that once more, I was caged, just with a new jailor—my nose pressed hopelessly against the bars of holy matrimony.

And so here I lie, in my old bed, beside my new husband, under the roof of my father. Here I wonder what sort of monster I agreed to marry, and am now bound to. In my dreams they laugh together my drunk father, my satanic love. In my dreams they dance on the graves of my sisters: sacrifices at the altar of their cloven-footed Lord. In my dreams, I am bound to the stake, they dance around me, their faces demented by glee as they set my pyre alight. And when I wake, I know it is only a matter of time, before I chase my beloved Bertha and Maria into oblivion, recompense for the unforgiveable sin of acceptance. Retribution for allowing this creature into our lives.

And I know: It is no less than I deserve.

We Ride A Train

In the car behind the man of shadows and fugue and the lady of passion and hope, sit I, the betrayer, and you, the betrayed. Or is it the other way around? In contrast to their harmony, their longing, we simmer in silence, the gulf we brokered in life persisting long after. Too long is this train ride, this journey with no destination. Yet, though we are fated to suffer eternity together, neither of us will be the first to speak. Neither of us wants to be the first to apologize for the sins that distance us.

                Outside the window, I watch the train rattle through nothing, through darkness. Once we passed over ocean and in each drop we watched our lives disintegrate again and again, refreshing our anger, reminding us of what cruel hell it was to be for. In each drop we saw…

                I enter our home to a strange rhythmic noise, a musk in the air. Even before I can process it, my nose tells me what transpires. I creep into the bedroom, saying nothing. Waiting for you to notice me. Our eyes meet, and you do not stop.

Even in the throes of passion you are so cruel.

Now the ocean is gone, or at least is obliterated by the black that looms absolute beyond our windows. I turn from the night, dissatisfied, and regard you. Stern lips bound in a tight line. You look right at me, as though anywhere or anyone else would do to set your gaze. Alas, there is no other option. Nothing but the object of your scorn. There is nowhere for us to flee, the door is locked (we both tried in in stony silence when we first arrived). It seems that God, or whoever placed us here, is determined to let us marinate in this suffering.


Anger grasps me, not like a hot lance but a cold storm, one that's been brewing in my suspicions for months, if not years. How many betrayals have I overlooked? How many apologies am I owed? I turn my back on the two of you, joined as one flesh in a way we never were. Retreat to my study where I grab…

…two, three bangs. Two, three angry flashes of sulfur and light and there we sat on a train. Alone.

"So…" I relent, finally speaking before madness and boredom consume me completely, finally resigning myself to offering the first olive branch.

"…What do we do now?"

Forgetting the Dead

                Every world deals differently with loss. There are those who mourn death, those who celebrate it as a homecoming. Those who find some happy medium in between. But by far the most interesting of worlds are those who do not acknowledge death at all…

                Grandma, sitting at the kitchen table, has a massive coronary during breakfast. It only causes her to spill her coffee briefly, before bringing it back to her lips. Her heart has stopped, but it’s the only part of her that does.

                “Ma, did you just…?” Her son, washing dishes, calls over his shoulder.

                She checks her own pulse. “I reckon so, no heartbeat. I can’t feel the coffee burning my tongue.”

                “That’s a shame. How long?”

                “I guess we’ll see.”

                “I guess so.”

                Life continues around her like nothing has changed, her family still recognizes her presence as if she still belongs among them. And, for a while, she can convince herself she does. But death, accepted or not, has a way of claiming its own. More slowly in some worlds than in others, but it creeps upon us all the same. Undefeated to the last.

                Grandma notices the color drain from the world. The sunset, once a rich tableau of orange-reds and burning yellows, turns dim gray. The leaves mush brown like autumn is upon her, even though the country still falls under spring’s thrall. Everyone speaks either too quietly or too loudly, always whispering, always shouting, and never quite at a level she can understand. Blood doesn’t flow so her wounds won’t heal, small scratches and unbruised blemishes mark her apart from the rest of her kind. As her nerves die, everything becomes a pain, even holding her beloved grandchildren, even a gentle hand resting on her shoulder. She knows, she can’t put it off any longer.

                She turns to her son, her beloved daughter in law, and their three kids one night. Or perhaps it is day. All is dark to her know, all food tastes like dust or ash.

                “It’s time,” She sighs, “I put it off for as long as I could… but it’s time.”

                Her son’s eyes glisten, but he will not cry. “I had a feeling this day was near. We’ll miss you.”

                If she could still feel, she’d mourn. But instead she is empty. The howling void creeps near, step by step it envelopes her. She feels her extremities crumble back to Earth.

                “No… you won’t.”

                The family blinks. Father, Mother and children stand around a floor covered in debris. They stare at the detritus, memories of the lost themselves already a distant memory.

                “What were we-” The mother begins.

                “I-I…” The father stops, the sadness at the tip of his tongue fading away, “…can’t remember. Grab me a broom, will you hun?”

                There are some worlds where death is a rest-stop, a brief respite on the journey to oblivion. Those on these worlds remember, if not the truth of it, its essence. They know their time together is short, and after it’s over, all memories recede with it. These are worlds without mourning, without history, where the past and future exist on the same Möbius strip. Where they are shrouded by the same forgetting and never-knowing, a candle that burns on both ends.