life

No New Songs Were Sung

On the day the last new songs were sung, the world turned like on any other. We went to work, we laughed with our children, we fought with our lovers, we prayed to our gods, we listened to music. We danced, we labored, we died. We celebrated our newborn, and we mourned and buried our dead.

Life went on like it always did. Ignorant to the fact that all the while, the end reached for us in the night. 

On the day the last new songs were sung, we looked up at the darkness that crept across the sun, leaving us in shadow. We fled the beaches chased by tides thrown into chaos by a foreign gravity, shivered in the night that enveloped the world.

We looked up in fear and in wonder.

On the day the last new songs were sung, our leaders took to our televisions, our phones. They told us not to panic, that these visitors may come in peace. They begged for our patience and asked we trust their leadership. They promised there was nothing to fear.

They were wrong.

On the day the last new songs were sung, our screens cracked, and the unquiet faces of our presidents, prime ministers and monarchs were replaced by a speakable terror, one all the more frightening because it could be beheld, a face of phalanges and sharp teeth and bleeding eyes.

Its skin rippled, like beneath the gray epidermis, a thousand new creatures struggled to break through to the surface. When it spoke, it spoke to directly to the mind, in the language of the listener, with a voice like a razor, like fire, like death.

"We do not come in peace."

Children clutched their mothers and their fathers, who were too busy plumbing their own terror to comfort.

"We are not here to enlighten or to learn, to offer succor or exchange culture."

People left their cars and wandered the streets, unable to escape the words that followed.

"We are here for one reason. We are always where we are for that reason. We are the ones who purge, who burn. And we will until there is no more life on the universe."

We fell to our knees as a species, begging heaven for benediction that never forthcame.

"Good-bye." The face, the indelible, undeniable horror, melted away from our screens if not our minds. Leaving one last thought melting away with the static.

“You have 12 hours. After that, your kind will sing no more.”

Silence.

We found out, on that day the last new songs were sung, the many ways humankind confronts oblivion. Some violently, looting and assaulting those who were damned along with themselves. Some passionately, seeking the absolution denied them by God in the flesh of another. Some stoically, sitting prosaic in a forest or at the beach or in the quiet of their homes, waiting for what cannot be avoided. Some denied oblivion the pleasure, going before the burning into the night, scuffing and bloodying as they took to the air and let gravity free them.

Time passed, and so did we, in various ways, until the hour of reckoning. And then, a high-pitched keening. The shadow stretched across the sky, brighter and brighter and hotter and hotter, we raised our hands to block out the sun in orbit, and watched as they melted into fire.

We did not have time enough to scream before flame burned all life away. Forests became ashes, and the oceans steam, and the ground magma and the air ionized even as it burned in our lungs, even as our lungs disintegrated and our forms became naught but shadows reaching, reaching into the hereafter.

And the ship left our orbit, satisfied that one more source of life had been silenced. And our Earth entered the Quiet times.

Where no new songs were sung.

The only chorus came from the wind whistling through hollow structures, tossing up the ashes that were our lives. The only melody the silent hymn of rain pattering in the deep basins, Atlantic and Pacific, filling them with empty water where once it teemed with life.

And there was no music, except the hushing waves of the new ocean.

Life remained. A microscopic bacterium that survived the boiling ocean. A single cell, with no thought but to reproduce. No instinct but to spread itself across a world that was now its own. And it grew, and grew, growing in purpose and complexity.

Until the only sound was the bubbling of primordial ooze in a silent sea.

From the ooze grew algae, which kicked up by the wind and the storms was the first life to return to land. Fungus mixed with the ashes left by life long ago, sinking deep into the Earth, taking root, becoming something more than what they were. Moss, and then plants… and then trees.

Earth returned to Earth.

Forests that stood long before the rule of man found themselves reseeded across the rusty graveyards of our cities, the bones of a world burned away and forgotten. The planet flourished in silence.

Life returned to the ocean.

Born in the silt and in the dark, beasts that knew nothing of light sprouted their way to the surface. Blinded and ignorant to land, they laughed. For their world was vast enough without it.

And the only poetry was the dance of creatures at sea.

The world turned and turned and turned, and in the minds of the beasts of the sea, a kernel of memory remained about the land that burned, and whose creatures died all those years ago. A kernel that burgeoned into curiosity, directing the evolution of some, alleles varying toward the shore.

Until one day, some new thing dragged itself into life on the mud left by the tide. She stood on shaky flipper-legs on the beach and opened her mouth, drawing in cold morning air, laughing as she limped toward the forests’ world.

She laughed, and in her laughter, the first new song was sung.

 

Rotten Youths

                No one is as young as they used to be.

                The leaves piled beneath him were damp and ripe, clogging his nostrils with sweet rot. He shook his head, but his vision did not clear. It was dark still, and the night was yet to come. The sun hovered above him, casting light, but not for him. He felt its warmth but faintly and from a great distance, as though its rays were diverted elsewhere, as if something distracted him from its sight. He waited for the wind, some scent to tell him which way to go, but the air was quiet, stagnant,  full of nothing but death

Even as you cycle through hundreds of lives…

He tried to rise, but the legs beneath him wobbled, unwilling to support him like they were just born, and he a babe just now learning what it meant to be. And for all he knew, he was. Everything before this minute did not exist. Oblivion stretched behind. In front bowed the dark. The yawning and the deep, an empty chorus, hollow to its bones. It echoed every noise, and resonated with sound’s every absence. He curled his fingers in the mulch, felt its cool stick to his fingers, and dig beneath their nails. And the rotten leaves softly crunched, wet but brittle, as if somehow frozen by rain.

“Are you awake?”

…spread over eons…

It was the first sentence he had ever heard, coming from the head lying against his bare chest, his softness and dark hairs its pillow. She looked up, her eyes amethysts, and smiled.

“You are… welcome.”

There were many questions he could ask: Who am I? Who are you? Where are we? When? But instead, only one presented itself: “How long have I been-”

“Not long.” The smile did not leave her as she interrupted. And she began kissing him up and down his sternum. “But long enough to forget. And that’s all that matters. I see in your eyes, all that you used to know.”

…your eyes. They grow older and older.

All he remembered: Her bejeweled eyes, his hands, the clean scent of ruin, the still air, and… something dancing along the edge that never quite took form. He felt her hands, wrapped around his sides, fists clenched around the same mulch his hands sought purchase in. There was no solid ground beneath them, almost like they could sink and sink and disappear, though whereto and wherefrom he could not say. Perhaps here was all there was. Perhaps they were waiting, and always would be.

He smiled, mirroring her grin. And removed his hands from the mulch to cradle the head against his chest, and realized… what he held was disembodied. Her hands, he swore were just clutchinghis side, merely a ghost-limbed sensation. No torso, no legs connected to it. He looked down, and she… it smiled. Eyes of amethyst,  no whites and no iris, but shimmering, unending purple. Deep purple fields, with waving grasses, hid in her portal stare. Skin puckered around her eyes, oases surrounded by wrinkle deserts, and flapped yellow and loose against the rest of her skull. She gaped, showing sharp rows of teeth that did not end, lining a throat that did not exist.

“Our world, it grows smaller every day.”

And the sun faded. Night fell at last. A darkness more absolute than the velvet shawl before.

No one is as young as they used to be.

In Search of Eternity

                How many caves on how many snow-capped mountains must I visit before I find the magi who cursed us all to die? It turns out the answer is 230, 230 climbs through swirling snow, in frostbitten cold. 230 times over many, many years I have recklessly risked my everything, until finally I find them. The council that governs time. Ageless faces of every color, seated in the dark. There they decide when all men die. There I meet them and demand to know:

                “Why? Why is death? Why do you ask of us such suffering? Why can’t we have-”

                “More time?” The woman in the center speaks, her face evokes such youth, but her eyes? They have seen centuries. They pierce through me—black, ancient orbs—to my very soul. They see the anguish that has driven me to find them, that inspires my query.

                “Such hubris. To think that time belongs to you. You cannot waste it, for time is its own master, plunging forward and never back, leaving all your mistakes in the black of the past. Eventually it will leave you there as well.”

She leans forward, into a flickering light with no obvious source. All my defiance is forgotten, I am left with only fear, with only doubt as to why I would undertake such a foolish mission and question those who are clearly above even the ‘Gods’, above any fallacy we men would create.

                She continues: “You are born in the grave, and in that tomb there are no answers to ‘Why?’ That is not even a question we create. We make only the what. You live. You pass. If you wish to ask more, you must answer that yourself.”

                Transfixed before them, I am at a loss to find the anger that drove me, the anguish that burned me to pursue this inquiry. Looking into their eyes, I find no emotion, only judgement. Only death. I flee their gaze, and head back down the mountain, no wiser than before I came.

Patient Zero

Somewhere out there is the first woman to look mortality in the face and realize that this life is all there is.

We call her Patient Zero.

The disease spreads through humanity like wildfire, a contagious apathy deadlier than any cancer. Stripping away our illusions killed millions. How long had we told ourselves there was more? That beyond life lay heaven or... something. Alas the wool fell from our eyes, no more denying the void before us. The gaping mouth of death that led to empty bowels wherein our memories were digested and, in time, forgotten.

How could we face our children? Those who were once precious to our eyes now appeared as mere ambulatory hunks of flesh born into the grave. Another shovelful of dirt heaped atop them each day.

Even babies somehow understood, and stopped crying for their mothers. Some voice whispered that only time's short span separated them from Grandma's urn. We chose to die. Slowly humans receded like a morning tide. Realizing that all decisions lead to the same end, we accelerated the timeline. We subsided, until she came, preaching life, proclaiming freedom. A figure of hope draped in simple words, a humble sentiment. Among us she walked, chanting:

"So life is all there is, don't waste it!"

Everyone she touched, everyone who heard, returned to themselves. Her message spread like the plaugue before. Life is brief. Death, is but an end. This truth makes our time more valuable, not less.

So we go back to our lives. No safety net lies beneath us. All quixotic tilts at immortality end in failure.

And we are thankful for that.

We are thankful for her, any display of which she refuses. We try to lift her up, make her our God and she demurs.

"It would belie my point," She says. "We are our own now. This is Eden, the apple taken from us bite by bite each day."

So instead of God, or Prophet, or Queen...

Her name is Patient Zero.

 

Lovers in Purgatory

                It took countless generations for the two to recognize one another. In the different forms in which they came together, trapped in existence unending. One life they spent as mollusks jetting around the lightless ocean bottom, hooking their prey and feeding together, long sinewy bodies always touching. Another they spent as silent lichens, stretching the width of a redwood, slowly growing until the tree’s whole length was covered in their luminescent blue green. For the span of a decade they ran with a pack of wolves, the breeder alphas to whom the others ceded dominance. And then again as men, truckers always on the road together, hand on hand, sharing brief moments of passion in secret and then in the open as the world embraced their truth.

They always wondered, as they stole secret smiles, as they grew old together and died in each other’s arms, why it was they felt like they had been, and would be forever, one flesh.

                In the passage of centuries, their souls grew together. The sum became truth, the total replacing what were once separate parts.

                Not until they became light, born apart but each drawn towards the other over a gulf of two hundred Earths, through howling gaseous storms, did they realize and remember what they had been and for how long. How often and how wholly they consumed each other’s lives. They communicated, beyond language, above words…

                I know you.

                And I you.

                For how long?

                Forever.

                And for how long still?

                Forever, if you wish it.

                I do.

                I do too.

                And there, at the heart of a storm were they joined. Part of a gale that would never end. There they finally understood what they were, and where. Hell is others forced upon you. Heaven, the perfected and idealized realization of self. But Purgatory? Purgatory is life. And life, they pledged in the red, howling gusts, was all they ever needed. And thus, it was all they ever had.

Life and Death and the Mountain

                She always loved this weather.

                He sees her face in the clouds, hears her staccato laugh in the crunching leaves. In the snowcapped peak he ascends echoes a fair facsimile of her bosom. In the chill, chattering him to the bones, is a reflection of the sorrow he still feels at her loss. This was their mountain. This was where they fell in love.

                Darkness falls as he hikes, the sun having long left him behind for an overcast sky. Yet surefooted he remains. This was more home to them than any four walls and roof had been. Here they came to mourn their losses, to weep where no one could hear. Here they hiked to celebrate their successes, to crow at the wild, to feel invincible.

                Here they came, one fall morning just three years prior. When she stopped at a brook, tears rushing from her lids to match its current. When she turned to him, put his hand to her chest and said the words that would forever alter their lives. “Cancer… Bill, it’s cancer.”

                He tried to be strong, for her, for the memory of their son who just the year before her diagnosis had himself succumbed to illness (meningitis, in a week he went from hale to grave). He marched, wore the pink ribbons, gave to the right causes, squeezed her hand in the doctor’s office, held her as she wept, wept as she held him. But they were always each other’s pillars. As she eroded, slowly, then all at once, he too felt his own spirit ebb. When she entered the hospital for the final time, he felt shorn in two. When he got that dreaded call, the apex of his building grief, he faded as well. A painful memory that his friends and her family were unsure how to touch, and so he drifted apart from and into isolation.

                And so he comes to this mountain, again and again. To feel close to her and the people they once were.

                He stands on its peak, from here looking down on the clouds, down into the icy chasms and crevasses, down onto the trees that looked like green and brown dots. Even though it was dark, and the view was blocked by shadow and by fog, he knew the landscape like his own hand. Or, more aptly, like he knew the peaks of her smile, the valleys of her dimple cheeks. He closes her eyes, and for a second, she is there with him, squeezing his hand. For a second, he imagines jumping, hoping in the fall and impact and injury and probable death, he might feel something once more. Hoping he might return to her.

                A voice whispers. Not yet, Bill, not yet. I’ll be here, waiting for you when your time has come.

                “But Sue,” He sobs, in response to the fading memory.

                I need to let you live. And you need to let me go.

                “I love you, I love you,” He tells their mountain.

                And I… I love you. I always will.

                Her hand leaves his. The night swallows her presence. The man is once again alone. Though he sighs, though the tears freeze to his cheeks, for the first time in months a ghost’s smile haunts his lips.

                Small weight lifted, he descends.

Your New And Always Life

                Every night when you sleep, you do not sleep but die and wake in another universe. Look around you, what is there today that wasn't yesterday? The man slumbering in your grip stirs. Does he always sleep in your arms? Was it always he? You regard this stranger, scratch idly his dark hair, struggling to recall if their love is one you've always known. Their laugh one you always cherished.

                He wakes, and smiles, and for a while your doubt dissipates. Until morning passes into afternoon and your wandering mind returns to truth's quandary. Something has changed, something in the air. Is it crisper somehow, more fully autumn. The specter of yesterday haunts your memory. The difference always just eludes you, hiding on the fringe, a flitting shadow you cannot name.

                Night returns, and in bed, shadows writhing around you, you wonder what death will bring. You try to stay awake, to notice the moment of passing from one life to the next. To see if maybe then you notice the difference. But always, always, dream's siren call drags you down into fog, perhaps it is the worm hole that drags you from self to self. From life to life.

But from the fog you rise and wake, and wriggle your tentacles. You are as you always were. An amber eight-limbed creature, gliding through Europa's living sea. That breathes and beats beneath an ice shield, adrift in Jupiter's shadow.

Welcome my loves, it whispers. And in its warmth you feel embraced.

You look around you at the brimming life, the harmonious song, trying to spy what changed. You feel every follicle of life, every conscious strand joined in the melody. You sing-see around you, in the lightless sea. Where time passes with indifference, where there is no sleeping, no dying. Only this. The only life you've ever known.