thedirtthatfeedsyouMARGINS

I saw by bulbs before firelight,
tasted tap water before rainfall,
and heard sirens scream before the roars of beasts.

At the ripe age of twenty-four, an age where I should be thriving in the physical peak of my existence, I’m stuck. Instead of sprinting barefoot across miles of open grass and dirt I’m stuck in this concrete library, surrounded by thousands of books filled with millions of ideas. Every chance I get I come in here and flip page after page, scanning line after line, and yet all this seems to do is reinforce the surrounding walls.

It’s finally penetrating my thick k-through-twelve skull that I’m not going to find what I want in the text. What I’ve been seeking is in the margins. It’s within this raw space I’m going to lay out my upmost honest account of the past eight months―everything that led me to this ass-backwards way of thinking, the events which placed me in this prison.

DIM-WITTED CREATURES

Luminous particles of filth swirled through halogen beams. Functional cars whipped past my ear like ocean waves heard below the surface. I crouched to examine the front end of my 1984 RX-7. Blood and furry bits of entrails were splattered all across the hood. My bumper was cracked and partially detached, the left side pressing limp against the concrete. As my eyes scanned the scene my mind questioned―what kind of piece of shit dim-witted creature of the land runs into the middle of an active road?

Forty-odd feet beyond the rear of the car, resting on the white line dividing the shoulder from the freeway, I found the head. The eyes reflected my taillights, the shape was defined by headlights of oncoming traffic.

I retrieved my camera from my car, ran back, and brushed away pebbles and debris to make an even surface. I set the camera down and focused in on the animal’s glistening snout. It was a dog―looked like a black lab. By using an infrared remote I was able to snap a long exposure without touching the camera, therefore avoiding shake.

I returned to the car and suspended my bumper by rolling up a plastic grocery bag and tying it like a rope. I was on my way to work. I figured it’d be best to take surface streets the rest of the way.

Just south of Downtown, while crossing Fourteenth, I hit a fissure in the road and the bag gave out. I steered into the first legal spot I could find, dunked my credit card into the parking clock, and walked north on Grand in search of a more permanent fastening.

The sidewalk was lined with soot covered tree stumps jutting through archaic decorative ironwork. Tattered neon signs flickered above like memoirs of a snuffed era. This was a shithole neighborhood, the kind of place freeways were meant to step over. Having a camera around my neck no doubt made me a target for muggers, but I couldn’t dare leave it in the car. Mainly because it was a growing source of income for me―that and you could open the RX-7’s locks with a soda tab.

I grasped a plastic wrapped coil of polypropylene rope from the one shelf hardware section of a convenience store. As I waited for the OK to slide my credit card I started to wonder if polypropylene was a chemical or an element. Even though I could have searched it on my smartphone I didn’t really care ’cause it was cheap.

As I walked back to my car I noticed a bum camped out across the street. Naked feet stuck out from a plastic tarp hanging between two shopping carts. A defunct stage theatre stood tall in the background while florescent bright security lighting beamed down upon the makeshift shelter like film noir moonlight.
I steadied my camera on a newspaper stand, focused, and snapped the shutter. That one exposure was probably all I needed but I was afraid I’d be kicking myself later if I didn’t take full advantage of the spectacle. I ran across the street. The vagabond’s toes hadn’t budged a bit. I set the camera down a few feet in front of the feet, lay down, focused, and clicked.

Like I’d flipped an ON switch, the bum rose up and moved at me like a steamroller. My organs tensed as I grasped my camera and pushed off the sidewalk. The bum might have said something, but I just remember feeling the tension in his breath as he reached for me. His fingers clamped my camera and right hand like the jaws of an abused mutt. I balled my left hand into a fist, ripped the camera back, and swung a fat jab at his grimy garbage smothered face. My knuckles cracked into his chin. At this very moment a black and white rolled by, flicked the siren and lights, and cut across the double yellow.

At first I thought I was saved. Then I noticed the bum had dropped and was lying motionless. My heart raced. My ears went numb.

An officer burst from the passenger side door as I bolted around the back of the car towards an alleyway. As I ran I clenched my camera by its strap in one hand and ripped out my cell phone with the other. My eyes popped from the names on my contact list to the passage ahead. As I neared the next street I hit the S’s, slowed my scroll, and highlighted SYLVIA.

A bright light blasted me from behind. The officer barked, “Down on the ground!”

I rounded the corner and sprinted up the sidewalk towards a bike trail I’d once used when my car was in the shop. The black and white cut me off at the next intersection and blinded me with a spotlight while commands rumbled from a high decibel roof mounted loudspeaker. I ducked my gaze and ran.

My camera bashed against one of the metal posts designed to block road traffic from entering the bikeway. I threw the strap around my neck and shoulder and pressed CALL on the phone.

SYLVIA

I wasn’t much a of a runner at the time―I’d outrun cops before, for victimless crimes like hoping subway turnstiles―but I sure as hell didn’t wanna learn the cost of assaulting a hobo.

The phone bobbed against my ear, ringing repeatedly. Sylvia was the only legitimate person I knew living in Downtown. For whatever stupid reason she wasn’t effin’ answering.

As I raced up the bike trail I was honestly starting to fear the cops might have noticed my blood splattered car near the scene of the assault and maybe they’d assumed it was mine and dispatched a ghetto bird to fly in and spotlight me. I was wondering if I threw a punch strong enough to kill that guy. Probably he was acting―hoping to get a lawsuit out of my blunder. I just kept running to Sylvia’s and aimed to hide there whether she answered or not.

I leapt to grab hold of a thick tree branch reaching over the spiky black iron fence surrounding her building. I climbed up, settled on a massive limb, and sat still while fighting to restrain my panting. The cop rounded the corner swinging his flashlight in every dark corner along the way. As he passed under me a victory party erupted within my head. Then my cell phone emitted the most obnoxious tone I’ve ever heard it produce. Fuckin’ hell―it was a text.

The flashlight swung right at me. Again, I couldn’t see shit. I dropped to the front lawn and dove through the front doors of the ancient brick building.
Knowing the cop would come in asking if anyone saw a man run through there, I climbed the stairwell to the sixth floor in a brisk yet composed manner. I fought to calm myself as my eyes zoomed to the numbers 642 hanging on the door at the end of the hall.

Knocking playfully I used my every muscle to veil anxiety.

“Read my text,” said Sylvia through her door.

SYLVIA VARONA: WHAT DO YOU WANT? [8:17PM]

“I wanna see you.”

“Image search me.”

“I’ve got to talk to you babe. Serious.” I could now hear a police radio coming up the stairwell. I was questioning―why didn’t I just run down to the laundry room and stuff myself in a dryer? “I dream about you every effin’ time I blink, please.”

Sylvia opened the door and gave me a long dark stare. A smiled cracked and she said, “Gawd. I’m just fuckin’ around.”

She jammed a pet strength nail clipper in my face and clicked it millimeters from the tip of my nose. I slipped past her, weaving around immaculate modern furniture towards the windowsill.

“But seriously,” she continued, “don’t call me babe. It’s genderless. I’m a woman.”

She scooped up her cat and proceeded to trim its claws. I peeked out the window just in time to see the black and white coast to a stop in the alleyway.
“So what’s up,” she said, “I haven’t heard from you in like a week.”

“I’ve been working a lot.” A ceiling fan spun high above me. When I run and come to a complete stop I sweat like a wild beast unless there’s air blowing directly on me. Subtly I pressed my hands into my knees, opening my arms to avoid pit-stains.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, I was just in Downtown working on some photos. I thought I’d stop by.”

“Did you eat?”

“I can’t stay. I’m supposed to be at work―”

Sylvia’s phone chimed, her head dropped, and a giant wall mounted flatscreen stole my concentration. It was muted, displaying what appeared to be a docu-reality show about a charity organization that builds wheelchairs for amputee cats and dogs. I looked back to Sylvia and she was staring down at her phone.

I finished my sentence, “―like right now.”

“Sorry. What?”

“I can’t stay long.”

“What are you doing Saturday?”

“Working on photos.”

“My friend’s having this thing. We should go in the evening.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“I’m just not…in a position…for a committed relationship. I told you, it’s the worst time―”

“Still?” Her phone chimed. She fingered the screen with the grace of a concert pianist.

I stared at her, bemused with her attentiveness to that phone. She has these ash gray eyes, long dark hair, and her chest―the way her thin cotton shirt laid over her delicate braless breasts―it was like icing on fresh baked, cherry toped cupcakes, just waiting to be devoured. She was so entranced by that effin’ phone. I wanted to jump up, tear her clothes off, and wrestle her to the floor.

Her eyes popped up at me. Softy she said, “Andre. Are you not ready to date me?”

We’d dated up until a week before this. I was real into her and didn’t mind shelling out money the first few dates. Soon it was clear she wouldn’t sleep with me unless I was―her words―’officially her boyfriend.’ I could barely support myself financially, and I didn’t wanna be some weak bastard splitting the bill. The romance mutated into a friendship, then fizzled out in a debatable game of phone tag.

“Andre. Hello?”

“I can’t afford to be your boyfriend.”

She was silent.

“I just wanted to say hi.”

Still she was speechless, now staring at her cat.

I checked the window and the police cruiser was gone.

“Did you really dream about me?” she said. Her phone chimed, again diverting her attention.

Suddenly I remembered my car was at a meter which was well past expired. When I first got my car, two years prior, meters shut off at six. Now they run till ten and have little red lights that emit once you’ve abused your tenancy, thus increasing your chances of getting fined.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’m gunna be late for work.”

GRAVEYARD

The first hour of my shift was spent organizing and shelving pristinely packaged Styrofoam trays of rotting flesh from God knows where. I’d often poke at the shrink wrap just to see the blood shift through the meat, still it was hard to believe it was something once living.

I worked overnight stock at JBs Marketplace. If you’ve ever gone to the dollar theatre in Center City West you’ve most likely stopped in my store for cashback. Thirty-four JBs locations lie throughout Vertamont. Mine was one of two yet to be revamped.

Sometime after midnight I got to working alongside my pal Ben. Ben was the kind of guy the first time you met him you felt like you could totally relate, then at the end of the night when you saw what car he drove, you were thinking―why the hell is this guy working the same job as me? He explained it once, that his parents made him work so he could understand their wealth. I filled him in on everything that happened on my way to work, minus the dog I killed, and my using Sylvia’s apartment as a safe house. I pretty much just told him about the bum.

“I just can’t see you getting violent,” he said. “You’re so nice.”

“Really? I’ve had tons of attempted muggings and random attacks since moving here.”

“Attempted muggings?”

“Random scumbags tried to rob me and I either fought ‘em off, ran for my life, or talked my way out of it.”

“What?”

“This one time a guy came up to me while I was pulling out my money for the bus. I had headphones on, and it was morning so there were a bunch of people lined up to board the bus, and this random guy pushed me to the ground and tried to pull a dollar bill from my hand. I got up, put the money in my pocket, and chased him into the street. He turned around right in front of the bus and I started socking him in the face.”

“What did he look like?”

“He was kidda tubby. It was a couple years ago. He was possibly a bum but he didn’t have any bags with him. The best part was, because we were right in front of the bus, they weren’t able to move, so everyone on the bus just sat there watching. What made it even better is I was on my way to a job interview, so there I was in full suit and tie just hitting a man in the face. After a couple good jabs he was stunned. I walked back to the bus, paid the fare, and took a seat.”

“No shit? Did you get the job?”

“No. I made the mistake of telling the interviewer the story. I must have thought it’d make me look heroic, but half way through I realized I blew it.”

“What? You told them you hit a man in the face?”

“I always fuck up job interviews. That’s why I’m trying to break out and do my own thing.”

“Photo shoots with bums?”

“Stock photography. It’s everywhere, it’s gunna be huge.” I held up a cereal box and flipped it over. “See this? Someone’s making money off this.”

“How much?”

“Give or take, I make sixty bucks a month. You get paid per download. You get that one hit photo and you could make thousands.”

“Did you get the shot?”

I don’t know. I’ll have to check on the computer. My camera smashed into a post while I was running and now the damn thing won’t even turn on.”

“That fuckin’ sucks.”

Our supervisor, Misael, appeared at the end of the aisle. I thought for sure he was going to scold us for socializing. “Andre. Ben. Come with me,” he said.

We followed as he walked us through the stockroom and had us grab outgoing garbage bags. We exited the backdoor and walked to the dumpsters.

“My guess is he fell in from the ledge and broke his neck,” said Misael.

We leaned over the near empty dumpster to find a lifeless possum.

“In my opinion it couldn’t have found a better resting place,” he continued. “However, if the Health Board were to see a dead rodent within twenty yards of the building we’ll get a fine. I really need to stress that you close the lids, even if you’re coming right back out.”

“Got it,” said Ben.

“You could put a lock on it,” I said. “See this? A padlock fits here.”

As I tapped the side of the dumpster the possum let out a blistering hiss and jumped up, launching its gaping mouth at my hand. I leapt back.

“Grab a can of Raid,” said Misael to me.

I was frozen, staring at the beast’s failed attempts to climb the dumpster walls.

“Aisle twenty-two,” ordered Misael.

Still I stood in place.

“I got it,” said Ben.

Misael raised his hand, motioning for Ben to stay where he was. “Andre. Did you get a paycheck last week?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”

“Then do as I say.”

A moment later I returned with the glossy red canister.

“Kill it,” commanded Misael.

I fumbled with the cap.

“Give me this,” he said, ripping the can from my hands. He popped the top off and handed it back to me. “Go on, kill the varmint.”

As I sprayed the poison, the possum ran around the dumpster, repeatedly hitting the walls until it stuffed itself into a plastic produce bag.

“Grab it!” said Misael.

Ben leaned over the edge of the dumpster and grasped the opening of the bag. He lifted it to me and pulled the top open. The beast flailed its weight side to side but was unable to turn itself around.

Misael grabbed my forearm, jammed the nozzle of the spray into the bag, and said, “Finish him.”

I held my breath as I sprayed. A puddle of liquid collected at the bottom, submerging the possum’s head. The animal’s struggle evolved into series of uncontrollable convulsions. Ben twisted the bag shut and tossed the remains back in the dumpster.

“Problem solved. Thanks boys,” said Misael, starting back to the building.

My eyes locked on what appeared to be a soul fighting to penetrate the clear plastic bag. I stared at this until Ben threw a garbage bag on top of it. Suddenly I remembered that my front bumper was broken, and my camera wouldn’t turn on, and then all I could think about is how much it was going to cost to fix or replace these things.

SHUT IN

Two types of graffiti are found in the city. There’s artistic graffiti and there’s gangbanger graffiti. The distinguished―put out a message to the world kind, and the terse territorial kind. One is sort of pretty and the other looks like someone dipped their dick in paint and slapped it around a wall, or street sign, or a grocery store bathroom toilet seat. The dick dipped in paint kind, that’s what was in my neighborhood.

Hamilton Village was probably a really nice place to live―back before AK-47 assault rifles entered the black-market. I liked it because it was less than six miles from my work, I got a one bedroom for under a grand, and the building I lived in was built in the nineteen-teens.

My place really was kind of magical. After I unlocked, walked through, and re-locked the chain-link gate I’d feel as if I stepped back in time, especially at three-thirty A.M. Eight two-story wood bungalows were laid out in a U-shape around a grassy common area containing a picnic table and some old grills. Each bungalow was split into two identical one bedroom units―one on top, one on the bottom. Due to our landlord’s failure to hire gardeners, and to my delight, ragged trees and shrubbery engulfed the buildings.

A couple neighbors had only their deadbolt steel bared security doors closed with the front door open. Blue and white light flickered through closed blinds as the sound of recorded studio audience laughter floated out into the night air. Given my nocturnal schedule I rarely saw other tenants. I liked my privacy yet I found comfort in hearing these hints of life.

My unit was the top level of the first bungalow on the right. I threw my backpack down on a seventies era couch I’d found on the sidewalk and removed a frozen pizza. After setting the microwave and flattening the cardboard packaging I read through the ingredients. Words like sorbitan monostearate, rennet casein, potassium chloride, titanium dioxide, palmitate, and sodium nitrate weren’t taught in any of the schools I’d attended, but it didn’t faze me in light of the meal’s convenience.

After removing all my clothing I started the shower. It’s not illegal to be naked in my apartment but I can be arrested if someone can see my ass, cock, or balls from outside. For this reason all of my windows were covered with wax paper. Once the water reached a womb-like temperature I stepped under the spray. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it’s pumped in from another state. Questions of its origin dissolved as I sunk into a blissful state of infancy.

As I cut off the water the throbbing pulse of the ghetto bird assailed my ear drums. Judging by the constant drum it was hovering in place―they were looking for someone.

My pizza had cooled to a mouthable heat. I placed it on my desk, between the keyboard and my torso. Wishfully I flicked the power switch on my camera back and forth. It was still dead. I removed the SD card and slipped it into my computer. As I waited for the images to load I shoveled gooey slabs of grub down my throat and thought about my finances.

Back before I worked my shitty grocery store job I made a killing as a freelance photo retoucher. I worked mostly with a product photographer who’d shoot hundreds of photos for catalogs and websites and pass them on to me so I could make ’em shine. I was pulling in anywhere from $500 to $700 a week. One day while sitting―polishing megapixels at my desk―this pain in my ass emerged. It just sort of came out of nowhere, without warning, and it hurt like all hell. I ignored it, hoping it would go away, but it lingered and occasionally stretched down my thighs to my knees and calves. I started thinking it could be prostate cancer, or colon cancer, hemorrhoids, or a bladder infection, or maybe an effin’ STD. As much as I hated to spend the money I finally caved and saw a doctor. I took every test possible and they told me it was nothing, that I just needed to relax, and then charged me $100 and prescribed me pain killers. How could I effin’ relax when I had a literal pain in the ass? Most nights after work I’d go home prop my feet up on a table and massage my knees while streaming movies online and stuffing my face with frozen dinners. The pain remained. I saw other doctors and got multiple opinions and they all said I was fine. It wasn’t just in my head―I was sure of that―I had real physical pain. The medical bills dug at my paychecks, as I was freelance, void of insurance. I used my pro image manipulation skills to fake prescriptions―and ultimately found someone to sell me pills illegally―but it was too late, I’d accumulated a mountain of debt. Ultimately I convinced myself that sitting wasn’t natural. I mean, it’s a hard concept to conceive, but really, sitting in a chair isn’t an innate thing to do. I gave up my $30K+ retoucher job to find labor work. That way I’d get off my ass, and eventually receive health benefits. It wasn’t exactly my top choice but soon my credit line nearly ran out and I had to take the overnight stock job or face homelessness. At JBs you have to work six months before you’re eligible for health insurance. I was only three weeks into that. The pain seemed to be lessening but it’d always return in full effect the moment I sat down to edit photos.

The shots of the bum were out of focus―completely unusable. I zoomed in and out of the image of the dog’s dismembered head. The composition, focus, and light were immaculate, yet I couldn’t imagine there’d be a market for the shot.

As I contemplated uploading the photo a rattling glass windowpane stole my interest. The ghetto bird was now circling low above my block and for a millisecond the xenon beam of the Nightsun searchlight swept past my wax paper, overpowering my interior lights. On every loop the thrust from the blades would shake a windowpane I’d have otherwise never known was loose.

My run from the cops earlier in the night had somehow left me feeling energized and I was really considering going down to the park to jog. I was picking out clothing to wear and everything when I remembered they give afterhours fines between sunset and sunrise. Even though Hamilton Village has one of the highest homicide rates in Vertamont, and I’ve heard occasional gunfire―and at that very moment police were possibly searching for a armed murder―I was honestly more afraid of receiving that $350 fine than getting shot in the face.

I sat down on my couch and pulled a parking ticket from my pocket. It was this fear of receiving another city fine that led me to realize my every move was motivated by money. It possibly started to occur to me before that night―but it was definitely the night I killed the dog, and punched that bum, and told Sylvia I couldn’t afford to be a boyfriend that I fully realized I hated where my life was heading.

I pushed my keyboard to the side and grasped a credit card offer envelope. I flipped it over and began writing out a list. Methodically I wrote out every one of my monthly expenses without rounding off. My cell phone bill was $76.42. I averaged spending $107.84 on gas a month. My car insurance $89.99, gym $32.99, internet bill $29.99, about $60 interest on my credit line, food and groceries came to around $202.76, and rent plus utilities was about $960 a month. I got paid $12.50 an hour and usually worked six hour nights, $75 a day, five days a week, $375, that’s $1500 a month, plus an average of $60 from my stock photos: $1560.

I was paying out $1559.99 of my $1560 a month earnings. That’s why I couldn’t date, eat out, or buy a drink at a bar without getting neurosis. The math was there, but it didn’t make sense. I’d been working since I was twelve years old, almost half my entire life, and now I could only hope to put away a penny a month―and even if I sold all of my possessions I’d still be in debt.

I felt so hopeless. I picked up this plastic flower Sylvia had made me. The first night we went out we were at this café and she bent her straw into a flower. The girl was an all around artist. She’d sketch clothing designs, make paintings―that’s what she was going to school for, design. She was always doing little stuff like the straw, the girl could literally turn garbage into art.

For a minute I turned the plastic flower over in my hand, thinking of ways I could supplement my income. Everything I came up with would only mean less free time. And time, well, I value time more than money. So it was this clear: my best chance at sanity, a successful love life, and saving up for a new camera would come through reducing the expenses on my list.

UNSPLICED PROPERTIES

Legally we weren’t allowed to take home expired foods. Because an ex-JBs employee sued the store after getting sick off past due mayonnaise, all expired items were to be placed on a rolling rack and disposed of. I started volunteering to handle that task, and as long as I was crafty about it, I could pick out items I wanted before they mixed with other waste. My choice foods went in a separate garbage bag and as long as no one was around, I’d run and throw it in the hatchback of my car.

Once I arrived home with the bags I’d thoroughly deem what I felt eatable and what would become compost. Inside my apartment an additional project was budding. I’d taken home a plethora of cardboard boxes and filled them with dirt from the backside of my bungalow. Most of the boxes fit on my balcony, some I kept inside near the windows. A lot of the potatoes I’d bring home were already growing eyes. I’d take these and other decaying vegetables and stuff them down into the soil.

As I awaited the growth of produce I cut back on even more spending. I stopped buying milk and replaced it with water. From my research I found toothpaste was practically unnecessary so I quit purchasing that as well. The spare tire in back of my RX-7 was flat―possibly used by a previous owner―I removed that, the jack, tire iron, and various junk to attain better gas millage. I cooked all of my meals from scratch and packed leftovers to take to work.

Weeks after creating the expense list I was eating for less than $4 dollars a day, but that amount I aimed to cut in half.

The Friday night before Memorial Day Miseal sent me to the storefront to help Phil―one of the lifer stock workers―with a display. He was stacking red, white, and blue soda cans with a grabber tool.

“How’s it goin’?” I said.

“Only four years three months till retirement,” replied Phil, “I can’t complain.”

Any other night I might have dug at him, trying to piece together how exactly he ended up middle-aged working a shit job like overnight stock, but I was absolutely mesmerized by the grabber device he was using. I’d never seen it before. It was simple, on one end was a handle you’d squeeze to tighten two rubber suction cups about three feet away on the other end.

Phil stacked, I straightened the labels, and he spoke about retirement plans of exploring Central America. At the end of our shift I took the initiative in cleaning up and was able to borrow the grabber by hiding it between flattened boxes.

When I got home, I changed into dark clothing and emptied my backpack. I carried my bike downstairs and quietly exited the back gate into the alleyway. Clenching the grabber tool and handle bars together I rode north into Franklin Hills.

Franklin Hills is a bit more affluent than Hamilton Village. Legend has it, my part of the city use to be nothing but fruit orchards. I imagine the orchards were all sectioned off and sold for the development of housing at a point in time when the property became more valuable than the product it produced. Soon those yards were divided up even more into tiny rectangles for homes and apartment structures. The only remaining fruit trees dotted the bigger unspliced properties.

Branches of a big fat lemon tree hung over a small patch of grass by a garage. I threw my bike down and started plucking with the grabber. About a dozen lemons into my harvest a light flicked on. I’m not sure if I triggered a motion sensor or if someone was really there but without hesitation I moved onward.

Along Allenwood Drive I picked a surplus of kumquats. It blew my mind to think these foods were just sitting there, unconsumed.

An avocado tree hung over a fence in an alleyway. I propped my bike up on the fence and stood with one foot on the frame and one wedged in the chain linking. I was making out good and beginning to wonder if my backpack was strong enough to hold all the weight.

Out of the darkness a vicious mutt came flying at me, growling its head off, and jumped up against my legs. Slobber drizzled on my shoelaces as the beast turned its head sideways trying to bite my shoe. I pulled my foot away and clenched the grabber tight to an avocado in an attempt to sustain balance. It didn’t hold. The contents of my backpack broke my fall as I plummeted backwards to the hard pavement.

As I shook off the impact and began to rise to my feet I faintly heard a woman’s voice through the mutt’s repetitive barks. “Get ‘is picture,” she said.

I stood up and was blasted and blinded by a camera flash. I ducked and kept my face low as I lifted my bike. Little white and blue dots bounced before my eyes, throbbing with my gaze.

“Stay the hell outta my property!” shouted a man’s voice. “I’m sending this to the police!”

Franticly I ran, pushing the bike, and jumped to saddle up.

As I glided downhill to my place I wondered what he’d really do with the picture. He didn’t know my name or where I lived or anything about me. He must have just done it to scare me off. Still it bothered me knowing he had captured my image in vain. I started to fear what could happen if he did take it to the authorities. If the police found me and the man tried to sue me I’d just tell them I was meeting my needs. From what I’ve read it’s legal to take fruit from trees as long as it hangs over onto public property. Sure I might have over stepped that boundary a little but those rich bastards never pluck all their fruit anyway. The trees are just a decoration to them.

SELKIE

According to a widget on my computer’s desktop it was supposed to rain on Memorial Day. I devoted the preceding Saturday to developing a rainwater system for my plants. By cutting holes in my bungalow’s gutter pipes I was able to run hoses straight into the dirt filled cardboard boxes.

While shifting soil around, trying carefully not to destroy the root structure, I found myself intoxicated by the musky stench of tomato leaves. It’s fascinating―the fact that the sun beams down and triggers some tiny seed to erupt, and that somehow commands the elements to form into food. It’s like sex.

My phone chimed.

SYLVIA VARONA: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? [9:43PM]

I pondered my response while finishing the box I was working on.

ME: TENDING TO MY GARDEN. [9:49PM]

SYLVIA VARONA: IM SO SAD. [9:49PM]

ME: WHY? ARE YOU OKAY? [9:50PM]

SYLVIA VARONA: SELKIE GOT OUT. [9:50PM]

Selkie, her cat, she was damn obsessed with the creature.

SYLVIA VARONA: CAN YOU COME OVER? [9:51PM]

Still feeling guilty for using her apartment as a safe-house I was eager to pay her a favor.

I jumped in my RX-7, drove to Downtown, found legal parking, and walked up to greet her. She promptly insisted we drive around looking for Selkie in her SUV. I accepted as I could see she was quite distraught.

She cranked the AC and we proceeded to scour the block.

“How’d she get out?”

“The stupid oven burned my quiche so I opened the window to like let the smell out, and I forgot about it, and she was just gone. She must of climbed down the fire escape.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. She wasn’t on the ledge. Maybe she jumped.”

“Did you check the alleyway?”

“Of course.”

My eyes rapidly scanned the sidewalk outside as Sylvia poked me in the arm with her smartphone.
“Look up what to do when you’ve lost a cat.”

“We’re doing what we need to do.”

“Please, I don’t wanna argue right now.”

“I don’t need to look it up. We could hang posters―or go to a shelter―I mean, don’t you think we’d have a better chance on foot?”

“Cats are swift. She could be miles from here. We need a flashlight. Go to my flashlight app.”

I pretended to finger the phone. “Does she have a chip?”

“Of course. Look up the nearest shelter.”

“There’s one on Grand.”

“Put in the address.” She pulled up the GPS on the dashboard monitor.

“It’s at Grand and Fourteenth.”

“Andre.”

“What? By the time I type it on this damn screen we’ll be there.”

I rolled down my window and stuck my head out to look down at the street and curb.

“I have the air on. Andre. The air’s on.”

“I can see better like this.”

“Andre. Please.”

Reluctantly I rolled it back up.

While directing her to the animal shelter and pretending to enter the cross streets into her phone, I internally decided upon reasons why I could never be in a relationship with her: she was too reliant on technology, she was too wealthy, and she absolutely despised open air.

We arrived outside the shelter which was clearly closed.

“Call and check,” she said.

I dialed the number on their website and waited a few rings.

“It’s just ringing. Wouldn’t it be best if we went back to your place? If someone finds her they might bring her by.”

“No one knows she’s my cat.”

“If you’re home and she comes home at least you’ll be there to let her in.”

Sylvia turned the SUV around and we made our way back to her place.

“Look up if you can track a cat through its chip.”

“I don’t think you can, I think it’s just for information.”

“We need one of those thermal things the police use. Look up how much those cost.”

I was silent, pretending to conduct searches on her phone for the rest of the drive.

We took the elevator from her garage up to her floor and I don’t think she caught one breath of fresh air. I didn’t wanna leave on a bad note so I hung out for a bit. She sat down on the couch, scanning her phone, while I paced around.

“She’ll turn up. She’s an animal, she probably just got tired of being indoors,” I said.

“It’s not good for cats to be outside. They get hit by cars, or they have kittens and the little babies get run over.”

She continued to thumb her phone. It was a big change for me to see Sylvia this way. She was always so cared for. Her parents bought her that glossy SUV, they’re paying for her school, and they pay her rent. I kinda liked the fact that she seemed to actually need someone.

“How’s class?” She was silent. “Did you have classes today?”

“Hold on one sec. I’m reading this.”

“Where’s your phonebook? I can help.”

“I’m not looking up shelters. I’m sending an email.”

She was hypnotized by that effin’ phone. I wanted to rip it out of her hands and crack it in half. I don’t know if it was all the raw vegetables I’d been eating, but I was really starting to think clearer. I could hardly comprehend why she was obsessing over a beast of the land that she’d held captive and now it’d escaped. I wanted to show her real companionship.

“Sylvia,” I said in my smoothest way, sitting down on the couch next to her so our legs barely touched. “Everything will be okay.”

I steered my lips into hers and ran my hand down her arm, gently pushing the phone away. My head swelled with blood and my ears got all warm. We kept kissing. I could tell she was enjoying it because she moved her hands up around my shoulders and neck. I pushed her hair out of her face and gently grabbed the back of her head. Her phone chimed and I pushed her shoulders down to the cushions. She pushed me away and the enormity of the room sparked to consciousness.

“I can’t. I’ve got to take care of this,” she said.

“It’s a fuckin’ cat!”

“She’s doh-mess-ta-cated. She has no food―She’ll die.”

“Cats catch mice and stuff.”

“She’s declawed.” Sylvia stared through me like I was some brainless cretin and added, “Gawd.”

I knew if I stayed another minute I would have lost my effin’ mind or offended her further. “I’m tired. I’m going home.” With that I walked out the door.

The farewell came automatically, but really I wasn’t the least bit sleepy. During the walk to my car I drew long gaping breaths of night air into my lungs. I was feeling vibrant as ever. I’m certain it was my simple diet and simplifying of needs. I slapped my hands against passing tree trunks and gave hi-fives to leaves.

It was after one when I returned home. I spent a couple hours completing work on the rainwater system. My hands were filthy from digging in the dirt. Before passing out I started up the shower and began grooming myself. Ben was having a party the following night and I wanted to look impressive to any new females I might encounter. I shaved my jaw line, upper lip, and unibrow with an electric razor. I buzzed my chest, pits, and pubic region.

With premade plastic floss picks I cleaned between my teeth. While standing under the incubation-like stream of chlorine rich water I picked dirt from underneath my nails. Though a sufficient amount of white had grown at their ends, I decided not to clip them.

LETS GET WASTED

Instead of driving around looking for the best spot available I parked on an open tree lined street a block from Ben’s place. I brought a homemade bottle of limoncello which grew frosty in the humid air. High in the post-twilight sky I could make out a wall of dark looming clouds. This warm anxious energy melted through me. I walked slowly to avoid showing up all sweaty, staring in admiration at the bubbling cloudscape.

“Andre!” shouted Ben across the packed living room.

“Heyo!” I held up the limoncello and said, “This is for everyone.”

Ben snatched it out of my hand. “What the fuck is this? A bottle of piss?”
“I made it.”

“You brought moonshine! Daps. Is this even legal?”

“Fuck no! Plus it’s stronger and cleaner than that watered down shit in the store. I plucked the lemons myself.”
“Plucked,” he repeated as if I’d misused the word. “You’re a fuckin’ nutcase.” He addressed the girls around him: “Kristin you want a shot? Yes. Megan? I’ll grab some cups.”

He pulled us over to a bar that separated the kitchen from the living room and poured shot-sized portions into big red plastic cups.

“Okay,” said Ben, “ready?”

“Wait. We need a cheers,” said Megan: round face, cropped platinum blonde hair, pink leopard print press-on nails.

“Do you guys know Toast Genie?” said Ben, retrieving his phone from his pocket. “It’s an app that randomly generates toasts. Hang on.”

“You made this?” said Kristen: highlit brown hair, dark roots, teeth white as Chiclets.

I nodded.

Kristen continued, “So random. I gotta get a picture.”

“Got one,” said Ben, raising his cup with one hand, holding the phone with the other. “Drunk is feeling sophisticated when you―shit, it fell asleep.” He tapped the screen and read again, “Drunk is feeling sophisticated when you can’t say it!”

Kristen and Megan screamed, I howled, and we all downed our shots.

“Dude you look healthy,” said Ben to me.

“Yeah? I’ve been doing a lot of biking. I’m actually thinking about starting to bike to work.”
“What do you have a death wish?” said Ben. “That’s suicide.”

“You know, it’s actually healthier to drive with your windows up than it is to bike,” said Kristen. “They did a study and they found that although you’re getting a good physical workout by biking, you end up inhaling in so much exhaust that your lungs in fact grow weaker.”

“Omaigod I hate when bicyclists ride in the road―sorry,” said Megan, bowing her head to me.
“I gotta buzz someone in,” said Ben, starting to the door.

I turned and noticed an elliptical machine in the corner of the apartment. It was facing a flatscreen the size of a windshield. Someone had set it to display time-lapses of city life. Images of nighttime freeway traffic and people getting on and off subway trains flashed across tiny diodes, giving the effect that everything in the apartment was happening at a slower pace than reality. I turned back around to find the girls had meshed into the crowd.

Embarrassment surged as my detachment from the pack grew self-evident. Swiftly I stepped to the food table, swiped a tortilla chip, and scooped it into runny salsa before cramming it in my mouth. The chip crumbled like a withered leaf against my tongue.

My eyes shifted around the room. I didn’t know anyone aside from Ben, and I’d only known him for three weeks. At the edge of the living room, near a sliding glass door that lead to a balcony, I found―judging purely by her backside―a gorgeous girl who was fingering the touchpad of a laptop attached to the sound system.

“They got anything good?” I said, approaching her.

“You don’t like trip-hop?” said the girl.

“Electronic music is an oxymoron.”

“That’s what I say!” She turned, smiled, and added, “I’m Emma.”

We clasped hands and her flesh seemed to cling to mine as it was exceptionally ripe.

“Andre,” I said, flicking my eyes up to meet hers.

Emma: immense algae green eyes, light brown unaltered hair flowing nearly two mystifying feet, and skin bronze like the hue of wet sand. I nearly choked on a surge of endorphins.

“Here,” she said, turning to the laptop. “You can have a look, I’m done searching.”

“I don’t think I could spend another second staring at an LCD screen, knowing eyes like yours exist.”

She smirked and rolled her eyes. I couldn’t tell if I overwhelmed her or annoyed her so I quickly cut the silence by saying, “How do you know Ben…or Hakeem?”

“How do you know Ben or Hakeem?”

“I know Ben―”

“You go to VU?”

“No. I work.”

“What kind of work?”

“I work at JBs.”
“You work at a grocery store?”

“It’s not exactly my passion or anything―”

“That is so cool.”

Again I couldn’t read her. Maybe she actually thought what I did was interesting, but I felt more like she was now looking at me like she thought I was slow in the damn head.

“It’s just a job-job. In my free time I do a lot of photography.”

“Nice. I don’t know Ben or Hakeem, I came with my roommate.” She pointed to Megan, who was standing with Ben, Kristen and a couple other people I’d yet to meet. Their attention was all focused on a glowing smartphone in Ben’s grasp. “She knows them from VU.”

Megan caught Emma’s gesture across the crowd and shouted, “Emma!” She started waving her over like she’d found a pot of gold.

I didn’t wanna seem too keen so I said something like, “Pleasure meeting you,” and cut off to the kitchen.
The kitchen counter tops were lined with all kinds of mini-machines for blending, brewing, broiling, and concocting pretty much any kind of food or beverage you might want to concoct. I pulled a beer bottle from a cooler and instinctively jerked my thumb around the cap. My flesh nearly ripped open when it didn’t budge.
“You got a bottle opener?” I said to the nearest body.

“It’s around,” said this guy next to me. He picked up a piece of paper―looked like some junk mail―and rapidly folded it up tight. “Here,” he said seizing my bottle. He placed the paper against the underside of the cap, slammed the base of his palm into it, and POP. The cap came clean off and he handed the beer back to me.

“Oh shit. I’m Andre by the way.”

“Hakeem.”

“Oh, Ben’s roommate. Law student, right?”

“Graduated last month.”

“Okay. I have a question for you.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“Well, a couple weeks ago I was riding the subway, and I was sitting in the car eating some takeout. The Metro Police walked into my car at one of the stops and wrote me a fine for eating on the subway―”

“Is it posted…that you’re not permitted to eat?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s nothing you can do―”

“Yes, yes―I paid the fine. It’s now cleared, but what I really want to know is if you can sue the city…for something like that. I don’t see how they can stop you from eating. I mean, we need to eat to live.”

“Yes, but you were using a city service. The real question is: do you need to ride the subway to live?”

I thought about what he said and zoned out as I noticed Emma and some other girls on the dance floor. I was melting over the knowledge of Emma’s existence. She was wearing knee-highs and a short skirt and there was this precious millimeter gap of bare skin in between the fabrics.

Hakeem and I downed a couple more beers, chatted about our backgrounds, and bonded over a common desire to rid ourselves of debt. Soon I was filled with a plastered state of poise. When a song without words hit the speakers, and the girls pulled out their phones as if to yawn, I moved in to sweep Emma off her feet.

“This is a bad influence,” I said, referring to her phone, while grabbing her by the arm to pull her back onto the makeshift dance floor.

As we danced I moved my mouth to her ear and asked what was on her nightstand, her favorite fruit, and the first thing she washes in the shower. Her response: a framed picture of a baobab tree, bananas, and her freckles. She asked me what my favorite baseball team was and when I told her I didn’t watch sports―that I preferred to play. She then revealed it was a test. She said sports make her vomit.

As we spun I noticed a time-lapse sequence of people entering a baseball stadium on the flatscreen. She grasped my hand and jerked my arm, pulling my attention away from the screen and said, “That’s a bad influence.”
“I know,” I said. “I have a growing frustration with technology.”

“What?”

The way she responded I started to think I’d heard her initial comment wrong. I gestured to the TV. “Technology. Don’t you find it limiting?”

Behind Emma, through the sliding glass door, I saw the sky flash white and flicker purple.

“Did you see that?” I said.
The lights quivered.

“What?”

Thunder rumbled.

“Lighting.”

She turned to look and her shoe buckled. She fell to the floor.

“Whoa. Party foul.” said Ben, reaching a hand out and pulling her to her feet.

“Thanks,” said Emma.

“We’re about to smoke, you wanna join?” said Ben, to Emma.

“Sure,” she replied.

Even though the invite wasn’t directed at me I knew I was welcome. I followed Ben, Emma, and a few others down the hallway at a distance, trying not to look too desperate for Emma’s attention. My phone chimed.

BEN GREENE: DIBS [11:28PM]

I looked up from the phone and Ben was looking back at me. When our eyes met he looked away and wrapped his arm around Emma’s waist. The prick actually thought he could claim a chick over text.

CIRCLE OF DEATH

Sheets of rain slapped the window as muffled drops pounded the roof. Dim blue and yellow lights colored Ben’s room. Everyone was off in their own mini-conversations but I was sulking over Ben’s idiocy.

“Is it raining?” said Megan.

“Yeah,” said Ben holding up his phone, “says so on here.”

I was thinking about how much of a tech-d-bag Ben was when a high pitched squeak tickled my ear. I turned to Kristen and said, “Are you doing that?”

“No that’s Tesla,” she said. I noticed a clear plastic cage behind her. “It’s Ben’s hamster.”
She opened the cage and pulled the beast out.

Someone passed me the joint and I took a shallow drag. I didn’t wanna start coughing and embarrass myself.
“Tesla,” I said on the exhale.

“You haven’t seen this? The hamster wheel, it’s rigged to a light, when he runs on the wheel the whole cage lights up.”

I held the joint out to her.

“Here take him,” she said.

I cupped the hamster in my hands. It was looking right at me with its tiny black eyes. “It’s so domesticated,” I said. “Not like the hamster I had as a kid.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s all calm and happy to be held. It’s not the least bit hyper or trying run away.”

“Maybe it was trained?”

“How long do they live?”

“I don’t know, a couple years.”

“Hey Ben, how long do hamsters live?”

He had just taken his drag and started coughing like crazy.

“Isn’t it like six years,” said Tim.

“Five,” said Ben mid cough. He already had Emma’s damn beautiful hands wrapped around him.

Kristen got Tesla to run on the wheel and everyone exploded with excitement as the cage lit up like an arcade. I hung out long enough to take one more hit. As I waited, everyone else in the room pulled out their phones and cameras to be sure to capture the hamster’s shining moment for eternity. Emma expressed that she wished she’d brought her camera and Ben set up a mobile hotspot so he could share his photos with her and anyone else void of image capturing equipment. I didn’t even care that my camera was broken. I feared for these people obsessing over the memory of an event that was still in progress.

Before I finished inhaling my second hit I realized I’d smoked too much. My mind was already falling out of my control. Discreetly I slipped out of the room.

On my walk to the kitchen I thought about how Emma was probably thinking that I wasn’t interested in her because I backed off. Dumb move. I thought she was probably flirting with Ben and I both because she wanted to see us fight over her. I didn’t wanna have to fight over her. If she wanted me she should talk to me, if she wanted him she should talk to him. She was talking to him. I was foolish to even think she would be into me anyway. She was hot as hell and she knew how shitty of a job I had. I mean, Ben worked the same job but he was going to college so it was just something he did to make his parents happy. For me it was an effin’ livelihood. I’m sure she’d already estimated how little money I was paid. Of course she was going to hook up with Ben, it was his apartment. I couldn’t even take her home if she wanted me to, I was wasted as fuck.

In the kitchen I poured filtered water into a plastic party cup, gulped it down, and watched as a couch full of party people toyed with their phones in the living room. Beyond them the flatscreen displayed footage of undefined clouds rapidly morphing and passing over unmoved skyscrapers. I hadn’t smoked in months. The weed was hitting me real hard. The water tasted amazing. I felt it running through my entire system. I could feel all the little muscles and tendons of my body shifting with every move I made. I wanted to be outside, in nature, running at full speed through a moonlit meadow.

I approached the food table and eavesdropped as a guy showed some girl pictures on his phone.

“This one I rescued a month ago,” said the Phone Guy, “she was just running around outside, no collar or anything.”

“You rescued her yourself. Oh wow,” said Phone Guy’s friend.

Phone Guy picked a chocolate covered peanut from a bowl of party mix and shoved the phone at his friend. “This is Babe, bought him this week.”

“Pit bull?”

“I purposely got him purebred.” Phone Guy paused, meticulously selected another chocolate peanut from the giant bowl of mixed munchies, and continued, “I wanna raise him right and change people’s perceptions of the breed.” He tossed the candy into his mouth. “Peanut M&Ms―fuckin’ genius.”

As the weed tightened its grip the party started to feel like some sort of prison simulation. All windows and doors were sealed tight. The air conditioner was on full blast. I couldn’t believe this was people’s idea of a good time, just boxing themselves into a tiny apartment for an entire evening. I had to start talking to someone before I sunk to an inescapable state of paranoia.

I walked down the hall to the bathroom and found Hakeem waiting in line with a cute girl.

“Hey Andre. This is Nora, my girlfriend.”

I grasped her hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” she said.

“Can I ask you guys something?”

I remember seeing Hakeem’s face accept the question.

“Yes. Of course,” he said.

“If an animal only lives for five years…does that mean it evolves at a faster rate?”
“Makes sense. A quicker life span, quicker evolution,” said Nora.

“Sure,” added Hakeem.

“Like dogs,” I continued. “A couple thousand years ago dogs were ruthless killing machines and now they wouldn’t survive a month without a human’s helping hand. They’ve basically evolved to be dependent.”
Hakeem laughed.

“Serious, like they’ve given up freewill,” I added.

The bathroom door opened and Nora slipped in.

“Eh―It may seem that way, but dogs still do whatever they want. You see ‘em running up and humping each other all the time.”

“True. Yes. But first the dog would have to escape a house. The homes in which these modern day dogs reside are completely alien to their nature. Dogs living in homes built by man. Doors made by man hands for man hands.”
The bathroom door opened.

“Hold that thought. I gotta piss,” said Hakeem.

He walked into the bathroom and I stood there making small talk with Nora. I don’t remember a word I said to her. I was so paranoid that Hakeem might think I was insane. The thought of the exchange was digging me into a deeper state of paranoia. The weed was came on stronger. I felt tingly all over. Nora looked adorable. I was jealous. I started to fear that Hakeem might think I was making a pass at his girlfriend. Slowly I shifted my body away from her―trying hard not to make it seem awkward. At last Hakeem emerged from the bathroom.

I jumped in and shut and locked the door. Inside there was this still sense of security like being in a bomb shelter during a raid. I looked in the mirror. What the hell was I doing? I needed to make a move on Emma or the whole night would be a waste. After I took this leak I had to make a grand entrance back into that room and charm the hell out of her. My bladder started to empty out real slow, then it built into this long steady train of piss. It was the train that you get stuck in front of when you’re late for work and it just keeps coming and coming. I could picture a big line of people building up outside the door. Someone knocked. “I’m taking a leak,” I shouted in a thug voice. I must have pissed two gallons of urine. Goddamn it felt good. That was some strong weed. I flushed and debated whether I should put the seat down or leave it up. If it was a girl waiting outside she might think I was a gentleman for putting it down. Then again she might think I was a bitch if I put it down. I decided to leave it up and just bolt out of there but then I noticed a dribble of urine on the edge of the rim. I figured I should wipe it up in case it was a girl waiting to get in the bathroom because she might think I had a small dick that had dribbled on the rim of the toilet―which truly wasn’t the case. I ripped off a swatch of toilet paper, wiped up the dribble, and threw it in the toilet. Then I panicked. I thought a girl would then wonder why there was toilet paper in the bowl. I mean, it’s not like guys wipe their dicks off after they pee. So I almost flushed it and then I realized that if I flushed again the person waiting outside might think I took a massive shit that I had to flush twice just to get rid of the debris. I reached in super quick and pulled the wet toilet paper out and stuffed it down the side of the trashcan. I washed my hands quick and intensely. The hot water felt orgasmic. The person knocked again and tried to twist the door knob. I shouted, “I’m coming,” and whispered, “on your face.”

I opened the door. It was Emma. “It’s you,” she said.

I pulled her into the bathroom and pressed her up against the door, closing it with her body weight. I leaned down and kissed her on the mouth. Every individual nerve ending of my tongue illuminated. We retracted and stared each other in the eye.

She smashed her lips into mine and pushed me up against the sink.

She slid her mouth to my ear and whispered, “Wait for me.”

I opened the door enough to squeeze out and found a few people lined up. I was kinda pacing around and spacing out like crazy. Reproductive desires saturated my innards. Of course I was going to wait for this chick but I didn’t exactly understand what she meant.

I played with buttons on the apartment’s climate control panel until I figured out how to turn the temperature to ninety-ninety degrees. Emma emerged from the bathroom. She walked up to me, put her hand on my chest, and said “I like this shirt.”

“It likes you.”

“Dork.”

She grabbed my hand and pulled it towards her stomach. She massaged the palm with her thumbs and then she started running her fingers up and down my pinky like she was stroking a cock. I didn’t know if I was imagining it. Really, still to this day I don’t know if it really happened. But I was convinced she was trying to tell me she wanted to give me a hand job. My heart pounded like mad.

“I go crazy when I smoke. I don’t like doing it and sitting around. If I smoke I wanna get out and run, and jump, and swim…”

“You wanna go? Go, I’ll follow.”

I walked through the living room towards the door. I reached for the doorknob and Emma said, “I gotta grab my coat.”

“I got it,” I said, starting to the kitchen table.

Her coat was on the back of a chair. Ben, Kristen, Megan, Phone Guy and a couple other people were fully immersed in a game of Circle of Death. It was Ben’s turn to draw but he couldn’t lift the card off the wooden table. It was lying in a puddle of spilt beer.

“Pick another card,” said Phone Guy.

“No. I want this one,” said Ben.

The card just slipped around, suctioned to the flat wet surface.

“Here, I’ve got nails,” said Megan. She tried to lift the card but her fake nails were too thick to get under it.

“There should be an X-Ray app,” said Phone Guy.

“Hells yes! Let’s get on that,” said Ben.

I tucked Emma’s coat into my armpit, reached in, lifted the card with my overgrown nails, and flipped it over. It was a ten.

“Categories,” said Kristen and Megan simultaneously.

“You pick it,” said Megan to me.

Everyone’s eyes turned to me.

“You haffta pick it,” said Kirsten.

“Pick a category bro,” said Phone Guy.

“Endangered species.”

HOT COLD

Emma had her finger in one of the belt loops of my pants the whole way through the apartment building. I was still plenty buzzed and horribly stoned and I didn’t wanna drive, but I couldn’t control myself. Opportunities as stimulating as this one don’t exactly come my way every night. I told myself to drive slow and stick to back roads. I only lived three miles away. I was sure it’d work fine.

In the elevator I tried to think of some line to ignite a conversation, but I couldn’t stop imaging what I wanted to this girl when I got her home.

“You’re fun,” said Emma. She kissed my arm.

“You’re…fun,” I said.

It wasn’t till we exited the building that I started feeling shaky. I tried to hold a poker face of tranquil confidence but my insides were very much alive. The air was cool and it was still misting a little. My ears were numb going from such constant noise to now being out in the quiet night. I started thinking about how hot this girl was and how she just kinda accepted me coming on so strong. I didn’t know shit about her. I thought about the text Ben sent me and I started to wonder if Emma was some kind of set up. What if she had Chlamydia and Ben had set up this whole night just to play a prank on me? He could have invited us both there and had us get drunk and then gave us weed and was pretending to like her so I’d want her more in hoping to see if I was foolish enough to sleep with this girl my first night ever talking to her. Or worse yet, what if Ben had figured out she was a tranny and―yes of course―that’s why they parted ways and she found me in the bathroom, because he’d already uncovered her secret.

The paranoia infested my mind. I was aware it was paranoia and I knew I had to start talking or the chemistry was going to wear off and things would get really awkward.

“Guess which car’s mine,” I said.

She skipped ahead and placed her hand on an electric blue SUV. She glanced back, saw my non-response, and spun around. Her skirt lifted with the air, revealing luscious flesh above her knee-highs. “This one,” she said.

“Nope.”

“Am I hot or cold?”

“You look pretty damn hot.”

“Stop.” She looked to a clean white Audi. “This one?”

“Getting’ cold.”

She walked ahead of me and to the other side of the street. “Warming up,” I shouted.

“Umm. This?” She was standing by a Jeep.

“No.”

“Do you even know where you parked? I gotta pee again.”

I knew exactly where I had parked but I couldn’t conceive what my eyes were telling me. Ahead of Emma, across the cross-street, a giant limb of a tree was sunk into the roof of my RX-7. The branch had branches of its own that stretched out into the road. The windshield and passenger side window were smashed and the roof had completely caved in.

“Don’t tell me it’s the one with the tree on it,” she said.

I ran up ahead of her, looking wide-eyed with disbelief. “How is this possible?” I whispered under my breath.
There was a brand new car parked in front and in back of my car and they were completely unscathed.
“I’m going back inside. Ben said I could crash there.”

My gaze never left the car as Emma ran back down the street. Her shoes clapped like hooves on the wet macadam.

KILLING MACHINES

From a certain angle it looked as if the tree had grown through my car. I was so mesmerized by the proficiency of this act of nature that I couldn’t bring myself to touch or move the pieces of tree.

Clouds opened up and released a blanket of rain upon me. With a vicious tug the driver’s door squeaked open. I crouched and ducked my upper body into the car. Tiny rigid cubes of glass were everywhere. I already knew this wasn’t covered by my bare minimum insurance. I could have called a tow truck, but that would’ve erased all progress I’d made in cutting my debt. The only valuable thing in the car was my glasses. I pulled them from the glove box and crunched the door back shut.

Having failed to exchange numbers with Emma, and not wanting to deal with Ben, I decided the best way to salvage the night would be getting home, jerking off to well curated internet photo collections of naked girls in public, and having a hot shower―all before my high wore off.

Little bullets of water crashed into my skin as I walked. I didn’t mind. The rain seemed to wash away the staleness induced by an evening indoors. I stuck to small neighborhood streets so I could walk in the road. Thinking it might help prevent a hangover, I opened my mouth and let raindrops roll down my tongue.

Tops of the trees swayed like seaweed in the wind. I wondered if they knowingly despised cars and roads. Slabs of sidewalk were all shifted and elevated around the bases of their trunks and for the first time I realized it was from the roots expanding below. Cracks even spread out into the street. Worms were wiggling all over the place. I loved that smell. I can’t tell if it’s the smell of wet macadam or worms or if it’s the combination of both, but I like it. I wondered if bugs ever go under a parking lot by accident, and if they never find their way out, do they just adapt to that way of life?

I leapt over as many puddles as I could but soon it was no use. My shoes, socks, and clothes were completely drenched. My contacts were dry as hell. I peeled them off and brushed them from my hands, letting them fall to the ground below. I could see lights and colors, but even my own hands―when fully extended―were out of focus. The rain was so constant I didn’t feel like putting my glasses on.

I moved to the left side of the street. Without perfect vision I had no choice but to relax and see everything as a whole. The world felt huge―like when you’re a kid and you assume the Earth goes on forever. There wasn’t a car or person anywhere and by tilting my head up and focusing only on the trees lining the sidewalk I was able to erase all manmade structures. I imagined I was a Native exploring new terrain, on the search for more fertile lands. No matter how far I walked this would only be a third of my trip because once I found the more abundant land I’d have to travel back to tell my tribe and then we’d all travel forward together.

The rain let up and everything was steamy. Clouds were low and the lights of the city reflected upon them creating an orangish-pink glow. As I came up on a cross street I noticed what I thought was a stray dog in someone’s front lawn. I strained my eyes and could tell the ears were too pointed and the tail too bushy. It was a coyote and it was eyeing me as well.

I kept my composure, kept walking, and scanned for objects I could jump on top of if the beast attacked. It must have come down from the mountains. I couldn’t imagine how it got so far into the city.

When I got to the other side of the intersection I turned back to find the beast was now standing still in the middle of the street. I stopped and turned to face it. No one was around, not a car, not a soul. I stared into the coyote’s eyes and it stared back―relaxed. The animal wasn’t doing anything to scare me, impress me, or demand anything from me. It just was what it was.

I continued walking, feeling it might follow. A few strides later I peeked over my shoulder and it was gone.

As I neared my block I started to think about Sylvia. I wondered if she’d found her cat. I felt kinda guilty for not inviting her to the party. I was thinking I should text her so I pulled out my phone. There were three new notifications. According to the clock only two minutes had passed since I left Ben’s. It wasn’t possible. The phone was kind of cold and wet and it didn’t respond to me unlocking it. I stabbed my thumbs into the buttons and the phone wouldn’t even shut down. I popped off the back cover, pulled out the battery, put it back in, and nothing. I felt stupid for not realizing it would get wet in my pocket. A replacement would cost at least $100 bucks. I figured I’d best put it on rice when I got back to my apartment.

Just before turning onto my street I saw the faces of buildings to my right throbbing red. Fire trucks were parked outside my place. Silent red bulbs spun and reflected off car windows and wet asphalt.

COLLAPSE

As I walked through my front gate I noticed a handful of blurry figures standing in the courtyard. When I got closer to my bungalow a fireman grabbed me with gloved hands and said, “Please sir. Wait in the courtyard.”

I held my glasses to my face and discovered my entire balcony had collapsed. All of my plant and dirt filled cardboard boxes had exploded.

“Eavey!” shouted a familiar voice. As I slipped the specs on my damp face I confirmed it was Mindy Lee, my fiery Asian-American landlord.

“What happened?” I said.

“Don’t play insolen’ wit’ me Eavey.” I saw wha’ you di’ to my gudda.”

“What?” Reactively I was trying to play dumb, but a second later I pieced it all together.

“You collapse da balcon’ and now is trappin’ Mr. and Mrs. Macer in deir unit. No good. You geddin’ evicted.”

“You can’t do that. It’s your faulty balcony.”

“No. I see where you cu’ holes in da gudda. You have thir’ee day an’ you gone.”

I just wanted to burrow into my warm soft bed. Then I realized there was no way into my apartment. The way it’s built you walk up the stairs to the balcony and the door is right there. Now the door just appeared to be floating on the front wall of the building. I felt dizzy. I was thinking I could climb the stairs and slip in the side window. “I’m gunna go check on my stuff.”

I walked to the staircase and stepped on the first step. “Whoa-whoa-stop,” said one of the firemen. “We can’t have anyone on this staircase until these folks are removed from the unit.”

“This is my apartment.”

“Doesn’t matter. No one’s going upstairs till we get these folks out.”

I walked back to Mindy. “They won’t let me up.”

She stood with her arms crossed, unmoved. In my head I calculated how much money she was making off that property per month. When you have a sufficient amount of money it grows like mad. When you’re in the red it drags you deeper into captivity. My wallet had kept my expense list dry from the rain. I pulled it out and crossed off CAR, and CAR INSURANCE, and RENT, and then I decided to X out everything but FOOD. I was hungry as hell.

“I’m gunna go stay with a friend,” I said to Mindy.

She said she was leaving too. We walked out the gate and she restated I had one month to vacate her property and assured me I wouldn’t get my deposit back. I nodded and we parted ways. I was thinking I’d circle the block and try ‘n sneak in the back of my unit.

At the next major street I could see the great dark mountains in the distance. Instead of walking back to my place I walked onward towards the hills, hoping I’d see the coyote again. I wanted to see what it ate, where it drank, I wanted to find its den.

PISSED

Vertamont is the kind of city that relentlessly sprawls―gas station, convenience store, auto shop, liquor store, repeat―like a video game. It must have been close to two A.M when I passed through Fulton Square. Well-to-do yuppies and socialites reluctantly poured out of bars and clubs all along Pine Ave. The remaining alcohol in my system dropped to my bladder and suddenly I had to piss like a mother fucker.

I walked into the twenty-four hour café at Pine and Franklin. I walked straight to the back and found one of those metal boxes for a knob on the men’s room door. Seventy-five cents or a token required. I didn’t have cash. After a couple attempted muggings I’d stopped carrying cash.

“Can I getta bathroom token?” I said to the barista.

“Can you show me a receipt?” said the employee of the month. “Either make a purchase or show a receipt.”

“Look miss I can’t nearly concentrate on making a purchase till I relieve myself.”

She looked down at the water dripping from my clothes, then to a puddle accumulating on the tile floor. “I’m sorry, we have a policy.”

I walked back into the open air. People were all over the sidewalks. Silently I scorned myself for not peeing when I was in the neighborhoods. Down the block I ducked into a convenience store.

“Do you have a restroom?” I asked.

“No,” said the man.

“Really? No restroom. Where do you go?”

“There’s places around. We don’t have a restroom here.”

I walked outside and everywhere I looked there was a face. Drunk faces, sober faces, valet faces, alert security guard faces, ice-cold skeptical doorman faces all saw the suspicion in my eyes.

I found an alleyway with no one in sight. It was pretty well lit but I found a dark corner and lifted my shirt, unlatched my belt, and lowered the fly prepared to open the flood gates. With a bang the back door of a bar burst open and two middle-aged surfer thugs along with two inked-up spray tanned wenches piled out. I made like I was tying my shoe.

“Hey busboy, you got a light?” said one of the thugs.

“Yeah, one second,” I said as I walked in the backdoor and started searching for the can. Men were lined up for this one. I thought if the door opened, I’d just act like I owned the place and slip in. After two seconds some dip-shit tried to fist fight me for cutting the line. I walked to the end. It would be at least five minutes before my turn. My body shivered uncontrollably and I walked through the bar and out the front door, returning to the streets.

There was a drug store at the end of the block. I swung in the door and waddled to the cash registers. My thighs were clenched so tight I thought I might crack a nut. “You gotta bathroom?” I stated more than I asked.

“Restroom is for customers only,” said the clerk.

“Perfect.” I grasped a pack of Fruit Stripe and slapped it on the counter.

“One-o-seven.”

I slapped my card on the counter.

“Credit or debit.”

“Credit.”

“The credit minimum is fifteen dollars,” said the clerk.

My voice jumped three octaves higher. “Come on.”

She shook her head.

I could see my bladder bursting like a grenade inside of me―the blast spraying her face with bits of flesh, blood, and urine.

“Fifteen effin’ dollars, are you kidding me?”

“Fifteen dollar credit minimum.”

“Can I buy this, and get fifteen dollars cashback?”

“No.”

“Goddamn.”

I walked outside and my phone started lighting up and vibrating like crazy.

SYLVIA VARONA: I MISS SLEEPING NEXT TO YOU. [1:58AM]

Two buildings down was another bar. I started walking and the phone chimed again. SYLVIA VARONA: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU DO TO ME. [1:58AM]

Instantly another chime. SYLVIA VARONA: HELLO? [1:59AM]

They were coming in so fast I was sure she’d sent them earlier in the night, and maybe my phone had just now dried out enough to work.

I was pulling out my I.D. to hand to the doorman and the phone went off again. SYLVIA VARONA: FINE IGNORE ME. [1:59AM]

Another. SYLVIA VARONA: WHATEVER. DON’T EVEN TRY TO CALL ME. [2:00AM]

I was getting pissed off, mostly at the fact that she was having a one sided imaginary argument in text form. I effin’ hate texts. They aren’t real. It’s just pixels on a screen. I stuffed the phone back in my pocket and stepped to the doorman at the bar.

He popped his chin up and said, “We’re closed.”

“My friend’s in there,” I lied, and stepped to the door.

He pushed his forearm into my chest and said, “You gotta wait outside.”

I walked back to the drugstore, fuming at the fact that Sylvia was mad at me. I found myself questioning if I really liked her or if I just wanted to sleep with her.

I typed on the keypad but half the buttons weren’t responding, nothing I typed made sense. I started pushing really hard on the buttons, destroying the phone in an attempt to make it work. Still it was all fucked up. It chimed again and before I could read the message I chucked it high above the closing-time traffic. The device crashed down on Pine Ave, smashing into a million tiny pieces I’ll never know the function of.

I stormed into the drugstore and complied an assortment of practical items adding up to fifteen dollars. I laid out bottled water, protein bars, a sweatshirt, and a backpack for the clerk to ring up.

I swiped my credit card. It didn’t read. The clerk swiped the card, multiple times.

“Sorry, your card won’t read.” she said.

“Enter it manually,” I demanded.

“We don’t have that here.”

“What?”

I spun around and stomped to the exit. The pain in my ass and legs and bladder it was all so present.

As I passed through the motion sensor doors a bum looked to me and said, “Can I have a dollar or maybe fifty cents?”

“No,” I said, “you can have my whole wallet―my I.D., my social security card―you can assume my godforsaken identity.”

He lifted his hand palm up.

“You don’t understand.” I removed the wallet from my pocket. “You don’t want to take this.” I jammed it in his face. “I’m debt ridden, it’s all worthless…I can’t morally allow myself to give this to you.” My hand was shaking.

He held his hand higher, still palm up.

“Go on,” I said.

He nodded timidly.

“Pry it from my hand.”

His fingers shook as he flipped his hand, gently grasping the wallet. I nodded and he pulled hard, jerking it from my grasp.

I walked around the back of the drug store, to the parking lot. At the far end was a two foot tall concrete wall and then the backside drive-thru of a fast-food joint.

I marched to an electrical box, undoing my pants in my stride. Near the edge of the parking lot a man was walking a dog on a leash. The dog lifted its leg and pissed on a light pole. I veered to the right. When I got to the electric box I realized there was pretty much no discrete way to stand. I didn’t give a fuck. If people saw me pissing it’s not like they would stare, they’d be disgusted and turn away.

I unleashed the beast and let loose the golden load. It was bliss. Urine fell like shiny coins after hitting a jackpot.

I could feel the heat of headlights on my back. Someone going through the drive-thru. No big deal. I was fertilizing the shit out of that concrete. I looked up and saw a couple stars high in the sky. I’d forgotten they were up there. I sensed artificial light on me. Someone was definitely waving a light on my back. My heart started to race. As long as I didn’t look behind me I was sure I could just finish and walk off. It was probably the manager of the chicken joint. Footsteps grew closer. I had to effin’ pinch off. I started walking away without looking at whatever was shinning the light on me. Everything was cool.
“Hands up where I can see them,” said the mystery person.

My heart tensed. I stopped moving and lifted up my arms real slow. I’d played out this scenario a million times in my head. You act cool like you’re gunna cooperate, and then when they least expect it, you run like a mother fucker.

“Don’t turn around. Eyes straight ahead,” said the mystery person turned cop. “You got any warrants I should know about?” I didn’t say anything. “You got I.D. on you?”

“No.”

“What’s your name?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Tell us your name or we’re going to have to take you in.”

“I don’t have a name man.”

“Interlock your fingers behind your head.” He must have seen my leg twitch cause his voice morphed into a shriek. “Down on the ground! 10-94, 91.”

“You can’t arrest me.” I pretended to be dropping to my knees and crouched into a runners start.

“I will tase you.”

I could hear a second cop say, “Suspect is…”

The ball of my foot sprung off the cement and I sprinted through the parking lot.

I was dodging parked cars. The cop was hot on my trail. Urine was backing up into my kidneys. I was aiming for the street, hoping a car would get in the cop’s way. That’s when I felt the two bites on my back―one on the spine, one on the right shoulder blade. Electricity rattled my core, charring my soul, as I roared like a beast.

Out of my command, my body dropped to the sidewalk shuddering. With the little control of my muscles I had I called out, “Imman animal you intellect!”

CELL

Jail is an air-conditioning lover’s dream. All walls are sealed tight and the windows don’t open. It’s a freshly painted, dirt free, seventy-two degree, TV screen based habitat. My grandparents would love it. I kid you not―they actually streamed movies my entire time in the holding cell.

During arraignment they have to determine your identity before they can formally read you your charges. My keychain was the only thing in my pocket when they booked me and I continued to deny being a member of the human race. After five days they traced my identity through my Max Fitness barcode and confirmed it with DNA from a drug test I’d taken when applying to work at JBs.

The Judge was an interesting creature. Her build was wide. Her face sat on lumpy shoulders, framed by heat pressed dirty blonde curls. Her eyebrows pulled upward with a sort of tension I find in people with word based jobs. Before her, on the desk, was an engraving of her name: Judge DeMarco.

I rose to my feet.

She said, “Mr. Andre Eavey you’ve been charged in an indictment by the Linn County Grand Jury with one count public intoxication, one count vandalism, one count of―appears to be a disorderly conduct charge, one count resisting arrest, one count trespassing, a perjury charge pertaining to your failure to identify yourself to the Vertamont Police Department, and one count indecent exposure. Mr. Eavey, do you understand what the charges are against you?”

“No.”

“No, you don’t understand the charges?”

“I pissed. We all pee.”

“Mr. Eavey there will be plenty of time to explain your actions during trial. I’m simply asking if you understand your charges so that we can record a formal plea.”

“If we’re talking about a crime being committed, I plead not guilty.”

They moved me to a two person cell in the county jail while I awaited my hearing. The only natural thing around was the water falling from the facet. I ran it over my hands. I ran my finger tips along the rubbery multi-paint layered cinderblock walls. I laid my cheek against the cold concrete floor.

It was during those days that I got a visit from Hakeem. I was sent to this box with a bench facing a small computer screen and granted fifteen choppy minutes of virtual conversation.
Hakeem said they’d deemed me a mystery man on the news, but he recognized me right away. He basically told me he’d represent me for free. He said if the amount of media hype surrounding my arrest carried over to the case, it’d potentially spark his career.

I was sort of embarrassed he’d come all the way down there. When they booked me and I had no phone and no numbers memorized, I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to comply with the police department’s goal to demean me like some first world human.

“Dude. I can’t let you do this,” I said. “I’m a stubborn bastard and I’m growing really damn temperamental with every effin’ minute I’m in this cage.”

“It’s either me or some random public defender who doesn’t give a shit about your case, playing it by the book,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll represent myself.”

“They’ll deem you a nutcase. If you simply keep up this whole animal act, they will put you in an asylum.”

“Good.”

“You’ll end up doing more time. They hold patient’s in institutes until they show persistent signs of sanity.”

The screen jammed up and Hakeem’s image morphed into little blocks. As I waited for the feed to catch up I sort of felt like my flesh turned to stone. I felt like I was this little being running around inside the skull of a human body. I could control the body if I wanted to, but I’d never feel anything first hand, I was merely capable of pushing buttons and switching levers. My lips parted as I was about to ask if we were still connected but then I saw him blink.

He continued, “You might be a crazy fuck, but you’re not insane…Let me do this.”

PLEA BARGAIN

Before the hearing we had to show our evidence to the prosecutors and vice versa. They’d gathered security camera footage of my arrest along with a couple amateur videos ripped from YouTube. Hakeem obtained my medical documents proving it was vital for me to relieve myself that night.

During the hearing one of the police officers gave his account of my arrest and outlined the actions behind my charges.

Judge DeMarco spoke, “It’s my understanding that the prosecution has a plea offer to present today.”

“Yes, your honor,” said the District Attorney. “The offer is as follows: That upon admittance of a guilty plea we will dismiss one count disorderly conduct, and one perjury charge pertaining to the defendant’s withholding of a legal identity, and take a plea as a charge to the remaining counts. The recommended sentence is twelve months probation, a fine of $10,000 dollars, and a minimum of ninety days in custody, credit given for time served.”

“Has the defendant had time to review this offer?” said DeMarco.

“No your honor,” said Hakeem, “This is the first we’ve heard of the offer.”

“Do you accept or decline the offer?”

Hakeem looked to me, raising an eyebrow as if to ask what I thought. I didn’t like what I was hearing and I know he saw that in my face.

“We’d like to request a moment to discuss.”

DeMarco called recess and Hakeem and I walked out to the hallway. He explained that we could accept the offer and everything would be as stated, or we could make a counter offer, or I could retain my not guilty plea and the case would go to jury trial.

“We’ll lose,” said Hakeem. “As far as the law is stated you are guilty. If you’re found guilty in trial you’ll end up with a heftier term.”

“Ninety effin’ days? No one was hurt, nothing was damaged. This is bullshit.”

“We have no edge. They have multiple witnesses, video proof…given your charges they can imprison you up to ten months.”

I shook my head and turned to stare out the window. A grassy tree filled courtyard sat six stories below. Hakeem kept reinforcing how good the plea deal was, but I was too fascinated with this worn dirt path running through the courtyard to pay attention. Paved sidewalks ran all around the grass but this man in a suit walked the worn path. I imagined the hundreds of stressed defendants and family members who must have walked that same course through the trees.

“Let’s make a counter offer,” I said. “Let’s do it that way.”

We returned to the courtroom and Judge DeMarco asked again if we accepted or declined the deal.

“We’d like to propose a counter offer,” said Hakeem.

“Go on,” said DeMarco.

“With the formal admittance of a guilty plea it is requested that all charges be waived on account of my client not being a member of the human race but rather a beast of the land. He is not capable of understanding the confines of the municipality. On the night of the indicted crimes he was merely responding to an innate impulse.”

Whispers erupted throughout the room.

“An innate impulse?” said DeMarco

“Yes,” said Hakeem.

“Public urination―an innate impulse?”

“This is ridiculous,” erupted the D. A.

“May I speak,” I said.

“Please,” said DeMarco.

“Your honor, I’m requesting that my rights be revoked. I’d like to surrender my civil rights as well as my rights as a human being. So that I may simply live as an inhabitant of nature.”

“Oh―counter offer declined,” barked the D.A.

Chatter crackled throughout the room.

The D.A. added, “The defendant is clearly mentally unstable―”

“Order!” shouted DeMarco. “I’m calling a short recess and when we return I don’t except any outbursts.”

Hakeem and I stepped out into the hallway. He looked real tense.

“I’m sweating,” I said.

“Me too.” He lifted his blazer to show his pits.

“You know armpit sweat evolved to reduce friction while hunting.” I motioned like I was chucking a spear.

He didn’t say anything. He wouldn’t even look at me. I dug for something to say to ease his nerves. “No one’s watching, I say I slip out the back staircase, make a run for it, change my identity―”

“Do you realize how much that’d screw me over…Seriously Andre I can’t have you messing around.”

“I’m joking.”

“Look, if we fail I’m through. Every law firm I apply to from here on out will see this case on my record and tear up my resume on the spot. I can try to work independently but if a potential client so much as Google’s me, same thing, they’ll laugh in my face.”

“Yes, I get it.”

We returned to the courtroom.

DeMarco spoke, “The court would like to propose an offer to the defendant. It is, Andre Eavey, your choice to have your classification in the human species revoked from you, is that right?”

Hakeem looked to me and nodded.

“Yes,” I said.

“You think it’s perfectly fine urinating in the streets like a wild animal?”

I nodded.

“Then you shall be treated like a wild animal. This court is going to honor your request under the following deal.”

A thick stack of papers slapped down on the table in front of me.

“At this time,” continued DeMarco, “I need to review the plea agreement with you as it acknowledges certain rights that you’d be waiving by entering a plea of guilty. The defendant, Andre Eavey, is to live under the following provisions in order to be classified as a separate species: You will no longer have the right to vote. You will no longer have the right to bear arms. You will no longer be a citizen of the United States of America. If you trespass on private property or city property the owner reserves the right to remove you from the premises by any means necessary, including extermination. Emergency rooms and hospitals will not be permitted to treat you for anything including life threatening injuries and veterinarians will reserve the right to refuse servicing you as well. You must remain in reproductive isolation. Your social security card, birth certificate, passport-“

“I’m sorry―” I interrupted.

“Excuse me, I’m not finished―”

“It’s just, reproduction isolation?”

“One of the key defining factors of a species is that they cannot reproduce with any member of another species.”

My throat swelled. The list of limitations went on for what felt like an hour after that. All I could think about was ‘extermination’ and ‘reproductive isolation.’ This wasn’t the freedom I requested. If they were gunna legally make me my own species wouldn’t I then be considered an endangered species?

I tuned back in. DeMarco continued, “Your social security card, birth certificate, passport, and driver’s license must be officially surrendered to the court and destroyed by five P.M. tomorrow. If any of the stated regulations are broken you will be placed in state custody under an expanded sentence. If you accept these terms, thus agreeing to have your human rights terminated, plead guilty. Mr. Andre Eavey how do you plead?”

I wanted to argue. Hakeem looked to me and then turned to the judge and said, “Yes your honor, we agree to the stated terms.”

“No. I need to hear it from him. Mr. Eavey? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I took a shallow breath and nodded my head.

“Is this what you want? To have your citizen rights terminated? Is this what you’re asking for? If it’s not you better speak up. You’ll have no rights as a human being.”

All I could think of was how permanent it all sounded.

“Mr. Eavey do you need more time?”

“No,” I exhaled.

“No you don’t accept the offer?

“No, no I don’t need more time.”

She repeated the question, this time laying down each word like a hammer to a nail. “How, do, you, plead?”

“I plead guilty.”

“Sign the document,” said DeMarco.

An invisible wall of fuzz grew around me as I scribbled my name on the page.

I handed it over to the bailiff.

The gavel fell.

“This court is adjourned.”

CITY LIMITS

By dusk the next day I found myself sitting in the back of a police van, hands cuffed, with a backpack in my lap. The final step of the court’s decree was for me to be transported beyond the city limits. Of course I would have liked to depart without any possessions at all, but my technological upbringing hadn’t prepared me for such an approach.

Before Hakeem drove me to the courthouse I had a few hours in my apartment. I copied everything from my laptop over to an external drive. I’d complied about three hundred gigs of photos, four hundred gigs of video, hundreds of text documents including journal entries from the past couple years, and fifty days worth of music. My whole life was engraved in binary code on an aluminum platter resting in a box the size of a Bible―which I then put in a zip-lock bag and slid another zip-lock over top of. This I kept along with the clothes on my back, a lock-blade, a water bottle, gloves, and a ski mask. All remaining possessions were confiscated to pay my removal fees.

By the time the van sped onto the freeway a procession of media vehicles had assembled in back of us. I stared out the side window as endless development whipped past my gaze. Office buildings butted up against the noise walls turned to apartment buildings with balconies hanging above the shoulder. A news van cruised to the left of us, matching our speed. Their side door slid open and a cameraman took aim at me.

Soon we passed the furthest structures I recognized. Miles of new construction scarred the edges of Vertamont. We exited the freeway and drove up through foothills, passing gated neighborhoods full of identical homes. NOW LEASING flags flapped high above community walls. I focused on emerging trees and swept my eyes as they passed.

The remaining light of the sun burnt out behind us and I couldn’t help but think of my hard-drive and how I’d spent the bulk of my last day in civilization tinkering with it. It must have happened at some point during my lifetime that people realized they should start saving computer files. For me it initiated with my obsession for music, while I was in high school. I saved every song I ripped or downloaded and transferred it onto every machine I’ve owned along the way. When I die I can only imagine my hard-drive will be passed on to my kids or a sibling. Probably they’ll just toss it in storage. If they’re poor, and don’t have a dry climate controlled environment to store it, the drive could be damaged and no one would see these files I’ve worked so meticulously to preserve. It wasn’t easy to delete all of the porn I’d compiled over the years. Ultimately I let it go for the sake of saving face. I’d really hate for my decedents to write me off as a pervert.

Twenty minutes must have passed since I saw the last structure. Tall trees stretched high creating a canopy over the road. A police escort blocked traffic as we pulled onto a bumpy dirt path. Looking back I saw cameramen jumping out of vans, popping up tripods, rushing to get the final footage of my departure.

We drove further into the woods. Hazard lights from police cars faded and with a jolt the van came to a stop. A city official got out and opened my door. He helped me down, removed my cuffs, and threw me my bag. Dirt crunched under my sneakers. I peered through my spectacles into the black of the woods.

“This is where we divide,” said the official.

Nodding I took a step away from the van.

“Hold up a sec,” he said.

I turned back and he lifted a camera, snapped the shutter, and I was blinded with a flash. My brain fought the wooziness induced by the light as I turned towards the deep-space blackness of the forest. Behind me van doors slammed shut, the engine revved up, and for a moment the bark of the trees was illuminated red. Tires pealed out and all artificial light ceased.

I had no clue where I was. On internet maps I’d always seen a green patch labeled STATE FOREST to the east of the city, and so that’s where I imagined myself to be, but really I didn’t know where the eff I was.

A thin trail cut through the brush ahead of me. As I walked it the sounds of police megaphones and car engines slowly died away. My eardrums buzzed with the hum of bugs. Increasingly evident moonlight sliced through the trees. I was alone, I was lost as can be, and the feelings coursing through my flesh were more exhilarating than any I’d felt in the past six years.

Following the sound of running water I soon reached the bank of a roaring creek. I followed it until I found a clearing on the far side. Leaping from rock to rock I crossed without soaking my socks. Already I was sweating. I’d worn thick pants and a few layers up top. I threw my backpack down by a tree and shed my sweatshirt and jacket.

Kneeling down by the water I wet my face. The moonlight was so strong you could see pebbles at the bed of the creek. I cupped water and drank from my hands. I got up and paced briskly around the clearing, taking deep greedy breaths. Air in the city is shit. It smells like shit and after a while your sense of smell weakens to avoid it. Out there it was crisp. The aromas of vegetation made my lungs tingle.

My backpack was the only manmade thing in sight. My hard-drive was in the bag. I didn’t know what else to do with it. I guess deep down I thought this whole animal thing wouldn’t work. I thought the court was playing some joke on me, like when you’re a kid and your parents say you can sleep in the backyard knowing you’ll come back inside before midnight.

A not so distant rustle in the brush startled me. I stopped pacing and heard nothing. I walked towards my bag―there it was again. I stopped. Deep thumps pounded through the leaves. My body shook as my legs launched me into a sprint up an embankment. I stood frozen behind a tree, holding my breath to hear clearer. My eyes scanned the ground for a rock. If it was coyotes or a mountain lion I could throw a rock and scare them off. I heard only crickets. I didn’t write out the fact that it could’ve been human. It was likely a cameraman might have tracked me, trying to get the money shot. If one of those bastards got hold of my hard-drive they’d probably take it back to the office and over analyze everything. They’d be all over the TV and internet saying that I’m a terrorist and that I hate America. Then there’d be a grand old witch hunt to bring me back into custody.

I threw a couple big rocks where I’d heard the noises and charged down to rescue my bag. Once it was in hand I ran upstream. I’d been given a great gift and I couldn’t be sloppy about it. If one journalist got a shot of me more would come, and then I’d just be an effin’ animal in the zoo.

Rapidly I sunk deeper into the woods. My clothing snagged on prickly plants and I’d have to pull spider webs off my face every twenty yards. That I considered a good thing, for it meant I was on a path no one had trekked in a long time.

Hours passed before I finally stopped. There was no chance anyone would find me. Exhausted I pulled my layers on and collapsed amid roots of a massive tree. I slipped my ski mask over my head with the eye holes facing the back, dropped my shoulders to the ground, and everything went black.

ARROWHEAD

My mother’s parents had passed away by the time I was three and my parents used the inheritance to build a new house in a new neighborhood on the edge of town. Before it was a neighborhood it was all farmland and forest. We were one of the first families to move in, so before the remaining plots were sold, my brother and I would spend our days running through fields and exploring the woods.

I was five years old, hiding in a cornfield during a game of hide and seek, when I pried a strange stone from the earth. It was jagged on all sides, sort of triangular with a little tail at the end, almost shaped like a fish. My parents called it an arrowhead. They said Indians once lived where we resided, and they’d chip away at rocks until they had these sharp stones for the tips of their arrows and spears. I asked what happened to them―the Indians―and I don’t remember exactly what they said, but at that young age my concept of the Earth’s different eras was so primitive I pictured them dying out the same way as the dinosaurs―with a massive meteor strike.

From then on I’d occasionally see these mystery people around the neighborhood. They’d be perched in a tree with an arrow stretched back in their bow or sitting in the grass crafting new tools. They never spoke and they’d always be so fixated on their current task that my presence went unnoticed. One night I was running home for dinner when I saw a dozen Indians racing across a hill on the horizon. They were chasing a prehistoric beast, spears held high. I felt a connection to the maker of my arrowhead, like he’d hidden it in the dirt knowing one day I’d find it and when prompted I’d know exactly what to do with it.

Every time a new house was built our stomping grounds were reduced. By 1995 nouns like Nintendo, Nickelodeon, and Netscape Navigator had entered my vocabulary, the neighborhood was fully developed, surrounding cornfields were fenced off, and the forest was nothing more than a patch of trees.

PREDAWN

A warm fog in my head dissolved to a flash of anxiety as I realized where I was and how I got there. I lifted my mask and a big brown bird thumped to the ground in front of me. It waddled around, jammed its face into the soil, and after a few jabs fluttered up through the air with a dark gooey substance flapping from its beak. A chorus of high pitched squeaks throbbed throughout the upper reaches of the trees.

I put on my glasses and still couldn’t see exactly what was happening above. The foliage was too dense. As the same bird continued to drop to the forest floor and pry creatures from the soil, I pictured a nest full of gaping mouths―begging for food.

Dew flicked off leaves as I sat up against the tree I’d slept under. A green worm the size of a grain of rice was bunching its body up and repeatedly flexing outward to crawl up my sleeve. It was crazy to think something this small was capable of such intricate movements. I felt bad as the material of my jacket seemed to have nothing to offer the creature. Slipping off my glove I shoved my finger in its path. The worm adhered to my flesh and pushed onward towards my palm. I swung my hand over to a fern and shifted my wrist around, putting leaves in its course until it finally crawled off me.

Orange rays of light shot through steam evaporating off the forest floor. I felt pretty damn excited to be out there. Overhead I noticed a small bird hopping along the same branch where the large bird delivered the grub. Cautiously the bird leapt into the air, flapped its wings, and landed on another branch a foot away. More birds emerged. Soon they were flying a few yards from the tree before looping back around. They didn’t fly with the grace of the mother bird, but not one of them failed. I felt I must have missed a step, something they’d done―perhaps days ago―before taking the initial leap.

Tall leafy trees stood firm in all directions. As I walked upstream, surveying the area in which I’d landed, I expected to catch a glimpse of the city through a break in the terrain. The creek opened to an egg shaped pool about the size of a soccer field. It wasn’t a lake or pond. It was just a widening of the river. Even standing in this opening the horizon was blocked in all directions―by dense trees to the west and the upper reaches of the mountains to the east. Not a trace of civilization.

The cold night had created a hollowness in my stomach. I walked the edge of the water. You could see rocks and mud for a few feet and then it got very dark. The bottom just seemed to drop off. A lone minnow wiggled from the shallows, then vanished into blackness. I thought, with any luck, there’d be bigger fish in the deep.

THE TIT

I threw my bag and layers down on the bank and started gathering fallen branches. After clearing leaves and stacking rocks into a fire circle I selected a choice stick to carve into a spear.

Using my lock-blade I stripped the bark and shaped the wood. It was during the ride in the police van that I first got to thinking about food and survival. But it wasn’t really a big concern. You think of mankind’s history and how we went millions of years without mechanical aid, and you assume―once the situation presents itself―all inherent knowledge will come rushing to consciousness. I finished off the spear and kicked off my shoes, rolled up my pants, and stepped in the frigid water.

When I was knee deep, I froze in place. I gazed through the surface with the spear held above my chest―the way I’d seen ‘em do in countless movies and reality shows. A fish the size of my hand swam close. My muscles tensed and I lifted the spear the way your body lifts at the peak of a rollercoaster. With all my might I struck it down. Bubbles cleared and there was no fish in sight.

After wadding a bit deeper I froze once more and let the water settle. Inching my grip higher up the stick, I prepared to keep still as long as I had to. Attentively I stared. When my eyes got tired of scanning the water they bounced to cracks in the distant peaks, then back down to check for fish. I could see the reflection of a commercial jet on the water. My gaze drifted up to the sky and followed contrails for a second, then back down to the water. Still no fish. I really hoped that first one wasn’t a fluke.

Shadows inched across the pool. Not only was I facing a challenge of patience, it was a fight to endure the icy water. Just as I began to dream of building a massive fire a fish swam within arm’s reach. I took a deep gentle breath and yanked the spear down with famished wrath. Quickly I flipped it around and slid it through my fingers. Nothing. No catch.

Starting at my stomach fear tightened its merciless grip upon me. I trudged back to shore and twisted my neck around searching for anything eatable. No fruit trees. No berries. As I walked the surrounding trees seemed to stretch higher into the sky and the ground beneath my feet dissolved to quicksand. All the hunting and fishing video games I’d rented from Megavideo, the hours spent watching and caring for fictional characters lost in the wild. All the how-to videos I’d ignored while searching for perfect pornography. All of this useless knowledge like the process of converting a RAW file to JPEG or the precise location and depth of every pothole on Sixth Street―from Downtown to Sutton Station, and I didn’t know shit about living off the land.

Defeated I dug a protein bar out of my backpack. I’d bought a wholesale box of MET-Rx bars on the way to the courthouse, just in case. The sun had heated the bar to a point where I hardly had to chew. I started squeezing the gooey ration from the wrapper to my mouth―kinda like milking an utter. Twenty-four years old and I’d yet to leave the comfort of the tit.

Enraged by my helplessness I went to work redesigning my spear. I snapped off the point and carved a notch on top. I removed the cord from the hood of my sweatshirt and used it to lash the lock-blade to the end of the stick. I didn’t give a shit what I’d have to kill. I had to make it work.

For a while I went in search of deer. But in their absence I found myself observing squirrels. The squirrels would run along branches and leap fearlessly from one tree to the next, never missing, and they’d rarely touch ground. When one twitchy little guy did descend from the trees I charged him with the spear. The agile bastard flipped a bitch and was twenty feet over my head by the time I reached the tree’s trunk. I tried chucking the spear and I even climbed a branch and dropped it upon them. The nimble fuckers were too fast for my first world reflexes.

Sunlight dissolved off the highest peaks and a shadow fell over the pool. With my second edition spear in hand I waded through the inky water and climbed onto the tip of a boulder jutting from the depths. Patiently I waited. Wind whistled down the mountain slopes, sending a calm wave through me. Goddamn it was beautiful. I stared down into the seemingly infinite deep. And then, as if pulled by my mental beckoning, a bubble trickled out of the blackness. I waited, hoping to see the sweet outline of a king salmon, a rainbow trout, or a deep bodied crucian carpe―terms I learned while playing Reel Fishing II for Playstation 1. Another bubble trickled to the surface feet ahead of the last one. With both hands on the spear I smashed through the glassy plane and in a single motion flicked the spear right side up. My jaw dropped as the cord flapped loose, the knife separated from the end, and it sailed through the air flopping into the middle of the pool.

I thought about diving in after it. The water was really effin’ cold, I had no goggles, and I wouldn’t have been able to use my glasses. I just stood there, atop the rock, choking on my own imprudence when I realized I was too late. The notion that I’d already evolved past an ability to survive on my own seared my heart. A chill raced through me. I felt useless to the world.

I mean being out there sure as hell beat jail time, but I didn’t know how the hell I was going to make it work.

Back amongst the trees I lit a fire with a plastic butane lighter. Flames danced upon my corneas while I unwrapped another peanut butter and chocolate block of life sustaining matter. As I took my time, savoring tiny little bites, I did math. According to the nutritional facts on the box I could live on two bars a day, and after I devoured that one there’d be twenty-eight left, which would give me two solid weeks to get my shit together.

REPRESSION

A steady wind kicked up in the middle of night and I found myself cold and awake. The white twinkle of the moon shone through the fabric of my ski mask. A juicy squeak pulsed from above. At first I thought the noise might be a bird. But lifting my mask confirmed two tree limbs had grown in an intersecting path. Even without glasses I could see they were brushing against one other and wearing away at each other. In the midst of this fixation I heard breath―as in I heard something breathing.

Frantically I tapped my fingers around the ground searching for my glasses. I’d passed out spooning the fire―which was now a dusty heap of white and red embers. The glasses were MIA. I stopped shifting around and fought to convince myself the breath was in my head. Then I heard an inhale. Breathing is by far the most terrifying sound you can hear when you think you’re alone.

A shadow crossed the corner of my eye. Rigidly I turned. The beast was bigger than any dog I’d ever seen. It was all balled up. My heart raced and my eyes strained to see clearer. I could make out brownish-grey hair. An invisible weight pinned me down to the ground. I wanted to shout. I’d seen in some documentary that you’re supposed to shout and throw your arms up in the air when encountering dangerous animals. Goddamn I couldn’t breathe let alone vocalize.

I heard the crinkle of plastic packaging. I saw a flash of silvery foil. The protein bar wrapper. The beast was sitting, facing away from me, tonguing the wrapper. The way it held it was hauntingly human-like. I was now convinced it was a bear. Visions of razor sharp claws popping my torso open like a giant water balloon flashed before me.

My eyes locked on a tree I’d climbed earlier. Warily I crawled on my forearms. A twig crunched under me and I peered over my shoulder. The bear was staring at me. A grunt erupted through its nostrils and I popped to my feet while throwing my arms high above my head. My bag was between me and the beast. In my mind I released an ear piercing intimidatingly fierce roar. In reality it was a squeaky dry heave. The beast rose to its effin’ feet. All body hairs extended across my flesh. I flipped around, locked my eyes to the branch I intended to grab, and ran full force.

Like those slo-mo commercials of basketball players dunking from the foul line, I flew. My arms wrapped around the limb and the impact knocked the wind out of me. I kicked and swung my legs till I built enough momentum to hug them around the branch and pull myself up.

As I climbed higher into the tree a small branch cracked and floated to the ground. The bear didn’t even care. It had wobbled over to my backpack and was now lifting it to its face. Slowly it worked a gap in the zipper open and dumped out the protein bars. The monster carefully opened the wrapper and casually chomped it down. Then it licked all traces of food and grabbed another.

I settled on a wide limb and watched as this beast of the land lazily consumed bar after bar. I didn’t interrupt―I thought about it―I thought up a dozen ways to attack the bear, but in lieu of a new-kid-at-school feeling I repressed these urges. Instead I thought of Sylvia, and a nightmare of a date we’d had.

This past Valentine’s Day: Sylvia had deemed my car unsafe, so when I asked her out to the movies she picked me up. We were a block away from the theatre’s parking structure when traffic backed up and we got stuck in the middle of a crosswalk. The light turned red, the walk sign clicked on, and a swarm of keyed up Fulton Square pedestrians strolled in front and in back of the SUV. All was good until someone banged on her bumper. She opened her door and shouted, “Don’t kick my car!” In an attempt to defend her I spun around and flipped my middle finger as pedestrians cleared and we sped away. She parked the car and suddenly realized her purse was missing. She’d had it at her feet and was regrettably positive it’d fallen out when she opened the door. Repeatedly I rang her number while running back to the crosswalk. Finally someone answered―guess who―it was the anonymous prick I’d flicked off. The bastard turned the whole mishap into a hostage situation. He said he’d keep all the money in the purse and wallet, and if we wanted everything else I’d have to pay him an additional $100 dollars. “No cops,” he added. I hesitated and noticed a security guard down the sidewalk and the bastard on the phone must have seen me see the security guard because he then said the deal was off and that we’d handle it the next day. He told me to call the number back and he’d tell me a location to make the handoff. Just using the word ‘handoff’ makes it sound like such an effin’ joke―but I kid you not, this wannabe seventies action movie villain really exists.

Sylvia might have been crying. I was so worked up I don’t really remember, but she was really upset. She kept talking about the picture of her and her dead uncle that was in the purse. She’d shown me the picture when we first met, and told me how he’d died. It was such an awful shot of them: in a driveway, shadows across their faces, the background blown out. Yet it was the only thing she couldn’t replace.

We pulled into a grocery store parking lot. The credits had long since rolled on our missed Valentine’s Day movie. We sat in her SUV racking our minds for ways to handle the situation. I should have been easing her tensions and telling her that everything would be okay. I should have instantly offered to pull $100 dollars out of an ATM. But sitting there in that SUV I kept plotting Travis Bickle-like ways to murder this mother fucker by surprise.

Sylvia’s picture of her uncle was only a reminder of a memory. And though I knew this, I was on her side, and I was willing go as far as I had to to make things right.

It’s not like I had access to a gun or anything, and even if I did it’s not like I would have used it. Really I just wanted to make the bastard pay for the angst he’d caused my potential girlfriend. It wasn’t even such a big deal it happened on V-Day. It was the fact he’d stained my plans of making a big impression on Sylvia. This was the date where we should have been expressing our love for each other and showing each other who we really were.

I remember thinking I’d bring a spray paint can to the handoff and hide it under my coat. Once the prick passed us the purse I’d whip the canister out and spray his eyes, and mouth, and nose until he fell to his knees begging for mercy.

Sylvia reminded me that this guy had her name, phone number, and address and if I did anything crazy I’d only be putting her at risk of retaliation. So, I couldn’t do shit. I withdrew the $100 bucks, preformed the handoff, and stuffed the rage deep within me.

FOOTING

Thirty red and silver wrappers glistened in the late morning sun. The bear was nowhere to be seen. I climbed down to the forest floor and found my glasses bent out of shape on the edge of the fire circle. Gently I reverted the damage without cracking the hinges.

All night long I kept shutting my eyes and dozing off only to pop awake and find Orion’s belt a little further across the sky―and the bear uncaringly chewing another MET-Rx bar. It wasn’t till I turned my body and hugged the tree’s twisted trunk that I felt secure enough for my mind to shut down.

With my two week safety net now out of the picture there was nothing left to do but explore. I stuffed my layers in my backpack and headed downstream. There were trails back where they’d dropped me the first night. If all else failed I could find a ranger’s station or campsite to raid.

The creek bounced left and right, flowing past boulders the way your hand shifts with the wind while hung out the window of a car. I felt like a damn kid, running everywhere, climbing over rocks, and leaping over everything. I sniffed all leaves I passed, wondering which ones might be edible.

By afternoon my hard-drive sunk to the bottom of my bag and was rubbing against the taser wound on my spine. I tightened the straps and kept moving. The sun was beginning to fall and I didn’t wanna stop till I found hope of nourishment.

Soon the creek grew wild with rapids and a small waterfall rolled over some giant boulders. As I stopped atop the slope, to soak in the sight, I swung the bag off my shoulder. The strap snagged on a thorny bush and I tugged so hard the soil gave out under my feet. I surfed down the incline and stumbled forward until the heel of my right palm caught the weight of my body. Profanities echoed though my cranium as I lay on the ground flexing the injured hand. A rock had taken a chunk of flesh from my palm. There wasn’t any blood yet, but I could feel it was about to leak pretty bad.

Sinking low I placed my finger tips on the earth and crawled down the rest of the incline. Red ran down the length of my hand, marking rocks with a path of splatters. As I washed the gash in the pool at the base of the waterfall I found myself more excited over the damage than I was concerned. Sure it awakened me to another threat I’d failed to anticipate―the fact that, out there on my own, I could easily bleed to death―but the cause for alarm was quickly ignored. More than anything it fed into these feelings of youth.

I slipped off my t-shirt and ripped off a sleeve to make a bandage. The void in my stomach already had me feeling faint and seeing the blood saturate the fabric didn’t help. I sat on the bank of the creek and clasped my hands tightly together waiting for the blood to clot. Squirrels ran through surrounding trees. I watched as one came to a complete stop while descending a ninety degree incline. And then I wondered what happens when they get a deep cut that won’t stop bleeding. Maybe the fur acts as a bandage, I guessed. But it occurred to me that every animal I’d seen in my forty-odd hours in the woods was living in perfect health. They never lost footing, or crashed mid-flight, or were living with any physical ailment of which I could perceive.

I filled my plastic bottle with water from the creek and drank till I’d gained composure. When I turned around to grab my bag I saw the silhouette of a coyote up on the horizon. It appeared to be looking at me but I couldn’t know for sure as it was between me and the light of the sun.

Rising to my feet I left the bag behind and approached the creature in an indirect unthreatening way. It disappeared over the embankment and I pressed fast up the hill. The vanishing point atop the embankment was atop another incline. I caught sight of the coyote in the brush. It looked back at me, took a few steps, and craned its head back again. I know it was just panting but I could have sworn it was smiling. I wondered if I could kill the damn thing.

Subtly I pried a hunk of granite from the ground and stood in back of a tree peaking out at the coyote. It seemed to have let down its guard as it stretched its neck around and started licking its furry coat. I retreated lower, out of its potential view, and walked in a roundabout way to get on the same elevation. I thought I’d lost it but once I stopped moving I could hear its paws kicking up leaves. When spotted, the creature’s ears and eyes shifted tensely.

The sky was turning a deep blue, and soon―I feared―I’d have only the light of the moon. As desperation drenched my appetite I charged the beast. The damn thing took off like a bolt of lightning. I chucked my rock and completely missed. I chased the beast for a couple hundred yards before I saw the others. Up on the ridge my prey had meshed with half a dozen coyotes. I stood back thinking, if I couldn’t kill the damn thing I could at least study it to find its source of sustenance. All of these coyotes started hopping around, yapping, and howling before vanishing over the hill.

Cautiously I rounded the peak. Like a tsunami-scale tidal wave building in the sea, rows and clusters of orange, red, and yellow pinhole lights were revealed to me, flickering across the landscape like the internal circuitry of a colossal computer system. I walked towards the edge. Far out in the distance skyscrapers burst from the earth like crystallized gemstones. The grade got so steep I had to side step. The coyotes were nowhere to be found. At the bottom of the hill, hugging the mountainside, was a winding ruby and quartz river of cars.

EVENING RUSH

There was no weighing of odds. No pros versus cons. No picking of petals. At that hour the city was the only surefire place to find food. But, before I could go I had to track back for my bag. It wasn’t that I’d need my layers―or the bag itself. What begged for resolve was this inkling of peril that’d grown in having left my hard-drive unattended.

Fortunately―and not so surprisingly―the bag was retrieved unscathed. I returned to the top of the ridge overlooking the city and climbed the side of a large boulder. It was about ten feet tall with a side slanted in such a way I could scale it with ease, but steep enough I imagined no predators could reach me. This I intended to make my new bed.

Once on top I removed the hard-drive from my bag, and held it at arm’s length while my brain drifted through folders and subfolders, recalling the hundreds of thousands of files it enclosed. As sacred as this information was, I already knew I couldn’t take it along with me. It’d weigh me down, and if I were caught it’d no doubt fall into police custody. It’s not like I had anything incriminating on the drive. It was just the degrading idea of being judged by data that I so despised.

Down on the ground I cleared away fallen leaves thinking I could bury the device. But ultimately, considering the near zero possibility of anyone walking through those parts―especially in the dark of night―I decided to stuff it back in my bag atop the boulder and conceal everything with leaves.

Standing at the edge of the rock, looking hundreds if not a thousand feet past the tips of my shoes, I watched as headlights and taillights streamed consistently across the expanse of the freeway. All my time living in Vertamont I’d experienced an evening rush hour lasting from four P.M. to as late as eight. They’d released me on a Tuesday which―by my math―made this particular night a Thursday. Thursdays called for a fair amount of late night bar and club traffic. And hours later there’d be the closing-time rush: one in the morning till two-thirty. My guess was my best chance of crossing unnoticed would come between three A.M. and four. Around four-thirty to five, that’s when the morning rush would start up and my window would close for another twenty-four hours.

To pass the time and restore energy I laid down on the ground to nap. Almost immediately the only thing running through my head was DeMarco’s voice stating that citizens would have the right to exterminate me. Her words played like a recording, looping through my mind, keeping my eyes wide open. I rolled on my side and plucked a blade of tall grass. Clenching it with my teeth I ripped off a small piece. My molars struggled to sever the strands, and the simple act of chewing exhausted me till―abstracted―my eyelids dropped like guillotine blades.
The Earth spun. The Moon swung.

My eyes flicked open and I couldn’t tell if hours or minutes passed. Right away I recalled my mission. Rolling over I could see the city lights were bright as when I’d laid down. Walking to the edge I saw traffic had thinned out. I had no way of telling time, but judging by the frequency of cars I would have placed it between midnight and one. Afraid of oversleeping I rose to my feet and carefully started down the hillside.

At times the grade got so steep I had to lean my head back and step rapidly to keep from tumbling foreword. When I’d build too much momentum I’d drift towards a tree, throw my arms out in front of me, and push against the trunk to slow myself down. These trees were enormous―larger than any I’d seen my whole life. Perhaps the massive supply of auto exhaust fed their growth. Although the terrain occasionally blocked my view of the freeway, the stone cold jeer of accelerated metal over took the hum of nocturnal insects. Every few steps the howl of a big-rig would echo off surrounding rocks like a jack knife dragged across sheet metal. The slope leveled out and I slowed my pace to avoid crashing into a fence hidden in the undergrowth. It was your typical four foot chain-link fence with twisted barbs across the top, something assembled to keep animals from mingling with traffic. By griping one of the metal posts I was able to step my legs over the wire without making contact.

I neared the guardrail and a rush of anxiety washed through me as I began to fear someone might see me. So I stopped. Cars were sparse yet constant. I lifted my foot to the small of my back and placed it in my hand. My thighs were sore. I stretched everything out real good and did a few squats. Then I crouched low and waddled up to the guardrail. I stared out across the concrete plane. When you’re riding in a car, you are that car and everything seems so small. Now I felt I was the size of a rodent. I counted five lanes, plus an HOV lane, a cement divider to hop, and then another carpool lane and another five lanes.

Watchfully I stepped over the guardrail and ducked down. If I didn’t move much, people wouldn’t notice me at seventy MPH. My heart began to grasp itself with strong heavy beats, quenching every drop of blood in its valves. I retied my shoelaces super tight and double knotted the bows. I scraped excess dirt from the tread of my shoes. I felt cold, like I was standing on the edge of an ice shelf looking across the Arctic Ocean.

My gaze locked straight ahead waiting for a gap in all lanes. When there was one I counted: One Mississippi, two Mississip―headlights and taillights streaked by as one. Another gap, I counted six seconds. The freeway curved around the foothills and from where I was sitting you couldn’t see the oncoming cars until they were about seven seconds away. The fact that it was night and headlights were in use gave me a great advantage. The light would slowly splash across the guardrail before the cars came into sight. If the guardrail was dark I figured I was good to go. Eight seconds―I felt―was enough time to cross one half. I then focused on the far side. Once there’s a good enough break on that side and the guardrail was still dark, I could go. Gaps emerged and I started to shake. My heart palpitated. My leg muscles were kept in constant motion in an attempt to squash nervous tension. I flexed in a runner’s starting position, checking the grip of my shoes. Tiny fragments of auto-bodies left over from fender benders and multi-car pile ups mixed with the gravel below my feet. Some of the debris was unrecognizable in form, yet you could see an array of color, like coral and sea shells that’d been pulverized into sand. A gap came and I didn’t take it, it was perfect. Then a tanker violently whipped past me, feet from my forehead. Traffic broke on the far side. No light on the guardrail. Before I realized it―BANG―my leg exploded off the pavement, launching me like a bullet.

In the moment before my front foot fell to the smooth grey cement I had a vision of an ice-skating rink. I feared my mind would push my body to run so fast I’d slip. You fuck up, you’re dead. Forcing my mind and body to oblige, I landed and my feet sank deep into the concrete and bounced like it was a trampoline. I leapt across lanes, gripping my toes on big fiberglass reflectors. Ages passed. My arms stretched outward as I prepared to place them on top of the divider the way a gymnast grips the beam. Then I saw a tow truck flying up the far HOV lane. I didn’t hit my brakes but I let off the gas for a millisecond as the burst of wind shook me. I never checked for cars coming in the lane I was standing in, though fluidly I hurled my body over the median. Suddenly I had fears of my glasses slipping off due to the sweat bulging from my pores. I can make it. No I can’t. Fuck it. I landed and energy blasted from my chest to my thighs and I glanced up to see headlights, yet they seemed far enough I’d survive. I leapt from the second HOV lane to the fast lane. I was on a stage, so blinded by spotlights that my molecules became one with the molecules of air. No longer was I cold. My blood boiled like I was walking on fire. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew I’d be fine―is that what birds think the moment before flying into a 747’s turbine? Landing in the last lane I prepared to jump to the safety of the shoulder. Spotlights grew big and bright as I launched off the hard cement, bounced off the solid white line―and I don’t know how this happened, but―the next thing I knew I was in the air gliding clean over the guardrail. Inches above the ground I bunched up into a ball and rolled into a somersault as I hit the grassy hill descending from the freeway. Utterly disoriented I tumbled into a thin line of trees.

I rose to my feet and faced one more fence separating me from civilization. It was chain link, about seven feet tall, with three barbed wires running along the top. I walked along it till I found a flap someone must have broke open with a blot cutter.

Next thing I knew I was standing on a sidewalk. Passing cars looked like incubation capsules. Motorists didn’t even notice me. Making my way through alleyways and climbing over walls I maintained a direct path to my target. No one saw me, not a sole. My fears of pesky onlookers and police officers ready with catch and restraint poles dissolved. Still I kept my guard up. If anyone pulled a taser on me I planned to bite their fat fuckin’ fingers off.

My arms hung low by the time I reached Center City West. I’d now gone well over twenty-four hours without food. I’d burned all energy reserves. My pace slowed. I feared I’d collapse before reaching my destination. Cockroaches would sweep in and devour my corpse before any person noticed I’d died.

No one was in sight when I arrived at the loading dock behind JBs. Physically grasped by the smell of putrid food I climbed the side of a dumpster, lifted the lid, and squeezed inside. Saliva rushed to my tongue the way tides wash to shore. Greedily I unwrapped and bit into a hard green and white speckled loaf of bread. I stuffed bruised unpeeled fruits into my mouth and mashed them whole with my molars. Stale crackers inched down my throat as an unknown liquid seeped into my shoe. My body was too weak to digest. The food sat like a rock in my stomach. It hurt, but it felt damn good. Slowly my organs tugged at the nourishment, breaking it down just enough to rouse more ingestion. I felt buzzed. Food never tasted this good. Really it wasn’t the taste that struck me, it was a new found sensation of fueling myself.

EYE MUSCLES

It was either early morning or late afternoon. Tiny cuts burned across my forearms and face. I couldn’t quite remember how I got back to the woods. It seemed I went off trail a bit―not that there was one to begin with―and I am positive I arrived in the night, because there’s a slight vision of an exhausted effort to stuff leaves down my shirt so I could carry them up the boulder before blacking out.

My legs were sore as fuck. I just lay there staring up at blurry tress, feeling like I’d been on an all night bender. Holding my hand above my nose I alternated focus between fingers and branches. The microscopic ridges of my skin fell into immaculate clarity and then I’d shift my gaze, and I’d feel the tiny muscles of the eye shift, but the trees remained unclear. My glasses were safely tucked in my bag, two feet away. I didn’t have the energy to reach for them.

I hated wearing glasses. I got my first pair in fourth grade, and I was absolutely amazed to look out our kitchen window and see all the individual blades of grass, but still I hated wearing glasses. In high school I hated wearing glasses. When hipsters started wearing vintage frames with or without prescription lenses, I hated wearing glasses. In the middle of the woods with no one around―still―I hated glasses. And sure they serve their purpose, and there are alternatives like laser eye surgery. But lying atop that rock looking from my fingers to the blurry trees I had to wonder, what did prehistoric man do when his eyes went bad? And then I figured his eyes didn’t go bad. They couldn’t go bad. If they did he’d have no hope of survival.

An ant tickled my arm and I rolled over to find a whole parade crossing the boulder’s surface. With my eyes focused acutely on these little critters I crawled on hands and knees, following their course down the rock face. My limited vision sucked me into a state of microscopic fascination. The rock became a rugged mountain and the patches of moss morphed into vast green pastures. On the ground I zoned in on one particular ant and followed it across a desert of dead leaves. The convoy came to a dirt patch and then a hole in the earth. Grainy soil surrounded the opening and a cube-like pebble was lodged in the hole leaving hardly enough room for ants to squeeze past and down into the darkness. While flicking focus to the various actions of ants surrounding this pebble it became clear the pebble was a great impediment to their labor.

A stream of sunlight splashed through leaves spotlighting the scene. A group of ants grabbed each other to create a chain so they could reach out for the stone. Other ants brought twigs and pushed them under it to try and pry it out. I must have sat there watching for a solid ten minutes as intelligent efforts ensued without improvement. At any time I could have swept my arm in like a giant crane and plucked the stone away, and even though I likely kicked this hindrance―unknowingly―in their path, I didn’t do anything about it. I observed till I was bored, and then I went to the creek.

Walking through the woods without glasses was like walking through a painting. Everything meshed together. In the corners of my eyes squirrels seemed to swim through foliage. A lighter-than-air feeling flashed through me and I actually considered the possibility that I had died on the freeway.

At the creek I chugged water and squished my toes into the mud. Everything was so peaceful, it just seemed like an out-of-this-world experience. By the time I was making my way back to the ridge I’d forgotten I wasn’t wearing glasses. My vision was still blurry, but there was this hope like it could improve. Before climbing up the boulder to nap I knelt down to check on the ants. The pebble was gone.

TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES

The second night crossing the freeway was a cakewalk. What I did is I waited for my side to clear and then I ran across and straddled the cement divider―with my head down, waiting for a gap. While sitting in the middle I noticed a billboard displaying a new car and the words: ESCAPE POD. STARING AT $299 A MONTH. I tried to imagine the person that would see this massive photograph in the sky and be convinced they’d be able to escape their routine life by paying an extra $299 a month, but all I could think about was how long it would have taken to light and photograph the actual car on a set, and how much effort was spent altering reflections in the windows and body to match a separately photographed background with which the image was layered. And then the days and weeks spent altering, un-altering, and re-altering specific details to please a panel of clients. A gap in traffic opened and I fled to the far side.

It took me over an hour to jog the fifteen odd miles into Center City West. My body heated up a great deal as blood pulsed aggressively through my veins. By the time I neared JBs sweat had entirely saturated my clothing. My shoes slid across wet grass as I hopped on the front lawn of an apartment property. For a moment I hung my head in the spray of an automated sprinkler. I wiped water off my face with one hand and put my glasses back on with the other. Across the street, printed on the backrest of a bus bench, was the gleaming image of a double-decker cheeseburger and the symbols: $1. Internally I could hear clients asking if it’d be difficult to digitally alter the placement of specific sesame seeds on the bun. When questions like that would arise in reality I always wanted to say, “What’s the point?” But I’d think of the money they were paying, bite my tongue and ask, “Which one?”

Inside the JBs dumpster I devoured browning lettuce, stiff cucumbers, wrinkled tomatoes, juicy mushrooms, and two orgasmicly delicious glazed doughnuts. I ate a pack of pre-cooked pre-sliced lunch meat, a handful of warm Alaskan cod, and then I washed everything down with the mixed contents of a melted TV dinner―some of which spilled down the neck hole of my shirt. After a short respite I lifted the dumpster’s lid to see if I was in the clear. On top of a nearby building was a face. A massive two-dimensional face of a handsome thirty-something man with well groomed stubble stared down at me. Layered aside his head were the words: THE NEW MEN’S FRAGRANCE.

As I ran through the alleyway I thought about all the hours I’d spent sitting at a screen, processing product photography. That was my skill. That’s what I had to offer the world―glorified depictions of things people didn’t really need.

In a patch of grass between a gas station and the sidewalk was a sign with the words: ATM. ICE. PROPANE. I tried to keep watch for imminent danger but found my eyes pulled to these spot-lit words and images. Strapped to a light post was a piece of cardboard in the shape of a giant can with the words: ENERGY + HYDRATION. 2 FOR $4. Then: $1 SMOOTHIES 9A TO 11A. I kicked up my pace, aiming towards the mountains. My breath grew fast and short and I’d watch where I was going but my eyes would flick around so fast they’d burn words into my brain that I wouldn’t understand until I’d looked back to my course. DON’T MISS OUT. EXCLUSIVE OFFER. NEW DRAMA SERIES. SEE IT IN 3D. On a bus shelter was the image of a human finger touching a picture of a butterfly on the screen of a tablet. RETINA DISPLAY. I pushed my body to keep momentum, as not to look suspicious. All these words were perfectly defined, laser cut. NO LEFT TURN. DOWNLOAD OUR CELL PHONE APP. NO STOPPING. Suddenly I grew disturbed by the hardness of the sidewalk below my feet. My throat got all tight and my mouth dry.

Beyond a vacant parking lot was a row of vending machines butted against a drugstore wall. At the end of the row was a big blue machine wrapped in a graphic of splashing water layered with the words: 50₵ A GALLON. Void of change I still pushed the button. I punched the button. I kicked the machine. I grabbed the effin’ thing by its side and rocked it back and forth. No water was expelled. I kicked more, beating the piece of shit till I hurt my fuckin’ foot. So I punched the goddamn device with all my might and then my eyes flicked to a symbol of a camera and the words: WARNING. ALL ACTIVITIES ARE RECORDED TO AID IN THE PROSECUTION OF ANY CRIME COMMITTED AGAINST THIS FACILITY. A quick glance up revealed a black orb mounted above store’s entrance. Casually I put my head down, walked around the corner, and bolted the hell out of there.

As I ran I convinced myself no one was watching that camera, it was just a scare tactic, I’d be fine. A block later I turned a corner expecting to find the bike trail I’d run in on, but it wasn’t there. The ads had knocked me off course. Frantically I ran back around the block looking for an identifiable landmark. Every patch of sky was blocked by a luminous sign. Again my breath grew irregular. Realizing this I inhaled deeply through my nose. Drought ripped down my esophagus and I felt faint.

Everywhere I turned, more signs: FREE ESTIMATES, FREE NICOTINE PATCHES, FREE VINTAGE GLAMOUR BAG WITH PURCHASE. No water.

My body was all hunched over, nearing collapse when I caught the words: NO ANIMALS ALLOWED IN THE CHILDREN’S PLAY AREA. At last, a park. Every park in the city had a water fountain.
The whole thing was surrounded by a ten foot tall steel fence with line posts curved outward into pointed pickets at the top―sort of like spears. The fishing spear was the first physical object I’d made since grade school―just realized that. At the corner of the park I was able to leap and grab two of the pickets and pull myself up and over. I dashed towards the bathrooms and arriving at the drinking fountain I leaned down and twisted my neck to slurp cool precious water.

The first photo I ever uploaded to a stock photography site was this shot I’d taken of an apple. I’d purchased the apple for sixty-five cents, lit it well, and captured this image. Within a month I made over five dollars off the photo. The idea of a photo being worth more than the physical object it depicted was groundbreaking to my consumer mind. Really it wasn’t just the single photograph that was valued more than the apple―the value came from the fact that the photograph could be duplicated time and time again yet sold for the same price. And as long as that price was more economical than the customer going out and taking a photograph of an apple themselves, they’d buy from me. And me being the owner of the archetype meant me reaping all the proceeds. In a sense it was the opposite of, ‘Teach a man to fish…’

The rate of water coming out of the fountain was terribly unsatisfying. I kept altering the contortion of my body throughout the twenty-odd minutes it took to quench my thirst. On a rooftop across the street I spotted a billboard depicting a luminous plastic bottle with liquid exploding from the cap: NEW. ENHANCED.

CLOUDLESS SKY

Golden sunlight wobbled in a web across clean sand. My eyes widened, thirsting in awe. Rising, gasping for air, I’d hear only oxygen’s course deep within my lungs. Swimming naked in the river I found my flesh.

Days after a dumpster binge I’d dive fully clothed into the small pool below the waterfall. A rotten cloud would drift from my garments and I’d remove them to wring and mend the filth from the fabric. After hanging the clothes upon sunlit branches, I’d leap back into the pool naked as a native.

My heart would race like I was falling in love―be it the liquid engulfing my nerves, the free range of motion, or the thrill of breaking federal law. Wearing my skin like a glove I’d extend and stroke my arms and kick my legs with strapping hunger. I’d match the force of the current, muscles tightening with each blow.

This is where I found my flesh.

Pinkies, knuckles, ring fingers, middle fingers, index fingers, thumbs, palms, wrists, forearms, elbows, triceps, biceps, shoulders, earlobes, scalp, chest, abs, torso, glutes, thighs, knees, calves, ankles, souls, toes. This is where I found my flesh.

Midday the river lit up like a display case. Like a crystal clear tumble polished glacier with an aqua-blue hue. Rainfall that’d rolled down unpolluted peaks―water in its truest form―virginal in its quest towards imminent corruption.

My heart would race. Blood coursing through my stomach, my liver, intestines, bladder, prostate, cock, balls, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, brain. The cloudless-sky simplicity. The non-detrimental fight against nature’s life-giving fury.

No stitch, no hem to hold me back, swimming naked in the river there was no pain.

WINDOW SHOPPING

All I had to do was climb down a mountain and run fifteen miles and they’re be plenty of free food to nourish me. And if I ran fifteen miles back and climbed up a mountain I had a free place to stay every night. There was no more debt. There was no more stress. There was just one thing nature was asking of me in return―something I couldn’t give on my own.

This one morning my thighs were wrapped tight around my jacket. My face was pressed dominantly into the fabric. Tenderly I thrust my pelvis at its soft supple form. And as I drifted closer to consciousness I embraced the jacket’s inertness with greater coerce―probing for a response. But upon waking all I had was a case of morning wood, and a jacket stuffed with dead leaves.

Down by the creek I saw dragon flies riding other dragon flies, squirrels chased other squirrels around trees, and male lady bugs climbed on top of lady lady bugs. Whatever dream I was having eluded me. While drifting through the forest I found myself caught in the middle of a conversation between two birds. At first it sounded like a wheezing dog, but it was undeniably coming from the trees. One bird would rattle off this deep avowal and then a bird in another tree would respond at a slightly higher pitch. The bird making the deep calls hoped throughout his tree until he finally flapped his wings and swooped to meet the other.

That night the first billboard on the way into Vertamont was of a big empty condom layered with the words: WHY NOT? A mile later I was running past Vertamont Public School 198. A poster of a cheerful teenage girl hung behind glass on the side of a bus shelter. Across her torso were the words: SHE’S KEEPING HERS. WHAT ABOUT YOU? When your legs are kicking at ten MPH and your heart’s pumping fast―and it’s been close to a month since you peered into the eyes of the opposite sex―you start to think immorally of printed pixels.

Inside the JBs dumpster I bit the crowns off a bundle of asparagus, squeezed avocado flesh into my mouth, and devoured a dozen browning bananas. I chomped on a garlic clove while my stomach caught up to my gait. Then I pried oyster shells open with my nails and ate out their raw meat till I had my fill.

In the dash from the dumpster to the shadows I caught a glimpse of a trim blonde pushing a shopping cart through the parking lot. While I waited for a van to pass down the alleyway―before hopping the wall―I watched as the blonde bent over and stuffed groceries in her trunk. Skin tight leggings gave clue to an immaculately toned behind. The only thing stopping me from running up and mounting her was the word, EXTERMINATION, flashing bright as police lights in my cranium. But I couldn’t tell if that was meant to warn or inspire, because as I climbed the wall to get out of there a breeze kicked up and as the wind graced my ear it whispered, “Spread your seed.”

I had to see Sylvia.

I was an effin’ idiot not to have slept with her. Every time we got to making-out she’d have some excuse not to go further, but probably she was just testing me. I had to go to her. She was the only safe female I could interact with. Probably she’d heard what happened to me from television or the internet. I had to show her I wasn’t insane, that I was doing what I was doing because I wanted to do it.

Sweat rolled off my brow as I slowed to a stop in the alley behind her place. Suddenly I got nervous. I feared she wouldn’t recognize me or worse I’d startle her into calling the cops. I decided it’d be best to first observe her from afar.

I rolled a plastic recycling bin under the fire escape of an adjacent building and sprung off it to grasp the last wrung of the ladder. The bin crashed loudly to the ground, spilling its contents. Making up for the noise I quietly pulled myself up onto the metal base and gently made my way to the seventh floor. From there I could see down into Sylvia’s bedroom window. Her lights were on.

As I stared, waiting to see movement, I sat crouched in a ball thinking up excuses I’d tell if someone caught me out there. My panting slowed to a relaxed pace and then stopped as I saw Sylvia’s figure cross a gap in the curtains. I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly I wondered if she was dressed for bed or if she was going to undress with the curtains open like that. I shifted around the platform trying to get a better view. My breath got all shallow and the rest of the world dropped from consciousness. Sylvia came back into frame. She laid on the bed with her laptop. I really wanted to climb over there and steal her attention. Light from the laptop’s screen flashed across her face. Her long dark hair was spread all across her t-shirt. She was frozen, like the device had a serious hold on her. After she hadn’t moved for a great length of time I began to worry. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t moving. Slowly I became aware of the fact that I wasn’t moving. I grew jealous of the laptop. I couldn’t understand what could be so fascinating as to captivate the girl’s attention for such a length of time. Her expression was blank. Tension amassed on my forehead. I wanted to free her. I wanted to show her the clarity I’d found. I wanted to smell her hair, taste her lips, hear her breath, and feel her soft skin and warm body against my flesh. A moment later she walked to the window, shut the curtains, and her light went out.

As I sat there, on the cold steel, I started thinking it was best I didn’t go see her―being that I was covered in dumpster filth and all. I told myself to wait till I was living more successfully off the land. Then I could sweep in and make a great impression on her.

Suddenly a window slid open to my right. Laughter and conversation erupted from inside. Then smoke, someone was smoking and blowing the exhaust outside. My adrenalin started to pump and I fought to stay still. This window was in-between me and the tight stairs leading down to the street. Again, lips poked out of the window and blew. I stood up and inched my body towards the stairs. The obnoxious human mouth emerged and puffed another stream of smoke outside. Right as they shifted inside I leaned over and put all my weight on the window shutting it hard. I dove down the stairs and when I got to the second floor I climbed over the railing and hung by my hands before dropping to the ground. I thought I heard someone shout but my flight was so internally deafening I couldn’t know for sure. I landed on all fours to minimize impact and barely made it to a two legged stance as I rounded the corner of the building.

A door exploded open behind me and I panicked. I turned to a garbage bin, reached in, and leaned over to disguise my face. I found a glass bottle and as I pulled it out, I stole a glance towards the door. Out of the corner of my eye I could see it was just a man with a dog tied to a rope. He was walking the opposite direction.

BALL OF LIGHT

Clouds hung low. As I ran back towards the mountains I couldn’t even see the peaks. As I climbed the mountain the city faded behind me, and then I broke through. Turning around at the top of the ridge all I could see were plants jutting from the edge, and then backlit fog. Moist air ripped in and out of my lungs. In my head I pretended the cliff was a straight ninety degree drop off. To step out of the proximate nature would mean sure death, which in turn meant none of the madness of the city could get to me.

I climbed on top of my boulder and noticed a tiny light deep in the woods. There weren’t any lights in that direction any of the other nights and during the day I saw no structures. I set my newly retrieved glass bottle on the boulder and walked towards the light.

Everything seemed centered around this radiant ball. Looking into it made it harder for my eyes to see the ground in front of me. There was no trail. I kept stomping down brush and tripping over rocks. The light pulled me. Every couple steps a thorny bush would catch on my pants or shoelaces, or even dig into the flesh of my arm, but I kept going. The thought of turning back crossed my mind but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep wondering what was out there. Eventually I wasn’t sure I’d know the way back. My eyes darted around capturing images of distinct trees.

The light grew. It was coming from inside something―like a big balloon. My mind ran through possibilities and all I could think of was a crashed hot air balloon. Then I realized it was closer than I thought. Quickly the object came into form. It was a tent.

I stopped to contemplate my next move and the light went out. I heard no one. The negative outline of the tent throbbed hot in my retinas. Once my vision adjusted to the dark I could see the fabric of the tent was printed with a camouflage pattern―the type hunters use. Holding my breath I stealthily turned back towards my boulder.

IMAGE MAKER

In the morning I awoke to find the fog crawling through the trees. It was so dense I could hardly see past the edge of the boulder―like I was on a peak on top of the peak. My body ached. I was thirsty as hell.

As I carried my glass bottle to the creek I felt relief in the fact that I couldn’t see further than thirty feet in any direction. I liked the mystery it evoked. This is probably why I never cared for GPS devices. I enjoy the ability to get lost. As an adolescent it depressed me to learn not only was I born after every piece of land had been discovered, but also photographed―and not only photographed by man, but also captured by satellites circling the Earth. Everything clearly defined and intricately labeled.

I dunked the bottle under the surface and watched a chain of tiny bubbles escape its neck. Water saturated my muscles as I walked the edge of the creek. Faintly I saw movement downstream, on the opposing side of the creek. I walked closer, carefully trying not to startle whatever it was. My gaze dropped down to check my footing. When I looked up I had a bit of a scare as I thought I was staring down a pack of velociraptors. I blinked and realized they were wild turkeys. There were three, one of which was whipping its head around and scrapping its beak on the ground. Moving closer I could see a green band around the beak. The more it gobbled the further the band moved up the beak. The other turkeys waddled off at the sight of my presence.

For a moment the hindered bird twisted its head around to me. Sincerely I gazed into the creature’s dark eyes seeking a connection. I heard a rustle behind me and turned expecting to see more. I saw nothing but trees and brush. Quickly I turned my attention back to the turkey to find it was on the move. Entranced and eager to help the beast I followed. I ran it down and grasped for its beak. The bird flapped its wings in my face. I circled the beast and ripped the green ring from its beak. Then I heard what sounded like footsteps. I turned around. I stood still. The turkey took off running, but I remained motionless. There was a bush I couldn’t take my eyes off of. My vision had grown stronger throughout the initial weeks in the woods, however I still needed my glasses to see the fine points. My eyes stayed fixed on this bush while I walked towards my bag.

With my glasses I could see the bush in great detail. Although it hadn’t moved I was convinced it wasn’t a product of the forest. Tension pressurized within me as I took the initial steps toward it.

CL-CLICK.

There was a sound that triggered a cerebral reaction. A sound that sent me into a defensive state. It sounded like a bird or an angry squirrel. I wondered if this might be a nest I was peering at. Dipping down on a stride I picked up a rock and clenched it tight.

CL-CLICK. CL-CLICK. CL-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK.

For a second the object seemed to float up off the ground. Then I saw feet. Rage trickled through my veins. I knew what the sound was. I’d heard a million times. The presumed bush was really a man suited in camouflage lifting a camera on a tripod which was draped in camouflage netting. His movements became frenzied as I was now at a close enough distance to strike him by throwing the rock. Franticly He struggled to collapse the tripod. I closed in as he stepped backwards and detached the camera. I began to charge at full speed. Abandoning the tripod he burst into a mad sprint. I threw the rock and missed. Enraged I sprinted after him.

The man was running so strong and I became so close he was kicking dirt into my face with each stride. He picked up speed as he hung the camera around his neck. Devoid of deliberation I was driven by an involuntary force. My left foot was chasing my right. The intruder swung around the back of a large chunk of granite. I leapt on top of the stone, targeted him, and pounced with arms fully extended. One hand grasped the camera strap and I slammed him to the ground alongside me. I stood up in front of him and he began to speak.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. Please. I have money…” he said.

I stepped on his forearm.

“Aghh. Please,” he cried, “listen to me…A photograph of you is priced at thirty grand. I have―”

I reached in to grab the camera. He kicked at me and missed.

“No, no, no. I’m sorry.” He pleaded, “I have cash money―I have food―Food, yes, I have chips in my truck―”

He swung his head to the left. Then, with the force of a bull, the bastard kicked me in the gut with both feet. I fell hard on my ass. My incisors flexed and nostrils flared as he rose above me.

CL-CLICK.

After clicking a shot the bastard bolted out of there. My face grew cold and moist. If there were anything in my stomach I would have heaved it up. I stumbled to my feet and rushed at the man with the force of a meteorite.

By now he’d attained a decent lead. Weaving through trees I gained on him inch by inch. He glanced back at me for a millisecond and then, like a rubber playground ball slapping concrete, he crashed full force into a tree.

Terrified I approached the motionless body of the piece of shit camouflage paparazzi. I knelt down beside him and pressed my cheek to the ground. His chest seemed to be rising. It was hard to tell because he had one of those thick vests with a thousand pockets and I was shaky as a mother fucker.

I pulled his hand off a pocket near his belly and pressed my index finger to his wrist. To my relief the bastard had a pulse. I slipped the camera strap over his head and pulled it securely around my neck and shoulder. If I left him lay there he would have most probably died. I tucked my arms under his and lifted his upper body. I wanted him as far away from my camp as possible. I figured I’d drag him as far as I could in the direction he was running.

The body held so much weight I thought for a second the man was awake and resisting my efforts. I checked and he was still comatose. Guilt set a fire inside of me and I got a strong momentum going. My body was on a mission to move this man. My brain insisted I hurry. The bastard’s shoes kept catching on roots and stones. The land dropped and I picked up speed. Then, out of the fog, I saw a road and a battered pickup truck parked in a turn-out.

I dropped the man on the dirt embankment above the truck. Looking back I saw his feet had left two distinct trails in the leaves. Anxiously I spun his body around and ran back to shuffle the ground with my hands and feet. If by chance he did die out there people would come searching. They have a way of finding every detail. They’d trace it all to me and I’d be labeled a murderer. I could already hear the cable news channel commentators criticizing the judge for setting me free in the wild.

My palms patted the man’s pants and found a cell phone. I pulled it out and held it through my shirt to avoid finger prints. My thumbs trembled as I fought to press 9-1-1-SEND. I didn’t do anything wrong. They’d take care of him, bring him back to life, and with any luck he wouldn’t remember a thing.

The next thing I did is I picked up a jagged rock and pounded it against the windshield of the truck till it cracked like a spider web. Then I threw the rock against the headlight. Glass showered to the ground. I picked the rock back up and tossed it into the brush. My ears were open so wide, listening for any hint of cars coming along the road.

Quickly I looked over the scene: dude crashed his truck, crawled out, and fell unconscious. Simple. The door of the truck was closed. Shit. And locked. Nothing about the scene made sense. My body was shaking with anxiety. I ripped car keys from the man’s pants pocket and opened the truck door. It still didn’t look right. The truck was parked perfectly on the side of the road. I jumped in the cab, jammed the keys in the ignition, shifted the transmission to neutral, and climbed out as it slid backwards down the road. I pulled off my shoes, ripped off a bushy pine tree limb to rough up my footprints, and ran up the embankment. I heard the truck crash before I could turn back to see. It had rolled across the road and back into an embankment on the other side. Perfect.

As I ran back to my camp with the camera around my neck I kept sliding my feet and brushing out any trails made by the man’s dragging heels with my pine branch. My heart beat with such force I didn’t mind the twigs and pebbles puncturing my bare feet.

Just before arriving back to my boulder I saw the tripod draped in camouflage netting. I threw my shoes and the camera towards the boulder. Internal alarms screamed in my ears as I recalled the camouflage tent from the previous night. It all had to go. It had to go now.

Using my same course I was able to find the tent through the fog. I threw my body into it collapsing it to the ground. There was a big bag inside. I rolled it all up tight and raced back to the truck. Cautiously I approached the embankment. The paprazzi bastard was still in the same position I’d left him. God I hoped I hadn’t killed him. I mean―I did nothing wrong. He did it to himself.

No one was around. I ran out across the street and threw the tent and tripod in the back of his truck. Everything was in place. Then I realized one last detail that would ensure my secrecy. I ran to the body and slid my arms under his and began dragging him across the road. The sound of sirens seeped into earshot, paralyzing me. I snapped out of it. I pulled the body faster and his shoe popped off. I kept moving. I maneuvered him up the embankment on the other side of the road, right by his truck. Sirens screeched louder. If there was any searching it’d take place on the other side. Red and blue beams of light were bound to break through the fog any second now. I lifted the shoe while sprinting back across the road and tossed it like a discus deep into the far side of the woods.

The piercing moan of sirens rapidly increased as I ran towards my camp. Then, as I got further away, the noise faded, and soon it was gone. I’d be fine, I told myself, there’d be no reason for them to come into the woods.

I ripped my bag, shoes, and the camera from the ground and jogged down to the creek. I dunked the camera underwater. I wadded across the stream and found some nice boulders. As I lifted the camera high above my head I thought of the photographer trying to capture me. He’d come all the way out here just to observe me and capture my image so others could observe me―a loop of observations―nothing actually happening. Fervently I swung the camera down towards the rock. The lens cracked and I lifted it again, and again, and smashed it down again, and again. The LCD screen, composed of rare earths meticulously plucked from the other side of the planet, shattered and fragments fell to a resting place in the soil by my feet. I wanted to destroy the machine beyond recognition.

The damn thing was solid as a brick. Instead of breaking apart it just became scratched and dented. Taking it by the strap I let myself lose control and using all of my body weight I swung it into the rock. The camera and lens split apart. I ran my fingers around the edges, examining the machine’s body. It had a little door on the side that you slide open. This is usually where the memory is stored. Through all my bashing and beating it was still locked shut. I popped it open and the slot was empty. My insides sunk a hundred feet down into the ground and I felt fire in the flesh of my face.

Rapidly I scanned over the area thinking it might have fallen out while swinging the camera around. I know those cards and they don’t drop out easy. The bastard paparazzi must have slipped it out and stuffed it into a vest pocket. Playing it back in my mind I saw him running, stuffing his hand in a pocket, and then looking back to see if I saw. Surely that’s what he was doing. People always check to see if someone’s looking when doing something sneaky.

My guilt soaked heart fought to pump blood through my veins as I idly proceeded to bash the camera. The cold water of the creek melted into my skin as I dug at the soft soil below. Using the weight of my body I pushed the pieces of the camera into the base of the creek till they vanished.

Maybe no one would ever check his pockets. Police officers don’t even know what an SD card is. Do they? I ran back to the boulder and shuffled leaves around. Then I put on my shoes and kicked my fire circle out of form. Bad move―I stubbed my effin’ toe. Worn out I wandered over to the peak overlooking the city and propped myself up against a tree.

I closed my eyes and imagined I was on that peak, thousands of feet in the sky, inaccessible from the city. As my nerves began to cool I started salivating over the thought of a dumpster dinner awaiting me.

BE SAFE

For the most part my route into the city was off the beaten path. Immediately after the freeway I’d lurk through a wealthy neighborhood consisting of old homes on large tree filled plots. Then I’d cross a commercial street and cut through an industrial area. Miles later I’d meet up with the river. I assumed it was the same river that ran through the mountains, but I’ve never actually seen its full course. At this point the water flowed through a narrow trough at the bottom of a cement channel thirty feet below street level. On the upper edge of the channel was a poorly paved maintenance road. To enter the road I had to hop a four foot tall chain-link fence with signs that read: TRESPASSING FORBIDDEN BY LAW, PUNISHABLE UP TO―blah, blah, blah. No one was ever on this road. After jogging about four miles it turned into the bike path which either had tunnels under or bridges over the streets and ran all the way through Downtown. Usually I’d exit in Center City West, but I knew―depending on the popularity of a man found mysteriously unconscious on a rural road cutting through the forest―that night was possibly my last chance to see Sylvia. So in an attempt to look my best I delayed my dumpster binge and pressed onward to Downtown.

Immediately after exiting the path I paced around waving my shirt, trying to evaporate sweat from my skin. I sat on the curb and dug at sticker bush burs intertwined in my shoelaces. One bur was so enmeshed I had to unlace the entire shoe to get it out.

Sylvia’s fire escape wasn’t as handy as the other one I’d climbed. I had to shimmy up a pipe to the second floor and then push off the wall, leaping to grasp a steel railing. Watchfully I pulled myself up and ascended to the sixth floor, stopping before crossing each window to ensure I went unseen. You couldn’t see into Sylvia’s apartment from the fire escape. A decent brick ledge ran around each level of the building. One time we were hanging out at her place, and her cat walked out on the ledge, and I had to go around and corner it back into the apartment. With my hands griping uneven brick I shifted to her living room window. Cautiously I drifted my head over to look in.

Lights were on but the room was vacant. I moved on towards the back of the building. Between the living room window and the bedroom window there was this short wide textured glass window and if it weren’t opened you wouldn’t be able to see in. You weren’t supposed to see in―only, it was slid open a bit. Standing on the tips of my toes and stretching my neck I peered inside and was blasted with moisture. My glasses were instantly fogged. Holding my weight with one hand I slid the glasses down my nose with the other. Before me stood the wet, naked, blurry figure of a female toweling off. I know my vision was horrible but somehow the memory is perfectly clear. Reluctantly I ducked down to catch my breath. I didn’t see everything due to the fact that she was toweling herself, but in that instant, all inner angst was washed away by desire. Unable to defy my own nature I looked again. She now had the towel wrapped tightly around her immaculate body. I’ve slept with enough women to count on two hands and yet I’m as sensitive as a twelve year old, I swear. That combined with my void of female interaction made me rabid.

I ducked down and climbed back to the living room window. She couldn’t know that I saw her. In all the time we’d dated she never let me see anything. I’d pop her bra strap and she’d insist I stop, claiming that she wouldn’t be able to control herself if we went further.

As I sat there, trying to calm myself, the window slid open. No matter how I let my presence be known I‘d scare the shit out of her. I pressed my back up against the wall and started to lean my head over to the window. A hand holding a cigarette and another holding a lighter emerged.

“Sylvia,” I whispered.

She probably couldn’t hear me over the striking of the lighter. She took a drag and before she could exhale I said it louder and leaned my hand to the windowsill. She stepped back from the window and kinda gasped and began coughing in the same breath.

“It’s okay. It’s me.”

She slammed the window shut.

I leaned my face in and tapped on the glass. “It’s me.”

She peered hard. “Andre?! What the hell―”

I pushed the window up. “Please. Don’t freak out. I―” Suddenly I couldn’t think of a good reason to be there. I felt gravely out of place, like I’d broken the worst of taboos.

“What the hell man? I thought you weren’t allowed to leave the woods.”

I pushed my palm towards her signaling her to be quiet. “Yes. I’m still out there. And I plan to stay out there. I just felt bad that I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

She took a drag and let my sentence hang.

“Since when do you smoke?” I said.

“Since Germany lifted their ban on smoking after ten years.” She saw my confusion and added, “What? Scientists proved stress is more of a killer than tobacco.”

“Whaddayou have ta stress about?”

“Finals…”

“Let me see this.” I snatched the cigarette from her grasp and flicked it into the air.

“Are you fucking serious?”

Instantly I wished I could take it back. I felt like a real asshole. It was just something about seeing her pollute her body that really irked me. “Why don’t you get outside once and a while, exercise, there’s plenty of better ways to relieve stress.”

She didn’t say anything.

The whole interaction had turned negative and I couldn’t tell if I was to blame. Desperately I racked my brain for a way to turn it around. “Did Selkie turn up?”

She shook her head.

“She’ll come ‘round.”

In the silence that followed my conscious kicked at me, insisting I tell her how much I wanted her to join me out in the wild. And as I choked back words I thought about how I really should’ve been telling her about the photographer I violently attacked, and how it wasn’t actually my fault if he was dead.

“You have a lot of followers…There’s a fair amount of people that think you’re a joke, but you really do have a lot of people supporting your cause.”

“My cause?”

“Uh-huh. There’s gifs, memes, fan pages, all kinds of stuff.”

“What? That’s stupid.”

“What do you mean that’s stupid? It’s awesome. Here, I’ll show you.” She turned to grab her phone.

“No. Sylvia.”

She brought the phone over and sat by the window with her head down, fingers typing on the screen. “It’s loading.”

“I don’t want to see it.”

“Omaigod you gotta see this graphic.”

“Hey.” I reached in and grabbed her forearm pushing it down so the phone was out of her sight. “You’re probably gunna see some bad press about me.” I noticed she was noticing dirt that’d smeared from my fingers to her pale flesh. “I just want you to know that I’m not insane―I mean…form your own opinions…but…” I let go of her arm.

“What did you kill someone?”

I laughed nervously. “No. Forget it―”

Her phone chimed and vibrated. She started typing.

“You should come with me…” I said. “There’s all this beautiful nature and it’s not even that far from the city―”

“Sorry. What?”

“Hey I should go.”

“No. What did you say?”

“It’s nothing.” I turned away.

“Wait, it’s almost loaded.” The phone vibrated and she looked down again.

“I gotta go. I’ll see you.”

As I moved out of her sight I heard her say, “Be safe.”

The words hung in the air as I descended to ground level. I know she said it by habit, but it really bothered me. Playing it safe, settling for visual stimulation over physical, that’s what kept me trapped for so many years.

GLASSES

Trekking great distances left me with a new found fondness for soreness. For the longest time I’d avoided unnecessary physical activities fearing I’d make the pain in my ass worse or permanent. But given a vast decline in irritation during those initial weeks in the wild it seemed movement was what I lacked.

I spent the entire next day advancing upstream. I figured it was best to abandon my boulder and sink deep into the woods until the mystery of the unconscious photographer blew over. My body was my vessel, my core means of transportation. Fearing the worst, I wanted it tuned to peak efficiency.

As I trekked I’d drop to the ground and do push-ups or swoop to a branch and fire off a set of pull-ups. I aimed to tear my muscles apart. I sought to erase all those years frozen at a screen, wasting away at the mercy of recorded media.

So there I was ten feet in the air, doing triceps dips between a couple of boulders when I saw a little green ring floating down the creek. I looked down as it passed under my feet and my glasses slipped right off my face. I watched as they floated to the water and the further they fell the blurrier they became. I tried to keep a lock on them but everything blended together in the rippling current. I climbed down the boulder and ran around to the creek. My eyes rapidly scanned the water as I approached the edge. I stepped in with my arms out ready to feel for the frames but under my foot I felt a crunch. I’d effin’ cracked ‘em. Without lifting my foot, for fear that I might lose their location, I spun around and submerged my hands. While bouncing my finger tips I grasped the frames, an amputated arm, and a dislodged lens.

A wave of panic walloped within me. You know that oh shit moment when you’re thinking, if only I could turn back time two seconds everything would be fine? This was it. To be without solid vision felt lethal.

At first I made do by holding the glasses to my face. But it’d be ridiculous getting by like that long term. I needed string or an adhesive. There was a patch of tall grass a few yards from the creek. Gently I tied a strand from the back of one arm to the other side of the frames, I held it around to my head to check the sizing. It kinda worked. It was sorta loose but it held. Then I popped the dislodged lens in place and it ripped the grass. I tried again. This time I kept both lenses in and tied the grass to the nub of the broken arm. I shook my head to test durability and the whole thing split apart. The best I could do was wear the frames loosely with one lens in. That wasn’t very appealing.

JBs was the only place I knew I could find string. We were always discarding various forms of packaging. I had no choice, I had to go back.

DEAD BOLT

Once it was dark enough I made my way down to the freeway. Big bright white and red orbs whipped past me. My vision was much too blurred to tell the distances of cars. Gripping my tattered glasses with one hand, I clenched them tight to my face when it was time to run.

After crossing I ran full speed to the grocery store, occasionally lifting the specs to check my bearings. All remaining senses were heightened. The clamor of freight train wheels on iron rails registered from miles away. The stank of the river plagued my nose. Sweat dripped off my lip and salt saturated my tongue. My mouth felt like the firebox of a steam locomotive. I couldn’t wait to get to the dumpster and shovel more fuel into my engine.

Entering the JBs parking lot I was like an effin’ ninja crouching and diving amongst the parked cars. Running on all fours I matched the speed of a moving truck and used it to conceal myself till I reached the side of the building. Before turning the corner to the loading dock I paused. I could hear a cigarette burning, maybe the smell helped, but I swear I could hear smoldering paper. My guess is it was Phil, he always smoked back there. As soon as I heard the back door open and close I made a dash for the far dumpster. The far one was where we disposed of all the cardboard and wrapping. Pushing with all my might the lid wouldn’t budge. I tried both sides, nothing. It was locked tight. I went down the line pushing upwards with my palms. All of the effin’ lids were locked down tight. Freaking out I jumped up on top of the first food dumpster. I ran my fingers along the edges to see what was holding it back. Hanging on the end was a padlock.

That mother fuckin’ fucktard Misael finally locked the dumpsters.

I broke off a loose chunk of cinderblock from the back wall and started banging it against the lock. The block was breaking apart and I slipped my hand against the metal and blood started to bubble up. Sweat built on my brow as I struck the lock with all my might. The back door burst open.

“Gotcha now!”

It was Misael. I stood there, on top of the lid, on all fours looking down on him.

“See that?” He pointed up. “You’re on camera. You’re going away for a long time you sick fuck.”

My eyelids stretched. Adrenalin must have entered eye sockets because for one magical millisecond they flexed and he was in focus. Terror flushed his face. He backed up towards the door. I leapt up on the back wall behind the dumpsters, ran to the end, and jumped into the blackness.

I bolted down the alleyway searching for a hideout. As I passed residential trashcans I thought about jumping in one and concealing myself. I was real hungry and feared I might pass out without eating. Just a little up the way was a trendy café slash restaurant Sylvia liked to hang out at. She was always trying to get me to go with her, as if she had to spend a certain amount of money every day.

Behind a gate, in back of the café, were two dumpsters. I scaled the gate and opened both lids. One was filled with bagged food waste. I dove inside.

The bizarre stench of assorted combinations of lukewarm leftovers brought back ancient memories. The first job I ever worked was as a busboy in a diner. I must have been eleven or twelve when I started working weekends. This was back when people smoked in restaurants. Once they got up and left I’d always tap the contents of the ash tray into one of the coffee mugs to be sure nothing was burning. After clearing the table you’d scrape any leftover food into a designated trashcan. You could wash your pants a hundred times and they’d still smell like that trashcan. When the can was mostly full you’d take the bag out back. You had to watch it because if the bag got too full you wouldn’t be able to lift it. The weight was comparable to a body. The bag would stretch and nearly rip open just before you lugged it over the lip of the dumpster.

Like a king on Christmas I tore open bags. I figured I’d hide out and feast till police sirens ceased. The first greasy handful tasted like a mix of spaghetti, coffee grounds, coleslaw, and ketchup. I kept pushing handfuls into my mouth.

All throughout junior high and high school I continued to work at restaurants. I’d work till I loathed a place and quit and try another restaurant. By the time I was seventeen I vowed never to work a food job again, partly because of that nasty bizarro smell. Funny ‘cause now it was making me salivate.

As I shifted around I punctured holes in the bags and soon I was swimming in food waste. The gate outside squeaked opened and I stopped mid chew to listen. Something was rolling towards me. I put my face down and let myself sink. Orange security lighting burned my eyes as the lid popped open. A big fat bag dropped in on me and I sank a couple feet deeper. The lid closed and I fought to keep still as the shifting waste collapsed my pocket of air. Then I felt something familiar. I’d grasped onto a straw. Scanning it with my thumb and index finger I could tell it was all folded up. I jammed it in my pocket, alongside my glasses. Then I swam to the top of the dumpster, ripping the newest bag in my scuttle. Pushing the lid open with my head and grasping the corner edges with my hands I pulled my legs up from the muck. One of my shoes slipped off just before I’d freed my feet.

“Hey!” shouted a voice.

My heart skipped as I realized I was being watched. I looked up and could see a tubby figure shaking a fist at the back door to the restaurant.

“Uh-uh. No. Not allowed,” said the voice.

I squinted my eyes trying to see clearer as I contemplated diving back in for my other shoe.

“Habla English? Get out of here. Vamonos!”

Juices dripped from my shirt as I climbed up the gate and ran on top of the wall dividing the patio from the alleyway.

“That’s the guy. The animal guy.” shouted a customer.

“Call 9-1-1,” shouted another voice.

Women screamed and patrons ran inside. I jumped to a trashcan, knocked it over, and ran down the alleyway. Lacking a shoe, I ran lopsided making a big wide u-turn around city blocks in an attempt to evade police―which weren’t yet in sight―but really nothing was in sight. I couldn’t see shit. People gasped as I nearly crashed into them and cars stopped inches from my spaghetti sauce soiled flesh.

North of Downtown a blur of a woman was exiting this little coin operated toilet by the rapid transit station. I ducked inside before the door slid closed. The damn thing felt like an automated coffin. I pulled off the remaining shoe and ripped out the lace. I worked fast to tie it to my frames. There was this electric timer―like you’d see on a time bomb―counting down from ten minutes, at which point I imagined the floor would drop and I’d be ejected to the sewers below. I pulled the glasses around my head and tightened the lace. Paranoia itched at me as I began to picture police waiting on the other side of the door.

With nine minutes and ten seconds left I smacked the door release button. The skin of my bare feet griped concrete as I ran the block. No cops, just faint sirens.

If I was smart I would have found a good hiding place and passed out for the night. But as I fled I kept running my fingers over the lump in my pocket. The straw that I’d found in the dumpster was folded the exact way Sylvia would fold her straws like flowers. For all know I ate her leftovers. It was sign. I had to see her. I had to convince her to come with me.
I sniffed at my shirt. It was all saturated with juices of dissimilar dishes. I thought about taking it off, but that seemed cheesy as hell. Blocks before Sylvia’s place I found a patch of grass that was damp from sprinklers. I dove onto the grass and rolled around, wiping away clumps of food and sauce. The shirt was looking pretty good till I smelled shit. Fuckin’ dog shit was smeared across my rear right shoulder. I ripped the shirt off and forcefully rubbed it into the grass. Out of the corner of my eye I could feel a car slowing down.

I didn’t bother looking, in case it was the po-po or whoever, I just bolted the hell out of there.

As I sprinted around the corner of Sylvia’s apartment building I was pulling my shirt over my head and I smacked into a human body. I heard a woman gasp. Once the shirt was over my head I could see it was her. It was Sylvia.

“What the hell are you doing?” she said.

“Oh shit. Are you okay?”

She continued walking to the recycling bin on the side of her building. I stood in place, in a bemused state of awe, and watched as she tossed a bag into the bin.
“I was just coming to see you,” I said, “I thought I’d stop by and…”

She walked right past me with her head down, heading towards the front of the building, and said, “You should go.”

My heart dropped to my gut. I pursued her. “Hey. Wait.” I reached my hand in my pocket and grasped the straw. I was about to show it to her.

She said, “If you’re looking to use my place as a safe house you can go elsewhere. I’m not in the mood.” She kept moving towards the front gate.

I stuffed the straw back in my pocket. “No. I’m here to see you. Really…I’m out there all day without television or internet or anyone and I keep picturing you. You’re the only person I think about.”

She stopped, turned back, and softly said, “My friends told me if you ever came back here again, that I need to call the police.”

I looked her square in the eye, realizing there was probably something about the photographer on the news. “No. Oh no. Hear me out…I didn’t do anything to that guy. He ran into an effin’ tree. Knocked himself out cold.”

There was a look of disbelief in her eye.

“Swear,” I said.

She turned her shoulder and continued walking.

“Hey,” I shouted. “Are you really going to trust some photographs you saw on the news over my word?”

She opened the gate, slipped in, and let it slam behind her.

“I think you’re too into images,” I called out through the bars. “I think you let screens and graphics run your head.”
She stopped. “You’re the one obsessed with photography.”

“I’m not anymore. I found something better…I think you’d love it out there. You should come with me. I think it’d be good for you.”
“You think too much.”

As I contemplated her criticism she turned and walked back towards the gate.

“Look,” she said, lowering her voice. “It’s all over the news that you’re wanted for the attempted murder of a nature photographer.”

My ribcage closed in on my organs like a vice.

She continued, “What the fuck is that? I don’t know what to believe. I’m not going to call the police, but you need to leave right now.”

She turned and walked away. After a second I took off running.

WITHDRAW

All I could think about while I raced back towards the mountains was how confused poor Sylvia was. I couldn’t blame her. She was raised in a city. She probably saw nature as a nuisance, something to be tamed or stomped out. To think I think too much. The girl was out of her mind.

I thought about how I should have responded by telling her she uses pets to fill a void. And that her cat ran out because it was tired of staring out the window, and that adopting an animal and locking it in a one bedroom apartment isn’t rescuing an animal, it weakens the animal. But those would’ve been mean things to say.

Guilt from the interaction meshed with guilt from the scuffle with the photographer and a fire erupted within me. It ate at my innards and I got so lost in my thoughts I fell off my usual course. Everything started pissing me off. I shook the shit out of a parking meter. I kicked over a sign that read: SPACE AVAILABLE. I tipped over a port-a-potty outside a construction site. I ripped an ADVERTISE HERE ad out of a bus bench. And I hated myself for destroying things. And I thought about it more and convinced myself I was only destroying things that were made through a process that feeds the destruction of nature.

My rage became too much and I had to remove myself from the street. I had to get away from all the signage and innovation―the passive malevolence. I climbed a six foot tall cement wall outside a cemetery, pounced to the ground, and ran between rows of tombstones. With skyscrapers bouncing in my peripherals I thought about that fuckin’ paparazzi masking himself as a nature photographer. The words don’t even fit together. There’s nothing natural about photography.

My pace didn’t slow as I came up on the freeway. Olympic athletes would have been jealous of my stride. It looked clear so I just ran right out there. The bare flesh of my feet gripped the road like talons to a squirrel. As I vaulted over the median it was clear I wouldn’t make it all the way. Keeping up momentum I ran past the HOV lane and the first two lanes. Then I flexed every muscle in my body to stop on the white line between the final two lanes. The lace around my head popped and my spectacles kept their momentum, propelling into the night air. I closed my eyes. Two cars flew past me simultaneously―one in front, one in back―at eighty plus MPH. I heard the glasses bounce off the windshield of the car in front as my body wobbled like a piece of paper caught on end in the wind. I opened my eyes and heard the glasses crunch twice under tires.
All that lay ahead was a blur.

SUNLIGHT

Lying in the tall grass, half asleep with direct sunlight gracing my flesh, I became formless, nameless, undefined.

The Sun’s heat has a way of mixing molecules and loosening beliefs. My mind felt so warm and hazy I could have been anything living in anytime. Memories and visions drifted in and out of my head. I recalled that I had a car and that I rented an apartment in a massive city and I wondered what the hell I was doing there―why I was living that life. It really seemed as if I’d become another organism, like these things in my past never really happened.

A breeze graced the surrounding flora. I felt cleansed, as if sunlight evaporated all polluted concepts and left me with a pure primitive perspective. Two needs: food and water―no middle man.

In the searing sleepy heat I envisioned all the girls I’d had crushes on in grade school, middle school, high school―girls I’d locked eyes with on the street, and girls that’d caught me staring at their tits. I felt regret for not mating with them. I felt shame for not spreading my seed.

The decades spent under a roof, seeing only by way of artificial light, what a gyp.

MEMORIES

The air was hot and sticky. Fat puffy clouds floated high above the tree tops. My bare feet splashed through icy water as I ventured up the creek. I had my shirt off and I kept dunking it in the water, trying to wash out grime. There wasn’t much hope. I tied it to my bag thinking it might come in handy if I found myself bleeding to death. Aside from the shirt and backpack my only possessions were my pants, underwear, belt, sweatshirt, ski mask, lighter, glass bottle, gloves, and the double zip-lock bagged hard-drive.

The hard-drive held the most weight. It kept me cautious in that I didn’t wanna bang it against anything or get it wet. My goal was to get as far away from the area where I’d left Mr. Nature Photographer, and where I’d initially been released into the wild. I imagined police were combing those parts of the woods and I knew I had to be light on my feet and ready to flee at a moment’s notice without leaving a trace. So I contemplated the drive’s value. I was hopeful my appearance in the city the previous night had thrown the authorities off my trail, but still, I considered losing the drive.

The greatest feeling of freedom had come over me in the days after I surrendered my possessions. In time I didn’t mind losing everything, but the hard-drive felt like the one thing I had to keep. You think of all the hours spent downloading and backing up data, the fact that you had a drive, filled it up, and transferred everything to a newer, bigger, faster one. You think of the photographs and videos and how they can never be replicated. The journal entries, the files you’ve cradled for years―they wouldn’t make sense to anyone else but you can’t throw them away because they’re growing a historical value with age. Again I wondered who the drive would go to after I was gone. If I had multiple kids which kid would get it? What files would interest them?

The creek grew deep and wide as I pushed further upstream. Internally I put myself in the mind of a child receiving a hard-drive from an ancestor―something I’d never experienced. Probably I’d be most interested in seeing photographs. I’d be interested in seeing how my ancestors lived and what was photo worthy to them. If I received the drive when I was older I might find it inspiring, but if I received it when I was young and grew up in the shadow of these files I might be overwhelmed.

The creek became so deep I had to stick to the bigger rocks to keep my backpack above the surface. I remembered something that’d hit me when I deleted my porn folder―like I said, it
wasn’t easy to erase―without it I realized I was more turned on by the idea of these girls getting naked than I was the actual photographs. The memories could expand through imagination while the data was limited to a designation.

The water level continued to rise and foliage on the banks was too thick to walk through. I pulled the hard-drive out of my backpack and held it at arm’s length. All of those effin’ files. All the hours spent downloading and backing up data. You think of the time you searched for that perfect image of a forest at sunrise or a tropical beach to use as your desktop background―something to dream about while you worked your shitty desk job. You think of all the pollution caused by offices running hundreds of computers, the servers that constantly run to generate the World Wide Web, and the rape of the earth’s soil to mine rare earths for the manufacture of more and more hard-drives.

The creek was now deep and wide enough I could have been swimming, but I held the drive high above my head, still contemplating its worth. I thought about the weakness in my eyes, the pain in my body, the depletion of my health caused by the hours spent babying myself frozen before a screen. Finally I considered the fact that maybe I do think too much, and maybe that’s because since birth every move I’ve made has been officially recorded and eternally logged.

I planted my feet on the bottom of the creek, pulled the drive back behind my head, and threw the damn thing at rocks jutting from the bank. The black plastic casing split upon impact. Shiny metal shone through the cracks. I dunked my body under the surface and gripped water with all fours. I climbed onto the rocks, removed my backpack, and proceeded to smash the drive by hand. The rest of the casing came off and I was holding this silver metal box. I smashed it with all my might and it barely flexed. A metal plate was on either face of the box and the plates were screwed on with these tiny little screws. I smashed it harder. I picked it up and threw it at the rocks. I knew the actual data was on an aluminum platter within the case. I smashed and smashed and couldn’t get through the plates. I stopped to catch my breath and wondered what happens when you create something you can’t destroy.

Another one of those little green rings came floating down the creek. I leapt in the water and grabbed it. It was plastic. On the other side of the creek I noticed an old wood rail fence.

I left my things and ran and climbed over the fence. I climbed up a hill. Ahead I could see a lot of blue―the edge of the woods. A rusty barbed wire fence ran along the tree line. I stomped my foot on a section of wire and made it sag so low I could step clean over. Before me lay a dark green, seven foot tall, immaculately spaced cornstalk jungle.

INTO THE FARM

Soil crumbled between my toes. Sharp leaves scratched at my arms. Without stopping I grasped an ear of corn and tugged hard to rip it off the stalk. I walked along pealing it open, picking the hairs. The kernels were hard but I worked ’em with my teeth. I kept switching aisles for fear someone could see me. I tried to think of what I’d do if I saw a human. Then I became obsessed with the fear of a machine bursting out of nowhere―one of those massive contraptions with a bunch of jagged spinning blades. I kept seeing it sweeping me up in its path and ripping my body into a hundred gooey pieces. Total annihilation. My severed head would have one brief instant to realize it was severed before life ceased and more corn piled in on top of it. Extinction level event. A simple leap straight up in the air would’ve provided a grasp of my surroundings, but doing so could’ve easily blown my cover.

After what felt like a mile I reached the end. I stayed tucked in the aisle while I surveyed the area. At the immediate edge of the field was a dirt road. Beyond that was a stone farmhouse surrounded by a grassy lawn. To my left was a barn and then some smaller structures I couldn’t really make out. Far to my right was a row of pine trees which divided the farm from what appeared to be a housing development.

The faint hum of a lawn mower and children’s playful banter drifted through the air. It was a beautiful afternoon. My eyes were fixated on pre-dusk sunlight cutting through garments flapping on a clothesline when a truck whipped past me, traveling down the dirt road. A cloud of dust kicked up and my heart sank. I backed myself into the aisle, turned around, and started pushing back towards the woods. I didn’t feel anyone had seen me but I knew it’d be wise to wait for nightfall before exploring further.

Back in the woods I gathered my things and took a seat on the ground. I felt incredibly dizzy. I’d been walking all day and was hungry as hell. My head got all tingly and I wondered if the corn had poisoned me. I think they call it feed corn when it’s hard like that. I don’t think people are supposed to eat it. My head rolled back to the ground and after a minute of convincing myself I’d be fine I blacked out.

The warm chirp of crickets and humid night air faded to consciousness. Frogs croaked at a distance. I felt this deep inner heat like I’d slept for a thousand years. Leisurely I strapped on my backpack―minus the hard-drive and glass bottle―and started back towards the farm looking to score a midnight snack.

All was quiet when I broke through the cornfield. Pale blue moonlight blanketed the entire farm. I tiptoed through the cool grass around the farmhouse gawking at old trees ballooning up into the sky. I paused behind one to be sure I was in the clear. Light was coming from the house. I couldn’t tell if it was from the inside or security lighting on the exterior, anyway I decided the house was off limits.

I darted across the dirt road towards the barn. I pushed on a door and the hinges creaked like a banshee. Briskly I swept the door open and closed. My eyes adjusted to the lack of light and all I could see were a few hay bales stacked in the corner. The place was empty.

I exited out a back door and found ancient machinery and antique automobiles decomposing in the grass. Further along I found a couple long arched greenhouses with modern doors which, unfortunately, were locked. Around the back of the farmhouse was an open air garden surrounded by a three foot tall wood picket fence.

I stopped in the cover of a woodpile and sat still. There were no signs of movement. All I heard were crickets, rustling leaves, and a creaky windmill. Keeping low I stepped into the garden. The musky stench of tomato leaves filled my nose. I ripped a cucumber from the vine and inhaled it. With both hands I snapped off a head of lettuce and jammed my face in it. As I chewed these various vegetables I slipped off my backpack and started stuffing it with carrots, squash, tomatoes, kale, green beans, and I even dug up a few potatoes.

Once I’d filled my stomach and bag to capacity I wandered over towards the pine trees. My inability to destroy my hard-drive was still itching at me. I wanted to find a screw driver, or hammer, or axe to annihilate the damn thing.

I peered into the backyards of homes on the far side of the pines. One of them had a shed. As I pondered the chances that it might be unlocked a light clicked on in back of the house. A backdoor opened and I dropped flat to the ground and froze. A dog ran out and a woman’s voice demanded, “Go potty.”

Nervously I peered through blades of grass as this woman continued urge, “Go pee. Go pee-pee.” The dog rapidly sniffed and staggered all over the place. Then it locked in on me, frowned, and barked.

I kept still, praying they’d think I was a tree stump or some forgotten toy lying in the grass. The barking didn’t let up but the dog was shy about coming closer. The beast bowed low and let out a long howl followed by a woof.

“Go on. You gunna go potty?” said the woman. The dog started jumping in place and inching closer, then backing away. I stared in its eyes, telepathically telling it it was weaker than I, that I was more animal than it.

“What is it? What do you see?” said the woman. She riled the dog up even more.

The harder I forced my body to stay still the more energy I built up. It was an effin’ Mexican standoff. The owner wouldn’t let the dog in until it went pee-pee and poo-poo, the dog wouldn’t stop barking until it knew what the hell I was, and I wasn’t nearly about to expose myself.

A bead of sweat popped through a pore in my forehead as I sent more telepathic messages to the dog. I taunted it, telling it it’d betrayed it’s species for convenience. The dog barked. I said, shut the fuck up. It stretched its barking into a growl. I stretched my lips, exposing my teeth―not in a human smiling way, but in an animal ready to bite a mother fucker kind of way. The dog backed up and let out a rough high pitched howl.

“Huh? What’s there?” The woman’s words triggered the dog to walk side to side, still staring at me as it swayed its head and howled.

Then the woman turned and picked up a hose. She cranked a spout and started watering flower pots. I kept my eyes locked on her as I slowly pulled a fat squash from my backpack.

The woman was facing the house. I rose up, chucked the squash at the dog, and sprinted to the nearest tree. The dog yelped and I peered out from the tree’s trunk to see the dog bashfully tucking its tail and running, whimpering to the woman.

With my knuckles pressed to the ground, I trotted back to the cornfield on all fours.

DIG

The initial batch of stolen vegetables lasted a good few days. In that time I was able to construct the main floor of a tree house. About a half mile from the cornfield I found this octopus looking tree with two fat branches that curved horizontal. I dismantled and dragged wood logs, two by two, from the old fence around the farm and used them as my base. Little by little I slopped clay from the creek between the cracks.

Below the tree I pried at the earth with my bare hands. I wanted a garden of my own. My fingernails filled with dirt and occasionally they’d catch on a rock and bend backwards. I’d then bite the nail back down and suck on my finger till the pain subsided. One night I snuck into a shed in the neighborhood and snaked a shovel. I ate while I dug and threw cores and seeds into the holes. I placed twigs in circles around the holes to avoid trampling any new growth. Away from my camp I dug a deep narrow hole for my excrement. After each dropping I’d sprinkle in a layer of pine needles. I used a big tall stick to mark the hole so I wouldn’t accidently trip into it in the night.

Most days, just before sunset, I’d take time to wander the woods. Bizarre insects, flowers, and the interaction of the two kept me captivated for hours. I loved the fantasy of being in undocumented territory, which―for all I knew―expanded for eternity. I never wandered too far, for the sake of not getting found, but mostly to avoid seeing any structure or road that might crush my fantasy.

At times I’d become aware of my solitude. Not in a lonely way. I’d just realize I was alone out there and could do whatever the hell I wanted. It was soothing. After all the crazy attacks and attempted muggings I experienced in the city I’d built up this fear. I couldn’t walk down a sidewalk without tensing up every time another person passed. I wouldn’t even make eye contact for fear I might offend someone. I had this fear within me, and my conscious worked hard to convince me that no one was out to get me, but it was always there. I wouldn’t say it was a fear of being harmed or even killed. It was a fear of humiliation. I’d worked so hard my entire life, earned shitty wages, and had nothing to show for it. So I hated the idea of some dirt bag stealing even the slightest of my possessions. I’ve heard of people turning over their wallet or phone the instant some thug pulled a gun on them. But not me, I’ve risked my own death at the panic of losing a dime. And probably that’s why I’d lost all interest in money, because in doing so I was no longer a target. I was off everyone’s radar.

The night I borrowed the shovel I made a point to return it well before dawn. This ensured my secrecy and also allowed for another opportunity to fill my bag with fresh vegetables. I liked running back and forth between my camp and the farm. I liked exerting myself. It seemed the faster my heart beat the faster it wanted to beat. The feeling of sweat bulging from my pours was invigorating. One night I made the trek fully nude. I wanted to feel the wind on my balls.

I never did expand the tree house. I just kept it that platform in the branches. At night I’d climb up there to lie down and I’d look at the moonlight shining across the freshly turned soil below. This was a real home. This was real life. I wasn’t sitting around posting comments online about the way I thought things should be, or lying in bed depressed because I had to get up, get dressed, and work a dishonest job I despised. I wasn’t gazing motionless at a television feeling unconsciously jealous of child stars that’d never experience the joy of waiting for public transportation to take them to the discount grocery store so that they could ration out a minimum wage pay check into bulking agent injected frozen dinners and mercury ridden canned tuna. There’d be no landscaping crews waking me up to shuffle filth of the city with an arsenal of leaf blowers. I could rest easy knowing robotic voices wouldn’t come calling through police loudspeakers, echoing from the freeway off ramp in the two A.M. hour. No assault rifles would be firing off yards from my head. Yes, I was finally at peace with the world. Exhausted as hell I’d lay back, look up at the stars, and listening to the warm hum of insects around me I’d feel like I was on the bow of a vast ship flying sixty-seven thousand MPH through space.

COMMERCIAL TITS

Eventually my foraging of the farm’s garden grew dangerously evident. My crops had yet to produce and my increased activity had me feeling hungrier than ever. In the middle of a moonless night I jogged to the farm and proceeded to seek an alternative source of nourishment.

I crept along the dirt road, along the cornstalk jungle for acres, perhaps miles hoping I’d come up on fruit orchards, or almond orchards―anything to suffice the yearning of my growing appetite. Eventually the corn aisles turned to untamed woods. Orange security lighting beamed through the trees. I turned down a road leading to the light. The road led to a cluster of metal structures. On the face of the main building, above giant doors, was a sign that read: CLOVER MEADOW DAIRY.

I knew the name. It’d been embedded in my brain while stocking at JBs Marketplace. Clover Meadow. The two simple words sitting side by side on a product label had painted such an image in my head. While working the dairy section I’d fantasize about this clover meadow. I saw myself running at full speed, leaping across a sea of wild grass.

The building went back further than I could distinguish. I walked along the side, running my fingers along the metal, avoiding puddles in the mud. Little square windows were spaced along the wall. As I put pressure on the top of a window frame the bottom popped out.

Grasping the bottom edge, I was able to pull my body up and into the building. I let my foot down onto a metal shelf and the damn thing started rolling away from the wall. I lunged my weight and the whole shelving unit tipped, I leapt, and all these steel and plastic buckets bounced off the concrete floor. The noise echoed off the walls and I had an instant idea of the room’s vastness. I kept still as the noise ceased. Then it was silent. At this point I was pretty confident I was alone.

All I could see ahead of me were these little red and green lights. My eyes adjusted to soak in light seeping through the windows. The floor was clean as hell, and hard on my bare feet. The entire room was eerily spotless. I walked forward and ran my hands along these cages. The cages were all attached to each other in one giant circle―like an oversized merry-go-round. Each one had a green light, red light, and all sorts of machinery built into the side. I ran my fingers along the controls and accidently set something off. The whole room started buzzing. I quickly flipped the switch back and the sound settled like a vinyl record slowing to a halt.

At the back wall I found double doors leading to another room. I couldn’t get them open, it seemed they were locked electrically. At the front of the building I found a small office. It was so dark I had to feel my way around. I patted my fingers along the top of a desk and rummaged through the drawers. I pocketed a couple heavy key rings hoping they’d gain me access to the greenhouses. I also found a toolbox from which I removed the two smallest screwdrivers. I put them in my backpack hoping they’d aid in the destruction of my hard-drive.

I then returned to the double doors at the back of the main room and pressed a plastic card attached to one the key rings against a small plastic rectangle with a red light. The rectangle emitted a beep, the light turned green, and the doors slid open.

As I walked into the next room I noticed a track directly overhead. Hanging from the track was a machine which was dispersing corn along a walkway. Cow heads began poking through metal bars and I suddenly felt the pulse of five hundred hearts. I walked on the far side of the feed machine, observing the cows. Some were stretching their necks and jamming their mouths down into the corn, others were tucked back in their cages fast asleep, and a few were just lying motionless with their eyes open.

While working at JBs I learned a lot of dirt, a lot of information I wished I’d never heard. Like the fact that dairy cows are constantly impregnated to ensure they keep producing milk. And that they spend so much time confined to a tight space they often lose the strength to walk. And that they’re pumped so frequently for their milk that their bodies become so damaged that when they’re finally killed their flesh can only be ground up to make dog and cat food.

The feed machine passed and I took the opportunity to approach one of the cows. I knelt down and placed a hand above her nose. Looking into her eyes I saw myself. I saw my face and I felt the angst of working some shit job all because it’s the only way you know how to provide for yourself. And looking at the corn I thought of all the shitty food I use to eat, and how I use to come home and laze about, feeling worthless to the world.

Clover Meadow: a city-wide communal tit, an operation fed by civilized man’s undying obsession with lactation and quest for convenience. You’d have thought a spotlight was shining on me as I stood up before those creatures. I felt like a savior that’d unknowingly come to their aid, to lead them to the promise land. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to free these beasts from their soulless occupation. More so I wanted to let loose all owned and confined creatures I encountered from that moment on. I saw this as a purpose, a newfound reason for life―to restore the free will that prevailed before the giant hand of technology squashed existence down to a permanent state of infancy.

The feed machine was on its way back up the track. I jumped out of its path and paced the walkway, studying the mechanics and fighting to burn off revulsion. I wondered how much longer I had till sunrise, or whenever workers showed up. I wondered how the cows would react if I were to lead them outdoors. Would they be able to fend for themselves or were they so far gone they couldn’t survive on their own?

The weight of the walls surrounding me bled to my core. Fears of my own entrapment and confinement seeped to my guts. The design of the warehouse and machinery was far too complex for my mind to process. I needed more time to devise a plan. Quietly I made my way back to the main room and carefully I placed all the fallen items back on the metal shelving unit. I pushed it to the wall, climbed out, and closed the window tight behind me.

Outside I followed the building back deeper into the woods. At the very back was a row of massive vats. The whole area reeked of manure. One of the vats was halfway submerged in water which had been diverted from the creek, the same creek I’d been following through the woods. As I thought of all the water I’d been drinking downstream I began to dry heave. I covered my mouth and nose, turned back, and quickly ran outta there.

THE MILK PLOT

As I made my way to the greenhouses vengeful plots ran through my mind. I had no idea who was behind Clover Meadow Dairy but I sure as hell hated the shit out of them. Not only for their exploitation of a species but additionally for the fact that I was way out in the middle of nowhere and still having to deal with soiled water. And that’s what’s really fucked up. Because after realizing all this shit was running off into the creek, I no longer wanted to drink from the creek. And what’s really really fucked up is if you can’t get healthy water from nature then you have to buy it―you have to live in the goddamn city.

It was through this enlightened rage that I came up with my grand scheme. I wanted to take this mammary discharge obsession and jam it in the Clover Meadow owner’s faces by rerouting milk to the farmhouse’s water supply. That way when they turned on the faucet milk would pour out. And when they stumbled into the shower early in morning, hot juicy milk would rain down upon them. I’d be doing them a huge favor, considering they loved milk so much. Imagine the joy they’d feel when starting up the washing machine to find milk soaking their clothes. They wouldn’t even have to go outside, their bodies would absorb vitamin D straight from the fabric.

I slowed my pace as the greenhouses came into sight. Carefully I crept to the entrance of one and tried the keys. No luck. I hopped the fence into the garden and irately stuffed vegetables into my bag.

As I jogged back to my camp I thought more of my grand scheme. It was huge and would take a few more days maybe even weeks of planning. I realized I could take a hose and pump milk straight into the intake of the hot water heater. I’m sure they’d love it so much they’d be seeking me out, trying to shake my hand and everything.

GLITCH

POP.

The war began without warning. I was trying out my newly borrowed screw drivers on my hard-drive when I heard the first POP. Nervously I pushed to make the smallest screw driver work, but the damn thing wouldn’t fit. Another POP sounded in the distance. The stupid screws on the hard-drive have this little star groove that doesn’t work for standard screw drivers.

POP.

Time spent in the hood taught me that semi-distant gunfire makes a POP sound, not an explosion sound like the movies. It’s just this little POP. I grasped my bag and leapt from my platform in the tree to the forest floor.

I took off running opposite the direction of the farm. As my senses kept watch my mind pieced together a hypothetical reason for the gunfire. Maybe they’d finally noticed missing crops in the garden or trampled corn stalks. Perhaps the woman with the dog found the mysterious squash in her backyard and started talking to the people at the farm. Or it could have simply been the police looking to shake me out. I didn’t care to find out who it was, I just kept moving, avoiding all routes that might lead to civilization.

After a while I stopped to listen. You can’t hear shit over the sound of your feet trampling leaves. Birds sat in a tree above me. Dozens of them. One bird was swooping around letting out an mad squawk. It would bank and land on the branches with the other birds still squawking and jerking its head. The crowd of birds had been sitting so peacefully but when this one livid bird swooped in they’d all flap up and start squawking their heads off.

POP.

This POP came from a different direction. Or I’d lost orientation in looking up. Rays of sunlight barely peeked through the trees. I took off sprinting. Off to my right a patch of purple, pink, and red flowers emerged. The flowers were pointy with long green stems like rockets ready to blast up and out of the atmosphere. I jerked my head forward just in time to see a spider web draped before me. It wrapped around my face like hosiery and I started puffing air out of my mouth and nose fearing an arachnid had entered me. The next quarter mile was spent pulling imperceptible threads from my face and neck.

Trees started to thin out and abruptly I broke through. The ground was blanketed in pine needles, then sand, then those tall reeds. Beyond the reeds was the choppy surface of a lake the size of a small town.

POP. POP.

I pulled the glass bottle from my bag and smashed the bottom against a rock. Cautiously I avoided toeing shards and touching the now jagged end of the bottle as I shook it off and rinsed it in the water. As far as I could see the lake was surrounded by forest.

After weaving along the bank, to ensure no one was tracking me, I pierced the water and ducked my body below the surface. The sun was just above the trees on the far side of the lake. A white-orange-pinkish oily mixture of light splashed across the surface. Incredible, I thought as I sunk my eyes just above the water line. Lifting the bottle high I pressed my lips around the top like I was throwing back a swig. Then, I submerged myself fully.

It’s not till about an hour after the sun fully sets that the sky turns pitch black. I aimed to hide underwater till then. With the jagged end of the bottle protruding amongst the reeds I felt invisible. My eyes flipped open and everything was rosy. The water was so clear. The sun must have dropped to the horizon and was now cutting through the entire lake.
Shifting my gaze above my eyebrows I could see tiny fish swimming amid swaying flora.

Breathing through the bottle was easy. As the last rays of light escaped the water I found a more comfortable position sitting cross legged on the sandy bottom. The sky above me was still blue and the clouds changed from white to grey and purple to black.

I took a long deep breath, kicked myself deeper into the lake, and swam fully submerged. Soon the bottom dropped from sight. My eyes were wide open yet pure blackness prevailed below and to the sides. I spun my body through the zero gravity wonder world and looked back up towards the surface. Seeing the distant trees and sky through the curvature of the lake was reminiscent of falling off the map in a video game―like when you find a glitch and your character just falls into blackness and you can see the digitally crafted world drifting away. I kicked back towards the surface and could see stars burning through the near black sky. A red light streamed across the atmosphere and vanished. Then there was a muffled POP. I broke the surface. Little red sparkles streamed out like tentacles of a sea anemone.

Fireworks.

The 4th of July.

EXECUTION OF THE PLAN

I had no interest in keeping track of time. If I wanted to set some kind of alarm I’d just drink a ton of water before falling sleep. So, because of this, I don’t remember exactly when it all went down. It must have been days perhaps a week after the 4th.

I woke up during the last moment of daylight, just as planned, and after I’d stuffed my face with vegetables I took off running for the farm. It was the big night: Operation Lactation Fixation. Using ancient plumbing skills acquired from a summer watching my father drink, curse, and renovate I’d be able to flood the farm’s water heater with cow’s milk.

As I came up on the posts of the wood fence I’d dismantled I could see an orange and black sign nailed to a tree. It was new. I was sure I’d never seen it before. It read: POSTED NO TRESPASSING. A couple more lines, which I couldn’t make out, were written below that. But I remember―in that moment―focusing my eyes perfectly upon those first three words. With intentions to tear down the notice I sprinted full speed past the posts and leapt over the barbwire fence. Then, CLA-CHING!

Something bit my fuckin’ leg. My nose cracked as I fell face first into the ground. I pushed my chest up and started spitting out leaves and dirt. My foot was locked to something. I couldn’t even roll over it was so heavy. Carefully I inched my body back to a standing position. Looking at it only intensify the pain. My leg was pinched between two metal bands. The device was some kind of leg-hold trap, the kind they use on bears.

I wiped blood running from my nose onto the back of my hand before pulling at the metal bands with all my strength. I was able to scrape my leg up a fraction of an inch, that was it. Looking around I saw more armed traps. The one I’d stepped into was laid out exactly where I’d bent the barbwire fence.

First I suspected the farmer might have laid the traps after noticing crops missing from the garden. And he might have possibly thought it truly was a bear stealing his food. But if someone did walk all the way out there they would have noticed the wood missing from the fence. Goddamn I felt sick.

The device had no release, none that I could conceive. It must have required some kind of key or multiple people to open it. A chain ran from the trap to a stake in the ground. Painfully I limped to the stake and dug it from the earth.

It then occurred to me that whoever laid the trap would be coming back to check on it. I thought about limping back to camp where I could safely continue my efforts to unlock the damn thing. Then I thought if I acted quick and started yelling for help I could play it off like I was an innocent hiker unfamiliar with the area and could even go as far as to say I was lost and starving for food and saw the NO TRESPASSING sign and imagined I could find people if I went this way. But there was also the possibility that the people who laid this trap might recognize my face. I’m sure Misael turned video footage of me over to the authorities, I can guarantee the city’s news stations had my crummy mug shot, and then the hundreds of tagged photos of me on the web―too risky. Next I thought about hiding somewhere close and waiting for the middle of the night. While the locals slept I could sneak into the tool shed and toy with more ways to open the trap. I weighed these options while testing my mobility. The moon had yet to rise. The woods were dark as death. The trap must have weighed forty pounds. With each small careful step the bands pinched flesh tighter against my leg bones. I limped slowly down the fence away from the sign. There was a little blood, not enough to require a bandage.

After stepping into an aisle of the cornstalk jungle I crouched down to rest. I pulled the keys I’d stolen from my pocket and dug a shallow hole to bury ’em. They must have placed the traps today, I thought, during the day. I feared it wouldn’t be possible to go back to my camp. I imagined the trap getting caught up in the brush and all. In the next aisle over I noticed a fat toad sitting motionless, its liquid eyes gaping like it’d seen things my mind could never comprehend.

Still no moon overhead. It could have been hours, it could have been minutes―seconds since that metal demon grasped my ankle. With all energy within me focused on survival, time was brutally skewed. I could have sat there for a week in pain if it meant not getting caught, and even though a week without water would have most likely meant my end, that’s the kind of stubborn bastard I am.

I inhaled deep and slow to distract from the pain. In time I decided to make my way to the edge of the farm. I told myself the pain wasn’t real, that it was all just some exercise. As I limped through the corn images of naked women flashed before me. The women were massaging me with their paws and licking blood from my wounds. Quietly I laughed and cried out in agony all in a shallow breath.

The bass line of hit pop, or party-rock-dub-step-autotune track echoed from the neighborhood. You could tell it was the weekend. I’d learned to avoid the neighborhood on weekends. Lights were still on at the farm and all of the homes I could see. Someone was having a patio party with Tiki torches and everything. The cozy stench of charred meat crept up my nose. I sat down and let my back drop to the soil. Every time laughter erupted from the party I felt it was directed at my pathetic state. Looking up at the sky I fought to keep my mind off the pain. There were hours to kill before it’d be safe to sneak into that tool shed. My eyes bounced around each individual star as I tried to picture what everyone I know in the world would be doing on a Saturday night. Alphabetically I racked my brain for names.

At first I couldn’t think of anyone with a last name starting with A. Then Atchison, Arroyo, Accola. Seth Accola. Yes, in elementary school I had a friend named Seth Accola. The boy was a genius and he was always first. Every time the teacher had us line up he’d be at the head of the line. He probably felt pressure to be intelligent, being that he was a leader by alphabetical alignment. The image of him that stands out the most is this one day when he started throwing up in the multi-purpose room. This is way back before telephones had cameras. One of the teachers pushed a small metal trashcan under the stream of puke. His body resembled a water pump as it hinged at the waist dispelling vomit with each thrust. I don’t know what the hell that guy’d be doing on a Saturday night. We were never friends outside of classes and I’d never seen him after graduating high school. We were internet friends but still I didn’t really know shit about what the guy liked to do.

The pain shot up my leg and my throat felt tight like there was a walnut caught in my thyroid. I grasped dirt with my hands and crumpled it in my palms, attempting to stay cool. Natalie Babicke. The way her first and last name flowed made me lovesick. If only I’d had the balls to have asked Natalie Babicke out I probably would have married her, and got a regular job, and bought a house and had kids and wouldn’t have ever stopped to question a thing. I was crazy about her. I’d kiss her picture in the yearbook and fantasize about showering with her in the girl’s locker room. Often I’d thought about writing her online and telling her how much of a crush I had on her, and that she still appeared in my dreams, and that I was too effin’ shy to ever make a move. I never did go through with writing her online because I figured she would have probably thought I was a creep or something. I’ve always been somewhat of a creep. I guess I’ve always felt more animal than human.

Clapping erupted from the party. It was someone’s birthday or part of a trendy new dance. I loathe parties in the city, but outdoor parties are all good fun. God I was kicking myself for having moved to a major city. All those reckless years running around chasing money and there I was back in the country with a broken body, dying with a steel anchor on my effin’ leg―and not the slightest of achievements to show for all I’d lost.

The pain stopped me from sticking on any one thought process too long. More names and memories flowed through me. I recalled everyone I’d ever met in the order I’d met them―friends of my parents, relatives, next door neighbors. Their names and images were tucked deep within me. Then I thought about my hard-drive, and how that’s how I’d be remembered―for the files I’d saved. Goddamn I wished I’d been able to destroy the stupid thing. My thoughts then ran to the last friend I’d made, Hakeem. Hakeem possibly wanted me dead. I’d completely destroyed his reputation for life. If I were free to walk I would have paid him a visit and explained everything to him and with any luck he’d use his expert knowledge of the law to clear my name and recoup his reputation.

Eyes darting around flapping cornstalk leaves, fighting the pain in a mad daze, the most impactful events of my life drifted to conscious: I recalled the time I almost drowned while swimming in a quarry. The first time I reached under a girl’s bra and touched nipple. My first run in with the police, I was seven and they scolded a bunch of us for trespassing on someone’s land. That was the day I learned the word trespass. I remember running my fingers around the smooth red A and B buttons of a brand new Nintendo NES controller.

My eyes shut for I don’t know how long. When I tuned back into the present I found the noise of the party had died down. Like an inchworm I picked myself up and made my way to the line of pine trees. It took so long to cross that field I don’t think a single person was still outside when I arrived. There definitely wasn’t anyone at the house with the shed.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

It wasn’t easy convincing myself to cross the line of trees. I sat still for upwards of a half-an-hour assuring myself no one could see me. This assurance dissolved with every little creak and rustling leaf my ears perceived.

A five foot tall wood panel fence surrounded the property with the tool shed. Finally I amassed the guts to climb it. I lifted my loose leg, straddled the fence, and swung the entrapped leg like a pendulum till it went up and over. The leg-hold moved with such momentum it propelled my entire body to the ground. My ankle slipped deeper into the trap upon impact. Internally I screamed, instantly regretting the maneuver. Summing up all desires for liberation I pushed myself to get in that shed.

Once inside I pulled the door shut, grasped a pull chain, and flicked on the light. There weren’t any windows, but I tried to act fast fearing light was leaking through cracks―exposing my intrusion.

The first tool I tried was a pair of hedge clippers. I slid the long blades down between the metal bands and pushed to pry them apart. They kept slipping. Fears of cutting my own leg off worried me. I worked to twist the blades sideways and was able to release tension. The trap still held my leg tight but I was able to gain an inch. Then, out of the blue, I heard a muffled voice calling from outside.

“We were robbed,” said a man’s voice.

My face flushed hot. I ceased all movement. The clipper blades slipped sideways and the trap closed back tight. I had to bite my tongue to keep from howling. The bands were now pinching my ankle bones.

“Yeah, pretty sad turn for the so called dream team,” said another man. You could tell he was in the next yard over.

“Well, it was the dream team on paper. But they got how many runs? Five?”

“Six.”

“Six runs, okay. How many could they ‘ave scored?”

“Considering Uggla pounded out two homers before the bottom of the third…I don’t know eight…nine.”

Baseball. That’s as much as I could tell. The men sounded tipsy and I imagined the conversation could go on for a very long time.

I put my weight on a lawnmower. My detained leg was now too high to stand on. I was pissed for backing myself into a corner. Looking around the shed I questioned what I might do if someone opened the door and found me there. I picked up an axe and ran my fingers along the wood handle. Then I grasped the pull chain and waited till I felt the guys outside weren’t looking. Molecule by molecule I pulled the chain downward. Then CLICK. Everything went black.

The conversation stopped and I started to panic.

The distant man spoke, “You around tomorrow?”

“We’re taking off around ten. Jayden’s got a soccer match with Marion.”

“I wanted to see if I could borrow your edger. They’re coming to do the sidewalk on Monday.”

My eyes darted around the black void as I tried to recall items which surrounded me. I was certain I saw an edger hanging on the wall.

“Of course. You wanna grab it right now?”

My chest collapsed inward. This is what a heart attack feels like, I thought. I begged I wouldn’t have to effin’ fight anyone off.

“Sure.”

I didn’t wanna have to kill anyone. I figured I could just knock ‘em unconscious and flee. Sure my leg would get all fucked up in the process, but that’d be a hell of a lot better than prison.

Without moving my feet I leaned to the door and grasped the inside handle intending to hold it closed as long as I could. If it came down to it I wouldn’t injure the men too bad. I’d just kinda ram the blunt end of axe in their guts and run out of there. But if they called the authorities, well, I’d have no choice but to ruthlessly chop off the legs of any cop that tried to detain me.

My hands were all tense and achy. I felt a lock on the door. Slow and carefully I turned it. Goddamn I could feel the heat of the men getting closer. The lock clicked into place and I’d swear it was as loud as a ninety MPH head on collision. Then the handle started to jiggle and the door shook.

“Ah, it’s locked. Dianne, she’s so paranoid. I’ll get the key.”

“Never can be too cautious,” said the neighbor.

“What’s that?”

“I spoke to Pat Mckee. He said someone’s been stealing the wood rails out of his fence. You believe that?”

“Which fence?”

The voices grew too muffled and distant for me to hear. Then I heard a door slam.

I unlocked the shed door, peeked out, and made a break for it by using the axe like a cane. My foot packed back down into the trap as I leapt over the fence. Ignoring the acid-to-flesh-like searing pain I dashed beyond the pines.

The sting started to numb as I crossed through the land surrounding the farmhouse. I wondered if I might lose circulation to the foot. In the cover of a tree I sat down and pulled the bands apart so blood could flow. Warm blood oozed from my wounds. Either the temperature dropped rapidly or I was dying. Everything got cold. A memory flashed in my head. It was another one of these impactful life events―only this one had occurred right at the beginning of this year.

Mid-January: My boss, the photographer I worked for, had taken me out to celebrate our first cover. One of the photos from an assignment he’d shot was picked for the cover of a major lifestyle magazine. I’d done a lot of manipulation to the image so it was a celebration for the both of us. We were at this bar slash club. After a few drinks I began flirting with a random girl. We danced, had our picture taken by a nightlife photographer, and she even kissed me. The girl ended up leaving with her friends to go to another club. I got her info, said goodbye, and returned to the bar to find my boss plastered. I said goodnight and walked out alone―wishing I’d left with the girl.

I was buzzed, but not enough to convince me not to drive home. My car was parked a few blocks away in some neighborhoods. While approaching an intersection I saw two guys out of the corner of my eye, and didn’t think much of it. It was a four way stop intersection and I didn’t hear any cars coming. With my gaze forward I kept moving. Then, as if a fragment from a defunct satellite had fallen from the sky, something rock-solid impacted my cheekbone. The collision was so quick and powerful it felt like ice. Remarkably I didn’t fall or lose consciousness. I just kinda stumbled around and when I opened my eyes I was facing opposite the direction I’d been walking. Two guys with hoods pulled high over their heads floated before me. Instantly I realized it was a wooden bat that’d hit me because I heard it bouncing off the street. Some pussy mother fucker was telling me to hand over my wallet. The thing is I don’t even carry a wallet. I just stuff my cards and money in my pocket. I thought about telling the bitch ass I didn’t have a wallet because I truly didn’t but I was so pissed I instinctively shouted, “Fucking faggot ass mother fucker!” And then I ran for my life.

I didn’t wanna fight anyone. A year prior I’d had the incident where I’d punched the bum in front of the bus, and I was over it. I didn’t want to destroy. I shouted at the hoods, and I just ran. I jumped in my car and drove home. My face was smashed real bad. I stared at the destruction in my bathroom mirror and coughed blood and mucus into the sink. My head kept swelling. It was much worse than I imagined. Rage took hold of me. I fantasized about going back out and finding those guys and charring the flesh off their faces with a can of butane and a lighter. I didn’t wanna bother any friends by calling them so late and my boss was too shit-faced to hold a conversation. I didn’t even wanna call the police because I knew I’d then be sent to the hospital where I’d be raped financially. I lay in bed, at first trying to sleep, then I remembered that you’re not supposed to sleep with head wounds. Fortunately the pain throbbed too intensely for me to relax. I didn’t catch a wink. When I showed up to work the next day my boss insisted I go to the ER before he’d allow me to work. I fell for it. The doctors ran a CAT scan and found four fractures on my eye socket. They simply told me to get some rest and prescribed me pain killers.

That random girl I’d met, earlier in the night, that was Sylvia. I really wanted to call her up and take her out, but I waited, knowing it’d look sketchy as hell if I showed up all bruised and battered. I didn’t want her having a first impression of me being some victim. So I waited a couple weeks. I took Sylvia out twice, and then the Valentine’s Day purse tragedy happened. And then I got a bill from the hospital for $1000 dollars. I Ignored it―stuffed it deep in a drawer. Then came the pain in the ass.

I’d almost reached the cornstalk jungle when I tripped into an irrigation ditch. My feet slipped and I stomped into the swampy trough. Aggressively I wrapped my arms around the anchored leg and tugged. I was so effin’ weak. Caught in the suction of the mud, the trap wouldn’t budge. Sufficiently wrecked and dehydrated I laid back and blacked out.

DOMINION

My body shook violently. I opened my eyes to find blue bleeding through the heavens. I was sprawled out in the bed of a wheelbarrow. Like puppet limbs my appendages flailed about. Dirt crackled below as the farmhouse drifted past the corner of my eye. We hit a rut and my anchored foot felt as though it were going to tear off.

Tilting my head back I found one man holding the handles and pushing as another trotted behind. I was certain, if these men were saving my life, they’d have placed my injured leg in the wheelbarrow. Without further thought I reached back, grabbed the man by the head, and pulled him over top of me. He tripped, the wheelbarrow tipped, and I rolled to the ground twisting my anchored leg.

“Holdemdown,” said the man lying next to me. His voice was rough and full of phlegm.

The accomplice, a younger built man, ran up and put his knees on my shoulders. The guy I’d knocked down was wrinkled and portly with a white ring of hair around his lips. The fat fucker rolled over and elbowed me in the gut, sending a wave of fluids through my internal organs. The two men then grabbed me by the arms and dragged me to an animal stall inside the barn.

“Ya hit me a gain ‘n I’ll send ya ta tha brine injecter, monkey boy.” said the portly man. Then he spat on the dirt floor. “Mine tellin’ me whut yous doin’ knee deep in my irrigation ditch?” His jaw shifted rigidly as if he was chewing fat.

I didn’t make a sound.

“Typically I shoot nuisance animas on tha spot, but seeing as yous a celebrity ‘n all Imma make an excepshun. Matter a fack, we gonna give yew tha royal treatment.” He exhaled tightly through his nose. CJ fetch tha rope.”

The guy called CJ disappeared behind a wall.

“I’m willin’ ta bet yous tha one bin trompin’ through my gardin. ‘N I’m certain as the sky’s blue yous tha reason my combine keys gone missin’.” The fatty jammed his head at mine. “I don’t care much fo some rich city prick activist comin’ on my property looking fo a handout. Espeshally when I gots tha legal right to terminate ya.”

Still I said nothing. CJ returned with a big coil of rope. He was older than me, but you could tell he was nervous as hell.

“Tie ‘im up already,” commanded the fat one.

CJ tossed the rope in the air. “You tie, I got his arms.”

My chest grew hot as the fat one snatched the rope and stepped towards me. “Don’t go thinkin’ we don’t know who yous is. Yous all ova tha tube monkey boy.”

CJ swung around behind me and I turned like I was gonna let him tie my wrists. Then I popped up and elbowed him in the jaw. I spun back around and punched the portly one I’m not sure where. CJ pushed me with farm-hand force and I flew up against the wooden divider so hard it crashed down into the next stall. They both got in a few heavy kicks to my ribs before CJ pinned my arms down long enough for the fatty to tie my hands together.

“Yer askin’ fo’ a deaf wish son,” said the portly one as he pulled the ropes tight. “Empty ’is pockets.” The fatty’s phone chimed. His hands shook as he wiggled it out of his pocket and thumbed the screen.

CJ frisked me lightly. “Nothing boss.”

Eyes still on the screen the fatty addressed me, “Yew gunna tell me where ya put my keys?” He typed something on his phone, then stomped his boot and kicked up a plume of dirt before looking to me. “Speak goddamit!”

I was silent. CJ tied a rope around the ropes on my wrists and tied that to a wooden support beam.

“I gotta cut my costs so big city jackhole activists like yew can enjoy dolla hambagas on evry cona. As if that ain enough ya come on my lan akin’ like is an all yew ken eat―” The fatty choked and started coughing uncontrollably. “―haul yew ken eat buffet.”

“I’m gunna start up herding the cows into the carousel,” said CJ.

“Go on. I’ll be there innaminute.”

CJ walked out and the fat one’s cell phone rang. He answered, “Yeah?..Didja turn it off turn it on again?..Yeah…I’m coming hun…Yes, on my way.” He hung up and turned to me, “I gotta put in a’lil work, then it’s off ta church. I surely hope them lips loosen by tha time I git back.” He slapped the dust off his clothes, walked away, and slammed the door so hard I thought the whole damn building would collapse.

I fought for a deep breath. The rope I was leashed to held enough slack for me to sit. My ankle looked like rotting eggplant. It drove me absolutely mad not being able to adjust the trap with my hands. I tugged at the rope but didn’t nearly have the energy required to attempt an escape. I sat back and focused on strips of sunlight now flowing through cracks in the wall.

I watched as these sunrays shifted across the dirt and straw floor. My eyes opened and closed. My mouth was dry as the dust floating mid-air. To entertain myself I fantasized about removing the trap and throwing it over the old man’s head. After a while I regretted attacking them. When you act cooperative, that’s when you catch people off guard. Whenever they come back, I vowed, I’d sit quiet and follow directions and wait for one of them to lean too close. Then I’d bite a chunk out of their fuckin’ face.

I opened my eyes to find sunlight seeping through the ceiling. It must have been noon. I tried to sleep. Before long I opened my eyes to find light fading―they’d left me a whole damn day. The last time I opened my eyes the room was black. My night vision was incredibly strong. Eco-friendly compact florescent spiral light bulbs lining the ceiling flickered on, I winced in pain, and heard the fatty’s withered voice.

“…’N God sayed, lettus make man in owr image, after owr likeness, ‘n lettem ‘ave dominion ova tha fish ‘a tha sea, ‘n ova tha fowl ‘a tha air, ‘n ova tha cattle, ‘n ova all tha Earth, ‘n ova evry creepin’ thing that creepeth upon tha Earth.” He turned the corner. “Page one, son.” He crumpled this piece of paper and tossed it at me. “I saved it juss fer yew. Proof that yous owr bitch―seein’ as yous a legal creepin’ thing ‘n all.”

CJ tossed an old metal bowl filled with milk at the floor in front of me. Upon impact half the liquid rolled out and splattered on my skin.

A new man appeared from the shadows. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “You weren’t kiddin’.” He frowned, turned away, and said, “I― I can’t see this.” He made a break for the door.

“Don’t tell no one,” shouted the fatty. He stepped to me and quietly said, “Go on. I know yous thirsty.” He spat at the ground but his mucus splashed across the edge of a wooden crate, dangled, then dripped to the floor and saturated the dirt.

I sat still, eyes locked on the ugly bastards.

“Yew ain gunna drink my milk? Ya steal from me, eat off my lan when I’m not lookin’, ‘n now yous gunna let good food go ta waiss?” He turned to CJ, “Typical rich city prick.” He turned back to me, lunged forward, grabbed the milk bowl, and jammed the brim between my lips. “Where are my goddamn keeeeys son?”

Milk trickled down my throat and I began to cough. CJ stomped up out of nowhere with this big hole-punch looking thing. He pinched my ear with one of those big plastic yellow tags they put on livestock.

“Vocalize yew varmint scum,” shouted the fat fuck. He let go of the bowl and milk splashed all over my clothes. Then he stood back and stared at his hands for what felt like an hour.

I saw red in the corner of my eye. Blood trickled from my ear down onto my shoulder.

“Ya know, I don’t ramemba tha lass time I got this dirty. See, we fully automated tha abattoir―what―six mons ago? The fatty looked to me like I was supposed to know something.

If only he were a foot closer I’d have sprung up and bit his god-awful nose off. I’d have sat and watched a cascade of blood surge before me. Instead I remained mute and kept my eyes low.

“Now, we got two main paths on which we ken drive this whole situation. Path numba one is we call tha poe-leece, they come by, haul yew away. Path number two, we toss ya arrogant freeloadin’ ass in tha meat grinda ‘n have ya flesh mixed with a dozen differen cows ‘n shipped to a dozen differen grocery stores by Tuesday moanin’. If we turn ya ova ta tha poe-leece hard wurkin’ people like me ‘n CJ ‘ere is gunna be payin’ fo ya meals ‘n housing for the next, I don’t know, sixty years. But, if we process ya sorry ass we might juss turn a profit. I ken assure yew one of these two paths will be taken. But yew―well, yew most definitely ain leavin’ this stall till ya tell me one thing…” His face tightened like sun dried fruit. “Wheres my fuckin’ keys?!”

I was so out of it―like my soul had long since drifted to the barn’s rafters and was watching from afar. This out of body feeling had occurred during every attack I encountered. There’s a click within the brain that turns you into a weightless force, a vicious predator ready to kill at all costs. Only this time I was anchored by a power my mind couldn’t fully comprehend, a machine built by machines for the dominion of man. Having this device encasing my leg was death in itself.

The fatty’s nostrils whistled as he fought to breathe. “This point I’d much ratha eat corn out tha shitter then phone tha poe-leece. I sure as hail know they ain gunna compensate me nearly half what is gonna coss ta replace them locks ‘n keys. Yeap. I made up my mine.”

CJ called the fat one over to him. He whispered in the fatty’s ear, but my hearing was sharp as an owl’s at this point―I heard it all.

“My wife’s gunna wonder where I am,” said CJ.

“Tell ‘er yer wurkin’ late.”

“I can’t lie to her Pat.”

Pat. Pat McKee. Yes. I recognized CJ’s voice from the shed. The bastard must have tracked me through the fields. CJ said something else, even more breathy. The only word I could make out was police.

“It’s all mechanized, no one will eva know ‘e was ‘ere,” said Pat. “Juss help me ta tha corral.”

CJ ran up and restrained me as Pat untied the rope from the beam. They both dragged me back into the wheelbarrow. All my weight crunched down on my hands which were still tied behind my back. I rolled to my side.

They wheeled me out of the barn. CJ stood watch as the fatty pushed me down the dirt road. Adrenaline surged as we neared the Clover Meadow building. Pat was huffing as we turned down a side road even further down the main one. As we made our way deep into the woods I caught sight of a dark metal monster of a building.

Pat called to CJ, “Hit tha code.”

CJ ran up to the building, punched numbers on a keypad, and the giant door above a loading dock slowly rose. Pat pushed me up a ramp and into the building. The two men stood frozen in silence as they waited for the door to close back down.

ABATTOIR

“Where’s tha fuckin’ keys? Where’s tha fuckin’ keys? Where’s the goddamn keys fuckhead?!” The fatty’s voice cracked and he went into a coughing fit. His coughs multiplied as the sound hit tile walls. The floor was blanketed with reddish-brown tile which sloped to multiple grated drains. All sorts of piping and hoses hung overhead. Pat jerked his head and spit up a hunk of phlegm. “Get tha gate,” he said.

CJ ran off and a moment later these steel doors clanked open. Pat pushed me through the doors as someone pulled cloth over my head. I was then dumped from the wheelbarrow, the leg trap was removed, and I heard steel doors slam shut.

I sat on the floor for a moment soaking in the relief of my freed appendage. I shook the cloth off my head and found my surroundings weren’t any brighter. I widened my eyes and all I saw was black. Cautiously I stood up and kicked my sore leg around searching for walls. Limping, I made my way towards a faint light.

I walked along a winding hallway which grew tighter as the light grew brighter. Soon I came around a curve and saw an opening.

“Atta boy, come on out where I ken see ya.”

I ducked my head through the opening to see what lay ahead and lost my footing as the floor abruptly ramped downward. A deep hum throbbed as my legs involuntarily straddled a moving conveyer belt which pulled me through a metal chute.

“Easy now. We don’t wan no blood spottin’.”

I dropped my chest to avoid hitting my head. A rubber flap brushed over me and the chute opened to a large warehouse. Still I was confined by tight metal rails.

“’Ere ‘e is.”

The belt jerked to a halt and metal restraints closed around my neck. A metal plate rose from below and lifted my chin till the back of my head touched my shoulders.

“Law requires yer stunned unconscious ‘fore we begin tha process.”

Pat was standing in an elevated control booth to the side of the room. A complex mechanical arm with what looked like tongs hung before me.

“Those two poins a contac is gonna run an amp through ya brain. That way ya won’t feel eny pain when tha buzz saw cuts ya jugula. You don’t actually die till ya bleed out. See them oversize cigar cutta lookin’ things? They’ll remove ya feet. Then off comes tha head. Even with all this autamation is neva till tha head hits the floor that I’m fully at ease. Next tha organs are scooped out, the skin’s peeled off, ‘n tha spine’s cut straight in half. All goes well, we’ll ‘ave ya in tha freeza by―oh―nine P.M. ‘n I can go enjoy a beer with my wife.”

The metal arm shifted forward and the tongs clenched my temples.

“I prefer renderin’ the anima unconscious ‘fore they getta sense a which way’s up. But fa yew Immake this cepshion. Imma give yew one lass chance ta tell me where ya put my keys.”

Pat’s fat finger was resting on a button. I’d gladly die in the jaws of a shark, have my guts punctured by the claws a lion, or receive a death blow from the fists of man, but obliteration at the push of a button, that’s unduly degrading.

“Ain gonna make a peep? Even tha cows go moo.”

I was so effin’ thirsty the inner walls of my throat were stuck fast together.

“Don’t hate me. Hate the Lor―”

The tongs squeezed tight and my eyes caught fire. I saw orange, silver, magenta, yellow, blue, crimson, acid green, white, red―throbbing red.

CJ’s voice tickled my ear, it was thin like when you tie a string between paper cups and use it like a telephone, “One twenty-five. I told you one ain’t enough.”

“Well, fuckit,” screamed Pat.

All I could see was throbbing light. Then the whine of a buzz saw rattled my pulse.

Using every last ounce of strength I lifted my head up from the conveyer belt. “It’s true!” I croaked.

My body stopped moving.

“I am a rich city prick…My father’s wealthy, his father was wealthy, my whole family is loaded and they live the most dreary unfulfilling lives you can imagine. That’s why I moved out on my own, to try and do something exciting with my life. Please don’t bleed me out, please―I’ll take you to your keys.” The buzz saw wound to a halt. My vision was falling back in, still I couldn’t grasp the guy’s reactions, so I kept running my mouth. “I was embarrassed to be upper class, all that driving around in fancy cars and dressing proper. I hated it. When the court revoked my rights and dropped me in the woods I carried twenty thousand dollars around in a backpack. I had to, I had to close out my bank account before forfeiting my identity. The court doesn’t know about the money, no one knows. It―it was sort of like a safety net for me. Ya know, in case things got bad. I buried the cash in the woods, out beyond the barbwire fence. I feel real bad for what I did to your fence and for destroying your crops. I really do.” My eyes were about to vomit. “You can have it all. I don’t even need the cash, it’s nothing to me. I would never tell anyone about all of this. I swear. I wouldn’t mention anything to the police. They’d send me to prison the minute they got their hands on me anyway, you know? I want you to have the money, I do. I’ll show you to the money and the keys, just take me off this effin’ contraption. Please, I beg of you. Oh dear God, please.” A tear ran down my effin’ cheek.

“Twenty thou? Cash?”

“At least.” I nodded and the tear leapt from my jaw.

“And what exactly does yer daddy do?”

“He’s the CEO of a fortune five hundred structural engineering firm based out of Phoenix, Arizona. The company has been family run since the beginning, only I don’t want a part of it.”

Pat’s phone vibrated. He pulled it out and started texting someone.

CJ grasped his shoulder and whispered, “Boss―My wife―It’s just―”

“Yeah, yeah. Git on. I ken handle this,” said Pat. Then raising and directing his words at me, “That might be fair son. Ya hand ova tha cash ‘n keys ‘n I’ll let ya walk. But you ken guarantee Imma phone tha police and report yous on tha propaty. Yew ken count on that.”

A door out of my view burst open, then a mammoth woman waddled into the warehouse.

“Yooexacuteimyet?” said the mammoth.

“Goddamnit Deanna, back in tha house. Monkey boy ‘eres gunna show me where he hid ma keys.”

POO

Before leaving the slaughterhouse Pat and his wife tied an additional rope around my conjoined hands and affixed that to the disarmed trap. They placed the trap in my hands with the principle of if I dropped it it’d work as an anchor. Still portly Pat had his mammoth wife bring him a rifle before she departed to the house.

Pat had me lead the way while he lit the path with an app that turned his cell phone’s camera-flash into a flashlight. My foot was purple, the ankle was all jacked up. Limping I took us on my usual course through the cornstalk jungle, then into the woods.

“What’s the name ‘a ya pop’s firm?” said Pat.

“Selkie Industries.”

“Howdaya spell it?”

“Uh…S…L―no. S…E…L…K…I…E. Selkie, yeah. You can image search it―Google it―whatever.” I was just praying there wasn’t an effin’ bar of service in those woods.

We walked on in silence and faintly I swore I heard the simulated clicking of keys on a simulated keypad.

“See the bed up there?” I said.

No response.

My tree fort was still a ways off but I had to steal his eyes away from that phone. “There’s a creek up here. Might wanna watch your footing.”

Still he was silent. Then, “What’s that?”

“A creek. Just up here.” I glanced back to see what he was up to but was blinded by his light.

“Keep on now.”

I walked through the water while Pat stepped stone to stone.

“Look. Up here. That’s where your keys are,” I said, pointing to the platform. “I’ll climb up and throw ‘em down. Just untie my hands.”

“I don’t think so son. I’ll do tha climin’.”

The tubby bastard walked ahead, stuck his phone in his teeth, slung the rifle over his shoulder, and just kinda hugged the tree. He then reached for the lowest branch and hopped an inch off the ground. He looked up at the platform for a good half a minute before turning around and saying, “Show me ta tha money first.”

“It’s over this way―buried in the ground. The hole’s marked with a big tall stick.”

The portly bastard spotted the stick and trotted ahead. Then he pointed the rifle at me, “Turn aroun. Drop tha trap ‘n open ya hans.”

He placed his cell phone in my grip and adjusted my wrists till the light was pointing where he needed.

“Right there. Don’t budge.”

I kept still for thirty-odd seconds. Then I stole a glance. He was digging with one hand and holding the rifle with the other.

“It’s in a double zip-lock bag,” I said, “See it?”

“Steady that light son.”

I waited a bit, then looked again. He’d dropped the gun and was digging with both hands.

Slowly I eased towards him. “It’s only a foot or two under.”

“Lower…Point down.”

Ever so slightly I continued to move in on the old man.

“I said lower, son. Quit shakin’ aroun,” he complained.

He was digging fast, his face low to the earth.

“It’s a clear plastic bag. You got it?” I said.

I aimed the light up into his eyes and pushed closer.

“Down at tha ground dammit!”

I pointed the light back down and held still. Looking over my shoulder I saw as he picked up a clump of dirt and sniffed it hard. He kept pulling it close to his nose and then away. He started coughing, then he spit, and he started gagging.

“It’s shit,” he said.

“It’s there, I swear.”

While pushing the light up into his eyes I swiftly stepped back and kicked him in the gut. Then I ran about eight feet away and started spinning my body till the affixed trap lifted off the ground. I was spinning like mad, whipping the weight around me like a tetherball. The chubby fucker stood up and cocked the rifle. I took one step towards him, right as he pulled the trigger and, BLAUW, the steel trap smashed into his side and the bullet flew somewhere up in the air. He fell face first into my shit and vomited, coughed, and cried out in agony.

I stopped spinning, dropped the phone, and ran towards the trap. I lifted the damn thing back into my tied hands then kicked the phone towards the creek. The flashlight was still activated. I punted it like a soccer ball, completely ignoring the firestorm of pain in my leg. I kicked the rifle out from the fatty’s reach. After kicking the phone and rifle into the water I ran fast as my tattered leg would allow back to my tree fort and swung the trap again, this time crashing it into the platform till it split apart and my backpack fell from the sky. I bit one of the straps, picked up the trap, and ran out of there lookin’ like an effin’ stork―a flightless, featherless, ear-tagged stork.

ANCIENT ARTIFACTS

Aimlessly I scurried through the wild, eagerly embracing every last tangle of foliage to grace my flesh. Deep into the night, deep into the heart of the woods I sank. The brush cleared out and I found myself running along a trail. The trail forked and I nearly tripped on a wooden post with a sign stating two options: LOST CABIN TRAIL 3.2 MI, VISITORS CENTER 0.5 MI. I chose VISITORS CENTER.

Trees diminished and the trail dumped me out onto a dirt road. On the far side of the road was a meadow and in the meadow was a big old house with peeling white paint and faded green shutters. I passed a sign which read: VISITORS CENTER, CLOSED, HOURS, NOON TO 4 SAT, NOON TO 4 SUN. I ran onto the front porch, dropped the bag from my teeth, and swung the leg-hold trap through a giant multi-pane window. I pulled the trap out and repeatedly smashed glass till I’d made an opening big enough to enter without risk of getting cut.

The house was filled with charts of local wildlife, maps of the county’s state parks, and spot-lit taxidermied animals. I thought about trying to cut the ropes from my hands with a shard of glass but axed that idea in fearing I’d slice open my own wrists. Further into the house I found glass cases containing cups, bowls, clubs, bow and arrows, spears, sea shell carved fishing hooks, and dressings of indigenous Native Americans. I pulled the trap across the wood floor, back up into my hands, and smashed it into one of these cases. I squatted down, picked up an arrowhead, and proceeded to work the stone against the ropes around wrists. The ancient tool grew hot in my grasp and fibers of rope began to split. Though I couldn’t see, I’d swear the rope must’ve caught fire, because in a matter of seconds I was able to pull my arms and tear the remaining rope apart.

I drank from a water cooler and ate cucumbers and potatoes from my backpack. As I chomped on veggies I paced the room and read plaques that said these tribes inhabited North America for thousands of years―for thousands of years they’d run freely through an unpolluted paradise, advancing the physical wealth of their species generation by generation, no photographs, no written religion, no locks and keys, no money, no debt. It felt like some sorta sick joke that I’d lived out my twenty-four years in an era where you get jailed for taking a piss.

I took my time finishing off the remaining food in my bag, then I removed my hard-drive and placed it on a table. In the broken display case I found an intricately carved ball headed maple war club. I marveled at the practical work of art for a moment―lamenting over the time it’d sat in that case unused yet unable to decompose―then I lifted it high over my head, swung it down, and bashed the shit out of my hard-drive. I smashed and smashed, and the war club began to split apart. The drive, still in one piece, merely bounced on the table top. Why wouldn’t it just effin’ die? Finally it struck me that I was wasting time and energy fighting to destroy this thing I hated, when really I should just let it go. So I did. I left it there amongst the ancient artifacts and emerged from the house empty handed.

Out in the open air, under an infinite canopy of stars, I felt the eyes of late Natives fall upon me. I imagined the maker of the war club, and the maker of the arrowhead had been watching my entire bout in the Visitor’s Center, observing my dim-witted quest for freedom with big toothy grins plastered across their faces.

FANTASY LAND

I slept in the meadow. For two maybe three hours I got some damn good rest. Then the thunderous blades of a ghetto bird shook me awake. Two other helicopters were hovering in the direction of the farm. I figured it was best I get the hell out of there before K-9s came sniffing for my ass.

I headed north. This I could tell by the sun. To my understanding the city was off to the west and the farm south east. By midday I expected to find the giant lake, but I had no such luck. Instead I found myself on a peak overlooking a valley. A couple miles below was a pencil thin road lined with homes. My eyes tracked as cars crawled like ants. By this time, I figured, police must be publicly announcing the incident at the farm and a more extensive manhunt would now be underway. I tucked back into the woods and walked east.

Before long I found myself creeping on the back porch of a house. I veered right, to the south, and came to a quiet two lane road. As I sat, concealed in the brush―waiting to see if any cars were coming―I imagined animals must see roads as pathways of the demon. At night headlights would seemingly materialize like hypnotic eyes. The demon’s growl and unearthly vigor would leave you paralyzed, a bodily response that could save you or kill you. The real terror would come when all was quiet, when you’re fearfully paused at the edge of the asphalt waiting to cross. You’ve seen friends and family die, and maybe you’ve even seen a dead body right there on the road―right then and there, and you’re sitting on the edge wondering if this will be your time to be taken. Sure you’ve run across and lived and you’ve even heard tales of animals that ran and stopped directly between the eyes, ducked, and the demon passed―sparing their life. But as hard as your animal mind calculates there’s no logic to make of it, no sense, no reason. Monsters show no mercy.

A big agricultural contraption came squeaking through the fields on the far side of the road. A car whipped past and I deemed it too risky to cross. My leg was shit. All day long I’d ignored the pain, but now that my fantasy of an infinite wilderness was crushed, the pain was all I could think about. That and the fact that in every nature documentary I’d ever seen injured animals die.

High above the trees the ghetto bird circled. “BLISS-BLIZ-BLA-BLABLICE,” it roared. “BLUM-BLOUT. BLU-BLAR-BLUNBER-BLURREST.”

I guess it’s all for the greater good of your species―that you die. Weak members are weeded out so the next generation has fewer faults. I get it. I’m game for that. But this wasn’t what was going on in twenty-twelve Vertamont. It wasn’t nature that’d injured me, and humans were doing quite the opposite of advancing their species.

The ghetto bird weaved south. Confident my bronzed skin and mud and dumpster juice splattered pants were a good proxy for camouflage, I crept west. I walked right into the setting sun, headed directly for the city. If I was going down, I sure as hell wasn’t going without a fight.

REFINED LINES

The carcass of a coyote was folded over the fence dividing the forest from the freeway. Metal barbs had punctured its abdomen. Its head faced the city side. Had I known how to interpret that, I’d have turned around right then and there.

Rage took hold of me and I ripped at the diamond patterning of the fence. Violently I shook with brute force till the posts loosened from the ground. I tore at it till I’d completely freed two posts. Then I leveled a whole section flat with the weight of fallen branches. Freeway traffic was nearly gridlocked. I dragged fallen branches and limbs into a pile by the guardrail. I did this till the blue twilight faded to the deep purple-red hue which hovers over Vertamont at night.

Taking the largest limb I could carry, I climbed over the guardrail and slowly slid the limb into the first lane of traffic―forcing the cars to merge left. The driver of the car I’d blocked honked furiously. I pushed the limb further and he merged. Proceeding cars followed and I went back for more wood. I pulled additional branches onto the freeway and laid them out in the same type of gradually slanting line they make with hazard cones to close lanes. People honked their horns like mad, but they kept inching forward. Tension grew as I closed in on the median. People were pissed. Their hands waved, their faces flushed red, and they lifted phones to their ears, but no one actually did anything to stop me. No one got out their car. And probably it had something to do with how humid a night it was, but no one even rolled a window down.

I dammed the entire span of the freeway, crossed, and made my way to the bike trail. For the sake of taking pressure off my injured foot I got down on all fours and was able to move pretty fast. I cut out in Center City West, and ran through the back alleys of Hamilton Village before crossing over into Fuller Park.

Carefully I crept around the back of Ben and Hakeem’s building. Their balcony was draped with non-seasonal holiday lights, this I remembered from the party. Light beamed from their sliding glass doors. I stepped on the wall of a lower patio, jumped, and grasped their railing to pull myself up. Inside the living room Ben and Hakeem were drinking beers and playing a football videogame. Part of me wished I could be in there kicking back, chugging ale, and cracking jokes. I mean, as much as I’d grown to hate technology there was still this nostalgia for video games―having grown up alongside them there was this hypnotic desire to check in with them and see how they were progressing. Suddenly I felt out of my depth. A rush of embarrassment surged as I realized how psycho I was going to look, and really I just wanted to turn around and leave. Hakeem stood up and I knew he’d see me on his way to the kitchen. I stomped my feet as I stepped closer to the sliding glass door. He looked me in the eye and his face went white.

“Hey yo,” I said.

Hakeem looked to Ben, paused, and then stepped forward and slid the door open. He frowned and looked down at my bare feet. “Crouch down.”

“What?”

“Crouch.”

I ducked.

“Did anyone see you?”

“No―I don’t know.”

“Holy―what’re you on P90X or some shit?” said Ben.

“Police were here this afternoon, asking about you,” said Hakeem. “You really ought’a go.”

“I just wanted to explain a couple things―”

“I can’t help you.”

“I know―”

“I’m not going to represent you.”

“I know―”

“It’s not good for you to be here.”

“Okay, okay.”

His voice sunk to a whisper, “Look, you know the park at the end of the block?”

“Yeah.”

“Go to the kid’s playground. Sit tight and if anyone besides me or Ben comes at you, run. I’ll swing by in twenty minutes, if you’re still there we can talk.”

All the playground equipment was coated with late evening dew. Ben stopped at the edge of the park and Hakeem came at me cloaked in a dark hooded sweatshirt. He had this real tough-guy walk going on and for a minute I wondered if he was going to kill me. He explained that Ben was going to stand watch and then proceeded to tell me about all the detectives that’d been continually calling, asking if he knew anything about my whereabouts.

“Is there anything I can do, to fix your reputation?” I said.

“No.” He let it soak. “Even if you turn yourself in you’re looking at at least twenty years.”

There was this piece of equipment I grabbed onto, shaped kinda like a pogo-stick but with a disc to stand on instead of peddles. I stepped up on it and spun myself around. The whole thing spun like a solo merry-go-round. It spun surprisingly smooth compared to the playground toys of my day. I nearly fell on my ass.

“Even if that guy wakes up from his comatose you’re still fucked. The best thing I can do to help myself is not represent you. Eventually they’ll just remember your name.”

My momentum slowed and I put my foot down to stop in Hakeem’s direction. “If I’ve had my citizen rights terminated then how can they charge me as a criminal?”

“Forget that, man. The Supreme Court hemorrhaged when they caught wind of you. There was a huge backlash of political analysts explaining that if your human classification weren’t reinstated there could end up being hundreds or thousands of copycat cases.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I kicked myself back into a spin.

“What’s wrong with that is you nearly killed two people.”

“I was defending myself, those assholes had it coming.”

“Yeah, well the majority of the general public sees you as a threat. This is serious, capital punishment serious.”

“They can’t do that.”

“Yes they fucking can Andre. They have proof, hard evidence of you assaulting a man.”

“It’s pictures, how can people just trust some effin’ megapixels. Anyone with half a brain can Photoshop anything they want.” As I finished that sentence a pain surged through me.

“Come on, you and I both know those weren’t faked.”

“What did the photographer say he was doing out there?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know what they’re broadcasting. Tell me what they’re saying about me.”

“I don’t know, Nature photographer attacked by―”

“Fuckin’ liar man. He’s paparazzi. He told me himself.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I attacked the guy a little bit, I’ll admit that, but I didn’t fuckin’ knock him out. The fool was running from me and he ran right into an effin’ tree.”

“You can’t prove that. I can’t prove that. I can’t win a case for you and I’m not going to destroy my reputation even more in trying. If you really want to do this shit you need to leave the city tonight. Grab whatever you need and head way out there and never look back.”

“That’s the plan. I wanna be in the south before the fall.” I kicked my foot to keep my spin going. “I just wish I could do it without having to hide. I wish there was some place for people that wanna live like animals. You know, not just some commune or private lot, I’m talking about a whole continent…where you could roam without having to watch out for cars, or barbed wire, contaminated water, or psychos with guns. You should have the option―to live a natural life or a domesticated life.” I looked up and locked my eyes on a star as I continued to spin.

“Just know I’ve got no hard feelings against you. Really, I mean that man…”

In the distance two car doors opened in succession. I was listening to Hakeem but every time I spun around I locked my eyes on the car and shifted them to hold my gaze till I whipped around again.

Hakeem continued, “I understand you gotta do what you gotta do. Defense attorney might not be the field of law I want to work in. This whole experience opened my eyes to that.”

Like a cartoon moving at a slow frame rate I watched, with each spin, as two dark figures moved further from the car.

“I’ll be fine, man. I don’t want you holding any guilt over this.” he said.

Ben never could have seen them coming. They’d been there the whole time. I dropped my foot and slowed my rotation. The menacing mystery men were silhouetted by old street lamps lining the sidewalk.

Hakeem was obliviously facing me. He said, “I’ve always kinda felt that evolution proves the meaning of life is whatever you make it, you know? If you really want something you have to go all in because the safer you play it the harder it’ll be―What? You’re dizzy?”

My head uncontrollably tilted like a baffled hound as I widened my eyes. I looked back to Hakeem for a second, then―half inebriated with vertigo―I made a break for the line of trees at the back end of the park.

STRAYS

The back two sides of the park butted up against a residential neighborhood. A seven foot tall vine covered fence divided public land from the private. I leapt mid sprint and pulled myself up into a tree. I ran across a thick limb and jumped for another tree. I clasped a branch, it cracked, and I crashed onto some rubbish bins by a driveway. On impact I inhaled a pungent mist and started gagging. My eyes burned and tears emerged. I thought I’d been pepper sprayed―I thought it was all over―until I caught sight of a skunk bolting down the street. I pulled myself together and ran.

A Plume of stench must of trailed behind me. Headlights blinded me as I hit a four-way stop intersection. Someone exited a black and white shouting: “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

Boots slapped the pavement behind me. I dropped to all fours and picked up speed. I turned left and about halfway down the block I jerked right and climbed a five foot tall metal gate on the side of an apartment building. I ran down the walkway between buildings and it dumped me out in grassy courtyard. I climbed a tree up to a third story balcony, kicked off, and climbed to the roof. The neighboring building was a story shorter and the gap wasn’t bad. I backed up, took a few strong strides, and jumped across.

This next building had a center walkway running down the middle, the roof extended out over most of it. There was a five foot gap which I easily cleared. Without examining the next gap I just ran and leapt. The roofs were about equal height and midair I began flailing my arms as it became clear I wouldn’t make it. My body slammed into the sliding glass door of someone’s second story balcony. My skunk juice soaked pants squeaked along the glass. I shook off the sting and ascended to the roof.

This place had a center courtyard with a swimming pool. The building wrapped around it like a big O. A low rumble throbbed in the wind. The ghetto bird was swooping in from Downtown.

I stripped off my skunk fluid infused knickers, then my boxers. A rush of excitement coursed through my body as a breeze tickled my bare flesh. With a short run and a jump I sailed through the air naked as a newborn. The splash of water exploded within me as I sunk in slow-motion to the bottom of the pool. As I sprung off the bottom liquid molecules swept my uninhibited hide like sparks of electricity. I broke the surface and whipped oxygen into my lungs while pouncing up onto the walkway.

After fleeing from a back door I hopped fences till the million-watt all-seeing eye of the bird fell upon the block. I slipped under a hedge and just in case they were using thermal vision I held my body into a dog-like pose. The chopper circled around and I made my escape.

I prowled through shadows, avoiding all routes police might’ve anticipated me using. In less than an hour I’d made it to the freeway. I ducked into a patch of trees and brush within the tuck of an off-ramp. My eyes shut and I massaged my injured leg as I listened hard for sirens and helicopter blades. I took my time, imagining cleanup crews would be working on my car dam.

I paced around. Discarded couches, nightstands, televisions, bookshelves, and a bunch of plastic pet crates were strewn about the trees. Slowly I spotted gleaming eyes of cats. Some were limping and one of them was missing an effin’ leg. Timidly they inched at me, sniffing the air. Someone must have been feeding them. Injured animals die without help.

As my eyes scanned through the array of felines I locked sight on a black cat with two white hind paws. Selkie. An image of Selkie, which Sylvia had posted online, surfaced in my head. I remembered commenting cleverly about socks. Selkie the cat, alive and well, I couldn’t believe it. She’d made it all the way to the freeway. I hissed and called her name and when she was close enough I scooped her up.

HELP

The lie I stole from Sylvia. Her father runs a structural engineering company and she’s the one escaping the family business. She moved to Vertamont for college. She’d always say, ‘to distance herself.’ I never realized she was wealthy at first. It was just, Valentine’s Day when she offered to drive, she arrived with that massive SUV. The thing was gaudy as a Vegas bathroom. No doubt that’s why the bastard felt he could rob us. On future dates Sylvia offered to pay for my meals, because she didn’t cook anything. She always wanted to eat out, get take-out, always wanted to buy things. I’d always lie and say I just ate, or that I had to be somewhere. When I did let her buy me food, once, I felt like such a damn kid. Mostly I just wished she could have forgotten about me till I was rich. Because I found her attractive as hell, I liked her a lot, I just didn’t wanna fuck the relationship up like I’d done countless others. I wished I could make myself, build a fortunate, and swoop in to buy her meals, and drive her around. Only then―I thought―could I finally show her who I really was.

Selkie scratched the shit out of me as we crossed the city. I held her tight to my chest. She bit holes in my wrists and screamed her hairy head off. Fortunately I was sensible enough to hold her away from my junk.

As we began the ascent to Sylvia’s apartment she climbed on my shoulders and sunk her claws into my flesh like it was clay. I scaled over to the living room window and found Sylvia sitting on her couch eating fast-food. Light from the TV colored her face. She crammed food in her mouth and leaned forward to maneuver a laptop on the coffee table. I watched for minutes as her eyes never left the little screen. Panic flushed as I feared she was too far gone. Selkie had been the only live thing in her apartment, the only thing connecting her to the natural world. God I wanted to free her.

I held Selkie out towards the window to kinda block the fact that I was buck naked. Sylvia didn’t notice. She just kept running her fingers along the computer’s touch pad. By pressing Selkie up against the glass I got her to claw at it. Sylvia looked up but didn’t seem to understand what she was seeing. She walked over, peered keenly, then slid the window up.

“I just happened to come across her,” I said. “I don’t want you to think I’m stalking you or that I’m going to make a regular thing about climbing up your fire escape ’cause I’m not. For some reason some force brought me to Selkie. And I’m pretty glad it did because I was about to leave without seeing you.”

Her smoky eyes peered at me curiously, as if she’d never seen me before in her life. “Where are your clothes?”

I was holding the cat out towards her but she wasn’t taking it. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I continued. “I’m really fucked up inside. I’ll admit I do over think things, but that’s mostly because I’ve been broke my entire life and I’m constantly racking my brain for ways out. I adore you. I’ve always liked you and I’ve never been able to commit to you because I’m not myself, I’m not who I want to be. I have these urges to wanna tear your clothes off and―and mount you and whenever I act on them you push me away. And I don’t know what that means. You’re texting me all the time telling me how much you miss me and how you wanna see me. I’ve got some sad kind of fear of having someone depending on me. I get so stressed over the littlest everyday things and I’m hurting people. I don’t know how to make people happy―And I’ve got this pain in my body that won’t go away unless I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

She said nothing.

I looked down, taking in how high up I was. “Sorry,” I said, “It’s just the thought of you thinking what I’m thinking about you is something different than what I’m really thinking is eating me alive. I’m through beating around the bush, playing games, pretending to be something―what?”

She was laughing.

“What?”

“That’s not my cat.”

“Huh?” I looked down.

“Selkie has two white front paws.”

“For real?”

“It’s okay. Come inside.”

I sat there staring at the cat, trying not to think of the phrase, ’come inside’ in a sexual way.

“Really dipshit, I want you to come inside.” She pulled the cat from my hands.

A high pitched hiss lit up my ears as I ducked my head under the window and into the apartment.

Sylvia dropped the cat in the kitchen and opened her refrigerator. “What’s that thing in your ear?”

“A damn cattle tag.”

I didn’t wanna plant my filthy ass on her pristine furnishings, so playfully I moved around her apartment soaking in the foreign surroundings.

“Are you watching this?” I said.

“You can change it.”

After trying three remotes I successfully shut the TV off. The hissing ceased.

“You stinky. You’re a smelly cat, huh?” she said as she took a whiff. “Ugh, you smell like skunk.” She lifted the cat and a bowl of milk she’d poured.

“That’s probably me. I think it rubbed off on the cat.”

“Can you get the door? What happened? You got sprayed?”

I walked across the room. “Yeah.” The sight of milk made my stomach turn. I opened the door making sure not to reveal myself to the hallway.

Sylvia set the cat down, pulled the door shut, and then it was just me, her, and my manhood.

“I’m leaving the city tonight. I’m going out into the wild indefinitely.”

“Oh are you?” After gawking into each other’s eyes for a short eternity she leaned in grasped the tag in my ear. “It’s bleeding.” Her nose dropped to my chest and she took a deep inhale. “You need to bathe. Oh my gawd when is the last time you bathed?”

She started a shower and had me sit in front of the mirror while she cut the tag out of my ear. This was the first I’d seen myself in months. Blood radiated under my bronzed skin, the reflection looked so alive I thought it to be someone else. After she’d removed the tag Sylvia kept flicking her hair around. I go mad when girls play with their hair. She was whipping it in my direction as if she had no control over her own hand. She brushed her shoulder against mine as she walked out of the bathroom and looked up at me with only her eyes. She said, “Take your time.”

After lathering and rinsing my body twice I lifted the rubber stopper with my foot and plunged the drain. Sinking down into the deep tub I pulled the curtain open. Dozens of thorns and splinters were embedded into the souls of my feet. Just as I started to pick at one there was a solid pounding on the apartment door.

KAUH KAUH KAUHKAUHKAUH.

The noise shook my chest as I sprung to my feet and ran to intercept Sylvia. When I got to the end of the hallway I pushed off the wall and slid across the hardwood floor. My wet body crashed into her. I nearly fell on top of her but slapped my hands down on either side of torso. Hovering over her in a push-up position, I whispered, “Don’t.”

KAUH KAUH KAUH.

“I need to see who it is. They obviously know I’m home now. Look, don’t worry.”

My initial instinct was to climb out the way I’d come in. Instead I made a break for the bedroom. I wiped the towel along my wet streak and softly shut the bedroom door. The front door clicked open and I cursed Sylvia inside my mind.

The bedroom closet was shallow. I shoved some shoe boxes out of the way but felt as though I’d be cornering myself without a chance. There was a pile of clothing on her chair and I lifted it thinking I could bury myself. She was talking, I couldn’t make out the words but I heard a man’s voice. The only credible weapon in her room was a sewing machine which sat on her desk. I lifted it over my head ready to obliterate anyone who approached me.

The door burst open. “What the fuck man?” said Sylvia.

“Who was it?”

“My creepy neighbor. He was asking about the cat and talking about how it’s against property rules to leave pets unattended, blab blah, some bullshit. Please put that down…gently.”

I set the sewing machine back as it was.

“You have the hairiest ass ever. It’s like some awesome obscure mutation. You know what they’re calling you? The media?”

I shook my head.

“Andre the Ape.”

“Not Andre the murderer?”

“Some networks use that…I see the good in you.” She stepped next to me and adjusted the sewing machine to her liking. “There was more footage released, from the photographer’s camera. An intern at the news station uploaded everything online. There’s pictures of you trying to save a wild turkey. Wanna see?”

“That’s okay.” Standing so close to a real live woman the last thing I wanted to do was look at photographs. It even felt wrong seeing her wrapped in clothes. I wanted to take her to the river, and to the fields, and run naked with her.

“They’re not as publicized as the other shots. Someone showed them to me the other day.”

“I want to paint you.”

“What? Now?”

“I want to paint on you.”

FIRELIGHT

I ran from room to room shutting off lights. Sylvia dug out some old candles and I assured her we wouldn’t die if we lit them. Basically I had to tell her that I’d carry her down the fire escape if the place went up in flames.

She brought out a big cardboard box filled with acrylic paints and brushes. She threw a violently splotched sheet across the floor and we kind of looked at each other laughing internally. I felt the tiny muscles in my eyes shifting and it was then that I realized I was truly seeing her for the first time. The candlelight, with its harsh shadows, revealed a history of her face. Her eyes have a seditious curve of constraint. The tiny wrinkles at the ends of her lips wane on the blissful side of life. Her nose has these fascinating angles at its base like molded clay.

We began painting each other’s arms. We both started with brushes and soon she was reaching in to wipe paint on my face with her finger tips. I painted a design below her neck and kept pushing deeper with each stroke. We didn’t say anything. There was no music or TV noise. My blood swirled every time she leaned close. There was such an energy between us. With each breath I felt the intensity of a thunderstorm in the making. Without hesitation from either side I pulled her jeans off and proceeded to paint her legs.

“Sorry I’m prickly,” she said.

“It’s okay, I’m an all-natural type too,” I said.

I smiled and became aware of an intricate sun-like symbol she’d decorated over the left side of my chest. I pulled her up to her feet and painted around her thighs subtly inching upwards.

“No fair,” she said. The way I’d contorted my body only allowed for her to paint my back. The whole thing turned into an aggressive game of Twister. As I went to pull her shirt over her head she stopped me.

Quizzically I gazed into her pupils.

She smiled. “You’ll smear the paint. Rip it.”

I checked her eyes.

“Tear it off.”

She wanted to go to the mirror and see what I’d done but I told her I had a better idea. She closed her eyes and I traced everything I’d done with my fingers. Then she traced mine. I kissed her and from that moment we couldn’t take our hands off each other. She dropped the whole human act and for the next half hour she was an animal just like me.

Lighting struck, the storm broke, and my skull split open thus expanding my perception of all in existence. I was paralyzed with candidness.

We showered. Out in the wild I thought all my senses had been ignited, now they were screaming. After all of this Sylvia’s bed became like a raft floating in the middle of the ocean. Everything I needed was within arm’s reach. All tension sank miles below us. There was no pain in body. Sylvia climbed on top of me and messaged my chest.

She rolled alongside me. “Do you wanna listen to some music?”

I could tell if I said yes she’d play her I-Pod on these shitty little speakers. “Just live.”

“What?”

“I just like live music.”

She let out a low hum within her chest, I think to indicate understanding. She slid her arm further around me. After laying still for a bit hunger struck me and I rose to my feet.

“Have whatever you want,” she said. “I already ate.”

As I rummaged through her cupboards and fridge, and after weeks of eating foods I picked myself, I couldn’t stop thinking about the chemically enhanced fast-food in her system. She didn’t have any real food in the place. It was all dehydrated, condensed, pasteurized, ready-in-minutes artificial lunacy. The mind makes you act like an absolute buffoon when even the slightest hint of an opportunity to mate arises. I started feeling as though I’d contaminated myself in sleeping with her. I pondered the material of the condom. Then the fact that she’d made me wear a condom―I wasn’t really mating. It wasn’t real breeding.

After stuffing myself with Freon cold sugarplum tomatoes, two raw carrots, and drinking a can of black beans I pulled out a plastic water filter pitcher and poured directly into my mouth.

I returned to the bed. I must have only lay there for two minutes and Sylvia got up to use the bathroom. On her way back to bed she clicked on the AC and closed all of the windows. I couldn’t breathe. Next she lifted her phone from the nightstand and rapidly typed.

“Have you seen Poptart-Cat?”

“No.”

“Oh my gawd, it’s so funny.”

Her phone chimed. She picked it up again and her fingers whipped across the virtual keys.

“Ooo, how about the video of the loris with the tiny umbrella?”

“That’s okay, just describe it to me.”

“It’s so funny, you haffta see it. There’s this guy holding―” Her phone chimed again and her attention was diverted like a robot that’d been given new orders.

“It’s just nice to relax.”

“Oh, oh, you’ll love this app. It’s called iRelax HD. You can listen to different sounds of nature like the ocean and campfires.”

I closed my eyes. “I don’t wanna listen to that. Please, the light hurts my eyes.”

After staring into her phone for a minute she set it back down on the nightstand. She wrapped her arms around me and it suddenly occurred to me that she didn’t own a single plant. I know because she didn’t have any before so I bought her one on her birthday. She kept it on the windowsill and it just dried out.

I was drowning alive.

The plan was to lie still until she fell back asleep, then I’d slip out into the living world.

She didn’t fall asleep.

She kept shifting around and then she mumbled, “You’re so different. You’re so tan and scruffy,” she giggled, “And you’re―” She slammed her fist down on my chest, “―all muscley.”

“I think I’m growing a tail too.”

“Tails are supposed to be on the backside.”

She gripped me with her eyes and I sunk deep into her grasp. My fit of paranoia ceased and I proceeded to fake breed with her again. This time took much longer and by the time we’d finished we were dripping with sweat.

Defeated, she finally relaxed. “You can stay as long as you want,” she said. “You can be my new pet.” She pressed her index finger into the tip of my nose. “And I’ll feed you and take you on walks.”

Still catching my breath, I forced a smile and lay in silence. She got up again and this time she closed all of the curtains. “I can sleep in. There’s no street cleaning tomorrow and I don’t have class until two.”

I closed my eyes: I’m in a room within a building. Seven layers of concrete flooring lie between me and the first layer of the Earth’s crust.

“We should cut your hair.” Her words echoed an octave lower in my head. “I won’t tell a soul you’re here. I can bring you food.”

“Yeah.” The word barely fell off my lips and she took the hint that I was tired.

Once she was fast asleep I slipped out of bed and quietly snuck out the door to the apartment hallway. In the basement laundry room I found the cat I’d brought over. I scooped it up and dropped on the grass in front of the building.

LIKE A DOG

The first thing I did when I got to a major street was relieve myself into a newspaper dispenser containing the weekly Working World newsletters. Overhead the sky was milky grey. Pre-dawn light commanded the LED converted street lamps to flick off. As I climbed the hill at Ninth and Hope I could see the tops of box trucks moving along the distant freeway like items on a conveyer belt. All I had to do was cross the freeway, and then I’d be free.

My eyes darted around capturing last impressions. To my right a car pulled out of a parking garage, paused, and the driver looked down to set their GPS. I stared at a woman I was about to pass on the sidewalk and just before we would have made eye contact she knelt down to pick up a coil of dog shit. I passed a group of kids thumbing devices. Three whole city blocks and not one person noticed I was fully naked.

In a more commercial neighborhood a homeless man shouted, “Good morning!” He looked me square in the eye. He greeted me in such an uplifting way I nearly forgot where I was going. Then a woman turned to me. She had eight dogs on strings ballooning out from one hand and in the other was a cup of coffee. Heads shifted in my direction. The attention made me uncomfortable and I kicked up my pace.

All around me I noticed people lifting phones and snapping shots. I started jogging. Someone was hot on my trail with a camera clenched in a fully extended arm. I trotted down the sidewalk, pushing towards the freeway.

A woman in glasses, wearing a pants suit, panned her phone as I passed. I blinked and imagined the endless plains, paten-free foods, and uncontaminated waters which once occupied this very same point of geography.

College-aged tourists with telephoto-mounted DSLR cameras rapidly fired from the upper level of a sightseeing bus. I looked to the distant mountains and thought, this is the same earth dinosaurs walked.

Kids with point-and-shoots shot me from a café patio. Police had labeled me a dangerous fugitive slash attempted murderer, yet no one was trying to stop me. They were turning me into property. They were turning me into something capable of earning them money.

I ran full speed along the sidewalk. A middle-aged man bolted across the street, eyes focused on his camera’s foldout digital display. Car horns blared. The man was hit―for all I know killed. But how could you blame him. Pictures are worth more than the objects they depict. Videos are worth more than the events they portray.

I closed my eyes and saw myself swimming naked, drowning in clear air, sleeping in a ring of fire circles.

The mountains grew larger. I’d reached the edge of Vertamont, where all the fresh construction is underway. Only now there was more construction than when I’d been officially released into the wild. I ran past backhoes and bolted through unplaced sewer pipes. I leapt over piles of plywood and cut between blue plastic port-a-pottys. I climbed fences and scaffolding, and found no end in sight. It seemed my flesh and bone pace was the slightest bit slower than the mechanized rate of urban expansion.

Like a hamster on a wheel, like a dog on a string, like a kid with interest debt―I’d be forever confined by the innovation that was supposed to set us all free.

News choppers swooped in. Bottom-mounted remote controlled cameras tracked as I broke through the construction and approached the final intersection before the freeway. The orange hand was flashing. The number eight. My light was still green so I broke into a sprint. The number seven. A car was rolling down the far anti-gridlock lane and I was just praying they could see me. The number six. For some stupid reason I actually trusted this person would come to a full stop at their red light. The number five. All my years living in the city, every time I crossed a crosswalk I’m always thinking, you need to jump if a car is going to hit you. The number four. Jump so you don’t get crushed under the car. The number three. My hands landed within the crosswalk in front of the car and despite their red light, and my two seconds left on the crosswalk clock, the machine was still pushing, advancing. I pounced and smashed knee first into the windshield. Viciously I grasped for the wiper blades in anticipation of the car braking. I looked to the driver with a WTF face. The driver was looking past me, up to the sky. They didn’t even realize what had happened.

The car jerked and I rolled off the other side. My soft warm flesh slapped the cold hard sidewalk. My head whipped back and I lay there staring up. Up at a billboard of a dog’s head―a dog’s dismembered head. It was my photograph. It was the godforsaken dog I’d killed. On top of the image it read: DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOUR BEST FRIEND, INSTALL AN INVISIBLE FENCE TODAY. And I was pissed because that’s not why I took the photo. That’s not what I meant to say. And I thought about my stock photo account, and I wondered what would happen to the money in my account. And I started laughing. I laughed so hard tears dripped across my temples. I fell into mad hysterics.

I was the problem.

All that running through the woods and I was still thinking about money.

I’m not an animal.

I’m a greedy ass human.

I’m the problem.

So, then I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. ‘Cause it was causing me pain.

The time it would have taken to look up and transfer the money from my stock photo account, and the technology required to attain that wealth, it was all fake. It was all this fakeness that was causing the pain.

For all I know it could have been hours of me lying there, rolling on my back, laughing my head off. Thinking of how much of a fool I was. Tears flowed as my eyes drifted from the billboard to the big blue sky. At some point the fuzz ran up, flipped my naked body over, and slapped bracelets on my wrists. I was too happy to resist. For once I was just me, void of deception, the way I’m meant to be.

THE DIRT

Prison is a lie,

like the city is a façade,

like progress is a sham.

The best thing you can do is forget how to read and write. Or―better yet―never learn in the first place. ‘Cause then you can’t be misguided or misjudged, and if you can prove your illiteracy to a court of law, you can never be rightfully charged for laws you’d of had no way of knowing existed.

No book holds more truth than nature. No written words are worth more than your own thoughts.

Take it from a guy who’s done nothing but read books for the past three months. Scribbling all this shit down in these margins is the best thing I ever did. My past, all that aggression, all those fucked up nights and failed relationships, all that time wasted behind closed doors, it was sitting inside me like road kill lying on a city street―the concrete layer blocking it from becoming the dirt that feeds you.

LINN COUNTY

This morning I took the biggest most solid shit of my life. I kid you not, it was a two foot long unbroken log. I don’t know if it’s some kind of miracle or what. After I dropped this massive deuce I picked up my bed sheet, reached in the toilet, and pulled it out. I couldn’t just flush it. I rolled it up in the sheet and stuffed it in the corner of my cell. It’s like a sign from the universe. It’s sitting there right now.

Anyway, before I get to meditating on the shit’s meaning I wanted to finish off my story. There was a whole month spent in the infirmary healing up my glass infused knee and eggplant purple ankle. Long days strapped to a gurney with a remote controlled taser wrapped around my good leg. Then they brought me here and I’m sure if you’re reading this you’ve already heard the outcome of my trial with old Pat McKee. I’m still awaiting a trial with the pseudo nature photographer. They keep pushing it in hoping he’ll awake from his coma. My state-appointed attorney keeps saying, “I have to know everything so I can do my best for you.” I’m always telling her I just took a piss. Maybe she’ll be interested in what I’ve written down here―though I don’t exactly remember what all books I’ve written inside of, and what I order I checked them out. I guess she’ll have to look up my library records.

I know its November. The leaves changed colors and all ‘a that. I’m not gunna look up the actual date ‘cause that’ll only be a reminder of the years I’ve got left to serve.

It’s been a long ass time since I saw or spoke to anyone I really know. It’s having this affect on me where I’m thinking I might actually be a ghost―like maybe I died when the car hit me. Or maybe back when I first crossed the freeway, maybe I died back then. I guess that’s why I started writing, to prove I’m capable of leaving a mark.

Every waking minute I rack my brain thinking of ways I can prove I’m worthy of freedom or that I’ve learned some sort of lesson. But I stop myself, realizing the lessons I learned in nature are considered crazy to civilized man.

I’ve made two good friends, Dez, and Morris. Most inmates pry at you, searching for anything awful about your past. But Morris, my bunkmate, he’s a good guy. He’s serving twenty to twenty-five for repeatedly smashing a glass ashtray into the face of a teenage boy that struck his daughter. He says if he ever gets out he’s gunna buy an RV and travel the country living campground to campground. Pretty much everyone I talk to claims they’ll never sleep under a roof again. Dez is a trustee. He’s in for a minor enough crime he gets to work the kitchen. I turned him on to barefoot running and now he throws me an extra biscuit at every meal.

I stuff myself with as much food as possible. I scrape the plates of the fresh fish whose stomachs are too distressed to digest. This is all part of some cure. I accept my current state by assuring myself it’s the final stage of some caterpillar-cocoon-metamorphosis thing. Between meals and work I workout. I do push-ups, crunches, and squats non-stop till I roll over on my side.

I think about Sylvia sometimes. But I know it wasn’t love with her. She wasn’t meeting me in the middle. I was just a foolish country boy trying to connect with a city girl. I believe if I could have just got her out of the city, there could have been something real.

The Correctional Officer says I’ll be shipped out to Cañon City next week. I’ll have some state of the art underground cell that’s supposed to be cool because there’s a TV slash computer built into the wall. The skylights are built to the legal minimum natural light requirements. Word around the ward is prisoners of Cañon City spend their days building other prisons. I don’t plan to board that bus.

SWEET CHARIOT OF FILTH

Tonight they took away my excrement infused bed sheet. Two nights ago it started snowing and I got the greatest idea. I took my sheet with the shit in it, and I started rubbing the shit into the fabric. Then I dropped more shit, directly into the sheet. This afternoon I’d left it in plain sight. My neighbors started complaining about the stench and when the CO caught wind he had me and Morris leave the cell while a newbie guard with rubber gloves and a facemask removed the sheet.

Tomorrow morning I’ll eat a quick breakfast and as I rise to take my tray up Morris will start an argument with a child molester fish on the other side of the mess hall. At that time, as all eyes are on Morris, Dez will assist me into the food-waste garbage can. There I’ll sit breathing out of a straw for a max of thirty minutes as more food is dumped on top of me. At the end of breakfast, when everyone’s heading to their work assignments, I’ll be carted off to the dumpster where, if all goes to plan, I’ll be reunited with my shit covered bed sheet.

Tomorrow is garbage day. I’ve been watching from my cell window. The truck arrives under supervision at seven forty A.M. every Tuesday. At this time the dumpster will be lifted by the tusks of the truck and I’ll fall, cloaked in my sheet, to the bed of the truck. Immediately I’ll have to climb to the top of the heap and support myself on the sides to avoid compaction. Once we’re far enough away from the prison, yet before we get to town, I’ll leap from the truck wrapped in the sheet. I’ll walk on all fours till I reach the tree line. Then, ditching the soiled cloak, I’ll return to the woods bare as a beast.


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