Journal Entry CXI
I don’t really know much about her yet, not even her name, but I know she makes my insides burn. She makes me feel taller and stronger than everyone else, faster and better and more alive than I’ve ever been. She laughs and my heart bursts into flames. She speaks and the blood in my veins goes fiery. I close my eyes and can see her, know I’ll see her again, know I’ll learn her name soon and I’ll speak to her after that and then we’ll fall in love. It is as clear to me as anything else.
Me: How about this: One minute.
Me: How about, differences aside, we take one minute.
Me: One minute where you message me back.
Me: One minute where we feel like the world hasn’t ended.
Me: One minute so I know you’re okay.
Me: Can you give me one minute?
Me: Is this, us—am I—worth it to you, worth one minute?
Me: I’d give a thousand minutes for you. A million.
Journal Entry CCCLXXI
We fought again today. It wasn’t huge, but there was something in it maybe that is like being close to the end of something. I’m not saying the end of us, because we are forever, I’ve known it since before I even knew her name—we are untouchable—but there was a crumb of something else in it, something loosed or unhinged, or something buried away. I can’t place it, but I can see it behind her eyes. It’s there, like a candle fluttering. She looks at me and she smiles, but it’s there, the crux of whatever she isn’t saying.
Hey, you’ve reached me, leave a message:
I’m going to look for you at the hospital. I know you’ll think I’m crazy. I’ve called a billion times already, left a million messages, but I don’t believe you’re just screening calls. Something has happened to you. I don’t know what, but, it’s a feeling I have, and I…I can’t…I just can’t. The hospital is the logical starting place, and I’m sorry I hadn’t thought of it until now. I’m just not…thinking clearly. I haven’t slept and the explosions are smaller but somehow continue and the sun is gone and, I’m…I’m scared. That’s it. I’m scared. And I didn’t want to say that because…because I want to be strong, for the both of us. And isn’t that what you wanted me to say…way back when? Way back in some early argument, like a…a…a sketch, a sketch of what was coming? Didn’t you want me to admit that this scares me, all of it, wasn’t that it? It does…now…this. It scares me. I’m scared. Even going outside the apartment seems awful and daunting, but I’ll go. I’ll go to find you. So, if you’re getting these voicemails, stay put. And if you’re not at the hospital, say so. Tell me where you are. I only want you to be okay. Hold on.
I call her name into the maze of hospital hallways. I call her name up and down stairways. I stand amidst the stilled pulse of machinery and fear the worst.
Because what if she is dead and I’m here, without her. Because what if she is gone and I never find her. What if this collapsed world is the world we have to live in now.
I call her name. I scream it. I hold her name on my lips, on my tongue, and I exhale it like an origami bird made to float on the smoked, ashen air.
Because when she left, when she said it would only be a day or two, I said I love you and she didn’t say anything back. I knew then that our world was imploding.
She doesn’t call back, but other patients do. They call Here or Help or Hey. They call a name that isn’t mine. They call out into the darkness of this hospital ending.
They aren’t her. None of them are her. These aren’t survivors of the plane crashes, survivors of the explosions, survivors of the Asphalt Chasms or any of the rest.
These people here, the ones who call to me as I shout her name, as I run from room to room down endless halls. These are the forgotten people.
The doctors left. The nurses. The staff. The power wouldn’t hold and they knew it. Plus, they have their own families, the wreckage of their own lives to contend with, to face.
They are not bad people for leaving. I left. Left our apartment to brave the broken streets, the flood of people, to blister-hike here, to salvage as much of us as I could.
We are not bad, any of us who roam this damaged world, seeking the remnants of relationships, the small blooms of our buried pasts, because that’s what we do, we carry on.
Many streets are filled with people, families poured from apartment complexes, from houses, traveling hand-in-hand or huddled together or sheltering one another, because the fires are sweeping toward the housing district and there is no fire department left to stop it.
The fire engines went valiantly in the first wave, spent nights and then into the darkness looking for survivors in the gnarled shrapnel of airplanes, in the destroyed buildings, searched until their generators gave out, dosed fuming hunks until the tanks were desiccated, worked heartful and fully until earthquakes rolled across the entire landscape and everything else toppled.
There are no firefighters coming to save us, just as there are no police officers left to don riot gear and stave off the looting or to control the boundary between sanity and everything else. Just like the doctors and nurses left, went elsewhere, to find loved ones or rescue possessions or get ahead of a disaster that was ahead of us the whole time, living and death brought so close together hardly anyone can tell the difference anymore.
People take to the streets en masse, walking, running, bearing suitcases and trundles, trunks and boxes, one with a kiddo atop his shoulders, the mix of moon blue and flame orange cresting on both their backs, large and small alike, a cruel mimicry.
They go, treading the streets, running over as water does from an overflowing sink, smoothly spreading from every reach, breaching, the fire coming for whatever they’ve left behind, flames pressing them forward.
How to Play
There are two varieties of this particular game.
In the first version, you enter your house or apartment or living space, whatever it is, and you ask another player to count to one hundred.
As soon as they begin counting, start packing your entire existence onto your back or into your body. Be sure, in your haste, to not just take the jewelry and the keepsakes, the photo albums, but also the way the home smells, tastes, feels. Pack all the memories into your mouth. Pack all the sentimental feelings into your chest. Pack the space’s everything, as much as you can. Stuff it into yourself or onto your back, being sure to cross the threshold before the other player reaches one hundred.
Also: You may never look back.
In the second version, you simply stand in the middle of your house or apartment or living space, and you ask another player to soak the carpet in kerosene and light the drapes on fire. If you don’t have drapes, use the walls. Stand there until everything burns down around you. Stand there until nothing is left. Stand there until you no longer exist, until you’ve burned away.
Also: Some players call this Looking for Love.
J. A. Tyler is the author of The Zoo, a Going (Dzanc Books, 2015). His fiction has appeared in Diagram, Black Warrior Review, Fairy Tale Review, Fourteen Hills, and New York Tyrant among others. From 2007-2013 he ran Mud Luscious Press. He resides, now, mostly offline.