A Frame of Dystopia

It felt like a respite to sit here with my arms around another. A fellow human radiating heat, laughing at the correct moments, savoring the greasy and sweet popcorn that coated our mouths in Buttereel. We had managed to save up enough to pay for a movie tonight. It was a classic, or so the coalition approved Unirank had said.

A large block of text appeared abruptly on the screen. “Shut down in 9, 8, 7…

I wasn’t ready to go to sleep.

6, 5, 4…

The number counting down below the three words of text commanded submission.

3, 2

As the credits began to roll, a line of white hot lightening flashed up the base of my spine-

1…

and fire raced up my back to my brain stem spilling an inkwell across my vision, dragging me into unconsciousness.

Time’s Key

My grandfather once painted me this story:

A child, clothed in gray, wept atop the hill called Sunflower Gulch; this was not the first time.

The child’s mind was afflicted by a host of darkness. This darkness had many tormenters in it’s army: home, friends, dogs, and even Summer thunder; these fiends all waged an unending and undefeated war inside the child every waking moment of the day; there was no army that could stand against them.

At the bottom of the gulch, a steep and long distance from where the child sat with knees and head curled into lap, there was the pit. The unburdened children of the neighborhood believed that this pit was alive; with gnashing teeth and consuming belly. This pit ate no children, but it did eat what they fed it: emotions, mutilated dreams, innocent hopes, and anything else that was offered to it.

Grandpa continued: the child in gray on yellow, that day fed the pit the most exquisite meal it had ever partaken of. After consuming the meal, the pit let out an appeased rumble that reminded the child of a belch. The noise was so loud and quaking that it made the very tree tops tremble in fear. In the midst of this noise, the child saw an object rising out of the pit’s maw: the child discerned that the object was a key as it spun through the air, glinting with mysterious promise. The key careened into the Earth, stabbing into the soft soil with ease.

The pit was so full and pleased that it fell into a deep slumber. The child had made sure to give every last morsel to the pit.

The child decided to fill in the pit so that the dark host would never have the opportunity to torment the child again. The child scooped dirt in bare hands and threw it into the pit, one handful at a time. Once it was done, the child searched for the key. Upon finding it, the child picked it up, inspected it, and carried it for many years.

I asked Grandpa if the child discovered what the key went to, and Grandpa said no.

It is today. The sun is setting. Residual gray clouds obscure the sky and the stars. Early this afternoon while the sky wept, the worker’s from the old people’s home came and picked up Grandpa. After they left, I began boxing up memories, I set things out on the curb that had only been valuable to Grandpa, and I took a journey through time as I rediscovered trinkets that carried the essence of my past. One trinket I discovered was sitting forgotten in a metal coffee can, clanking around as I lowered the tin from a closet shelf. In the tin was a gold key. It It was dull, but still glinting with mysterious promise.

I deposited the gold key into my pocket and withdrew the key to Grandpa’s home. Locking the door behind me, I let the feeling the gold key gave me direct me.

The key led me to the home Grandpa was now staying at.

At Grandpa’s bedside, I presented the key inside the coffee can just as I had found it. Any luster the key had lost over the years I saw now in Grandpa’s eyes as he inspected it.

I can feel it all, Grandpa said. Everything I locked away that day, Everything I gave to the pit. I remember now.

Grandpa tapped the key to his head and said: you know what’s funny? All those fears and concerns and torments? They’re nothing to me now. I can say that with confidence. I see my life now, all of it, from this perspective, and I know I would have overcome those things just a few years later. My perspective and my circumstances were changing me day by day and would have led me from that place near the pit regardless of whether or not I fed it that day.

I asked Grandpa if he was still glad to see the key. He said yes, and he said that he was glad he got to see it again so that he could tell me how the story ended, so I wouldn’t have to live another day not knowing what had happened to the child in the story.

The last thing Grandpa said to me that day was that he believed every life was like a painting; and that no painting could be seen in it’s full beauty and potential until it was completed by the artist creating it.

Ode to Ink, Author, and Ingenuity

As I walk, slow step by slow step, along the ash shelves filled with volumes upon volumes, I feel a peace of silent companionship.

Curated smells pervade my senses at each individual dealer: inside of Literati, the aroma of fresh donuts rounding the corner down the hall makes my mouth liquify in anticipation; at Full Circle, the perfume of smoking embers and ground Arabica coffee intertwine to remind me of the joys of winter, even in the summer months; the bouquets of Unhurried Wonder and Timbered Stillness sweeten and slow my steps surrounded by the whispers of a world of unknown authors in Commonplace; and a cacophony of malt, umami, tea leaves, and intoxicating candles assail my senses at Word of Mouth, in the bustling 8th Street Market.

The silent companionship continues permeating the air I breathe while my eyes slide over the tomes; becoming entangled in thrilling and curious titles and on dust jackets that should find their way into art museums. Besides those things, it feels as though I am shaking every imaginable hand belonging to different authors with identities too numerous and varied to conceive. I am surrounded by voices that yearn to be shared. I feel as though I need to speak my gratitude to every one of these authors and thank them for their effort and time; simultaneously I feel the urge to apologize to those same creators: I apologize because I wish that I could read faster, pay them more for their creations, or relate and understand their work on a level far greater than I currently do. The learning and growth that would fulfill these feelings will come slowly in time, of course; but just as the pages and the voices are always adding to greater and greater numbers, so my desires to show my appreciation and thanks will never stop growing and changing depending on the voices I need to hear at any individual point in my life.

These stores that hold the voices are vaults. Untold riches inside of each wide-open safety deposit box begging to be withdrawn, cleaned out, and investigated so that no valuable piece is left unturned, or unfound.

The silent companionship holds conversations all around me: Doyle and Flynn speak of the modern mystery; Austen and Saunders ponder life and philosophy; and Baldwin attempts with Franzen to connect over hardship and human nature across completely alien generations. So many voices, clamoring to be heard, yet also speaking as close friends in this atmosphere of discovery.

I long to hear every one of these new and unheard conversations; to explore cultures and fantastic planets that will never exist in my world; hungering for cuisines that I’ve never heard of; learning to empathize with those that have been strong enough to live the lives I would not be able to; and yet even with the tantalizing promise of new and undiscovered, my heart thrills and plummets at the thought of stepping once again into Danielewski’s impossible hallway and unending staircase.

How is one supposed to decide? Pages stacking rapidly and exponentially, every day accelerating faster than the speed of light, outpacing the sluggish movement of my eyes and the numbered days left in my heart’s ability to beat.

As I slide a book from in between it’s companions, the silent companionship utters a whisper like sand over the lip of a dune on Arrakis as I if it has to offer what my literary soul, my inexperienced and unsure mind, and my unquenched irises crave.

My eyes alight upon The Count of Monte Cristo, upon The Books of Jacob, and upon Dandelion Wine, and I wonder, is my consciousness mature enough to devour and and discern these valuable lessons, these invaluable perspectives? My fear says no, but Adler disagrees and hands me the tools to change my mind. I open Adler’s priceless yet simply titled list of directions on how to immerse myself yet further into the silent companionship and the lessons it offers. As I reach out and the weight of the work pushes my hands closer to the tilled Earth, sweet bread bathed in lemon and lavender ascends into my nose and triggers my olfactory process; reminding me of my surroundings and where I am, or was last left. Near me, a rolling ladder creates a brief yet cherished orchestra every time a curious mind ascends to the highest tiers of shelves.

Behind walls and across aisles, whispering lips impart an atmosphere of secrecy, respect, and excitement as conversation seasons the air with wonder and curiosity.

How does one choose a singular voice among the millions that one hears?

In a galaxy of galaxies to adventure and be brought to a singularity of awe by, do you blindly pinch a spine and pull? Do you let your eyes tell your mind which color and design magnetizes your curiosity? Or do you find yourself being drawn to the familiar that you have already explored those far away lands and concepts with, simply because the shared intimacy of reader and writer opening up their minds to each other creates comfort that calls to be experienced again and again?

To the dealers of the addictively compelling unknowns; I owe much to you, I curse you for showing me the moreish exhilaration of the unending cascade of pages, and I thank you for the exact same reason.

There must be a perfection, a rapturous nirvana that pervades the act and existence of creating and creation. Perhaps this is where the intoxicating comfort of belonging flows from that floats through the air of these bookstores like a perfume. Perhaps the sweetness of creation and dwelling in it and being surrounded by it is the reason we read these words and write these stories. Perhaps that is our attempt at drawing near to the genesis of the lives and existence we inhabit. Perhaps these dynamic words that I insatiably surround myself with are primordial seeds scattered from an origin of existence; an inception point that must be found at some far away level of the fractal of incomprehensible existence that we inhabit. Perhaps the silent companionship is far more tangible and personal than I realize. Perhaps.