Deeper Into the Ever

Globes UnsplashOlivia Script

Wake up.

A voice, not mine. In my dream, this dream of snow and ice and cold?

Wake up.

Not a dream.

“Wake up,” the voice says, and so I do, letting my head break through the surface of my sleep, just barely, just enough. It is a struggle to open my eyes, and so I give up and leave them shut. “Take your time,” the voice—a man’s voice—tells me, and I couldn’t argue if I wanted to. I’ve never been so exhausted before. My every bone aches, every breath feels like fire in my lungs.

“…water…” I croak, not realizing I am thirsty until after the words are out of my mouth. A hand is placed beneath my head, raising it slightly, and a cup is pressed against my lips. The water is cool, and I drink deeply, emptying the cup in seconds. I want to ask for more.

“Not yet,” the man says, anticipating my question. “Let that sit a minute first.”

I try again to open my eyes, and this time force them to remain open. I am in a small and dimly lit room, the edges caught in shadow, the walls tiled like a barroom bathroom. What little light there is appears to be coming from behind me, and I try to roll onto my side to find the source, but my body isn’t ready to cooperate, and so I remain flat on my back, the path of least resistance.

“Just relax,” he says. “You’re doing fine.”

I’m not too weak to turn my head, and so I do, toward the sound of his voice. He is sitting next to my cot—because I realize that’s what it is that I’m laying on—an older man, with thick glasses and sideburns that are just this side of muttonchops. His dark hair is piled at the top of his head in something like an old duck’s ass, giving him a weird mixture of Arthur Conan Doyle and the Fonz.

“Who… are you?” I mumble.

He smiles at me. “Sullivan. I’m Sullivan.” He leans forward and reaches over me, retrieving a small pitcher from somewhere behind my head. From it, he refills the cup I had drained. “Ready for some more?”

“Yes,” I say. “Please.”

He sets the pitcher on the floor, then again lifts my head from the pillow and helps me take another drink. The water is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted, and I finish this second cup as quickly as I had the first. He lowers my head again, and puts the cup down next to the pitcher. “Now is when you’re going to start wanting to ask questions,” he says. “They always do.”

“Do they?” I ask. I have no idea who they are.

“Oh, yes,” he says. “Once they realize they aren’t dead, of course. You do know you’re still alive, right?”

I’m not altogether certain of that yet, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. “Sure,” I say. “Alive and kicking.”

“Not kicking yet,” Sullivan says. “You’ll want to rest some more before trying any of that.”

“Where am I?” I ask.

“Used to be the storage room,” he says. “Nothing in here to store now though, so I turned it into the guest room.” He chuckles softly, and then explains his joke to me. “Only guests I get are the ones who come up through the pass, like you did. I park them here and wait to see if they’re going to make it or not. No point in bringing them all the way inside if they’re never going to wake up. Shorter trip taking them back outside if they croak out.”

“I don’t understand,” I say.

“We’re on the edge of the Everwhere here. Some people make it all the way through. Some don’t. Most don’t, really. Either the snow gets them, or the Sisters do. A few find their way here though. Only a few.”

“You’re not making any sense,” I say. “What’s the Everwhere? Who are the Sisters? Where am I?”

“Ah,” the man says, nodding his sudden understanding. “Let me guess: Middlemost was the one who let you through. I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Yes. Mr. Middlemost.”

“Course he was.” Sullivan sits up straight in his chair and crosses his arms. “He never tells anyone anything. Most of the ones turn up dead around here, I’m certain he’s the one who brought them over. Don’t know what his game is, but whatever it is, it can’t be good.”

“Please. Please tell me where I am.”

“I did. You’re on the edge.” Sullivan lifts his arms and points to his right. “That way’s where you came from, with the snow and the Sisters. You don’t want to go back that way.” He lowers his arm and raises the other, pointing in the opposite direction. “That way’s deeper into the Ever. You might not want to go that way either, but it’s definitely better than the other way.”

I hear a bell then, ringing faintly somewhere in the distance. It chimes like something that would be heard when opening the door of a candy shop, light and airy and old fashioned.

Sullivan looks irritated at the sound. “I have to get that,” he says, standing. “Don’t try to get to up. Just rest and I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’ll bring food. We’ll get you back on your feet straightaway.” He walks across the tiny room, and this time I find that I can roll onto my side in order to watch him go. He opens a metal door in the tile wall, steps through, and closes it behind him. It doesn’t sound as though he has locked it, which gives me just the slightest feeling of relief.

I should probably be crazy by now, I think to myself. Unless I already am. That’s probably it.

I find myself wondering if this is how Alice felt when she fell down the hole into Wonderland.

It’s the last thing I remember before I drift off to sleep once more.

The Secret Architectures of Spiders

Plymouth UnsplashSebastian Script

Hannah is sucking on a Blow Pop as we drive. She is scrolling through my iPhone, looking at my music. “Don’t you have anything from this century in here?” she asks.

“Don’t give me any grief,” I say. “You’re the same age I am.”

“Maybe, but my musical education didn’t stop in 1987.” She finally picks something, and The Boomtown Rats start playing from the car speakers.

“I do listen to new music, you know,” I say. “It’s just new music that sounds like old music.”

The road is all curves here, in the hills along the California and Nevada border. The freeway is far behind us, and this smaller road continues to unfold as we speed down it, no destination in mind. Everything here looks the same—the trees, the cracked pavement, the small islands of snow at the sides of the road that haven’t melted away yet—but it is a sameness that is comforting in a way, like the pages of a familiar novel.

I stop the car at a four-way, and Hannah points with her Blow Pop out the front window. “Is that a crow?” she asks. A large black bird peers at us from atop a wooden post that is part of an old fence just back from the road.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe. Probably.” There are no cars behind me in the rear view, so we sit at the intersection and watch the bird watching us. After a minute, it takes to the air, and flies over the car and out of sight.

“I bet that was an omen,” Hannah says. “A bad one.”

“Seeing a bird in the woods doesn’t count as an omen.” I take my foot off the brake and start driving again. “Seeing a Sasquatch might.”

“If we see a Sasquatch, I hope he likes shitty music.”

“Keep it up,” I say. “You can always walk home.”

I hadn’t planned on playing hooky today, but when Hannah called this morning to suggest it, I knew that it was an idea with merit. Lord knows I’ve got a million vacation hours squirreled away, and no one could blame me for wanting to cash one of them in on short notice now and again. I drove to her house, and she was already waiting for me outside her door.

“This is a new dress,” she’d said then, pressing her hands against the fabric at her hips. “And a new haircut.”

“Looks good,” I said, meaning it. Her hair fell just below her chin, and made her look like an old silent movie actress.

“Take me into the hills,” she’d said, and so I did, letting her sleep for part of the trip, letting her talk the rest of the way. Some journeys are meant for looking, and others are meant for discovery.

“Find a good place to stop,” she says now, from the passenger seat. She has kicked off her shoes and has her feet up on the dash. Her toenails are painted blue, like she is a little girl with a love for the brightest colors.

“Anywhere in particular?” I ask.

“Just someplace good.”

We drive for a few more miles, and I see a spot that might qualify. The remains of some small wooden building are set back from the road, the shell of it collapsed upon itself, perhaps from the weight of some previous winter’s heavy snow. Beside the ruined building is a rusted out old automobile, something that might have been sporty back in the late ‘60s, but now it is brown and speckled with rusted holes. The windshield is surprisingly in one piece.

“That’s perfect,” she says, reading my mind. I pull off the road as far as possible, and turn off the car’s engine. Hannah slips her shoes on, then lifts her purse from the floor and rummages through it, pulling out a sandwich bag stuffed with Oreos. “Here,” she says, handing the bag to me. “Take this.” She opens her door and gets out, not waiting for me to do the same before she is already heading toward the old car and building.

It’s wonderfully silent outside. I can’t hear any hum of traffic, and the sense of isolation is deep. It feels good to be away from things, and I am relaxed in a way that I haven’t been in a very long time.

Hannah is peering through the dirty glass of the abandoned car when I join her. “There’s probably spiders in there,” she says. “Big, fat black ones.”

“Look but don’t touch,” I suggest. The interior looks dusty as well, but other than cracks in the cover of the bucket seat, it’s appears to be in good condition.

“I bet we could just turn the key and start it up,” she says. “If the key is in it. And if the spiders don’t eat us.”

“You aren’t dressed for spiders,” I say. “Bare legs and all.”

“I thought about pants this morning,” she says. “I knew I should have done it.”

“I’m wearing pants, and there’s no way I’m going inside a spider car.”

“Probably a good idea. The tank is probably empty anyway. Not worth getting cocooned over.”

She walks away from the car and over to the broken building, and I follow. “Think this was a garage?” she asks.

“Weird place for it. If it’s a garage, where’s the rest of the house?”

“Blown away,” she says. “Like Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz.”

“Not really in tornado country here.”

“Then maybe the spiders ate it,” she says. “Splinter by splinter.” She seems to consider this a moment, reaching her hand up to undo the top button of her dress, and scratching the skin that is revealed with her fingernail. “Maybe they moved it back deeper into the woods, so that they could have it all to themselves. A house of spiders, out where nobody could ever find it.”

“I’m not even going to go look,” I say. “That’s the way people die in the movies.”

“Better than dying in a hospital,” she says. “At least it would be a story.” She reaches out her hand and runs her fingertip over the head of a thick nail, which is protruding from one of the boards of the building. “I’d like to be part of a story.”

“You already are,” I say. “You’re in your own story.”

She grasps the nail between her thumb and finger and begins to wiggle it back and forth, working it slowly from the board. “That’s such a silly thing to say. Stories have to have a point. Most people’s lives are totally pointless. Mine is, anyway.”

“No, it’s not,” I say.

“It is,” she says. “Nobody gets to say if there’s a point to mine but me. I’m the only one who would know that.” The nail pops out from the weathered wood, and she holds it up and looks at it, turning it this way and that. “Something to remember this place by.” She hands the nail out to me. “You should keep this. You’ll need to remember it longer than I will.”

I take the nail from her and hold it like a cigarette between my fingers. She turns away from the building and walks back to the old automobile, and again I follow. The afternoon light grows suddenly darker, and I look up to see that a thick cloud has passed in front of the sun.

“It’s chilly,” she says. “I definitely should have worn pants.”

“Let’s get back in my car,” I say. “I’ll get the heat on.”

“Probably no spiders in your car either.”

“Pretty safe bet,” I say.

“We should eat those cookies though,” she says, pointing at my hand. I’d forgotten I was carrying them.

“We can eat them in the car. I don’t mind a few crumbs on the seats.” I put the nail and the cookie bag into one hand, and offer my other to Hannah. She takes it, and I lead her through the fallen twigs and small plants back to where we have parked.

“I want to come back here,” she says as we walk. “To this exact spot.”

“Okay,” I say.

“I want to come back after,” she says, and I slow my step slightly, and look over my shoulder at her. She is not looking at me, but back at the rusted auto and collapsed building behind us.

“After?” I ask, but I know exactly what she means.

“Yes,” she says. “Promise me.”

I turn away from her and watch my step over the uneven ground. “We can talk about it later.”

“I know,” she says, and squeezes my hand. “It’s okay. Later is okay.”

There are no spiders on my car when we reach it.

There are no crows to be seen.

An Unsettled Cloudiness

Camera UnsplashBoone

“What am I looking at?” Tina asks.

“Look closer,” Rivi says.

We are all sitting at my kitchen table. Tina peers at the screen on the back of Rivi’s camera, staring at the picture there, a photo of Rivi’s bedroom from yesterday at three in the morning.

“I don’t see anything,” Tina says.

Rivi gets up from her chair and comes around behind Tina. She points her finger at a spot on the screen, and I know what it is she’s looking at: a blur in the flash-blown photo, a smear in the air, hovering directly over the foot of her bed.

“It’s a reflection,” Tina says.

“It’s not a reflection,” Rivi tells her.

“Look at the mirror,” Tina says. “I can see your camera in it.”

“So can I,” Rivi says. “It’s not a reflection.”

I have another sip of my coffee. I know what Rivi is going to do next, because she did the same thing to me after she snapped the photo. She’s going to zoom in on the blur, and then trace what she sees there with her fingertip: the tilt of a chin, the curve of a nose, the line of an arm trailing down and into the mattress. I can only see it when she points it out to me. It’s like cloud watching in a rainstorm.

“I still don’t see it,” Tina says.

“You’re just not trying hard enough,” Rivi replies.

My phone is on the table next to my coffee cup. I spin it slowly under my fingers, waiting for a reply to the texts and calls I have made since last night. I am becoming more convinced that I am not going to receive one.

“Here’s her hair,” Rivi says. “And her face is here.”

“It’s a smudge,” Tina says.

Even though I lost the details of the blur in the photo as soon as Rivi stopped tracing them, the image in my mind became more clear as time went on. I pick up my phone and dial it: voicemail again.

“I think you’re imagining things,” Tina says.

“Well, Boone believes me,” Rivi says. “Don’t you, Boone?”

“Sure,” I say. “Sure I do.”

My plan is to finish my coffee, and then get into my car and drive. Tina and Rivi can come if they’d like, or they can wait here for my return, but either way I’m going. I can be at Olivia’s place in half an hour. I know where she keeps her spare key.

“You should spend the night,” Rivi says. “See it for yourself.”

“I’m not going to see anything,” Tina says, “but I’ll stay over if it’ll make you feel better.”

The blurred curls of hair hanging across a cloudy shoulder. The misty line of lips, parted as though in the middle of a whispered plea for rescue.

Half an hour’s drive.

The image in the photo looks so much like her.

It’s been days since I’ve heard from Olivia.

Half an hour, and I’m afraid of what I’ll find

Whiteout

Mountain Snow UnsplashOlivia Script

I am in the falling snow.

Behind me, the door in the shed hangs open, and I can see the workbench, and the cans of paint on the floor, and the dusty window in the wall. Through the glass, the sun shines brightly, and the sky is cloudless and blue.

On this side of the threshold, the snow drops from heavy gray clouds, falling onto my head and shoulders. It spills through the open doorway, and makes a small ridge just inside the shed. A mist forms along the door’s frame, where the cold air from here slides against the warmer air from the other side.

And then the door shuts.

I can’t pretend that I’m dreaming. I don’t think that I’ve lost my mind. I have to believe that, or I won’t be able to move from this spot in the snow.

It’s very cold outside.

I don’t know where I am, but I know that it’s not the Bay Area. On either side of me, tall granite cliff faces rise up, easily a hundred feet into the air, the walls sheer and pocked with thick layers of ice. There is no wind and no sound other than my breathing, and the snow lays thick on the ground, more than covering my feet, and creeping up my shin. I can’t see the sun through the clouds, but the day feels late, even though it is still morning on the other side of the door.

I look back at the shed, and I notice now that there is something unnatural about its architecture. It doesn’t stand apart from the rock behind it, but instead appears to be constructed going through it, as though a hole the exact size and shape of the shed had been cut into the stone, and the building had been slid precisely into it.

I’m not surprised to see that the door has disappeared. Where it was, there is now only the wooden wall of the shed. There is no going back through it.

I can’t stay here. I’m wearing sneakers and jeans and a T-shirt. Already I am shivering, and if a wind should pick up, it’s going to get much worse very quickly.

There are two directions to go, and neither looks more promising than the other. Both lead off in opposite direct lines from the shed, nothing but rock and snow to see, until the paths are lost in the dim light.

You can be afraid later, I think. Now you have to move.

There is no point in making a decision as to which way to go, so I just start walking in the direction I’m already facing. I look back over my shoulder as I trudge through the snow, and in only a few minutes of walking, I completely lose sight of the shed. I try to keep calm by telling myself that I can always turn back if I need to, but I know that all that will come of me retracing my steps is that I might ultimately freeze to death going backwards instead of forwards.

If this was a movie, this would be where I’d hear something howling in the distance. But there is still nothing to hear other than the sounds of me pushing heavily forward through the snow.

It’s getting darker. This means it’s also getting colder. If the light goes out completely, there’s no telling what’s going to happen to me.

No. It’s very obvious what’s going to happen. I’m going to die.

Now a wind rises up from behind me, and the falling snow comes down at an angle on my back, instead of straight down on top of me. I clench my jaw to try to keep my teeth from chattering, but it is a barely effective attempt at control.

I never should have met Arthur for coffee.

I step into a hidden hole and fall forward, landing hard on my hands and knees. I am more startled than injured, and the snow saves me from any scrapes or cuts, but the wind takes the opportunity to blow harder. My shirt rides up high on my back, and a layer of icy flakes drop across my bare skin. I scramble upright as quickly as I can and try to shake the snow out of my shirt, but it’s already dissolving from my body heat, leaving me both cold and damp.

I could go back to the shed, I think. Maybe I can break down part of the wall and get back inside. I don’t turn around, however. Going back now would be the same as just laying down in the snow. If there’s a way out of this, it’s going to have to be found in front of me.

Ten minutes pass, and then another ten. My body is completely numb except for my feet, which now feel coated in broken glass, and the pain from each step threatens to drop me to my knees. I tell myself not to think about frostbite, so of course I can’t push it out of my head. I’m not going to lose any toes though, I realize, because I’ll freeze to death before having to worry about anything being amputated later.

Five more minutes? Another ten? I have no idea. I have stopped shivering now, and this worries me more than anything so far. My legs are heavy as the stone walls that fence me in, and the urge to sit for a few minutes with my back against the granite is growing stronger. Just five minutes. Just to catch my breath.

Five minutes will be the same as forever.

I keep walking.

And walking.

And walking.

And then I am looking up at the sky, watching the flakes coming down, and I don’t know how long I have been laying in the snow, but it covers me from head to toe like a frozen shroud. I give a low animal cry, and put all my energy into rolling onto my side, then pushing myself unsteadily up to my feet again. Everything hurts now, every muscle, every joint. My head is a nest of icicles, and every breath is liquid oxygen pouring down my throat.

I walk.

I stumble.

I fall.

The snow begins to cover me.

I see the stars ahead of me, dim and steady.

I close my eyes.

Stars? What stars?

My eyelids are heavy, and opening them is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but my frozen lashes painfully peel apart, and I look to see the stars that are shining off to the side of me, glowing from inside the cliff face to my right.

Not stars. Lights. Lights in the rocks.

I am frozen to my core, carved from ice and frost. I am a statue, motionless and captured in time. I am a ship’s figurehead, broken free and trapped at the bottom of a dark arctic sea.

Lights in an opening in the cliff face.

I haven’t the strength to get to my feet.

But I have just enough to be able to crawl.

At the Edge of the Continent

Holding Hands UnsplashSebastian Script

“I should take a trip,” Hannah is saying. “Someplace far away. Darjeeling, maybe. Someplace where the air is spicy.”

We are walking outside the zoo, and the air is not spicy here. It smells of eucalyptus and salt air.

“I want to be in one of those hotels that you see in the movies,” she continues. “Old wood on the walls and a balcony overlooking a marketplace.”

“How about Fresno?” I ask. “Fresno is exotic.”

“Fresno is an armpit,” she says. “Don’t be a putz.”

She has work this morning, and so we are here walking in the dawn, the sky a rich and dark blue, the chill working under our coats and trailing its nails along the goosebumps on our skin. She called me at three in the morning, and asked if I would go with her. As she talked, I heard the sound of an old typewriter clacking in the background, but I didn’t ask her why. I didn’t remember seeing one at her house, but that didn’t mean anything.

She has a sprig of baby’s breath in her hair, and I don’t ask her about that either. She looks tired, as though she hasn’t slept at all. I wonder if I look the same, since I didn’t go back to sleep after she called me.

There is an empty fishbowl in the bushes by the sidewalk. Hannah stops to look on the ground beneath it, looking for any fish that might have poured out from it. There aren’t any to be seen.

“Gulls probably got them,” she says.

“Wonder how it even got here,” I say.

“People do strange things. Very little of it makes any sense, really.”

“I had a fish once. Rivi bought it for me, one of those beta fish. Nasty little things. I hear they’ll eat each other if you put two of them in a bowl together. Anyway, it only lived about two weeks. I don’t know if that’s all they get, or if I killed it somehow. I’m not very skilled at keeping anything alive other than myself, and sometimes that’s a miracle anyway.”

Hannah stops and stands on her tiptoes, trying to see inside the fence around the zoo. “Do they have penguins here? I can’t remember. I’d like to see some penguins.”

“Yeah, I think so. Don’t you have to work today though?”

She sighs and puts her feet flat on the sidewalk again. “Maybe some weekend then. I’m restless, Sebastian. That’s all.” She pats her hair gently, making sure that the flowers are still there. “I should have slept last night. I feel useless. I really need some coffee.”

“We can get some. I’ll take you to work if you want. What time are you out? I can pick you up after too.”

“Five usually. I can probably get out early if I pull some strings.”

“Stay until five. I can be there by then.”

We continue walking west, toward the beach side of the zoo. In the middle of Sloat Boulevard, on the median, the Doggie Diner head is on the pole where it’s been for as long as I can remember, and across from that is Pasquale’s Pizzeria. “Remember when we got a bucket of spaghetti there and ate it on the beach in the dark?”

“I remember we couldn’t keep the sand out of it,” she says. “God, wasn’t that the night we went to the Pink Floyd laser show?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“Jesus, we really were just kids. Do people still do that? Is that still a thing?”

“Don’t ask me,” I say. “I’m not a kid anymore.”

“You should be,” she says. “Getting old sucks.”

I don’t tell her that I remember everything about that night. Her jean jacket and white cotton skirt. The walk from the parking lot to the place we sat in the sand. Wanting to hold her hand. Not knowing how to do it without making a fool of myself.

“Listen,” she says. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Picking you up after work.”

“After that.”

“No plans,” I say.

“Let’s do something ridiculous then. Let’s come back here and eat spaghetti on the beach.”

“You haven’t slept. You’re not going to want to be awake after work.”

“I can sleep when I’m dead,” she says, and then she smiles darkly at me when it occurs to her what she’s said. “I am a master of inadvertent black humor.”

“A black belt in black humor,” I say.

“Take me to the beach tonight,” she says. “I don’t care how tired I am. It’s important. Important to me, anyway.”

“Okay. We can do that.”

We come to where Sloat connects with the Great Highway, at the edge of the continent, and now, here in the present, I reach out and take Hannah’s hand. We stand for a moment on the street corner, as the sky grows brighter and the sea wind twists our hair into knots. When the light changes, we cross and head down to look at the water for a few minutes, while we have time to not care about responsibilities and traffic and jobs, and deeper worries are but monsters under the bed, vanishing when the sunlight spills in through the bedroom window.

I squeeze her hand, and she squeezes mine in return.

I don’t feel the fool at all this time.