Author: admin

Cult of Hecate

It feels like the first day of real summer weather. The sky is cloudless, luminous, and impenetrable. A shell of forget-me-not blue sheltering me from the shards of glass threatening my mind. On darker days, the shards dig in, like cloves embedded in an orange, but now, my face upturned to the leaves trembling in the breeze, I have a feeling that sunshine could purify me of any poison, even if only for about fifteen minutes. Not a cure-all, mind you, but a brief holiday from my own pessimism, vanity, selfishness, and the various terrors that parasite my heart like fuzzy mold on soapy bathroom tile.

The light feels both healthy and decadent to experience, both impossibly sweet and nutritionally whole, like angel food cake with the properties of boiled spinach. Gold crystals of nectar and ambrosia littering the ground. I forget to be annoyed at minor things, to hate the way I look, to complain internally in a long-running monologue that spools out behind me, dragging my step and stooping my shoulders like a spurned witch’s spell. I forget to live life in the obsessive first-person.

Can I get over myself long enough to care about anything else? In this economy? In this society? The fear is, if I stop keeping myself in hyperfocus, I’ll lose my footing. I’ll fall into a bog. There, I will be slowly preserved in acid, emerging forty years later as a saggy, pickled apparition, eyes half-lidded as I flip through the same three Netflix categories in a room crowded with stained and out-of-fashion box-store furniture. I’ll have let the world swallow me whole, with nothing to show for it. Another cog in the machine. Another brick in the wall. Another chord in a forgotten song. Another view on a video. Another poster on an endless feed. I won’t even have been happy.

Around me, the breath of life. The sunlight like an arrow. The greens look greener than usual; the blues, bluer. Earthly vegetation has an alien quality to me: its veiny undersides, its gooey resin, its mottled textures. I am only at home in a city environment: its hot concrete, its predictable signage, its belching vehicles. Even when I fantasize about a quiet life in the mountains, I can’t go longer than a minute before cutting off the dream at the head without a gasp of compassion. I trawl for a piercing, poisonous canned line: Where will you get Claritin, in your cottagecore fantasy?

So I resign myself to the inevitable, in which I reply to emails and spend thirty minutes trying to copy text from a hardcoded PDF from a plastic desk chair, every day until I die. I insulate myself in nihilism like a tottering old woman in a huge fur coat, and then enjoy the indulgent pain of self-awareness like a pack of cigarettes hidden in a deep pocket. Take a long drag and bemoan your privileged life. Get addicted to Internet doomscrolling, just like your ancestors wanted. Fight the impulse to feel better. Go for a walk, observe plant life growing magnificently in polluted air, achieving that radical, unthinking hopefulness that you deny yourself with all the bleak glee of a deprived parishioner, and then return home, draw all the curtains, and wait, bitterly, darkly, for the end of all things.

What’s in my Bag (OF HORRORS)?

Hey, it’s me again.

[Eyes are shaded, poorly, in navy blue. Muddy puddles up to her brow bone when she blinks.]

By popular request, I’m sharing the contents of my bag today.

[Big smile is unshakeable. A cheery, four-note tune plays. Her intro is an animated fairy choppily waving a wand.]

A scarlet iPhone. Can’t live without this!

[Now replete with oxides from a Chinese mine. She taps on the screen.]

Here’s the last video I watched. The title is “Daughter of the House of Illusion.”

[The thumbnail image is a lush illustration of a female archer against a dreamy background, nocking an arrow made of purple flame. Her oil-painted irises are a light, cloudy gray. The description reads: Manifesting power, grace, femininity, a perfect heart-shaped face, and a hair-free body.]

I’m a spiritual girl. I really believe in manifestation. I’ve got my own sigil, too.

[She holds up a brooch to the camera. It’s shaped like a fist with a protruding middle finger, made of overwrought gold metal.]

Now we move onto my face. Of course! Can’t go anywhere without this.

[She slides two fingernails underneath, applies a bit of pressure, and removes it cleanly. Underneath, her flesh is not bloody, but flat, smooth and milky white.]

It feels really good to take it off at the end of the day.

[The mouth on the face in her hands continue to move and speak. She adjusts her grip, dangling her face from one finger like a piece of costume jewelry.]

Sometimes I do a Korean sheet mask with fifteen different kinds of ceramides. I feed my face Vitamin B2, and also this pink pill here, which is for

[screaming siren noise; REDACTED?]

Now I’d like to share my snacks—everyone should carry a high-protein snack to nibble on throughout the day. Lately I’ve been loving this 8-ounce block of American sharp cheddar cheese. I take this thing everywhere with me, plus my Japanese Santoku knife for easy slicing. I got my name laser-printed on the handle. See?

[The blade is as long as her forearm. It catches the light as she lifts it up to the camera, one hand held behind so the lens can zoom in on the finer details.]

Finally, my house keys! I have three keys, one for each door at the entrance of each concentric chamber within my house. But I obviously never go into the last chamber. Not since the incident—long-time subscribers know what I am talking about!

[She giggles. Her teeth, in the garish ring light, look yellow and uneven.]

I got this cute keyring as a free add-on with my most recent 300-dollar purchase at Nasty Gal. It’s got a fun quote on it.

[In miniscule type, the plastic rectangle attached to the keyring reads: Imagine the amazing good fortune of the generation that gets to see the end of the world. This is as marvelous as being there in the beginning.]

Flood the Zone (2/2)

She gets the sense the raft build is from an early edition of the game. While its component pieces are generic items that are readily available on the map, the crafting instructions feel unintuitive and clunky, like a relic of a time before a UX professional was paid the big bucks to iron out the user experience. She even notes, with abject horror, a typo: 12 wod logs.

She places the crafting blueprint on the ground: a rectangular grid divided into twelve strips, with interlacing lines where the ropes are meant to wrap and bind. She has to position the logs exactly on the gridlines before they slot into place with a wet-sounding click, requiring considerable finesse with the arrow keys. A recommended step includes flax thread for a makeshift sail, but there’s no flax to be found in the game. Pouring over a fan archive of Apocalyptica press releases, she finds stray mention of iridescent flax flower in an Apocalyptica beta test that was patched out by the mid 2000s.

Tying the ropes is a million times more maddening that wrangling the logs. A wrong knot and the rope wiggles out of her grasp, like a snake; too many of these abortive maneuvers and it disintegrates in her hands entirely. She considers giving up, but there’s something charming about the challenge, and anyway she already has a purpose in mind for the raft. She’s going to position it next to the FLOOD THE ZONE graffiti, as a kind of ironic art display. She hasn’t been able to figure out how to remove the graffiti, which is unusual in a sandbox game that prizes user freedom like Apocalyptica. Even the wall itself seems rooted in place now, invulnerable to her trusty pickaxe. Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them, right?

(more…)

Flood the Zone (1/2)

She boots up Dreams of Apocalyptica, clipping her fingernails on the couch while she waits for the game to load. Yellow crescent-shaped slivers catch between the blades, and then fall onto her dark pink sweatpants.

Just glancing at her laptop on the coffee table, its screen cocked, dust motes playing visibly across its face, makes her heart squirm and glisten with a slippery jolt of dopamine. After a day of work, tiring and emotionally void, the rush is better than anything. Dopamine feels so good moving through her body that she often fantasizes it will heal her many ailments; a miracle hormone like a string of pearls sleeved into her bloodstream, clearing the path of chronic cholesterol build-up and the molecular memories of her anxiety, disordered eating, and many latent childhood fears.

In Dreams of Apocalyptica, she plays as a vaguely humanoid blob with purple elfin ears, fuzzy green hair, and huge, glittering red eyes. She wields a sword with a golden tassel, though she uses it only on the poison-spitting skeletons that live in the procedurally generated forests. Her task is to rebuild the kingdom after a cataclysmic event, in coalition with a hundred-thousand other casual players, a responsibility she takes more seriously than anything, including her 9-5 and her handful of decaying friendships. In Dreams of Apocalyptica, she has something nothing else can provide: purpose.

(more…)

HyperPalatable HyperObject

If you could fit the entire world in your mouth, what would it taste like?

Human civilization, its concrete pillars, rubbery telephone wires, and tarred roads, crunching under your teeth like a shell of hard candy. Bodies instantly reverted back—not to dust, but to meaty organic matter. No redemption. No romance. Do not pass Go. Do not collect your soul.

Fountains of urine and blood, liquid spurting as thickly as breakfast syrup from a clogged bottle. The human heraldic colors are yellow, red, brown, black. The shield is roped in chains. The crest is a crown not worth wearing. You’ll nearly gag on these slimy, fetid, chunkily bejeweled emblems.

The kingdom of nature tastes grassy, soapy, and bland. It is mostly texture that numbs the tongue. Layers of blue-green ooze, hairy leaves, and mulch. Try not to think of all the microplastic adhered to every surface. Saltwater follows, down your throat in a wave that lasts ten-thousand years.

Art tastes like nothing. Morals taste like nothing. Maybe, if anything, they come up in a floral, fungal burp. Love tastes like nothing. Evil tastes like nothing. Maybe, if anything, they contribute to indigestion. They may be something to look at, but they are the nutritionally void Red Number 40 and Blue Number 2 featured in an otherwise boring, dense, vaguely off-putting meal.

What does a sinkhole on the seafloor taste like? Can you detect its flavor in your mouth, amid the vast mountains of mush pulped together by saliva? What do my hands, feet, and eyes taste like—I’m guessing mystery meat gone slimy in the lunchbox? Can you consume it all in one gulp, and leave no trace behind?

The Fisher Princess V

The Fisher Princess I / The Fisher Princess II / The Fisher Princess III / The Fisher Princess IV

Max’s vision narrows, then darkens, like the spiral of a camera lens closing in on itself. Far below, she hears water lapping against the shore. Light, misty and moody, reappears from somewhere above.

A soft wind, warm as an exhalation, ripples through. Max won’t be able to recall what she sees here, but the feelings will linger forever. A sensation like waiting in a tunnel.

Max feels the stranger’s touch again, this time on her shoulder. Something inside her sparks in response, as though struck with flint. A tendril of information enters her mind, softly but assertively, stripping away any other thoughts, like a melody triggering a childhood memory. But it’s not a memory belonging to Max.

Max looks at the stranger in confusion. The stranger’s face has twisted into a pained grimace. She’s on the cusp, Max realizes, of breaking into tears. It’s like seeing her mother crying for the first time; the shock and fear are crippling, and Max’s hand, possessed by a longing for closeness that confuses her later, reflexively moves up to cup the stranger’s cheek. Her eyes widen. Instantly, a fresh, smooth, dark heat like moonlight radiating through space—

(more…)

Adrift in the Tokyo Reverie

Lavender Nikes, star-patterned navy blue leggings, and a puffy pink snow jacket. She is no older than five, and her mother is pointing at images of food items in a picture book, pausing each time to let her daughter identify and name them aloud. “Tamago!” she yelps, looking up for approval, and her immediate joy at her mother’s answering nod is so entirely pure and so hopelessly unabashed I have to look away.

Tall, like an overgrown weed. He stops me as I am exiting the subway to tell me his full name and that I am exactly his type. I am wearing a baggy, black-and-white sweater with a skull on the shoulder, ill-fitting jeans, and ragged sneakers. Not exactly the peak of archetypal feminine allure. There’s a nonzero chance that this is a scheme to entrap me in one of Tokyo’s many cults, but there’s a charmingly boyish breathlessness to how he waits for my answer, eyes shining anxiously, as though with tears. I briefly consider pretending I don’t speak Japanese but he doesn’t strike me as a creep or a threat (though “conman” is still, I remind myself, a distinct possibility), so I level with him.

“I’m already seeing someone,” I say, keeping my tone light, friendly, patient, without any hint of reprimand, like a kindergarten teacher explaining a moral lesson to a child.

An almost immediate rejoinder: “Then, how about being friends?”

I have to smile at how expeditiously he is managing the encounter, zooming from romantic hero to self-imposed friend zone without missing a beat. He doesn’t appear disappointed in my rejection, which is equal parts suspicious and funny. I ask him to tell me more about himself; this expression of interest in him seems to put him on the backfoot, but his answers are surprisingly bashful, earnest, and descriptive, eroding my distrust. His name is Yuta, and he is a college student who likes to surf. I tell him where I am from, in the vaguest terms possible, though not my own name.

Yuta, if you are not, in fact, a scam artist, I hope you are doing well today. Actually, even if you are a scam artist, I wish you well. I wish you the best of luck in love and life.

My mind is a wave breaking against the shore of my body. Sitting in a coffee shop, hands shaky around a mottled ceramic cup, I think about living out numbered days, one foot in front of tragedy until it finally catches up. I look out the window and spot myself, walking down the street. I am physically unassuming: short, small. My hair is long and unruly. It’s almost spring, and warm enough that I have traded my cable sweater for a soft plaid shirt inherited from my brother. I am looking up and forward, eyes distant but focused, as though I could discover some cosmic truth hidden in the sparse clouds on the horizon. But when it comes to this life, the less I know, the better.

Playlist for Twisted Psyches

A modern girl, she wakes with a tension headache from too much screen time. She checks her email, toothbrush jammed in her mouth, scraping distractedly against her gums. Eyes held away from her face in the mirror, towards the reflective gem of her phone screen, the bright primary colors of her inbox glowing, she jumps with sudden fear. A tersely worded message from a credit reporting agency has arrived, urging her to check her current credit rating or face the crippling fate of certain identity theft. It takes several attempts to log into the agency portal, her thumbs pushing hard against the glass screen as though she could brute-force it, heist movie-style. When she discovers the email is just a cheap ploy to get her eyeballs on the agency’s American Express offers, she throws her phone onto the couch, betrayal transmuted into stinging chemicals flooding her bloodstream. As if she had been warmly invited to a neighbor’s home, only to find, once at the threshold, that the invitation is a pretense to sell her Tupperware, or Girl Scout cookies, or a shovelware game involving glistening 3D jewels that will parasite on her phone memory, or a rectangle of hard silver plastic with a 20.99% APR .

Onto social media, that paradise of lethargy. Her eyes glaze over as she scrolls. She wants to stop, but to stop would mean leaving the insulated warmth of the algorithm. If the algorithm had a scent, it would be expertly blended, tranquilizing lavender, evoking a high-end salon, the satin inside of a wealthy woman’s handbag, a field of delicate cosmos flowers in a high-definition, framed print. Everything about the experience is designed for maximum minimum-effort comfort; its bedroom covers of achingly sweet songs, its pastel-colored infographics, its pithy parade of funny, lovable tweets. It feels good to be cushioned by the soft waves of gentle, non-threatening information. The chambers of the algorithm are inviting, and she moves among them in a daze.

Even when she is shown something sharp-edged, like a news photograph from a war zone, or a video of a stray dog limping along a road, the algorithm quickly moves to soften the blow, to anaesthetize the sting of the cut. This is how she can go from a clip of a woman frosting a cake in rainbow colors, to a partially censored shot of a bleeding child, mid-scream, to a sunny video of a musician in a suburban backyard, strumming a ukulele. Her fingertips travel across their faces, almost like a caress, as she passes them by.

It’s not that she’s unaware of the world. If anything, she knows it too well. She is a sewer rat swimming in blood, head held just a fraction above the current. The knowledge shimmers ruby-red just outside her field of vision. If she dives down into it, in comes a deluge that quickly overwhelms: headline after headline, bold lettering on a black background. The regular news is bad enough—murder in a parking lot, the moon full above, armed robbery gone wrong, yellow tape hastily slapped on the brick walls. But beyond the gridlines of the daily periodical, beyond the guidelines of the law, lies another world that the modern girl knows perfectly well how to access. Clicking on a few buttons opens a portal to it: a world of gore, hounds, and wild terror like a fast-moving river. Traveling through this hidden world is like walking an endless open field filled with deep, invisible holes, like miles of pockmarked flesh. Breathing quickly and shallowly as the sky coldly observes the creatures moving below, so dark the air rests over the body as thickly as velvet and as unsettingly as a stranger’s presence.

From a young age, the modern girl has seen content on the Internet that she should never have seen. In this, she is one pinprick among millions: a generation of half-formed brains in fully formed bodies roaming a desert of horrors. Shrill calls to 9-11, bootleg crime scene photos, forums for the suicidal, personal recollections of prolonged drug abuse that end suddenly one day in 2013, followed only by a reply gone answered (“does anyone know what happened to her?”). A feed of content that, like a medieval painting of the underworld, is red, yellow, orange, black. A hundred-thousand faces contorted into identical expressions of pain.

So many have judged the modern girl for her cynicism, her outward bitterness. They don’t know her nihilism is not a product of apathy, but of repeated exposure to unreasonable, inexplicable, unjustified, and deeply unfair pain, and to, particularly, her observance of this pain colliding against the high iron wall of generalized public indifference. She has watched, again and again, as the victims, bloodied wrists banging against the locked door and shuttered windows, are forced to withdraw back into the field, to fall back into its pits, again and again. There’s nothing as cruel as the way we live, so exhausted by the end of the day by the stupidities of what we do to earn money that we can do nothing but make excuses, skirt around the discomfort, and play endless cellphone games.

The cracks in her schedule—the thirty seconds that she sits on the toilet, or the occasional foray into the flesh realm, as she crosses the street or commutes on the train—are hurriedly filled with the off-white drywall plaster of posts, videos, and 500-word newsletters. She has to avoid even a second of introspection. When she looks up, she sees others doing the same. Another young woman, eyes hidden by the shadow cast by her woolen beanie, licks her dry lips as her pointer finger slides across the glittering diamond-face of her phone. The modern girl watches her, waiting for the traffic lights to change.

Down on my luck

I once read a short story in which a young girl living on the coast is alarmed to find scales growing along her body. With each passing day, the reach of the scales expands, like flowers seeding and transforming a field in a season. Reedy, wind-swept green blistered by pollen into a lake of tender-petalled forget-me-nots. By the end of the story, the scales cover every inch of her skin, and the girl is forced into the sea by the demands of the metamorphosis: a sad, unwilling mermaid. I think of the origin myths that cast humankind as a kind of ancient, aberrant fish that stumbled blindly onto land and never again regained entry into the paradise of the ocean. Now we live forever longing for the underwater kingdom, its sequin-lined surf, the swept-up bangs of its velvety waves that conceal the deep-set eyes of the millions of gilled, topaz-colored angels below, buzzing with bloodless mystery.

Imagine that we all retain the invisible coat of scales, an inherited legacy with an oceanic origin, the same way some Greek legends claim we are all halves of a whole. We go through the world lugging them around like a heavy coat. I hold a fallen one in my hand—a half-moon the color of a dull penny— and feel distaste grow into a wave of nausea. It feels like breathing in car fumes and feeling the heady haze of destabilization. To be too close to yourself, both the good and bad, to feel your weakness so acutely, to understand your failure intimately, to recoil from everything you are.

By building relationships, changing locations, writing words, I give away scales. Sometimes it’s close to a sacred act. Other times, it’s transactional. A scale for a scale. An exchange of trust. There are ex-friends, lost to time because of my neglect, who know a part of me, a black-eyed chunk preserved in amber, better than I do myself. Often, the loss of a scale is purely accidental, and this is how there are strangers in other dimensions who hold onto shards of me. The woman who saw me cry in an airport lobby, for instance. The older man who tried to pick me up, at 14, at a Spanish train station.

I have a few scales that I’ve peeled, not without some force, off my body and hurriedly buried in the topsoil of a municipal park. The children’s plastic playground equipment watches me carefully, as I look around in fear, wiping my muddy hands messily over the front of my jeans. Sometimes, the scales reappear, dirty but whole on my doorstep, and pitying myself, I bend down and slot them back into place.

The scales I have inherited from my parents are cracked, veined, soft gold and silver. If I press too hard, I unwittingly leave behind the permanent imprint of my touch. Maybe that’s why the scales feel worn-down to the point of crumbling fragility. They are a family heirloom in the realest sense, the product of touches from many generations, some much less well-meaning than others. A hand-me-down that has known love, pain, truth, threats, and wounds treated with too little medicine. If any part of me is haunted, this is it: the ground-down scale that jangles like keys at my wrist joint, its damaged sheen now closer to urine than gold, manhandled by men I never knew, but delivered with the rest of me at birth like a love letter, packaged in frilly strands of DNA like party streamers.

Some of these dead men visit me in dream, as if trying to repay the debt of their sin. Their arms are laden with gifts, as gilded as the artifacts of lesser gods. They have my mother’s sad, glittering eyes. “It’s too late,” I say, cradling the receiver against my ear with more tenderness than I knew I had. “I’m sorry, but it’s too late.” Their melodrama curdles then, into fury, into the mindless frenzy of a shark scenting blood, whipping cities of coral into pieces. I cast my gaze aside. You think I cling to this bitterness with any amount of satisfaction? You think I don’t wish it were different? I do, desperately. The punishment is as much mine as it is yours.

The most treasured scales are time capsules, not of “better times,” but of memories stripped of meaning, leaving only sensation. Sitting on a train, watching the Pacific fly by. Dancing with my adolescent brother in the kitchen, our cheeks red with embarrassment. Pressing my ear to the curve of a shell. When I die, pale and denuded, some of the scales will crawl back to share the grave with me. They will whisper to me of their travels. I’ll know, then, how far and how deep my soul traveled before returning, on its hands and knees, to me and my polluted seas.