We’re Fucked, Pt. 77 (Fiction)

Nairu has gotten stuck in a dopamine-driven feedback loop, hypnotized by the promise of controlled danger. As she stands on top of the play tower, the streetlamps bathe her in yellow ochre light and shade her features with stark shadows. She lowers herself to the slide and compresses her butt cheeks against the cold metal, then she submits her fate to the interaction of gravity and friction, which bring her in contact with the rubber tarmac. Our girl jumps to her feet and runs to the climbing wall while the white ghosts of her breath pursue her. She leaps to the top of the play tower like a mountain lion.

Our adopted daughter is careening down the slippery metallic surface when the soles of her leather boots squeak. Her legs fold, and she bounces off the slide in a burst of velocity. She sails through the air as if riding the crest of a rollercoaster. Her body plows belly first into the rubber tarmac, which squeezes a yelp out of her lungs.

My heart palpitates in alarm as a wave of dread rolls through me. Nairu lies spread-eagled on a dirty, spongy surface that has absorbed, helped by rainwater, the grime of hundreds of soles and dog paw pads. I witness in a flash the splatter of blood and grey matter that the impact spurted out of our girl’s shattered skull, which remains tethered to the spine by a thin strip of skin. Jacqueline drops to her knees, takes the broken head by its hair, and cradles it against her breasts.

Her ashen face is frozen in a grimace as she glowers at me.

“We failed. We are unfit to be parents. It’s all your fault.”

My muscles twitch in spastic panic. Jacqueline has rushed to Nairu’s aid, but our adopted daughter pushes herself to her knees. She spits dust. My girlfriend was about to kneel beside her when Nairu scrambles to her feet.

“Quite the dramatic fall, darling,” Jacqueline says warmly. “Thankfully you’re fine.”

She brushes dirt off Nairu’s chocolate-stained sweater. The child grins up at her adoptive mother, then giggles and scampers away towards the climbing wall, as if to reclaim her place atop the play tower.

My heart sinks back to my chest. The pilomotor reflex shuts down; slowly, the tiny hairs on my arms go limp. Jacqueline approaches me, strokes my neck and leans in to kiss my hairline.

“Is that how we lived as children?” I ask hoarsely. “After some potentially devastating mishap, we just sprung to our feet and kept playing, instead of remaining traumatized for years?”

Jacqueline sighs, blowing a plume of vapor.

“I wish I could remember. Don’t they say that the majority of cells in your body get replaced every seven to ten years? Or is that a myth?”

“Maybe we never grew up, we just appear to age to our bodies.”

“I have changed,” she says as her fingers comb through the hair on my nape. “If I were to meet my child self, I wouldn’t recognize her.”

“Well, I’m glad that Nairu can giggle like that. I only laugh anymore as an evolutionary mechanism to prevent me from going insane.”

Did we forget about our adopted daughter? She has climbed the tower and is standing on the edge, maybe waiting to be noticed. The closest streetlamp is bathing her in light, giving her a golden tinge, as if framed against the sunset sky. The shadow cast on her left cheek is inky black.

If I controlled her body, I’d make her step back, but I can barely make myself understood by the Paleolithic child. I walk closer, the same way an onlooker would approach the façade of a building if she had spotted a child leaning over the windowsill on a high floor. I’ve known our adopted daughter for less than a day, but if she were to fall and break her neck, the memory would petrify inside my brain, and for the rest of my life, most of the blood and thoughts would need to flow around the tumorous stone.

“H-hey, Nairu, please be careful. You’re going to end up looking like a modern sloth again.”

I’m paralyzed under the weight of her inscrutable gaze. I feel like I’m the kid and she’s the parent, but then again, I would have perished in hours back at that boreal forest where Nairu lived and played. Why would I pretend to know the right answers, when in my own daydream I let a child slide down a kilometric slide-grater that reduced her to a waxy pile of death?

The corners of Nairu’s mouth curl up in a mischievous smile, as if she had imagined herself slipping a caterpillar into someone’s hand as a prank, and she could barely contain the giggles at the thought of the ensuing freak-out. She grins, then flings her arms out wide, bends her knees and leans forward.

“W-wait, what are you doing?!” I exclaim.

She leaps from the edge towards me like a linebacker hurling himself into a tackle. I hurry to catch her. When the few dozen kilograms of girl body hit my chest, the electricity in my heart crackles, the muscles along my back shudder with strain, and most of my breath rushes out of my lungs.

My vision whitens. I stumble backwards on my wobbly legs while Nairu giggles. One of my heels collides with a raised slab of concrete, and I drop down onto the grass.

When I regain my bearings, I move my toes to make sure that I haven’t cracked my spine. However, I have likely smushed dog shit against the back of my corduroy jacket. Weeds are bending against my ears and the underside of my jaw as their vegetal blades dig into my flesh; some are brushing my earholes while they plan how to conquer my defenseless brain. Our adopted child is pressing down on my chest as she clings to me like a koala.

I lift my head off the ground and take a deep breath of cold air to fill my lungs, but a cough roughens my throat.

“Wh-what’s the big idea, you little hellion?” I ask hoarsely. “You must have shattered my ribcage. Did you want me to know how it feels to breathe through a couple dozen puncture wounds to my lungs?”

Nairu giggles. She snuggles closer, rubbing her warm cheek against my jaw, tickling my neck with her wool scarf. As if the barrier of my skin had been breached, the girl’s softness invades my insides. This stranger from the cold wildlands of the past has bested me with her mysterious guile, making a mockery of thousands of years of language evolution.

My facial muscles relax. I let the back of my head rest on the grass, pressing my hair against mud, anthills, and whole ecosystems of bacteria; it will take less than an hour for those microscopic beasts to crawl in through my scalp, spilling some of my brains’ juice in the process, and begin digesting my scalpels and bone saws. Meanwhile, Nairu burrows deeper into my corduroy jacket. By the time I catch myself, I have snaked an arm around our adopted daughter’s back to hold her in a hug, while my free hand moves through hair that this morning absorbed shampoo and conditioner for the first time, hair soft as a baby bison’s wool. My heartbeat echoes between the bricks of my chest, beating out the rhythm of Nairu’s purring.

I close my eyes. In the isolation of a droning sound in my ears and a darkness tinged with citrine-yellow lamplight, I become a mother who is holding her firstborn child. Beyond the boundaries of our snug embrace, a blizzard swirls up and down, covering our hair in white ice, creating a maelstrom of whirling snowflakes as it sucks up in a frenzy leaves, bits of bark, and twigs. The frozen matter, as well as every form of organic litter, will be taken away by the whirlwind of the snowstorm, swept up into the sky and reincarnated as dust particles.

Nairu and I have begun an evolutionary journey into a stronger species by this act, by her invasion of my world, by our physical and psychic bond. Our bodies now resonate like the soundboard of a Stradivarius, like the vibrating walls of a gargantuan tuning fork.

Blessed be the innocent children! Back when I used to return to my dingy apartment in that border town, I sought interlocutors among my dilapidated sofa, the pile of board games, the washing machine, and my collection of dirty dildos, until I gave up and, curled up in a corner, felt like a piece of rotten meat thrown in a dustbin. My brain itself had long been picked over by scavenging vermin, leaving behind only a bitter and loathsome taste. I dealt with the ghosts of programming languages past, haunted by their convoluted syntaxes, buried under the piled layers of virtual scaffolding that supported their unfathomable intricacy. All of existence had become a black box, and it almost drove me to suicide. I inhabited a realm far beneath society’s surface, at the bottom of an ocean populated by abyssal beasts that had to be fed with pain.

But now I have someone to play with! After learning to distinguish one sound from another, we are all destined to speak, or at least to bark. To my beloved partner I shall bark in French: “Je te mords les couilles!” Words will always be inadequate and inept compared to the wordless truth of music, but if Jacqueline and I teach Nairu Spanish to the extent that she can read the newspapers and understand the newscasters, our adopted daughter will despair at the post-apocalyptic world into which I snatched her. She’ll scream that she has grown sick of our time together, that I’m a horrible human being who should be avoided at all costs, that her lungs are breaking out into plague-riddled boils, and that she wants to return to her forests and her freedom. Such an outburst would turn my brain into a sponge forever dampened by the sticky ooze of regret. After all, should any child fear to see her loved ones shot with bullets that tear out the insides of human bodies? Should any child fear her home being ravaged and bombed out? So we better focus on teaching Nairu how to play board games. With our Paleolithic wonder by my side, I won’t need to depend on the moods of a depressed horse to beat Shadowcluster. And if anyone ever looks at Nairu with ill intent, or ridicules her squinty eyes, I will disembowel that person with a rusty spoon. Their viscera will rot in the dirt for the fleas to feast on.

I’m overwhelmed with an urge to snatch our girl up and flee from civilization. To shield Nairu from this insanity, we could whisk her away to a deserted tropical island, a sanctuary of natural beauty and blinding sunlight where the air would smell of brine and warm skin, where only birds would speak a language. The three of us would watch the clouds roll into giant clumps shaped like breasts. Nairu would paint the amber hues of sunset skies on my bare legs. We’d snuggle up in the sand and listen to the surf while the saltwater washed over our feet. My naked body would be drenched in sweat, and the sand would cling to my ass.

Perhaps I should take up on my old pal Git’s advice and become a family of merfolk. We would spend the days hunting fish in the coral reefs, and at night we would congregate in the clear blue waters to admire the stars. A whole pod of dolphin children could join our mafia-run aquatic colony. We’d drag under the waves any human who swam too far from the shore.

We could travel to the Moon and live on its lava plains. I’d love to bathe in the dust of millennia. We would launch ourselves down the tubes carved out in the lunar crust by rising liquid rock, slippery slopes that lead all the way down to the center of the world.

Author’s note: the two songs for today are “Oxford Comma” and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”, both by Vampire Weekend.

I keep a playlist of the all the songs mentioned throughout this novel (seventy-nine so far): check it out.

Leire attempted to play the board game Renegade with a somewhat sentient horse back in chapter 20. Also, she sought counsel from an anthropomorphized open source software for distributed version control back in chapter 44; Git recommended that she should transform herself into a sea creature.

I promised to throw scraps at my pair of pet neural networks if they digested my prompts and vomited out fucktons of images related to this chapter. Check them out!

This chapter is just half of what I intended to include to conclude the current sequence. However, these last 2-3 weeks have been a nightmare at the office; I’ve felt more mentally unstable than in the previous few months, even unhinged at times. Posting two thousand words of my ongoing novel makes me feel better, so that’s what I’ve managed to do today.

3 thoughts on “We’re Fucked, Pt. 77 (Fiction)

  1. Pingback: We’re Fucked, Pt. 76 (Fiction) – The Domains of the Emperor Owl

  2. Pingback: We’re Fucked, Pt. 77: AI-generated images – The Domains of the Emperor Owl

  3. Pingback: We’re Fucked, Pt. 78 (Fiction) – The Domains of the Emperor Owl

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