Revised and expanded: ‘Dinosaur Apocalypse’

I’m at the last stage of revising the ebook of that last novel I wrote (first one in English), and in the meantime I’m also revising and expanding if necessary the poems that will end up in one of three poetry ebooks, which I’ll release sometime in the future. This time I wanted to work on my poem ‘Dinosaur Apocalypse’, which I felt was just okay. I think I rushed it back then, didn’t bother improving it as much as I could, but I’m glad I could do it now. The new version is maybe twice as long, much sharper, but retaining the disturbing silliness of the original.

If you read this poem when I first released it, and enjoyed it, you may want to read it again. In any case, the link is below.

Dinosaur Apocalypse

Revised: ‘Odes to My Triceratops’

I’m at the last stage of revising that novel I wrote in May, ‘My Own Desert Places’, so at work, instead of producing new stuff, I will focus for a while on arranging all my poems into distinct groups, with the notion that I’ll release a couple of poetry ebooks after I upload the novel. So far, all the poems I have written in English fall into three distinct ebooks, so that’s what I’m dealing with.

This process includes revising and particularly updating the punctuation. Although it feels like far more time has passed, I wrote my first ever poem back in June of this year, and I enjoy them so much that I would have released my novel far earlier if I hadn’t focused on coming up with new poems instead. In any case, I have revised and updated the opener for the first of the upcoming poetry ebooks: the three parts of ‘Odes to My Triceratops’.

I love this one. I wrote it back when I was blissfully unemployed and I could write until six in the morning. The whole thing swirled like a hypnagogic hallucination, and remains one of my favorite concept albums that I’ve ever produced.

Anyway, here are the links:

Odes to My Triceratops, Pt. 1
Odes to My Triceratops, Pt. 2
Odes to My Triceratops, Pt. 3

Festerbump’s Fantasy Village, Pt. 4 (Fiction)

The three villagers and I had given up on venturing deeper into the forest, and instead we tried to listen for the trickle of water to locate the stream. It was complicated to distinguish between the sounds of birds chirping and the wind rustling through the leaves and branches, but the trickiest part was the sound of the villagers’ footsteps. Even the softest step on the carpet of dried leaves made a crunching noise, so they had to keep a careful watch on where to place their feet. We found two different edible species of mushrooms that didn’t look too disgusting, which the villagers added on top of the berries amassed in the basket.
The sound of running water grows loud enough that we know the surrounding trees must be hiding it. We follow the sound, and we suddenly reach the edge of the forest, arriving at the riverbank, which rises steeply on both sides of the brook. The stream flows swiftly between boulders, rushing past with white foam, carrying bits of wood downstream.
“Well, it appears we have found a source of drinking water,” Kurtz says, relieved.
My villagers stop in front of the bank, and peer into the crystal clear waters. The bottom of the brook is muddy, full of slippery stones. Us four gaze for a while at the silvery flow and listen to its soothing song. The midday sun warms my skin, the gentle breeze caresses my cheek. The air is sweet with the scent of growing plants.
I find myself comparing this pleasing moment with the world my real body is stuck in: lying on the lounge chair in a darkened room of a cramped apartment, located in an ugly and crumbling world that I wish I could forget. It must be around two or three in the morning, and tomorrow I’ll have to work on my freelance contracts or risk losing a couple of clients.
“Let’s walk along the edge until the riverbank goes flat,” Joseph suggests.
“I need to rest for a good while,” Kurtz says as he follows the older human. “This day has already been quite tiring.”
The villagers have to walk around lush vegetation, including tall reeds, that have grown besides the waters. Further upstream, the brook forms a few shallow waterfalls. As soon as the slope flattens enough for the villagers to walk on the pebbly riverbank, Sue hurries to fetch some water. Her breasts bounce around inside her peasant dress. She kneels on the bank and dips a cupped hand into the brook. When she drinks, she closes her eyes and lets out a squeal of delight that would have made my real body much warmer. She also splashes her cheeks and neck with cool water.
I sit down next to a boulder and stare at the rushing water, which carries away leaves and twigs. I’ll need to log off soon, and it has soured my mood. When was the last time I walked through a forest in real life? Maybe back when I was a child. But the virtual experience is so immersive and compelling that I guess it makes no difference. Even the nastier monsters that we might come across wouldn’t damage me. Once again I wish I could be plugged into this system permanently so I could never leave.
I look up at the sky. The bright blue dome is dotted with white clouds, and the wind rustles through the leaves of nearby trees. When I look back down, Kurtz is plunging his hands into the cold water, then he washes his face until his long beard is dripping wet. Joseph has headed to the largest piece of driftwood, which is floating near the closest edge of the brook. Joseph kneels beside the driftwood, places both hands under its broad flat top, and lifts the heavy object. When he sets it down on a patch of soft mud, two tiny frogs pop out and dart towards the trunk of a tree growing close to the stream. They hide among the roots.
“What is that about?” Sue asks. She approaches the human as she holds her hands behind her back.
“Now that we’ll be able to feed ourselves decently enough,” Joseph says, “until we start growing crops, we’ll have to figure out how to build a few huts.”
The dwarf sighs as if contemplating the work ahead.
“So we’ll have to haul large pieces of wood back to the clearing. How do we plan to carry them?”
“We’ll have to chop most of them up, and then find a way to fabricate a few log carriers.”
“I assume that the higher being among us will help with that,” Kurtz says, then looks around as if to locate me, but he realizes that I could be anywhere now.
I float closer to them.
“I’ll help you, of course, but I’ll also have to start saving up for more significant boons.”
“Shouldn’t we also need to carry some water back to the clearing?” Sue says as she drinks more from her cupped hand.
“I guess so.”
I conjure a big wooden pail with a metallic handle. The three villagers flinch, but Sue is pleased.
“Thank you, lord Festerbump! It’s such a relief that we can rely on your support.”
It feels so satisfying when the villagers praise me, particularly this elf I have a crush on, that I want to help them all the time. I don’t recall anyone praising me like this in real life, even the few times I went out of my way to make life easier for others.
“If there is anything else you need, please let me know,” I say.
The three villagers sit in a circle to rest for a while. Joseph puts down the bow and quiver next to him, then lies back on the pebbles and closes his eyes. Sue and Kurtz eat berries and mushrooms hungrily. When Sue is full, she lets out a long sigh and lies down as well as if to take a nap, and crosses a forearm over her eyes. I leer freely at how her breasts stretch the soft fabric of her dress, at how the breeze plays with her dark gold tresses.
“I guess we’ll have to start gathering wood until the evening,” Kurtz says, disheartened.
“The sooner we start, the fewer nights we’ll spend sleeping under the stars,” Joseph says, his eyes still closed. “One of these days is going to rain for sure.”
“That would be miserable,” Sue says.
“At least the rain would wash away some of the mud,” Kurtz says as he checks his clothes.
“Also, if our godling is kind enough to produce a sturdy axe,” Joseph says, “we could chop up suitable trees right next to the clearing.”
I sigh.
“I’m sure that an axe will cost you plenty of effort, given that I have to pay for it. So you’ll need to spend your energies gathering decent wood for the rest of the day.”
“Well, I’d rather collect wood or chop down trees than hunt dangerous animals,” Kurtz says, “so we can leave all the shooting to you, human. And I’m talking about animals far more dangerous than deer and the nasty spider we came across.”
Sue’s chest raises as she fills it with air.
“For a while let’s just enjoy the sun and rest for a while, alright? This life is worth very little if we can’t take a break from time to time.”
When even the dwarf lies down, I face that my break has ended. I need to wake up from my lucid dream, log off and return to my dreary reality. I have the urge to say goodbye to my new friends, but they won’t know I’m gone. I stop the game, and the VR system returns me to the hub. It’s an endless, silent grey space with only the barest mesh forming a dome over my head.
I shut off the system. My eyes are closed, but I feel myself lying on my lounge chair, as well as the weight of the VR helmet on my head. I open my eyes and face the ceiling of my dark, cramped bedroom, and I smell the dust and my own sweat. A small lamp casts light onto me and the mattress next to the chair. I left the window open, which lets the sounds of the street drift into the apartment. The usual drunks are jabbering loudly in the nearby bar, as freely as if the world belonged to them, and I guess it does. They can keep it.
I close the window and lumber to the kitchen for a glass of water. I sit at the table, drink half of the water, then freeze with the glass halfway to the table. I can’t focus my gaze. My mind is trying to organize by itself all the work I’ll have to struggle through tomorrow, possibly until three or four in the afternoon. I feel a surge of fear when I realize that I’m not sure I’ll be able to accomplish any of it.
A familiar sentiment overwhelms me: I wish I were fucking dead. I’ve never been cut out for this life, and I have no idea why I bother enduring day after day of this nonsense. I want to return to the virtual world and be with fake people who understand what it means to live a real life, or else I want to grab the nearest knife and slit my wrists.
I slam the glass against the edge of the table and watch the shards fall. I’m not thinking straight. My senses have become dulled by the soft haze of the VR world, and the sharpness of reality is overpowering. I can’t stand it anymore. I hope I’ll manage to sleep for enough hours.
I go to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face. I walk to the bedroom, I switch off the lamp, and pull the sheets off my mattress. I crawl under them. A couple of minutes after I close my eyes, when the darkness feels total, I let the tears flow for a while. There’s nothing to do except weep, and I need to empty the grief from my body before I fall asleep.

* * *

The sun of the early afternoon bathes the trees in light, while birds fly freely between the branches above us.
“So should we build a hut for each villager?” Sue asks enthusiastically.
“Our options will be limited by the amount and quality of materials we can gather,” Joseph says, “so that’s going to be a problem, even if our lord Festerbump grants us an axe.”
“And most of the valuable resources are buried,” Kurtz says. “So we’ll probably end up having to dig.”
“I’m sure you’d feel more comfortable in an underground home, but we’ll have to make do with the materials above ground.”
The three villagers keep looking around at the fallen branches and trunks we come across.
“Let me tell you an example of how not to build a house,” Kurtz says, and sighs. “This happened a few years ago in a community I used to live in. They tried to construct a building mostly out of mud bricks. We had no proper tools to dig the foundations, and as a result, when the walls weren’t yet finished, the floorboards collapsed underneath. The workers managed to salvage the construction, and a family lived there for a while, but when spring arrived, the floor gave away completely and buried them under a pile of dirt. What I mean is, we have to be extra careful if we barely know what we are doing.”
Sue grabs a fallen branch, then leans on it as she gazes thoughtfully into space.
“We’ll have that in mind,” Joseph says, “but I’m worried about getting decent lumber to begin with. Transporting logs to the clearing would be a pain. Our best option would be to chop down trees in the edge of the clearing. And that way we can use the same wood for all the huts as well.”
“I’m telling you now,” I say, “I can’t conjure an axe with the goodwill you have accumulated through your efforts, because I’ve spent too much of it. So you’ll have to focus on gathering available materials first.”
“Alright, then we’ll have to change the order in which we gather the materials. I was thinking of using straw for the roofs, and it would work as rope too. It does wonders to protect against wind, rain and snow. But we can’t make it without the stalks of cereal plants.”
“What about those rushes and reeds that are growing along the riverbank?” Sue suggests.
Joseph nods as he rubs his stubble.
“Yes, we should gather them. They will provide good insulation, and they can even be made into a basket, when we need more and lord Festerbump could use his powers for better options. The main issue is that we don’t have any tools to cut the plant stems, but I guess we can just gather them for now and rely on the axe later.”
“Let’s get to it then,” Sue says. “I don’t want to be caught in the woods when it gets darker.”
My three villagers barely speak as they head to the brook, a stretch of which passes by a kilometer or so away from the clearing. I accelerate time until they reach it, and they busy themselves gathering reeds and rushes. Sue walks with a light step as she does so, sometimes humming to herself. I can’t stop watching her. She moves with the gracefulness of a dancer. Her hair flows behind her, long and golden like wheat fields, and shining brightly in the sunlight. The men look awkward as they outstretch their arms to root out the most suitable reeds beside the stream.
I wish I had been born into Sue’s skin, or I guess into anyone like her. I might then enjoy doing things like these. I’d be useful, for a change. I suppose it’s too late for that.
When the three villagers have piled up a large number of long, slender, green reed shoots, they set out for the clearing with the load. The dwarf, who’s holding one end of the bundle of reeds, staggers at times, visibly exhausted.
They leave the reeds on the grass of the clearing, next to the pail full of water. They stand around as they recover their breath.
“Is this enough work to reward us with an axe, godling?” Kurtz asks in a sarcastic tone.
“It’s very close. I’d say that if you spend a couple of hours gathering more useful stuff, I’ll have your axe ready for tonight.”
The prospect of racking up two more hours of tiredness must have gotten to the dwarf, because his legs tremble, and he lowers himself wearily to the grass.
“Just stay here,” Sue says to him. “I’m sure Joseph and I can do the work by ourselves.”
“Alright,” the dwarf says as he fails to hide a smile of relief. “But don’t get carried away.”
Joseph and Sue scour the surroundings of the clearing, and they stack piles of suitable sticks, fallen branches and tree bark to haul them to the clearing eventually. These materials will later serve as planks, beams, roof tiles and such. By the time they decide to finish, the trunks surrounding them are blocking most of the sunlight. A breeze has picked up, and in the dimness, the branches sway in unison.
The two working villagers return to the clearing, hauling a few branches that were at hand. Joseph’s arms are scratched from the bushes and thorns. They sit down on the grass close to the dwarf, and wipe the sweat from their brows.
“That went by quick,” Kurtz says.
I bring up the interface to conjure tools.
“Hard work deserves a reward.”
In a few seconds, as the villagers wait expectantly, an axe appears on the grass in front of them. It’s made of black iron. The blade is thick, but not too wide, and ends with a small spike at the back. The handle has a grip like that of a machete.
Sue claps.
“An axe!”
“A mighty weapon that can cut through anything,” I say.
“It’s beautiful,” Kurtz says as he reaches out for it.
After the dwarf picks up the axe, he stands up and examines its blade. He runs his fingers along its edges, testing its sharpness.
“I can hardly believe it,” he says in a thin voice. “Just where do these tools come from?”
I shrug.
“From the world of the gods.”
“You have our gratitude, lord Festerbump,” Joseph says, tired.
“A thousand thanks to the great Festerbump,” Sue adds.
My villagers’ gratitude barely registers a blip in my consciousness. I feel like I’m interacting with them from behind the glass of a zoo exhibit. My mind is getting fogged up.
“I guess I can be decent enough from time to time,” I say. “I wish I could do more, though.”
The next time I look over to Kurtz, he’s taking off his shirt. The hair that covers his muscular shoulders connects with his hairy chest, and his thick brown beard flows down his powerful torso. Thankfully he’s keeping his pants.
“That’s wholly unnecessary,” I say.
Kurtz smirks.
“You two, follow me,” he says to the other villagers. “I’ll show you how this thing gets used.”
He walks towards the woods. Sue and Joseph stand up, and they walk behind him.
“This axe is a gift from the god of the universe, I guess,” Kurtz says as he grips the axe with both hands. “I’ve never had one before, but I just need to hold it to feel that anyone with it would be able to make a good living.”
“That may be your dwarven blood speaking,” Sue says.
“I would have rejected such a notion just days ago, but you may be right.”
A short distance away, in the woods, lies a huge tree trunk that has recently felled itself. Its branches are heavy and thick, and they spread wide. Kurtz grips the handle of the axe tightly with both hands. As he grits his teeth, he raises the axe above his head and brings the blade down with great force. A loud crack echoes. He strikes the log again and the sound of splitting wood resounds throughout the area. His muscles bulge as he swings the axe once more, then again. He has to stop every few seconds to catch his breath, but he keeps at it. The axe has carved a deep groove through the hardwood, nearly cutting through.
“Whoa,” Sue says.
Kurtz stops after the fifth or sixth swing. The axe has split the tree trunk into two pieces.
“You’ve done well, master dwarf,” Joseph says, “but I think we’d better rest for the remainder of the day. I’m sure we are all hungry.”
Kurtz nods, but he’s looking at the axe he’s wielding as if surprised of the effect that holding it has on him.
“Sure, I can leave more chopping for tomorrow,” he says. “I don’t know what happened to my body, but I feel so strong now.”
The sun sets on the horizon, casting a warm glow over the clearing. After my three villagers sit down close to the basket with berries and mushrooms, and the pail full of water, their exhaustion gets to them. Kurtz breathing sounds ragged. All of them are dirty and covered in more or less dry sweat.
They eat in a trance, gobbling the scavenged food like beasts, without any thought or emotion. The first stars begin to appear, shining like jewels, and by then, the three villagers have collapsed onto the grass. They’re asleep before they know it. Kurtz starts snoring. One of his hands is almost touching the axe, and its blade gleams dully.
I float towards Sue, who’s lying on her back, eyes closed. Her dark gold hair has spread across the grass. I stare at her pretty face for a while as I fall into a trance of my own. I wish I could sleep that peacefully. I wish I wasn’t alone in this world.
A few minutes later, I log off from the game. I need to nourish the real body I’m trapped in.

A few days ago, when I finished the previous part, I was sure I wouldn’t write again for a long while, but the next morning I started writing as soon as I prepared my coffee. My brain is a mess. However, the overall state I have fallen into has worsened; I feel that every task is unsurmountable despite any previous experience, and I just want to crawl under the sheets and sleep for weeks.

More importantly for this story, I think I’m done with it for a while. I just can’t manage to make writing it fun for me, although I’m not sure if I can make anything fun at this moment.

Festerbump’s Fantasy Village, Pt. 3 (Fiction)

As my three villagers walk slowly into the forest, the morning sun shines through the leaves overhead. The sounds of insects and birds fill the forest with noise. Kurtz grumbles every now and then as if being surrounded by beauty bothers him, while the other two villagers are warming up to the prospect of building a home here.
Sue stops next to a clump of ferns beside the path, and points at a patch of mushrooms growing near the roots of a tree.
“Look! Look!”
Kurtz stops walking and peers suspiciously at the little white caps poking out of the mossy dirt.
“Are they edible?” Sue asks.
Joseph steps forward and looks closer. He reaches down, twists and pulls the bottom of the stem of one of the mushrooms, then tears it off. He holds the mushroom up for Sue and Kurtz to see. They both take a sniff, but shrug.
“It smells sort of funny…” Sue says with suspicion.
“I’ve never eaten anything that came from a mushroom before,” Joseph says.
“You don’t eat things that come out of the mushroom, human,” Kurtz says, “just the mushroom itself!”
Kurtz turns around and starts to walk away.
“Wait,” I call after him. “Where are you going?”
“To find that stream,” he answers curtly.
“I mean, why don’t we pick some mushrooms for breakfast?” Sue asks.
“We’re not eating that shit,” Kurtz says without turning back.
“Will you wait for a second?” Joseph asks.
Kurtz stops, takes a deep breath and walks back reluctantly.
“Do you know how many mushrooms are poisonous? I haven’t seen that variety before. You have no clue what you’d be putting in your mouth.”
“I know, but…”
“But nothing. I can’t be the only person who knows that plenty of mushrooms are dangerous. It’s a simple fact.”
I clear my throat to get their attention.
“My godly powers can help with this predicament.”
“How so?” Joseph asks.
When I interact with any object of the game world, I can bring up a panel that shows its properties. It floats next to the patch of mushrooms as if I were wearing AR glasses. This is one of the species of fungi that the developers of the game brought over from the real world. It’s called Amanita bisporigera.
“One of my powers consists on the ability to identify anything we come across, and I can tell you that eating even a small amount of this deadly mushroom could kill you.”
Sue steps back.
“You’re kidding!”
“This fungus is called the ‘destroying angel’, and it’s extraordinarily poisonous. Its toxin causes cellular necrosis.”
Kurtz frowns.
“Cellular necrosis? I don’t know what either of those words mean.”
“It means don’t eat that shit,” I say.
Kurtz shakes his head, narrows his shoulders, and resumes walking. The other two villagers follow him this time.
Joseph looks over his shoulder to address me, assuming I’m following them, and he’s right.
“We can rely on you regarding whether any of the potential food we come across will kill us, right?”
“Of course I will. I have no reason to lie about something like this, and my knowledge is perfect.”
“Plenty of berries are poisonous as well, aren’t they?” Sue asks warily.
“Many things in this world will try to kill you even passively, for sure. But let’s just keep going and see if something out here might be edible. Don’t worry. We’ll all be fine. It’s my job to look after you three, and I promise to do it as best I can.”
We come across a small bush with berries that the developers have invented. I don’t retain the nonsensical latin name for this species. They are greenish purple spheres covered with bumps. Their texture reminds me of rotten meat, and its scent comes across as strawberry jam mixed with pus.
Kurtz shakes his head.
“I don’t care if these ones are edible. I don’t want to witness any of you eating them either.”
“They are poisonous,” I say.
“Let’s just continue…” Sue says, deflated.
Shortly after, we encounter a small plant whose stems produce small flowers.
“Those flowers are poisonous too,” I warn my villagers. “Don’t touch them. Also, see that leafless branch above us, with all those white dots covering it? This kind of tree is poisonous too. Don’t climb it.”
The three villagers stare at the branches, which are about four meters off the ground.
“Are you serious?” Kurtz asks as if I’m making a cruel joke.
“Why did you choose this poisoned forest of all places for us to found a village? Was this a punishment?”
I rub the eyes of my avatar, which feels the same as if I were inhabiting my real, decaying body. My criteria for picking this coordinate of the generated world was reduced to it containing a temperate forest and being far enough from hostile settlements. I went ahead with the first coordinate I came across that matched those criteria. A more careful player would have gone over the lists of flora and fauna that this world had produced to make sure that the forest didn’t contain, for example, radioactive trees or carnivorous plants.
“Well, a forest that contains plenty of poisonous vegetation is unattractive for the kinds of pseudo-sentient animal or monstrous species that may have wanted to raid your future village otherwise.”
“But it’s also unattractive for people who need to forage here to survive!”
Joseph approaches the source of my voice. His expression is level-headed, or aloof.
“Are there edible berries in this forest, godling?”
“That’s what we ventured into the forest to figure out,” I say as confidently as I can.
“I guess we now know why you aren’t a major god,” Kurtz mutters.
My heart sinks, and I have a hard time looking directly at my villagers although they can’t see me. I’ve abandoned previous playthroughs of other games because the sentient AIs ended up hating me, so the temptation to rage-quit remains, but now I’m mainly worried because I have learned very little from my experiences. I want to blame it on depression. I want to blame a lot of things that have gone wrong in my life on my old demonic pal.
I take a deep breath.
“Listen, I chose this forest to found a new village because it’s in the middle of nowhere. Very few sentient species ever come here, and there’s hardly anyone else living nearby. That diminishes the chances that if someone does stumble upon us here, they will attack us. Currently, we are very vulnerable, so we need to speed up our efforts of locating sources of edible food other than hunting.”
“Alright, let’s try to solve this issue as soon as possible,” Joseph says decisively.
Nobody breaks the silence for a few minutes as we proceed deeper into the forest. The bushes become thicker and taller, and as the undergrowth gets denser, it’s harder to spot the plants. Both Kurtz and Sue are sweating, and already tired.
A group of butterflies flutter past my invisible head. They are orange, black and yellow striped.
“Look how they dance in the air,” Sue says dreamily.
She reaches for one of them, and it lands on the back of her hand. The insect’s wings are a brilliant iridescent orange. Its body has four short legs and a large abdomen that houses a pair of tiny eyes. A row of small teeth runs along the inside edge of each wing, and the tip of the sting is curved and sharp.
“Ouch!” Sue complains.
She retracts her hand sharply, which causes the butterfly to fly away. As the elf steps back, a bead of blood appears on the patch of skin where the butterfly had landed.
“Are you alright?” I ask.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she answers with a forced smile.
“Those butterflies were venomous.”
As Sue gets paler, Kurtz grimaces in disgust without sparing the insects a glance.
“How bad of a venom are we talking…?” the elf says in a thin voice.
“It won’t kill you,” I answer. “Just don’t scratch it, no matter how good it may feel. Anyway, let’s keep moving.”
I was getting increasingly dejected until I spot a cluster of black berries growing among a bed of grass. There seem to be thousands of tiny fruits protruding from stems made of fuzzy hairs. Most of the berries are ripe, soft round seeds encased in traslucent jelly.
“Finally!” I blurt out. “Those are edible, and very nutritious as well.”
Sue smiles like a kid who got her hands on an ice cream cone. She plucks a handful of the berries and places one on her tongue. She chews on it for a few seconds.
“It’s good! Just a little bitter, but tasty.”
Joseph takes a berry from her hand and pops it into his mouth. He chews it thoughtfully.
“This will work.”
Kurtz sighs. He grabs a handful of berries and munches on them as if he’s trying to get a dose of vitamins or minerals from them. He seems pleased by their taste.
“So we’ll get to eat at least berries, possibly some mushrooms, apart from whatever animal we kill.”
“We should thank God for providing such abundance,” Joseph says as he crouches to pluck fresh berries.
“Abundance? We have strayed far from the clearing, and we have only found one species of edible berries. Nevermind, how are we going to carry them back?”
I bring up the interface with the list of all the stuff I can spend the accumulated points on. I conjure a large basket made of straw, which appears on the grass between my villagers. It will take them a while to get used to stuff popping up into existence, but the three of them take big handfuls of the berries and drop them into the basket.
“That should be more than enough,” Joseph says. ” We shouldn’t be excessively enthusiastic in plucking berries unless we are sure we will eat most of them.”
“One day we’ll make jam out of them,” Sue says perkily.
As Joseph carries the basket full of berries, we walk further in the same direction. There isn’t much sunlight filtering down down into the forest. We move cautiously, walking around obstacles without touching them.
I had noticed that Kurtz hung his head low and seemed deep in thought. He suddenly starts talking over his shoulder to me.
“Godling, why can’t you just make a bunch of useful stuff appear whenever you want? What’s the limit here?”
“It depends on the amount of actions my villagers perform and which are conducive to their survival and the prosperity of their future village. The harder you work, the more power I have to grant you boons.”
“So you are unable to conjure stuff otherwise?”
“I’m serious, yes.”
“Who the hell made that rule? Some god above you? Or is this a property of reality?”
I have nothing to gain from revealing to any sentient AI that they exist in a computer simulation. My job is to keep them going, which will contribute to distract me from my own problems. I’m not like those other players who enjoy inflicting existential crises on their subjects; I’ve had to struggle through such crises for my entire life, and I want to spare others from those nightmares.
“There are mysteries on every layer of this universe, my friend,” I say grimly.
I would have expected Kurtz to retort something to annoy me, but he furrows his brow and scratches his long beard. The silence between us four grows awkward.
“How old are you, by the way?” Sue asks to the dwarf.
The elf’s arms sway gracefully as she walks briskly. She seems much happier than before.
“If you should know, I guess I’ll tell you,” Kurtz says reluctantly. “I’m twenty.”
“Is that dwarf code for something?” Joseph asks as he snaps his head towards Kurtz. “As in you have actually lived for a few hundred years?”
“No, I’ve literally just lived for twenty years!” Kurtz says with a bit of annoyance, and then he takes a deep breath. “Given how ruinous the last war was for my people, I’m lucky that I have survived so far.”
“But the length of your beard…” Sue says while she gestures as if she herself had grown one on her delicate face.
“I guess you have met very few dwarves! For you taller peoples, having a beard is a sign of maturity and wisdom, but even dwarf women start growing their beards before their first period!”
“Weird, isn’t it?” Sue replies.
I shiver.
“Disturbing, more like it.”
Kurtz shoots me a look of outrage over his shoulder.
“I was working in my store when you chose to involve me in your existence!”
As I was about to reply, Sue interrupts me.
“So I’m older than you, Kurtz, by a few years! I’m your big sister.”
Kurtz looks down.
“I had a real sister before the orc war,” he mutters in a thin voice. “I don’t want a new one.”
He walks on in silence. I notice that his shoulders are shaking slightly.
A few minutes later we spot something troubling among the trees ahead of us: a giant spider web. Several webs. The sticky strands stretch across the path in front of us, covering a large area. A dead, desiccated rabbit is suspended from the tangle, as well as a few other cocoons.
“What the hell?” Kurtz says.
“God, I hate spiders,” Sue says as if she wished she could shout it.
“They are terrifying, evil beings,” Kurtz agrees quietly.
Joseph steps casually towards the web.
“They are intelligent creatures that build intricate traps to capture their victims. This particular one has worked well, since there is plenty of prey in it.”
He picks up the rabbit carcass hanging off the thick strand, and I cringe.
“Hey, don’t touch that nasty crap.”
Sue attempts to grab the dwarf’s arm, but only manages to touch his shoulder awkwardly as she points with a trembling finger at a hole in a nearby tree. The hole is covered in silky hair, and at first I only make out a big, bulging eye staring at us. The creature inside is motionless, its mandible closed tight around a large moth. The arachnid’s carapace is greyish brown, rough-looking like sandpaper, but glistens faintly in the dimness. Two pairs of legs emerge from behind the spider, one pair reaching up to support its body and the second pair folded neatly along its abdomen. Its round thorax sits on top of the third leg pair, supported by a cluster of bristles. From the base of the abdomen protrudes a fat tail ending in two tiny pincers. As if sensing we have noticed it, the arachnid swings itself off the wall of silk, leaving the empty husk of the moth behind. Its movements are surprisingly graceful despite its size.
Before I know it, the three villagers are running away. I call after them, but they ignore me.
I’m alone with the cat-sized spider, which is crawling slowly over the webby grass. Although I should be invisible to the arachnid, there’s something eerie about how it’s staring in my direction. To my surprise, this one creature isn’t venomous.
I turn around and float in pursuit of my fleeing villagers.

Unfortunately, I’m on the verge of dropping this story, and maybe writing altogether for a while. These past couple of weeks I’ve felt unmotivated, lethargic, out of it, and unable to focus on even the stuff that I usually enjoy. I rarely want to do anything or go anywhere. I’m likely depressed again. In addition, I’ve had to handle huge messes at work, and the usual idiocy of many of the users I have to deal with, as well as being pursued to solve problems that aren’t my responsibility, has gotten to me. Then I look at the current state of the world, and how the leaders of what remains of Western civilization manage to take even more insane and suicidal decisions at every turn (somehow in the back of my mind I retain the hope that at any new disaster they will surely have learned their lesson, but they never do). My city has gotten so unsafe in the last few years that I rarely want to go out unless I have a reason or it’s sunny enough to go in the woods. In general, everything is either shit or feels like shit for me at the moment.

Festerbump’s Fantasy Village, Pt. 2 (Fiction)

Like most nights, I lie awake as I stare into the dark. I can’t breathe properly, something is squeezing the inside of my chest. I’ve wasted the last few hours turning over in bed because I can’t switch off my brain. I need to get at least a couple hours of sleep, because I’ll spend the first half of tomorrow programming the latest gadget for a client’s website. I can see myself hunched over my desk, programming away to meet the deadline, the entire time wishing I were sleeping instead. Even the crazier dreams make sense to my subconscious, while waking up makes less and less sense every day.
My thoughts continue churning. If only I could reach out, grab hold of something solid. A rope ladder that leads upwards. A staircase that leads downwards. Anything that doesn’t disappear under my feet whenever I put my weight on it. Or maybe something to lean on, that would support my tired heart.
The whole night passes in a feverish blur. When the alarm blares, I can’t tell if I have slept at all. I can hear cars passing by on the road below. I sit up in what I call my bed, which is just a mattress and a blanket, and I rub my eyes for a while as I gather the strength to stand up.
I prepare a warm cup of coffee and I sit in front of my desk. I’ve received new emails from a few clients who want updates, but I haven’t managed to reply to other clients who wrote to me days ago. They wait to hear from someone who’s barely here anymore.
After some long hours of typing, I’ve had enough for today. I make myself a grilled cheese sandwhich for lunch. I face that I will need to go out and buy stuff to fill my almost empty fridge; it may be around a week and a half since I bought groceries. I take a shower, mostly to clear my head. After I dress myself with jeans and a shirt, I grab my old-fashioned leather jacket, my oversized black woollen beanie, and my favorite heavy boots. Once I walk down the stairs, I realize I’ve left my apartment without the obligatory mask. I turn back and grab one from the coat rack.
It’s dark outside, as if the sun was already setting, because the clouds hover low, threatening rain. The air is damp and chilly. On my way to the supermarket, I pass in front of the occupied outside tables of bars, mostly frequented by strange people whose languages I don’t understand. Everybody speaks so loud. I want to shove my index fingers into my ear canals.
I hadn’t worn a mask for a while. I’m breathing lukewarm air mostly made of carbon dioxide, and every time I exhale, air escapes through the gaps between the mask and my nose, blowing particles into my eyes. I feel sick to my stomach, and every step is an effort.
As soon as I enter the supermarket, a staff member checks my temperature, then lets me pass. I feel a sudden wave of exhaustion. It’s so hard to ignore the constant noise of the shoppers, and the brightness of the fluorescent lamps, and the smell of the food stalls, and the background music, and the sound of the cash registers. My head is bothering me, my skin itches.
All the customers are wearing masks, and most are dressed in warm clothes. They stand at a safe distance from each other while they check out the goods. I try to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze, afraid of being infected with whatever virus they are carrying, or with their humanity.
I spot someone familiar out of the corner of my eye. For a split second I recognize Sue, who wears a coat and a scarf, and holds a shopping basket while she reads the back of a cereal box. But she’s just a middle-aged woman with long, dark blonde hair and above average breasts. She looks like a mother.
Sue. What a stupid name for an elf. Other players complained about the lists of names from which the generators make their choices when creating new NPCs. There must be mods out there to expand or improve those lists, but I haven’t bothered to search for them. Besides, the game just updated, so those modded lists may not work with the current build.
I’m already infatuated with that elf; she’s as perfectly hot as only a virtual person can be, she admires me because I’m powerful, and she belongs to a world where I’d rather live instead. I can hardly wait to return home and lose myself in the virtual realm, where I may forget, even if just for a few minutes, that my real body lies on a lounge chair located in a world that’s crumbling at an exponential pace.
My head hurts. A dull ache, like a hangover. I’m waiting in queue to finally leave with my groceries. I smell stale sweat. The noise level is unbearable, especially when the store assistants try to communicate in loud voices. I’m nervous, tense, as if I were standing close to wild animals and waiting for them to attack me.
As I hold my three shopping bags filled with groceries that may last a couple of weeks, I hurry out of the building. I’m feeling increasingly ill. While I head straight towards my apartment building, my vision is blurred, my mind feels foggy. A feeling of unreality lingers in me, as it has for long. I feel as if I could punch a wall only for my fist to pass through the molecules of the paint and the bricks; it would make sense if this entire world was a scenario built to fuck with me, given how every aspect of it assaults either my senses or my mind.
I just notice that a rancid reggaeton song is increasing in volume and approaching me from behind when the source brushes me by: it was a couple of teenagers on a bicycle, who are zigzagging through pedestrians as if racing at an obstacle course. At least I’m not the only pedestrian who stops and glares at the couple of shitheads, who know that riding a bike on the pavement is illegal, but that even if police officers were to spot them, they wouldn’t bother telling them off.
When I finally reach my apartment, my right hand trembles as I unlock the front door. I shut it behind me. I take my mask off and throw it on the console table. I wish I never had to leave the safety and sanity of my apartment. How does anyone tolerate spending time around human beings?
Once I’ve undressed myself down to my underwear, I set my purchases on the kitchen table. I unpack the groceries and put them away either in the few cupboards or the fridge. I’m itching to lie on the lounge chair to lose myself in virtual reality, but I’m also hungry. I pull out a couple of tins of tuna and eat straight from the container. I wash it down with water.
A few minutes later, I’ve done all I needed to give up being human for a couple of hours. I lie back comfortably on my lounge chair, I put the VR helmet on my head and I adjust it. When I exhale, the accumulated anxiety that had been squeezing the insides of my chest leaves through my nostrils. My mind is now calm, clear, almost lucid. My heart is pumping fresh blood into every part of my body.

* * *

I’ve returned to the clearing surrounded by a temperate forest, and I’m floating weightless. The hands of my avatar are as transparent as a jellyfish, but my whole body remains invisible for the three people I left sleeping on the grass. I fly down to observe the young woman lying in front of me. Sue is curled into a ball with her hands covering her face. Every last one of her dark gold hairs is perfectly placed.
As pleasant as the scene feels, I won’t wait around for hours until my three villagers wake up, so I accelerate time. The villagers stir frantically in slumber. Kurtz, the dwarf, snores loudly, while Joseph tosses fitfully, turning every now and then as if enduring a bad dream.
The sun hasn’t risen yet, though the day is starting to turn blue. A cool breeze rustles through the trees, carrying the smell of dew and pine needles. The birds are chirping happily in their nests. Now that the villagers are mostly silent, I hear that water trickles somewhere nearby. Everything is vibrantly alive. I’m overwhelmed by an urge to explore and learn more.
This clearing and the surrounding forest will be home soon enough, both for the villagers and for me. Life will begin anew. We’ll grow food together, we’ll hunt animals for meat and fur, we’ll make baskets and wickerware. We’ll live together in harmony. And in time we will forget how miserable we really are.
Sue’s hair is spread out around her face, and her breathing sounds like a gentle sigh. Her eyes appear closed, but they are merely covered by her eyelashes. Her lips are slightly parted, revealing the tip of her tongue, and a strand of saliva is dripping onto her chin. Her arms and legs rest motionlessly next to her torso, giving the impression of an angel statue come to life. I wonder how her skin would feel like beneath my fingertips.
When the three villagers finally wake up, though, they’re hungry, tired and irritable. Kurtz stretches his back carefully while grimacing, as if it hurts.
“So, where does your god go every morning? To worship himself?”
He laughs at his own joke. I’m not sure whether he has a sense of humour or simply likes to provoke me.
Joseph scratches his stubble. The sun shines bright upon the dew-covered grass.
“I doubt that a god needs to sleep.”
“He’s also your god for now, Kurtz,” Sue says. “But I sure hope he appears… I don’t want to spend a whole day here without any direction.”
Kurtz shakes his head. He looks down at his boots, which are caked in mud and dirt.
“I guess the only thing a dwarf can do is obey god, and then ask for forgiveness when he makes a mistake.”
“Try to avoid making mistakes to begin with,” I say with my booming voice.
The three are startled and turn sharply towards the source, although I’m invisible for them. The dwarf frowns, but Sue seems relieved.
“Did you three sleep well in this idyllic clearing?” I ask.
“I did, yes,” Joseph replies.
“I had such pleasant dreams,” Kurtz starts resentfully, “knowing I have been kidnapped into slavery.”
“What slave master are you talking about?” I ask.
“You! Damn invisible wizard!”
“That’s ridiculous. There’s no slavery involved.”
“Don’t play dumb, magical fart! You stole us away from our people! From our stores! You think this place is heaven?!”
“It is a beautiful forest,” I say.
Joseph is quiet, gazing intently into space, and the lack of support bothers the dwarf.
“What is it with you, human?” Kurtz asks to Joseph, and taps his arm with the back of the hand. “Don’t you care that this god has snatched you away from home?”
“I haven’t had anything resembling a home for years,” Joseph answers calmly. “This is a nice break for me. I feel quite free here.”
Kurtz snorts, and shakes his head.
“Free? Free to what? Go and commit suicide? Join the army of orcs? Wander around the forest and get eaten by wild animals? I guess some people are made for servitude!”
“If not a godling, a baron or a count. At least a god, even a local one, has genuine powers.”
“There’s nothing noble about serving another person. Serving is just submission.”
Sue lets out a noise of disbelief.
“I guess you are single, Kurtz.”
The dwarf’s face turns red.
“W-why would you say that?!”
“I can tell you don’t like to share. Serving others means helping other people achieve happiness, isn’t it?”
“Sue is right, Kurtz,” I say. “We’re all equals here. We’ll help each other out and work together for the common good of our community. That is a sort of mutual service. Right, Sue?”
“Equal?” Kurtz mutters. “To a minor god?”
“Bottom line, Kurtz, if you are unhappy, you should just quit. Don’t want to live in this beautiful forest? Then leave.”
The dwarf grunts, and rubs the side of his nose.
“Yeah, right! Just walk off into the woods alone? Without money? With nothing except the clothes on my back?”
“So it’s in your best interest to cooperate.”
The dwarf’s anger disappears, replaced with sadness.
“I don’t have any choice. I can tell that you are a prick, godling. The kind of minor god I wouldn’t approach willingly. But now I’ll only get to leave when you allow me to.”
I sigh.
“Good enough for me. Any other objections?”
Joseph stares at the forest as if he’s devising a plan of action.
“We can’t afford to waste any more energy. We have work to get started on.”
“You can’t see me smiling, Joseph,” I say, “but you are a breath of fresh air. How about you, little elf lady?”
Sue looks down shyly. Her golden hair falls onto her eyes and she tucks it behind an ear. She smiles sweetly and shrugs.
“Sure thing. It feels good to be useful.”
Once again I regret that the developers of this game have refused to add the ability for the players to interact physically with the villagers, because I want this elf so fucking bad. All I can do is fantasize about her naked body, and once I log off I can masturbate furiously.
Kurtz stops rubbing his eyes, then speaks in a dejected tone.
“Have you three forgotten that we lack any food, that the deer carcass has spoiled? How are we going to work on an empty stomach?”
“That’s true…” Sue says. “Godling, you couldn’t conjure a barrel full of grain by any chance, right?”
I suck air through my teeth. To be fair, any decent player would prepare a list of provisions carefully before embarking on a new playthrough, and those provisions would have fed my villagers for at least a couple of weeks. But I was so depressed that I couldn’t be bothered. Poor bastards.
“I made sure to pick a forest with plentiful berries. And whenever we locate the nearby stream, we’ll have clean water that you won’t need to boil.”
“It’s not exactly the same as finding a big bag of rice,” Kurtz grumbles. “But I guess there are worse ways to fill up our bellies.”
“Alright,” Joseph says as he bends down to pick up the bow and arrow. “What direction should be follow to find the stream?”
“I don’t remember,” I admit, embarrassed.
“You don’t remember?” Joseph repeats, unsure if he’s heard me right.
“I’m a minor god, not the God, if there’s any in this universe. I forget things. Just explore the forest for a while. You’ll come across water, I’m sure.”
Sue points at the knife lying on the ground. The blade is stained with dried blood.
“Who’s handling that?”
The dwarf grunts and picks it up gingerly.
“I guess it belongs to Kurtz now,” Kurtz says.
“Just don’t kill any of your new friends with it,” I say.
He rolls his eyes, and looks at the human and the elf as if to reassure them.

Festerbump’s Fantasy Village, Pt. 1 (Fiction)

My mind is fogged up again, my eyesight has started to go funny. The world is turning a dull, flat grey. My old pal depression is paying me a visit.
I’m so tired all the time now. My head feels heavy and leaden. Whenever I try to force myself to leave my cramped apartment to take a walk, I wonder what’s the point. There’s nothing for me in those streets. No friends left behind to greet. All gone, or just never there at all.
I have the means to escape, the old tried method: I take a pee and a shit, I undress myself down to my boxers, and I lie down on my VR chair. Then I strap my brain into place and load up the virtual hub.
I’ve been trying this recent game, an advanced clone of the old ‘Dwarf Fortress’: the player is a godling that oversees the development of a fantasy village. The sentient AI characters are the stars, for as long as the player can stand to witness their beloved villagers suffering.
It takes some skill and imagination to build a medieval village that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out. It’s complicated to get the right balance between resources and population density and infrastructure and housing stock. You need to plan carefully, arrange everything like a clockwork mechanism, and then keep an eye on things as they happen, so that you can respond if something goes wrong. I’m barely getting the hang of the game.
I start from zero, in a generated world. Temperate forests are newbie territory, but the depression hinders my ability to focus, and I’m using this game to distract myself. I choose a wide clearing surrounded by a forest. The trees are full of little green leaves, the grass is bright yellow and lush. It smells fresh here, clean and sweet.
I generate my starter three AI villagers. The RNG gods provide a nice combination of personalities: a human farmer (Joseph) who hates his life; an elf girl (Sue) with big breasts; and a dwarf merchant (Kurtz), who thinks he owns everything.
The villagers stand around confused, while my avatar, invisible to them, hovers over the scene.
“How did we end up here?” Joseph asks.
The dwarf, Kurtz, narrows his eyes in suspicion.
“Dunno. Maybe you’re the one that got us into this situation,” he grunts.
Joseph rubs his temples.
“I think we were all wandering around in the woods when suddenly we found ourselves here.”
Sue is looking around frantically. Her hair reaches down to her waist, and is a pretty dark gold. I can tell I will spend plenty of this playthrough ogling this virtual creature. If she survives.
“My sister is home alone!” Sue says in a high-pitched voice. “I need to get back!”
I speak to them with my stentorious voice, “Listen to me, villagers! I’m your god now, and I have brought you here to this forest so you three would establish a new village. This is an adventure that will test your abilities.”
They all stare blankly in my general direction. Then Sue looks down at her chest.
“I don’t have abilities, merely big breasts.”
“Yes, I’ve read your bio.”
“What’s the point of having these? They just get in the way sometimes.”
“You’ll develop some. Abilities, I mean. Anyway, get to work. You need to entertain me, or else there might be consequences.”
“Why are you even doing this to us?” Kurtz asks. “I’ve been through enough already. We didn’t ask for any of this.”
I sigh as I hover above their heads. The three of them look up at the source of my voice, puzzled.
“H-how should we call you, godling?” Joseph asks.
“Refer to me as Festerbump. It’s an internet thing. I’m going to give you three a chance to prove yourselves worthy of the task that lies ahead of you. You must build a village in this sacred land, and survive for at least a few years. If you do, then I shall reward you handsomely.”
“A-a few years?!” Sue yells. “My little sister is alone!”
“Your sister will be fine, I’m sure.”
“When will we return to our homes?” Kurtz insists. “I have a store to run.”
I laugh bitterly.
“Oh, the three of you are too pathetic. There’s no such thing as a home, only a prison cell called reality. Now to begin. Start working!”
The three villagers look at each other nervously.
“What do you want us to build?” Sue asks. “I’m not good with tools.”
Joseph, the farmer, rubs his stubble as if thinking about the weeks or months of work ahead.
“For anyone to visit our future village, we’ll have to figure out where exactly we are, and build a road…”
“This is stupid!” Kutz complains. “Why have we been chosen, of all people?!”
I’ve gone over this crap with other games that feature sentient NPCs. A significant part of the playthrough involves convincing the AI to do your bidding, or preventing them from going insane.
“I let the RNG gods choose you because I need to switch off my brain, forget how bad things really are,” I say. “So just get to work, damn it. Make something. Build a house. Build some houses.”
“Build some fucking houses,” Kurtz mutters. “You know, you could build yourself a house instead of making other people do it. You are supposed to be a god, aren’t you?”
“I’m not omnipotent,” I confess. “I don’t have that kind of power.”
Joseph keeps talking to himself out loud, “They’ll need roofs, doors, windows. And furniture.”
Sue puts a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder to calm him down, but he shoots the elf woman a nasty look.
“Hey, a god has put us to the task,” she says. “We are building for someone, aren’t we? So let’s make sure he likes it.” Sue looks up to address the invisible presence. “Will you make sure my sister doesn’t suffer any harm while I’m gone?”
Her sister likely doesn’t exist as data in the game, but this kind of background info helps round Sue out as a character.
“Sure, I’ll take care of your sibling,” I say, then sigh. “So all of you, stop bitching and get to work already.”
Kurtz keeps shaking his head.
“Just leave me alone, damn it. Do you think we know how to make houses? I’m a merchant! I can tell these two are clueless as well!”
“You’ll figure it out, I’m sure,” I say. “Quit whining.”

* * *

The three villagers venture into the surrounding woods to gather sticks and logs light enough to carry. Watching them walking around is boring, so I make time pass faster until, a couple of hours later, the three villagers have amassed a decent haul. They are already tired, but they start building a simple wooden fence, enclosing a square plot of ground. It’s just planted sticks and logs that will keep the villagers inside the boundaries of their future village, and hopefully will keep dangerous wildlife outside.
Sue is busy planting a few saplings along the perimeter. The other two villagers watch her as if they had nothing to do.
“I’ve never built anything before,” Kurtz grumbles. “Why should I have to do this?”
“It gives you a sense of accomplishment,” Joseph replies. “You’ll look at the stuff we will build, and you’ll think ‘I was partly responsible for that’.”
“I don’t even know what I’m doing. I just want to go back to the city.”
Sue stands up and wipes the dirt from her hands. Then she looks up at the sky as if I were floating in the clouds.
“Godling, we are hungry. How does one survive here?”
“Yes, what kinds of crops grow well in these lands?” Joseph asks me. “Is there water nearby?”
I’m hovering close to them, and when I project my deep voice, they are startled.
“You can hunt deer, or wild boar. Also, I believe I picked an area with a stream. I’m sure you’ll find it.”
“Hunting?” Kurtz complains. “That sounds like so much work! And we don’t have any weapons!”
“Well, then I’ll help you. I’m a god, after all. The more you obey me, the more points this game, so to speak, grants me so I can in turn materialize tools for my minions to use.”
I look up in the interface what I’m able to buy with the points these three useless villagers have accumulated by gathering the sticks and logs and building that fence. There are only a few things unlocked, mostly simple objects like a hammer, a pickaxe, and a shovel. However, I could spend the points on a big knife or a shoddy bow with a dozen arrows.
A few seconds later, the three villagers are staring with a mixture of awe and fear at a bow and a quiver full of arrows that has appeared on the grass in front of them.
“Now you have a tool able to murder simple animals,” I say. “Let’s get to hunting.”
“That’s amazing. It came out of nowhere,” Joseph says in a thin voice. “You truly are a god, oh mighty Festerbump.”
Sue steps back, looking paler.
“Our god has granted us a boon. We owe him now.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Kurtz mumbles.
“I’ve never used a bow, though,” Sue says.
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it,” Joseph tells her. “It will be easy.”
“I guess we could use some meat for tonight,” Kurtz mutters. “And vegetables.”
Joseph picks up the bow and the quiver. He seems impressed by their size and weight. Then he pulls back on the string as if testing it.
“Alright, let’s find out if there’s some game in the woods,” Joseph says confidently. “Come with me.”
Kurtz shakes his head.
“Nah. This is your project. Do it alone.”
Sue frowns in disbelief.
“What kind of a merchant are you? Don’t you have any respect?”
The dwarf shrugs as if he doesn’t care one way or another. Sue sighs, but then she walks up to Joseph’s side.
“I’ll go with you! Because you will provide food for us, right?”
Joseph gulps, and looks away from the elf’s breasts. I follow the two villagers as they walk into the woods together. I accelerate the passage of time until the two villagers come across a bunch of deer. Joseph and Sue crouch behind some bushes. The farmer nocks an arrow carefully, then draws the bowstring and holds it against his cheek. He whistles as if calling to the deer. When one raises its head, Joseph lets the arrow fly. It hits dead center between the deer’s eyes with a sickening sound of impact, followed by a grunt and a fall onto the grass. The dead deer twitches feebly.
After the rest of the deer have scampered off, Sue cheers and grabs Joseph’s arm.
“Good shot! We’ll eat deer tonight, thanks to you!”
“Yeah,” Joseph says with a grim smile. “I forgot how good killing feels. My wife hated hunting.”
Sue’s own smile falters.
“Alright, I’ll… help you carry the carcass back to our camp!”
She bends down to grab the deer by the legs. Joseph follows her lead and lifts it up. They stagger back towards the edge of the clearing.

* * *

When we return to the clearing enclosed by the fence, we find out that Kurtz had kept busy gathering firewood, and is tending a campfire.
“Oh, so we are eating deer tonight,” Kurtz says as he stares wide-eyed at the carcass. “I thought you two would return empty-handed.”
“We were lucky to come across some deer,” Joseph says.
“It was a magnificent kill,” Sue adds.
Sue and Joseph leave the carcass close to the fire, and sit down wearily.
“If we hadn’t been able to kill a deer, I’m sure that the godling would have produced some alternative,” Sue says confidently. “We won’t starve, not with a god watching over us.”
I wouldn’t be sure about that.
“This place is getting on my nerves,” Kurtz says as he stares at the flames. “There’s nothing but trees and bugs here. And I can’t even smoke.”
Joseph is kneeling next to the carcass.
“But how do we prepare the meat when we lack the proper tools? Maybe I could use an arrowhead to skin the deer…”
“That’s where your god comes in,” I say.
Thankfully, Joseph killing that deer had produced enough points for me to buy a big enough knife. I materialize it on top of the deer carcass, and the three villagers let out surprised noises.
“Now you own both a bow and a knife, to hunt, prepare the food or defend yourselves from the numerous monsters that likely await their opportunity to hunt you down. Rejoice!”
“Does it have any special powers?” Kurtz says as he inspects the blade carefully.
“It’s just a fucking knife. It should be more than enough at this juncture.”
Joseph sighs. The three villagers stare at the blade curiously as it gleams silver and gold in the flickering orange glow of the campfire.
“I’ve butchered a few living creatures in my time,” Joseph says. “Or do you guys want to do it?”
“No, no, take care of it,” Kurtz says.
Joseph cuts open the pelt with practiced ease. He pulls back the hide, exposing a bloody mass of muscle and fat. Then he slices the flesh into chunks. The elf watches intently at first, but then she starts trembling and grimaces. She covers her mouth.
“Are you sick, Sue?” I ask. “You are sweating quite a lot. Do you feel unwell?”
She blushes. Her eyes dart over to Joseph, who is plunging the blade into the ribcage of the beast with a crunching sound. Sue swallows hard and turns away.
“Y-yeah, I’m feeling a bit nauseous.”
After chopping the deer’s legs off, Joseph places them beside the torso. The guts are exposed to view, and the smell of blood has filled the air.
“Don’t worry, it’s only a deer,” the human farmer says casually. “It’s not like what I ate in prison.”
“Prison? What did you do?”
“Oh, nothing.”

* * *

The night has fallen, and the three villagers have filled their bellies with cooked deer meat.
“As a bonus exercise,” I tell them, “let’s see how far you idiots can throw a stick.”
Sue picks up one of the sticks that Kurtz had gathered for the campfire, and holds it as if it were a spear. She throws it a few times, determined to get better quickly, so that she can prove to me that she deserves to be my follower. Joseph has let another stick fly through the air in a straight line. Kurtz has ignored my godly request, and is sitting cross-legged by the fire. He shakes his head from time to time. His long beard makes him look like a madman.
Both of my willing minions get bored in a few minutes, and sit on the grass to contemplate their pitiful existences. Sue brings up how unused she is to hanging out with both humans and dwarves, and that gets Kurtz going.
“I’m sure you would be able to mingle with humans almost anywhere in the world, but my own species has nearly died off. Only the lucky survived the war against the orcs.”
Sue hangs her head low, and hides her face in her forearms.
“Don’t remind me of my brother,” she mutters.
“Your brother?” Joseph asks casually. “What happened to him?”
Sue hesitates. She takes a deep breath before answering.
“He disappeared during the war. As I looked for survivors in the nearby villages, I kept hearing rumors that many had escaped the approaching orc warbands. I held on to the hope that I would catch up with my dear brother eventually. But several years passed, and we never received any news.”
“I’m sorry,” Joseph says. “It must have been terrible for you.”
“His name was Eric. He was a farmer, same as you. He always hated it, though, always complained. He used to say he wanted to change the way society worked. That the whole system needed fixing. But one day he simply walked away, and nobody saw him again…”
Sue cries softly into her forearms as her shoulders tremble.
I wonder if the game made up that piece of backstory for Sue because she didn’t seem interesting or sympathetic enough. I recall vaguely that the process that generated this new game world spewed out notifications about orcs taking over other races’ settlements.
After a minute, Kurtz breaks the silence.
“We should all return home,” the dwarf says grimly. “The sooner we leave this place, the happier we’ll be.”
“You can’t, though,” I say. “You need to build a village.”
Kurtz looks with contempt in my general direction.
“But we can count on your assistance, can’t we, oh mighty god?”
“I’m sure I can do a thing or two for you.”
Sue sniffles and peeks out from behind her forearms.
“You’ll keep us safe from orc raiders and other vermin, won’t you?”
I shake my head, but they can’t see me.
“Of course.”
“If we die for whatever reason, will you send our souls to heaven?”
I don’t believe there’s a heaven, nor a hell. Life isn’t fair. But I need to keep these idiots believing in me, or else they may rebel. Even kill themselves.
“Sure. Just don’t blame me if you end up in hell instead.”
Joseph chuckles nervously. Sue kneels and thanks me profusely as tears run down her cheeks. It makes me uncomfortable, but the angle gives me a privileged view of the cleavage of her peasant dress. All that tit meat makes me wish I had a physical body.
“Then we shall trust in you and pray for protection!” Sue says.
“Good, good,” I say, and clear my throat. “That settles it for today, I think. I’m leaving for a while. Go to sleep, and I’ll see you in the morning. Just remember to avoid killing each other in the meantime.”
“Right, godling. We won’t mess it up,” Joseph says.
I remain among them for a while after I’ve stopped talking. Sue wanders around alone, deep in thought. Kurtz sits by the fire and eats more deer meat, most of which will spoil. Their lives move slowly forward. With time, this place will become a home for them. Then the orcs and trolls other crazy shit will likely come to destroy everything.
Now my villagers lie down to sleep on the grass, exhausted after having spent all day gathering firewood, hunting, preparing meat, throwing sticks, and erecting a fence in a tiny patch of land.

Interspecies Misdemeanours, Pt. 2 (Short Story)

I stopped Frank to open his backpack and pull out two flashlights. I gave them to both of my friends. Betty switched hers on to try it, which whitened her face.
“What’s our plan here?” I asked.
Frank pointed at the edge of the nearby forest that we had explored many times, but that usually didn’t contain aliens.
“We walk in there, and if nothing happens, we leave.”
I disliked the implication that we wouldn’t leave the forest if something happened. I narrowed my eyes at Frank, but he gave me an impish grin.
“If nothing else,” Frank added, “I’m hoping to find out how many aliens were in that ship.”
“Yeah, I guess that’d be nice. To know exactly how much trouble we are in.”
When we approached the edge of the forest, I realized how dim the space between the tree trunks, and under the canopy, was already; the sun would hide in less than an hour. I pointed my flashlight at the space between the two trunks that acted as our doorway, and I switched the light on. My heart was pounding with excitement.
As soon as the canopy covered us, the air felt moist, and it smelled like fresh earth and leaves. We picked up the pace while we kept shining our lights in all directions. Betty was jogging next to me. I glanced at her, and as usual it disturbed me how much she had grown in this last year.
“You’ve become so beautiful, Betty,” comes out of my mouth.
I wanted to punch myself in the teeth, but she replied in a sarcastic tone.
“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.”
Our flashlights flickered over the trees and the undergrowth. We were getting anxious; so far into the forest, the trees were large and the foliage so dense that anything, or I guess anyone, could hide in there. The path we followed was made by people walking through this area for decades, or hundreds of years, and it was lined with tall bushes. What little remained of sunlight barely poured down the holes in the canopy, so we mainly relied on the flashlights to follow the path.
I heard wheezing coming from somewhere behind us, and the hairs on my arms stood up until I realized that it was Betty. She coughed in her hand as quietly as she could. Frank and I stopped so she could reach us.
“I’m sorry,” Betty said in a raspy voice, “but my asthma is acting up.”
I patted her on the shoulder.
“It’s okay, Betty. We understand.”
As Betty catched her breath, Frank pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his backpack, then held the cigarette between his lips as he lit it with a match, which he snapped in half and threw in the mud. He took a long drag, and blew smoke towards the trees.
“What are you doing?” Betty asked.
“Nothing. I’m going to smoke.”
“I thought you quit.”
Frank checked his pulse.
“It’s just one fucking cigarette.”
Afterwards we barely spoke as the trees grew thinner and the forest floor became more open. We came across the small stream we knew, and after crossing over it, we could see the clearing through the gaps in the foliage. It was a wide open field with tall grasses all around, a couple of ancient fallen trunks, some scattered leaves and twigs, and more importantly for our purposes, a huge otherworldly spaceship that looked like a flattened pyramid. It was bigger than any truck or bus we’d seen. I could tell that its lights must have come from the surface that was now touching the ground. Although the three of us crouched behind some bushes, and made sure to avoid touching that ship with our flashlights, the faint sunrays reflected off the metallic surface.
We listened in silence for a few seconds as we held our breaths. I shook my head.
“That looks like a huge coffin,” I whispered, “for transporting dead people.”
“It’s huge,” Frank said, too loudly for my tastes. “I think it may be indeed a cargo carrier of some sort.”
Betty put her hands on both my left and Frank’s right shoulders, and almost pushed us down.
“It’s far too small to be a cargo carrier, stupid,” she said nervously. “It’s probably full of aliens, and we should be careful with the unknown. We might get abducted by those people, and we’ll never be able to return home!”
“Well, we are already here, Betty,” I said, although I was doubting myself.
“What if we return and tell the police that an alien spaceship landed in our neighborhood? Then maybe we wouldn’t have to worry anymore, because they’ll send a team of experts to investigate. That’d be a lot safer than us sneaking up to the ship. Besides, we haven’t explored the entire forest yet! I’m sure there are lots of more interesting things to find than a spaceship.”
Frank’s nose kept running, but the handkerchief he brought from home was already wet.
“Yeah, and who knows what kind of dangerous creatures live in these woods. Aliens, monsters and ghosts… There’s no telling what could happen. But what about your asthma, Betty?”
“You don’t know anything about asthmatic people, do you?” she replied annoyed. “They can go anywhere and do whatever they want.”
I patted Betty on the shoulder to calm her down, because she was shuddering, but I was getting annoyed as well: I remained the only one who didn’t want to waste the opportunity to explore an alien spaceship.
“Frank, look over there, at those footsteps,” I whispered.
The three of us stared in that direction. Some of the grass of the clearing had been trampled by odd footsteps scattered as if the aliens had walked around while inspecting the area, but a trail of footsteps leads out of the clearing and into the depths of the enclosing forest.
“If they are advanced enough to build a spaceship and travel to Earth with it, they must already know we are here,” I said confidently. “Whether or not we get into their ship, we are going to end up seeing them. One of those choices ends up with us having explored an alien spaceship. So we already know what we have to do, don’t we?”
Betty nodded nervously. I smiled, hoping she would relax her stance. Frank pulled out his camera.
“Alright, I can’t argue with that. Let’s get going then.”
It took us about ten seconds for the three of us to regain full mobility. We advanced carefully towards the treeline; once we would pass it, we’d stand exposed in the clearing. I stayed close to Betty, as much as possible. If the aliens ended up ambushing us, I didn’t want them to target Betty with their captivating powers, so it only made sense to stay this tight to each other’s side. As it had been happening for the last few months, whenever my bare skin brushed hers, I shivered warmly. I didn’t know why nor what to do with that.
Frank was leading us. He was covered in sweat and holding his nose. His eyes kept darting around, searching for the next place of concealment. The sun was already setting behind us and the moon would soon rise. The air felt colder. My heart pounded on my chest as I realized how close to the mysterious ship we were getting.
After we hid ourselves behind one of the thickest tree trunks in the edge of the clearing, the first one of us to speak was Frank: he had found something interesting between our feet. He gasped.
“Let’s check it! Quick!” Frank exclaimed excitedly.
The three of us crouched to check out the spot. Frank lifted the object. It was a stone, and our friend was inspecting the color pattern underneath.
“Holy cow! It’s a fossil! It looks like a jawbone too, of a carnivorous species!” He ran his fingers over its grooves. “It must be thousands of years old!”
I wasn’t as enthusiastic. The chances of finding a real dinosaur fossil in these woods were pretty slim, and we had aliens to worry about.
“It’s just an ordinary rock, Frank,” Betty said in a quavering voice.
He twisted his torso to reach for the backpack, likely to store his finding. I moved faster, snatched the stone and threw it behind us. It landed in the dirt that had accumulated under the roots of a bush.
“Sam!” Frank complained.
“Don’t yell, damn it. That wasn’t a dinosaur, and this spaceship isn’t going to wait around forever.”
I looked at Betty for support, but my friend’s face had gone pale. She was trembling and squeezing her thighs together while she stared with her eyes unfocused through the trunk we were hiding behind.
“Betty, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I need to pee. I already had to go when we were playing ball.”
“Shit, then just go,” I pointed at the nearby bushes. “We won’t take a peek, I swear.”
Betty looked around frantically.
“B-but what about the aliens?”
Frank, still frowning, wiped his nose with his sleeve.
“Unless you resemble a female alien, I wouldn’t worry about it. They are unlikely to want to mate with you.”
Betty’s face brightened as she anticipated emptying her bladder. She duckwalked awkwardly until a thick bush hid her, and I heard a long sigh as well as splashing sounds.
I addressed Frank, mostly to distract myself.
“Don’t you want to check out what’s inside that thing? The spaceship, I mean. I wanna know, for sure.”
“I don’t know, man. Betty had a point there. It’s possible the aliens plan to capture us and use us as hostages.”
“They are just a bunch of stupid people from another planet. It’s no big deal.”
Frank shrugged.
“Well, alright.”
I wondered whether I was trying to convince Frank or myself. I had read many books about aliens and UFOs, and I knew how dangerous they were.
“Besides, we already went through that nightmare on the aircraft carrier, right? And the army of robots, the space station, and the giant monster that’s still chasing us.”
Frank looked to the side as if trying to remember.
“I’m not sure if any of that ever happened…”
“Sure it did, Frank. We’ve been chased by a giant robot before, haven’t we?”
My friend nodded.
“Yeah, and it was really scary. But now I think of those things as being more like movies than real life.”
“No, it’s real. It’s all real, I’m afraid.”
Something was telling me that the aliens would try to do us harm. I hoped to find some weapons that would help us fight them off, if it came to that.
When Betty duckwalked back to us while fixing the skirt of her dress, it was clear that her relief made her forget all about aliens, but then she realized I was holding like a baseball bat the biggest branch I had found.
“What are you going to do with that?” she asked, concerned.
“Just in case I have to knock on their door.”
The three of us stood up and slowly walked towards the spaceship. When we crossed the border into the clearing, I felt we were going to get zapped by laser guns at any moment, but we could only hear birdsongs and our faint sounds as we stepped on the tall grass.
The oval windows of the spaceship were blackened glass. From up close the hull looked dirty, scratched and dented in places, and with large patches of a rust-like substance. It reminded me of some kid’s first car which originally belonged to someone’s grandpa.
“If we hadn’t witnessed it descending, I could have sworn this ship has been abandoned for decades,” I said, disappointed.
As the three of us stood in front of a part of the hull where I would have installed a hatch, because they hadn’t put a window there, we looked at each other, confused about how to proceed. My heart was beating fast with excitement.
“Well, I’m going to touch it.”
As soon as I pressed my fingertips against the metallic surface, which felt like any other cool metal, in less than a second, an oval hole the size of an adult opened silently in the hull as if it had been cut with scissors. Both Betty and Frank jumped back, but I was mesmerized by the eerie, soft blue glow that filled the interior. The air smelled like something was burning.
The three of us stepped cautiously inside, then we were cut off from the remaining sunlight when the oval entry turned into solid hull, this time with a loud clunk. I realized that Frank was about to panic, so I chuckled.
“That’s probably how alien spaceship hatches close. It doesn’t mean we are trapped here.”
“I-I guess.”
We forgot about our worry quickly, because we were standing in the dimly lit interior of a spaceship with four seats, but plenty more room for several other people standing up. One of the seats was smaller than the other three, to fit someone of the size of a tween, and it was facing a small control panel along the wall.
Betty kept looking around as if searching for something.
“Where is the bathroom?”
“What, you need to go again?” I asked as I rested my big stick against a wall.
“No, idiot. The aliens need to pee as well, don’t they?”
“You have pee in your brain,” Frank said. “Maybe they don’t do that stuff. We have no clue about alien anatomy.”
Betty narrowed her eyes at Frank, but then she seemed to reach a satisfying conclusion, because she smirked and tilted her waist.
“Maybe they landed so they could take a leak.”
I was impressed, and didn’t know what to say. She had come up with the most absurd idea I’d heard yet.
A sudden flash startled me, and I realized that Frank had snapped a picture. Now that the novelty of having entered an alien spaceship was fading quickly, I felt as if I had sneaked into the cockpit of a plane, but no cooler than that. We had done crazier stuff, in the grand scheme of things.
Betty and I started looking around for anything that could give us a hint about the aliens. The control panel was inscribed with weird characters that we knew in advance we wouldn’t comprehend, and other than that, a few wires and cables were attached to the walls and ran to the back of the craft, where they sank into the floor.
I sighed.
“So what’s the deal with this ship? It looks like it was designed by a teenager who wasn’t very good at building things. There’s not much to see in it.”
Frank must had snapped about five pictures, likely having documented everything there was to see. As he stored his camera in the backpack, I plumped down on the pilot’s seat, or at least the one that was in front of the control panel. The cushion was made of a material harder than I would have expected. It reminded me of sitting on a rock, but I guess I couldn’t complain after having walked all the way here.
I looked up. The soft, blue glow that bathed the interior came out of nowhere, and made this cavity look as if it were a cave, but instead of stalactites hanging from the roof, there were wires that looked like old spider webs. The silence inside the spaceship was eerie; the hull cut us off from even the birdsongs outside.
The three of us sat around for a while, but as the minutes ticked by, nothing happened.
“I’m bored,” Betty said.
I groaned. I was also getting impatient.
“I guess exploring alien spaceships is pretty boring compared to exploring forests and caves. Why bother with a spaceship?” I got up. “Let’s just go home.”
Betty smiled at me.
“Don’t forget to take your baseball bat!”
I shrugged.
“They can keep it.”
Although the three of us stood in front of the section of the hull that had opened before, and that I was pressing my fingertips and palm against the cool metal, it wasn’t reacting.
“Shit, we may actually be trapped in this boring ship,” I mutter. “Let’s look for buttons or some sort of control panel for the hatch.”
The three of us ran our hands over the wall, and Betty ended up finding an indentation that, when pressed, opened a controller cabinet. It looked like a breaker box. Before I could say anything, Frank grabbed a handle inside and attempted to twist it.
“This panel is too close to the hatch to be unrelated. And we need to get home, man, my dad is seriously going to call the cops.”
The handle didn’t budge until Frank pulled it, and the oval entrance appeared suddenly. The three of us let out sighs of relief, but when we switched on our flashlights to brighten the darkened clearing, our beams revealed that two humanoid beings were stepping on the tall grass, heading towards us.
The one on the left was a chubby alien shorter than me. His head was bald and bulbous and his nostrils large and pointing downwards. He was wearing thick goggles, like those of an aviator. He had red lips with white lines around them that resembled the stripes of a feline, and his long, thin fingers, four in each hand, ended in black claws. His skin color reminded me of Frank’s dad. The alien on the right was as tall as an adult. He was covered in thick, matted fur, and his head was egg-shaped and mostly featureless, lacking ears and a nose, except for two circular eyes that reminded me of coins, and big, sharp teeth that peeked out from under his lips. He had an odd mane that resembled snakes, and he had been born with double the usual amount of legs. Both were wearing identical black jumpsuits without insignias.
When they saw us standing like idiots at the entrance of their spaceship, they stopped, startled. The bald, shorter alien looked up at his pal and let out a series of clicks and chirps.
Frank grabbed my shoulder, which almost made me drop my flashlight.
“Sam, these guys are not human.”

Interspecies Misdemeanours, Pt. 1 (Short Story)

As the three of us witnessed the spaceship descending from the sky, the soccer ball continued its parabolic trajectory and ended up hitting Betty in the head. However, none of us three friends commented on it, because we were mesmerized by the three tiger-orange, glowing lights in a triangle formation, which seemed to be attached to a metallic frame. The spaceship was clearly headed towards the forest near our home, which we had explored countless times.
Both Frank and I took off running in the direction where the spaceship was heading, although there was no way we would catch up to it. Betty sprinted after us and grabbed our shirt tails.
“I don’t like that one bit!” she complained.
Reluctantly, Frank and I stopped and followed Betty back to Frank’s yard, but we kept looking over our shoulders as the three glowing lights passed behind tall treetops. I could tell it was heading to the clearing near the center of the forest. We had gone through a lot of nonsense already, and I could understand Betty’s reluctance. There was that whole thing with the haunted factory last week. Our group of adventurers had never encountered anything as interesting as a spaceship, let alone an alien spaceship, but the last thing we needed was to get involved in some alien drama involving UFOs. Still, none had landed at such close proximity to where we resided.
Anyway, in order to explain properly what we ended up finding, it’s necessary to first introduce myself, Betty and Frank. I’m Sam, and back then I was a fifteen years old kid living in a typical suburban town. My friends were Frank Haimer, who lived a couple of blocks away, and Betty Krommer, whose dad worked at the auto plant. Betty and I were quite interested in space and science, but Frank was a dinosaur guy. The three of us had in common that since we were much younger, we rarely wanted to return home from playing in the street, and we explored around town whenever possible.
Betty crouched to pick up the soccer ball, and she lifted it to her shoulder. She was wearing a pink dress with white polka dots on it, and her hair was tied in pigtails. She turned to face me with a smile. I wanted to tell her that her hair had looked quite nice recently even when untied: it covered the sides of her neck and the top of her ears, giving her a more mature look.
“Forget about aliens. Let’s keep kicking! Although we’ll need a bigger yard if we keep playing with this.”
She kicked the ball down to Frank, and after he caught it, he tossed the ball to me without taking his eyes off the alien spaceship, that was hovering over the clearing in the middle of the forest.
“I’ve got to admit this is pretty exciting,” Frank said.
“Yeah, I agree,” I said.
The alien spaceship slowly lowered itself to the forest floor, and disappeared fully behind the treetops.
“Forget about it,” Betty said as she motioned for me to throw her the ball. “It had to be some kind of secret military aircraft.”
My heart was beating fast. I didn’t want to wake up one day and think to myself, ‘You know, I should have taken the chance to see some aliens’. I could tell that Frank was waiting for me to come to a decision.
“What do you think, Sam?” he asked, both worried and excited. “Do we go or not? The aliens are waiting for us.”
“Fuck no,” Betty said.
“Let’s put it to a vote.”
Betty lost, but she conceded her defeat quickly enough. As we were about to run to the forest, we realized that Frank’s father was staring at us from the big living room window, but he quickly turned around and moved further into the house. Although he may have glanced at us casually, these last few years all of our parents always seemed suspicious about how we occupied our time, and I guess we gave them enough reasons.
“Maybe we should tell my parents first,” Frank said. “I don’t want to deal with the police again.”
I sighed.
“Yeah… And we probably need to get your flashlights.”
“And my camera!” Frank said as he ran to his front door.
Both of Frank’s parents approached us cautiously as we were filling up a backpack in the kitchen.
“What the hell are you kids planning this late already?” Frank’s dad asked gratingly. “Aren’t you tired enough from playing soccer or whatever you were doing?”
“Something more interesting came up,” Frank answered as he made sure a flashlight worked.
I realized that Betty was preparing too many sandwiches. Her butt looked way more appetizing, though.
“What are you doing, Betty?” I asked.
“The aliens are probably hungry, so I’m making them something to eat.”
Frank’s dad snapped his head back.
“What are you talking about? What’s this about aliens?”
“Didn’t you see the spaceship?” I asked the big man. “It had three glowing lights and was flying over the forest. It clearly landed in there.”
The old man’s eyes went white, and he hunched over to grab his son’s shoulders.
“Frankie, UFOs are not a joke. These aliens are dangerous. I already told you what I learned in the war! One night they shot down a bomber as it was heading to Dresden, killing everyone on board, and then it disappeared in a flash of lightning! I also heard that some aliens killed a guy by hitting him over the head repeatedly with something heavy, and then they stole everything the poor guy had, before escaping with no traces.”
“They are just visiting,” Betty said as she smeared a slice of bread with jam. “They haven’t killed anyone. I’ve read about aliens in the paper, and nothing bad ever happened.”
“You’re endangering yourselves! Just think of the consequences if you meet one of those bastards.”
Frank’s dad was getting more and more agitated, and this time it wasn’t because of a football game. He was starting to look like a madman. Frank and I exchanged glances, and I could tell he had also realized we had to get out of there.
“Well, dad, anyway…” Frank said, and he wiped his nose with a handkerchief. “We are leaving.”
Frank’s dad shook his head and grabbed the doorknob, pulling the door shut with a loud click.
“I won’t let you out. This isn’t the time to be playing around.”
“Think about your dad’s heart pressure, honey,” Frank’s mother said weakly.
Frank frowned.
“Dad, this is nothing new. The forest near our house has never been safe. There are monsters and ghosts, and lots of other things to worry about. If you don’t believe me, ask Betty.”
Betty nodded at Frank’s dad. She had finished making all the sandwiches and was now putting them in a box. I attached my usual flashlight to my belt.
“Don’t you want to see the aliens?” I asked Frank’s dad. “They could be the only ones left alive in this whole world! They could help us against the Russians and the Nazis.”
“To be fair, these aliens are probably just some dumb guys from another planet who got lost,” Frank said.
“Frankie, stop acting like a child,” his dad said severely. “This is serious.”
Frank and I looked at each other, and as usual we came up with the same plan. I offered his old man my brightest smile.
“We were just pulling your leg, sir. You’ve been to the forest plenty of times. There’s nothing there but trees and animals. You know that.”
Betty nods.
“Aliens are just stories for kids.”
“We dreamed that whole thing about the UFO,” I said. “Or maybe we were lying. In any case, we are going out for a bit, probably disappear out of sight.”
As I unlatched the door and opened it, Frank’s dad grabbed me by the shirt.
“You little brat!” he yelled.
Frank looked embarrassed, and put a hand on his dad’s forearm.
“Let him go. He didn’t do anything.”
His dad couldn’t face his son’s embarrassment, and hung his head low, but his face remained red and angry. As he stared at the ground, a tear dropped from his eye.
“Sorry, Mr. Haimer,” I said.
“My name is Paul,” Frank’s dad grumbled. “Don’t call me Mr. Haimer.”
“Okay, Paul. But you don’t have to worry about us. Betty and I will be careful, we’ll take care of Frankie. I promise.”
Frank’s dad turned towards the living room, from which came a spirited play-by-play.
“Just make sure you guys don’t stay out too late.”
“Yes sir, we won’t.”
Once we closed the front door behind us and we hurried out of the yard, we sighed in relief.
“Your dad has problems, Frank,” I said in a low voice.
Frank looked away.
“You don’t have to tell me that. And he’ll end up calling the police on us again.”

Our Spot Behind the World (Short Story)

Shizuko waits for me, as always, leaning back against the moss-stained low wall that encloses a house that always seemed deserted. On the other side of the narrow path leading to the main street of our tiny town, some neighbor has accumulated wooden planks, piles of rubber wheels and tarp-covered refuse on a gravel backyard. Although nothing about this spot spelled out romance, for many years I only needed to close my eyes and picture this view for my heart to ache.
Shizuko is wearing her long-sleeve, checkered, white and pewter grey shirt, her black pants and her indigo, white-rimmed sneakers. She’s holding a notebook against her thigh. Her black hair is pulled back and tied with a ribbon. The gaze of her nut brown eyes is focused in front of her, on the overgrown vegetation next to the asphalted path. Whenever I caught her like this, I wanted to stand out of sight and keep looking at her. I wished to know what she thought about, what images were passing through her mind. I would give out every single yen I ever made to see them the way she did.
She notices me approaching her, and I stop a couple of steps away. As she bows her head slightly, she offers me a shy smile. A warmth rushes to my throat, tightening it. For a couple of seconds I hear nothing but the white noise of insect noises that always surrounds us in this town, and another instance of the squeaking call of some insect, a mix between a robotic laugh and a door with rusty hinges. The breeze plays with Shizuko’s hair.
“Hello,” she says. “How was your day?”
The same old youthful, vulnerable voice, tinged with an undercurrent of sadness even when she was happy. I take a step forward and hold her hand. It’s warm, a contrast with the breeze of this cloudy day that may break into rain at any moment.
I squeeze her fingers gently. Her hands are smaller than mine, fragile, delicate. I feel the pressure of her fingertips against my skin.
“It will be much better now that we’ll spend the afternoon together.”
Shizuko nods, a little smile appearing in her lips.
“Yes, the same for me, although I’ve gotten some writing done in the morning.”
We descend along the asphalted path as my heart reacts to Shizuko’s body heat, the skin of her hand in mine, her scent. We pass by the corrugated wall of the building on our left, and the small, menhir-like sculpture that stands on a tiny yard to our right, and we exit into the main street of our town. We turn right. We can barely fit in the old, cement sidewalk side by side, so I put my arm around Shizuko’s waist. She doesn’t say anything, just holds onto me tightly. Behind the single row of rice white buildings on the other side of the street, with windows that have the shutters closed, the tall, dense trees of the hilly forest that this town is encroached by looks faded due to mist, or low clouds. The air smells like water, a promise of rain, and it makes me want to narrow my shoulders.
The streets are deserted. There is a single white van waiting for a traffic light to turn green, even though no other cars are around.
“Are you cold, Shizuko?” I ask her.
She shakes her head slowly.
“It’s a bit chilly, but fine otherwise.”
I look at her face, at her warm, gentle gaze that always seems to be wondering whether I’m alright, whether I’m sad, anxious, worried. She smiles a little.
Other identical afternoons I have guided Shizuko up the path on our right to the graveyard. For many generations, the locals have built the graves on a stepped hill, and the nearby grounds are pleasantly green, with trimmed bushes and a gravel garden with many stone buddhas in varied poses. But today I want quiet, I want to return to our secluded spot. Although I know that nobody will bother us, I want to erase from my brain the possibility that anybody will.
We cross the road to walk in front of the convenience store. Its tattered awning, which originally might have been sandstone orange and white, is the only detail that adds color to this building. We pass by the eternally closed store with its half-empty shelves and the faded posters announcing long-gone days. The rounded, mushroom-like bushes, that have grown in a narrow, long planter between the building and the sidewalk, graze the left arm of my jacket as we walk by.
“Can we get something from the vending machines?” Shizuko asks as she points at the conspicuous red and green machines a few meters further ahead.
I nod. While Shizuko inserts some coins into the slot to get her usual Kirin Lemon Tea, she turns her head to look down the street, which ends in a wall of vegetation. A flock of pigeons flies across the sky above us.
“The town is so deserted today, isn’t it?” she says. “At this hour of the afternoon, I’d expect to see at least the kids returning from baseball practice, but it feels as if everyone is asleep, or hiding behind their windows.”
Her bottle of lemon tea makes a thud sound as it falls in the machine. Shizuko crouches to take it out. When she straightens her back, she lifts her gaze to mine, but she drops her notebook accidentally. I hurry to pick it up as my skin tingles; looking into her eyes always does these days. After Shizuko retrieves her notebook from my hand, she twists the cap of her bottle and takes a drink. She must have noticed how tenderly I’m staring at her, because she blushes slightly.
“Don’t you want anything from the machines?” she asks. “I’ll invite you.”
“No, I’m good.”
“Alright. You can drink some of my lemon tea if you want.”
I look forward to drinking it, but not from the bottle. I put my arm around Shizuko’s waist and we continue along the sidewalk. A few meters later, only a guard rail separates us from a drop to a dirt-covered terrace overlooking the river, that runs maybe twenty meters below the street. Now that I’m staring at it, I hear the seaweed green water flowing. The tall trees rising from the forest, which starts on the other side of the river, have stretched out long branches with fern-like leaves a few meters over the current. The breeze blows through them and rustles the leaves.
As we keep walking, we pass by the wooden front of a restaurant that will never open. Beyond the parked minivan next to the building, the owners had installed outside a fish tank, protected with a metallic lid, in which the long, silvery fishes swim around frantically as if trying to figure out how to escape. Shizuko glances at it, like she always does. She used to mention that she felt sorry for them, because some of the fishes she had noticed disappeared from week to week.
“Shall we go to our spot?” I ask her softly.
“Of course.”
We reach the opening between two stretches of guard rail where a floor paved with pebbles ends in stairs that lead down to the riverbank. Ancient-looking moss has grown between the pebbles as well as on the worn and cracked steps of the stairs.
Shizuko stops by the stone railing. She looks at my face, then she puts her hands on the railing and leans against it. Her hair flutters in the breeze.
“Before we started coming here together, descending that stair gave me the impression that I would get lost somehow and that nobody would ever find me. You know what I mean?”
My heart beats faster. I nod. Although she shoots me a look, expecting an answer, I remain silent. She ends up smiling softly, but her eyes are sad.
“But now, I feel as if we’re the only ones who have come this far,” she says. “The rest of the world is sleeping or hiding behind their windows.”
As she was peering down at the river through the dense treetops, she closes her eyes and they remain closed as she rolls her eyeballs towards me. She shoots me a strange look, one I can’t describe; maybe too confident, unlike her shy, sad self. One that I wouldn’t associate with her. For a moment, it takes me out of my dream.
“Let’s go,” I say in a thin voice.
While we descend the steps and step on dirt-covered landings, I get the feeling that many decades ago we would have been able to walk on proper floors, but the vegetation has long broken through, making it seem as if we are walking through a forest trail. Once we reach the foot of the stairs, a tall cement wall on our right separates us from the town as effectively as if we had driven far away. The loudest insects must be hanging out in the nearby trees, because their strident, insistent calls come from all around us, and only the sound of the flowing water is competing against them.
I stop and turn to my left to face the river, maybe ten meters below. Shizuko rests her head on my shoulder. My skin tingles again. As I stare at the river, I see the reflection of a large black bird flying past above the current.
“It feels like we’ve become the last people in the world,” Shizuko says.
“I wish.”
We stand there for a while, listening to the birds’ cries. The cloud cover is drifting across the sky, and the temperature has dropped slightly.
“Do you think they have places this secluded in Tokyo?” she asks. “A river running underneath the houses, few to no people around, a view of the mountains. Somewhere we can be alone together, just the two of us.”
My heart aches, making my eyes twitch. I gulp.
“I don’t know. Probably not.”
She lets out a deep sigh and turns her face away.
“Whenever I think about all those streets full of busy people, it makes my skin crawl. It has always been like that… The same way you always wanted to leave our nowhere town.”
“Yes,” I answer, trying to hide how much it hurts, “ever since I was a child, I wanted to leave. I thought I was too big for this place. I certainly wanted to be.”
Shizuko’s shoulders droop.
“You are. I know you have to leave. You would be miserable if you remained here.”
I don’t want to turn my head to look into her eyes, because I fear I won’t be able to contain myself. But I do anyway. Shizuko’s eyes are red. She looks as if she has been crying for a while, but the tears aren’t coming.
“I was so sure about it,” I say in a low voice. “Made all kinds of plans. I would study in Tokyo, then start a company that would make so much money. And after you and I got together… I thought that I would return to bring you with me.”
Shizuko puts her hand on mine. She doesn’t have to tell me that she wants me to stay. She was always too bright to utter wishes that couldn’t come true. Even now, I remember her as a little girl who loved to write stories, dreaming of becoming a novelist one day.
“You sound unsure…” she says. “Are you changing your mind?”
“I don’t want to leave anymore. But I can’t change the fact that in about two months I’ll be gone from here. Nothing will stay as it used to be.”
Shizuko furrows her brow in confusion. When I look away, she leans her forehead against my chest. We stand there quietly as I look down at the river. Her hair brushes against my chin.
I know that Shizuko would prefer us to have an in-depth conversation, in which she would convince me to change my plans and choose to study nearby enough that I wouldn’t have to move from our small town, a place that she doesn’t imagine herself leaving. I don’t feel strong enough now to bring those memories to the surface. I urge her to continue walking with me.
We reach another set of stairs that go further down. These ones are made of rusted metal, and look like they belong in a long-abandoned construction site. The moss has managed to conquer these metallic floors as well. I step over a couple of broken branches. In the last stretch of stairs that ends in the riverbank, the overgrown bushes and the branches have encroached so much of the space that we have to push them away with our forearms, or let them bend against our bodies as we continue descending.
We reach the foot of the metallic steps: it’s a curved stretch of cement, about the size of a bed, that would allow us to sit on its edge and almost touch the clear water with our shoes. When we stand down there, the nearby trees and dense vegetation hide us from the world. Many times we sat here to talk, to make out, to make love, away from our relatives and anyone who might know us.
Shizuko walks up to me as she drinks tea from her bottle. When she lowers it, I hug her by the waist and kiss her wet lips. Her saliva tastes like lemon. I close my eyes and I wish to lose myself in feeling Shizuko’s tongue caressing mine slowly, and in how her hands are rubbing my back.
When we pull away, she hugs me tightly.
“It feels so good,” she whispers. “I wish it would never end.”
Shizuko’s body is trembling as if she were cold. I blink away the blurriness in my vision. I feel her heart beat fast against my chest as I look down at the water. The riverbed is made of small, cinnamon brown pebbles, but patches of stripped bedrock show through. The river runs along the bottom of a steep slope, in a corridor of tropical-looking vegetation that stretches from left to right. Floating mist blurs the distant vegetation on both sides. So close to the water, it feels that I’m inhaling water particles every time I breathe.
“I wish days like this never ended,” Shizuko says softly. “I’d like to live in a house that’s been standing for thousands of years.” She takes my hand and squeezes it hard, as if trying to get some warmth from me. “I’ve always wanted to make something that would last forever.”
I hold Shizuko’s head against my chest.
“I want to live here forever,” I say in a low, trembling voice. “I wish we could spend our lives just sitting on this bank.”
“You will still leave. But you will return one day, right?” she asks me as she looks into my face. “I will keep coming here, alone. I will imagine myself holding your hand, looking at the river together. I will see our faces reflected in the surface of the water. And I will remember all that happened here.”
My heart hurts as much as it always does when I can’t stop myself from remembering. I don’t speak for what feels like thirty seconds, so Shizuko continues.
“When we are apart, maybe I’ll manage to get published. I’m sure I’ll do little else than write. So maybe one day you’ll enter a big library in Tokyo and you’ll find yourself staring at one of my books. I hope you’ll like them.”
My throat constricts.
“I would have loved to read anything you had to say. For many years I’ve dreamt of holding a book you wrote and trying to make out what it contained. The text was always blurry. I don’t know what I would have read in there if I managed to focus on it in my dreams. You never finished any book.”
She wants to pull away to look me in the eyes, but I don’t want her to realize how much my eyes have watered.
“You are acting strange today. I know I haven’t finished anything yet, but I’m sure I’ll get down to it in the future.”
I force a smile.
“I’ve been acting strange for many years. That’s what regret does to people. And mine has never gone away. I don’t want it to go away either.”
I allow Shizuko to look at me. She reaches out to touch one of my tears. Her fingers are warm as they run over my skin. Now that I have opened up, she lets her worry and pain come to the surface. She never spoke up about how much it hurt to know that although we were in love, she had a limited time to spend with me before I left the town for the foreseeable future. Both of us knew that even if I kept my promise to return every few weeks, the distance would abrade our relationship, maybe to the point of severing it.
Shizuko wraps her arms around me. I feel the warmth of her body and the softness of her hair as I watch the river flow.
“I’ve never regretted having met you,” she says in a whisper. “Although I knew from the beginning that eventually we would stop seeing each other, I have never felt anything similar for anybody else.” Shizuko takes a deep breath. “I will stay strong. I will keep living. I will try hard to publish something. I’ve never needed much, and I have always been able to be alone. I’m sure that when you return, you will find me waiting for you.”
“That was my intention. I believed I would come back soon. Even as I met that other girl, I’m sure I thought she was temporary. I felt so lonely in Tokyo, after all. Another stranger among millions.”
Shizuko’s hand rests on my shoulder as I look at the water.
“Are you already thinking of going out with other girls when you move to Tokyo?” she says with a hurt tone, barely believing that such words would come out of my mouth.
I shake my head.
“I’m talking about what will happen. I will leave like I always planned. As I try to make a name for myself out there, I will return home to see you, regularly at first. But it won’t take long until I feel a gulf growing between us. So much stuff will happen to me in Tokyo, even without looking for it, but you will remain the same. I will end up believing that you are weak for it, that you are afraid of growing up, of becoming better.”
Shizuko is staring intently at me. She isn’t sure what point I’m trying to make.
“Maybe you will meet someone in Tokyo who makes your heart skip a beat,” she says in a trembling voice. “I’m terrified of it, but I know it’s very likely. I’m far from perfect. I’ve never believed that I matched you. If… you end up forgetting me, it will mean that you found a better life. When the pain goes away, I will be happy for you.”
I close my eyes. I can’t see Shizuko anymore. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to imagine what it would have been like if we had stayed together. How I wished that it could last forever. I grit my teeth, but my lower lip is shivering. As I rub my eyelids, Shizuko hugs me from the side and rests her face on my torso. I rest my arm on her shoulders.
“In the end I will allow one of those Tokyo girls,” I say, “one that I was attracted to, to convince me that I didn’t need you anymore. I will lie to you on the phone, I’ll tell you that it isn’t working, although by that point I will have dated that other girl for a couple of weeks. I remember… I can still remember your voice on the other end of the line. So many times I have pictured you sitting on your bed back at your parents’ home. The last time we saw each other we came down here. You read me two short stories you had been working on, and we kissed, but my heart was no longer in it. I felt pity for you. You felt so small, so… beneath me.”
Shizuko looks up at me. Tears are running down her cheeks.
“You are breaking up with me,” she says with a hollow voice. “That’s what you are doing.”
Her body shakes against mine. I takes me a while until I feel ready to speak.
“I don’t want to leave. If I could go back, I would have stayed here, Shizuko, for the rest of my life. But I didn’t. After that girl for whom I betrayed you, two others came. Everything I took for granted with you, that feeling of being home just by holding you in my arms, I never felt it with anybody else. I loved you, Shizuko, like I will never be able to love another human being. I have been aware of it every day, ever since.”
Shizuko closes her eyes and keeps them closed for a few seconds. I stop talking, because my throat hurts. She puts her hand on my cheek and tries to get me to look at her.
“I don’t understand what you are talking about,” she says, “I love you too. I already knew that I won’t ever love anyone as much as I love you, even though you were always meant to leave me. But now that you realize that, just stay. We’ll move out together. If we don’t find any decent house in this town, we’ll move nearby. I will always be yours. You are the only person with whom I’d rather be than alone.”
For a moment I feel that my left hand will fall through Shizuko’s shoulder. The frozen ache has spread throughout my body, which I rarely allow it to do, only when I don’t care if it ruins my life, if it prevents me from continuing.
“I remember the day that I received the call from your mother,” I struggle to say. “I was sitting on a bench in a public park, a few minutes after I got out from work. I was looking up the news on my phone while I drank soda. I don’t know what went through my mind when your mother’s name appeared. I hadn’t spoken to her for years. And when I heard her animal sobs, time stood still. You had been taking a walk along the outskirts, the same route you followed three or four days a week. You used to sit somewhere and write, your mother said. But that day, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Shizuko’s watery eyes have widened. I can’t imagine what she’s thinking. I take a deep breath while my chest burns.
“It was raining, and they said that the car slipped off the road. Your mother told me that you died instantly from the impact. I never believed it. I kept dreaming of you lying there broken in the rain, suffering. I imagined that you thought of me in your final minutes, realizing that we would never see each other again. I wondered whether you resented me because I betrayed you. I had told you that we would love each other for the rest of our lives, and I had believed it, but I had broken your heart.”
Shizuko looks at me with a blank expression. She doesn’t seem to have understood anything. I feel so tired, my legs are trembling. I lower myself to the cement floor, and I sit on the edge. The insects and birds keep calling out to each other like they always did.
“Once my mind registered your mother’s words, and I understood she wasn’t joking or lying, although she wouldn’t have, I experienced the ice cold sensation of something snapping inside of me. Everything around me had turned into a blur. I thought I would collapse on the spot. When I looked down at my feet, I realized that until then the knowledge that you existed, that you would be there for me if I wanted, kept me tethered to this world, but ever since I’ve felt like an astronaut drifting away in the void. I met what I always needed, everything I could have ever wanted, back when we were children, back at home, and I would never look at you, talk to you, or hold you again. You would never write those books you needed to make. I would never learn what you thought about.”
Shizuko is sitting next to me. She rests her hand on my knee as she pleads with her eyes for me to make sense.
“I’m still here with you, and I will always be. I haven’t gone anywhere.”
“The world has changed too much in these last decades, Shizuko, particularly for a man anchored to the past, but I have made sure to remember you, whether through recalling our moments together or writing them down when they seemed to be slipping off my mind. As long as the memories of you remain, and the means exist, we can have the life that I threw away, starting from the afternoon when I told you that I would leave for sure. I have barely thought of anything else for so many years, and every time I try to recreate our past, I get a bit closer. I believe I don’t have to change much more. One of these days I will meet you again as you lean against that moss-stained wall, and for the rest of the afternoon I won’t notice any movement, any reaction, any word coming out of your mouth that doesn’t belong to you.”
I take Shizuko’s hand. Her fingers are thin and delicate. I squeeze it gently.
“Every time I return to you, I fall in love all over again. It’s so hard for me, like you wouldn’t imagine. I can barely handle looking at you, talking to you, smelling you, touching you. The sadness and regret make me want to die. They insisted I should try to forget you through whatever means necessary. None of those people understand. There’s nothing worse than realizing too late that I had already met and lost the only one who mattered. That whatever remained of you has kept haunting my life is my only relief.”
I stop talking because I am crying. Shizuko puts her arms around my shoulders, and I bury my face in her neck. We stay like that for a while. The sound of the insects, birds and frogs fills our ears.
“I feel that you are telling me the truth,” she says, distressed. “Or else we both have lost our minds.”
I move my vocal cords without uttering a word, to order the interface to appear. A couple of orders later, the cacophony of the animal noises and the sound of flowing water cease abruptly. The sound of our breathing and our quickened heartbeats echo as if inside a chamber.
Shizuko tenses up, and pulls away from our embrace to look around. The world has stopped. The reflections of the sun, filtered through the cloud cover, on the river are static as if drawn with a white crayon, and the ripples of the water are still like the wrinkles in a sheet.
“What is this?” she asks in a voice about to break. “W-who am I?”
“You’re my girlfriend from the past.” I close my eyes, and try to calm myself down. My heart pounds like it’s going to explode. “You are a miracle. One I built up from zero, based on the foundations laid by many other people much more intelligent than me. It has taken me so much time, I have fine-tuned the contents of your brain every day, based on how this afternoon went. But one of these days I will walk you home, you, my Shizuko, and not some forged version, and from that day on I will spend the rest of my life with you.”
Shizuko is trembling. She is staring at me, her face pale. Tears well in her eyes.
“I’m not real…?”
“Of course you’re real. You have been made to be exactly like the Shizuko I knew in my youth. You are more real than anything else in the outside world. You shouldn’t have died. I should have been there so you wouldn’t have died. But now I can bring you back.”
“Why did you do that? Why have you made me to be alive again, even though I’m dead?”
She will never accept what I say; she never has. But it doesn’t matter. This version isn’t the last one. I have so many versions of her, and each of them is slightly different from its predecessor. I can keep on making new ones until I find the perfect replica of the Shizuko who will always be in my memory, and will live forever.
“I love you,” I say. “Back when you stood in front of me and looked back at me with your own eyes, I didn’t understand properly what I meant when I uttered those words. Now I know that I was put in this world so I could love you.”
Shizuko looks down at her lap. Her face is frozen in stunned anguish. I take her hand and place it gently over mine. Shizuko’s chest starts convulsing as if suffering from silent hiccups, and I verbalize another order out loud:
“Stop the simulation.”
Shizuko freezes. Her fingers turn rigid in my hand. I shut off the rest of the world, and Shizuko and I sit in a pitch black void. The sound of my heartbeat is deafening. I feel like a child lost in a dark forest. The blackness makes me think that I am the only living creature in the universe, and I wonder if I would ever have the courage to go forward and make my way alone through the woods. For a long moment I allow myself to keep holding on to Shizuko’s lifeless hand, to grant me enough strength to endure the next days, hours or minutes I will spend away from the love of my life.

If by some miracle you have read the stuff I self-published in Spanish two or three years ago, you may know or remember that this story is basically the same as one of them, except with a completely different setting and a narrative that goes more or less straight to the point. What can I say, I wanted to tell that kind of story again, and I knew I wouldn’t do anything else today. I hope you enjoyed it to some extent. I certainly did, but depression has felt like a second home for a long time.

Thirty Euros, Pt. 5 (Fiction)

Chieko flew us back in her pineapple yellow, antigravity car to the small town where she lives, and where the office of the SFPT that I know is located. I keep staring out of the surrounding windshield at the town, which has been built on both sides of a wide, winding river with fern green waters. I wouldn’t have considered this community a town. The buildings, which are megalithic, constructed from huge stone blocks, are distant enough from the rest as if they were farmhouses surrounded by grazing fields back in my native Gipuzkoa, but we keep coming across colorful flying cars, so I guess that the inhabitants of Mars walk around on the stone footpaths for leisure and exercise.
Both suns, the original and the one that Chieko called artificial, are dipping into the horizon, dyeing the sky in coral and watermelon pinks. I’m tired, my body is heavy. I feel my clothes touching my sensitive skin. I can’t remember how much I’ve cried, overwhelmed by having been rescued from a certain death on the old Earth. The gratitude I feel towards Chieko is an alien warmth in my heart that makes me feel like a bashful little girl. I can’t pay back what she has done for me, and I can’t live up to the artist she believes me to be.
Our ride through the sunset ends when Chieko points out that we have arrived at her place. She lowers her vehicle until the windshield shows an arched stone bridge that crosses the tranquil river, and beyond it a vast estate that features a garden with trimmed hedges, vibrant statues of human figures and animals, and a central ornate fountain that is shooting streams of water. The footpath leads into the two-story portico of a large villa that extends in colonnades to two adjoined buildings, forming a blocky ‘U’. The villa is also made out of huge stone blocks, but they are painted alabaster white except for the roofs that cover the colonnades, which are penny brown. It’s so fancy that I can’t close my mouth nor move out of the car seat I’ve sunk into, although Chieko has already opened a hole in the frame next to her seat.
“Chieko, you are loaded,” I say in a dry voice.
She smiles, but waves a hand back and forth.
“Oh, you have no idea how rich some people are. This is just a regular house.”
“I’m ready to marry you, just so you know.”
Chieko laughs and jumps out of the vehicle. I follow her down the airstair, then stand unsteadily next to her as I squint against the setting suns.
“Let’s get going, Izar,” Chieko says as she walks on the footpath towards the bridge. “I’m so hungry.”
I admire the white paving stones as we walk up the arc of the bridge. In the waters below us, I glimpse a couple of fishes swimming through underwater weeds. The greenery on the river’s edge has grown big and healthy. I hear the distant echo of a dog barking. I’m not surprised that these people brought dogs over, but I wonder if they get to live for hundreds of years.
As we cross through the garden, we pass by flower beds of bright yellow-pink flowers. Some look like daisies, and there are also violet and blue flowers that I can’t name. I feel like I’m walking through their scent.
“You must spend so much time tending to this place,” I say.
“What? Nah. The AIs trim these thick hedges, they make sure that the flowers don’t die, all that kind of stuff. Most days I barely notice they are there, to be honest.”
The cooling breeze blows water droplets from the fountain’s streams in my face, refreshing my skin. The central statue is a bronze, stylized fox, depicted as if it represents a deity.
As we approach the large portico, I spot a man jogging in the shadows of the colonnade leading to the front door. I’m startled, but in a couple of seconds I realize that he must live with Chieko. When he notices us, he stops. Once we stand in the cool shadows under the ceiling of the portico, I look up at the tall man, who holds my gaze with his brown, slanted eyes. He must be around a hundred and eighty-five centimeters. His face, which is beaded with sweat, looks like he’s in his mid twenties, but that might mean little around here. His hair is apple red, short, thick and unruly. He’s wearing a simple T-shirt and shorts, although their fabric looks expensive. By how vigorous the man seems, he must work out regularly, and knowing that the inhabitants of this new reality also run for exercise comforts me.
The man wipes his nose with the back of his hand as he recovers his breath.
“You brought your new friend over without giving me a heads-up,” he says with a deep voice. “That’s really rude, Chieko.”
“Oh, shut it!” she answers good-naturedly. “Don’t listen to him, he already knows I was working on your case.”
I bow slightly. I feel like I’m intruding in the lives of rich people when I’m just a peasant.
“Nice to meet you. I guess you already know that I’m Izar, that I come from the past and all that… Are you Chieko’s husband?”
The man makes a dismissive wave with both hands.
“Izar, you have screwed up your introduction. What a way to give me a bad impression! Me, Chieko’s husband!”
My rescuer lets out a noise of dismay. She shoves the man’s chest, but he barely budges.
“You know that she just found out about this society! Damn idiot…” She looks at me apologetically. “This is my brother, Yuichi. We both live here. He’s usually nicer when you get to know him.”
Yuichi smiles thinly, and bows his head.
“So, are you going to live with us for a while?” he asks me.
I look nervously at Chieko.
“I think I’d be a burden, but…”
Chieko grabs my shoulder and narrows her eyes at her brother. I can’t tell if she’s actually mad or if they are used to interacting like this.
“Yes, you know that’s the standard practice. A representative takes care of the artist they bring over from the past, until they can live on their own. And I would have invited her to live with us anyway if I had found her living in the streets!”
Yuichi rolls his eyes.
“That means close to nothing. When was the last time you saw a homeless person on Mars? But I guess that Chieko needs someone to share the workload with. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you fed. I can’t imagine what the people in town would say if we allowed a servant to starve.”
I’m smiling like an idiot, unable to defend myself or contribute to the conversation. Chieko puts her hands on my shoulders from behind.
“No workload of which to speak! I have barely done anything but laze around recently. C’mon, you just keep running! We are getting in and replicating some food.”
When Yuichi gives up and continues running, Chieko pushes me gently towards the front door, which is made of some smooth, brown metal. She presses her hand against it, and the door opens inwards.
We enter the cool house, which smells like leather and saffron. A low-key jazz song starts playing from somewhere deeper within the house. My gaze is glued to the floor of the foyer, which is a mosaic of carefully laid out pieces that display beautiful scenes, in reds, yellows, whites and blacks, filled with Japanese imagery: white-faced ladies wearing yukatas, the silhouettes of traditional Japanese houses, heroic images of samurai. Areas of the large mosaic also show depictions of animals. Maybe I should already expect to find arresting masterworks wherever I go in this society, but my brain has a hard time associating this artistic display with someone’s home.
Chieko grabs my hand, and then swings my arm as if we were both children. I’m getting dizzier and a heat is rising to my cheeks as I walk further into the large space. I may be staring at the central room of Chieko’s house: it’s an atrium bathed in pinkish light. The beams come down from the skylights built into a vaulted ceiling made of stone, that wouldn’t have felt out of place in a cathedral. The slanted beams of light from the sunset are bathing sofas, hammocks, dining and coffee tables, a structure that looks like a chimney, and some isolated machines that resemble game consoles or ovens. Flowerbeds and water gardens are arranged near the furniture.
The illuminated space is about four times larger than I would have expected even a luxurious living room to be. You could play a sports match in here if it weren’t for all the obstacles. All the walls are covered in kaleidoscopic frescoes that represent scenes both from ancient myths and from either my era or one that came after, because I recognize the skyline of modern cities from my original present, as well as spaceships. This living room is ringed by an interior balcony. From down here I glimpse an arched gallery that must lead to bedrooms, offices and other personal rooms.
“Come!” Chieko says as she guides me around a tiny fountain towards a sofa. “You clearly need to sit. Let’s eat something, shall we? Or do you need to go to the bathroom first?”
I look at her nervously.
“Well… I don’t know… No, I don’t think so.”
If I were in my house, I would have emptied my bladder, because I’m feeling those two glasses of water that I drank at the SFPT office. But I need to sit down and figure out a way to stop my mind from reeling. When I sink into the sofa, the velvety fabric embraces me lovingly. Next to the gilded, pleated arm of the sofa, a cluster of red buds that have grown in a flower bed are wafting a sweet scent.
Chieko sits next to me, takes off her shoes and folds her slender legs so her bare feet rest on the cushion. She smiles at me and opens her mouth to say something, but I interrupt her.
“Do you have any clue of the life of luxury you and your people enjoy?” I ask in a weary voice.
Chieko shrugs.
“It’s a matter of comparisons, isn’t it? But yes, when I travelled to your era, I was shocked by how tiny the houses were, and stacked on top of each other! It was suffocating. You could hear the neighbors going to the bathroom, and could even make out parts of their private conversations! That couldn’t have been good for people’s mental health. No wonder people were so neurotic!”
I sigh.
“Yeah, I have always thought that living in cities, let alone in a metropolis, turned people crazy. We aren’t meant to live in such cramped spaces. But then again, it’s not as if we could have chosen to live in some better way. The Earth was vastly overpopulated, moving to the countryside was expensive, and everyone needed to get used to being a speck of dust that would likely amount to nothing.”
Chieko twists one side of her mouth into a grimace.
“I don’t think Earth has improved much in that regard. If you thought that it was overpopulated, if you see it now you may vomit. Truth be told, many of those people have never been ready to leave the nest. But thankfully we don’t have to worry about that on Mars, or other colonized planets.” She claps once. “So, are you hungry? Because I’m starving.”
I nod quickly.
She turns to make eye contact with an oven-like machine that is propped on a stand.
“Replicator, we want your services.”
The indicators over the cavity of the machine light up in arctic blue, and to my surprise the machine lifts off silently and floats up to us, until it hovers a meter and a half in front of Chieko as static as if it was propped on an invisible stand. It reminds me of a butler, another one, waiting for instructions.
“Pay attention to this, Izar,” she says. “You’ll rely on the replicators and the decomposers to fulfill your basic needs, and you’ll also use them whenever you need to replicate objects like cutlery, clothes, books… Everything that could fit this cavity, really. These are the personal models. For cars, furniture and similar objects you go to a shop, because they own industrial replicators.”
I swallow, then nod. I stare at Chieko’s reflection in the reflective front of the machine.
“Alright, replicator,” Chieko says. “Recommend us a menu for dinner!”
The machine radiates a solid-looking beam of light that unfolds and spreads until it forms a mosaic of images, around thirty, which are as colorful and detailed as those in the computer screens with which I’m familiar. Each image shows a plate with food as they would appear in the menu of a restaurant, and the images also feature associated dishware such as bowls, saucers, glasses, spoons, forks… as if they came with the dish.
I point with a trembling finger at the options.
“Chieko, are you telling me that I can choose any of this food and it will appear in that cavity inside of the machine…?”
“You get it quickly.”
I rub my eyes.
“I don’t. I really don’t… How is this possible?”
“Don’t worry about that for now. As you know, you don’t need to understand how something works to use it! I wasn’t the one who invented this thing. Just order whatever, Izar.”
I take a deep breath and look over the options. Although I only recognize about a quarter of the food I’m staring at, my mouth salivates.
“Oh, that looks like pizza.”
“It certainly is. Cheese pizza in particular. The replicator always recommends it to me, because I love it. Have you ever tasted pizza before, Izar?”
“If I have… Nevermind, yes. Pizza sounds good. So how would I choose it?”
“Remember, the machines are sentient. Replicators and decomposers are silent by design, but they understand. So just tell it what you want.”
When I stare back at the replicator, I have a hard time believing, or facing, that a person is waiting for my order. I’ll need to get used to dealing with artificial intelligences, but thankfully that Guide showed me that I could make myself understood without issues.
I point at the image of the cheese pizza.
“Alright, then give me that one, please.”
The mosaic collapses, and the beam of solid light dissolves. As the machine hums, the cavity fills with a similarly opaque and featureless light, and when it vanishes, the inside of the replicator contains a steaming cheese pizza. Even a pizza cutter. The pizza’s crust looks so crispy, and the golden yellow cheese so thick and juicy, that my mind forgets its doubts and worries. I only want to fill my stomach with that impossible food.
The replicator’s cavity opens, which allows the pizza’s aroma to reach us, and Chieko pulls out the plate. After she leaves it on the coffee table, both of us are quick to grab a slice, which came pre-cut although the replicator also produced a cutter. When I bite and chew the morsel, my mouth fills with the expected taste of a cheese pizza. My shoulders relax.
“Chieko, you live in heaven,” I say with my mouth full.
“This pizza always tastes amazing, yes. The same as the pizza that was scanned to produce this blueprint. Not that I ever tasted the original pizza, but that’s the idea.”
After I finish eating my slice, I wipe off the juices left behind on my lips. I go for a second slice.
Chieko also orders glasses of orange juice. We eat as we lounge on the sofa. Night has fallen, and some floating orbs have switched on and are bathing us in soft white light. I’m so comfortable that I get mental images of kittens rolling around in their cat bed.
We finished eating a couple of minutes ago. My benefactress’ eyes have turned sleepy. After she picks up crumbs from her puff sleeve blouse and eats them, she leans back and offers me a tired smile.
“That’s all you need to know regarding replicators, I think. Now I’ll show you what you’ll do when you want to get rid of something.”
Chieko looks directly at the replicator as she addresses it. Maybe it’s necessary to make eye contact.
“Replicator, return to your stand, please.” As the replicator floats towards its stand, Chieko gazes at the similar machine propped up on a stand next to the empty one. “Decomposer, come here.”
The decomposer obeys like a pet. Although this machine’s purpose is the opposite of the replicator’s, its main difference is that the cavity is hidden by a round hatch. The machine stops a meter and a half away from Chieko, who gets off the sofa and puts the pizza cutter on the plate on which only crumbs remained. She adds both our empty glasses. She opens the machine’s hatch and leaves the plate inside. After she closes the hatch, she sits back down.
“Decomposer, destroy your contents.”
A round indicator on the front of the humming decomposer lights up in red, and a couple of seconds later it shuts off.
“That’s it,” Chieko says.
I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that any machine could get rid of any object with such speed. This society must have solved the issue of the growing mountains of garbage, as well as the patches of plastic in the oceans.
“Doesn’t it worry you that someone could kill another person,” I ask, “dismember them, throw their remains into a decomposer and make them disappear?”
Chieko laughs merrily, closing her eyes and holding her hand against her mouth.
“Your mind goes directly to murder, huh?” she says. Her fingers flick outwards to open her palms towards me. “What a horror… You should want to help other people, Izar, not end them.”
“Hey, that’s a worry that anyone would have.”
“That’s why they built in a system that notifies the authorities in case it detects that it would decompose human remains.”
“Alright, so you future people haven’t outgrown homicidal impulses. You haven’t evolved that much.”
“The animals that evolve to outgrow violent impulses get killed by those who didn’t. Isn’t that the case?” Chieko replies with a smile.
I realize that jazz was still playing in the background when it stops abruptly, and gets replaced with music similar to soft rock. I’m confused for a moment, because Chieko didn’t order it, but a more important question pops up in my mind.
“How does this replicator of yours produce objects from zero? Are the raw materials inside the machine? Even 3D printers from my era needed some sort of cartridge.”
“It makes a request for the needed periodic elements to the deposit that every town has. We pool those resources together, it’d be too much of a hassle otherwise. They get sent through quantum teleportation.”
“Of course, it had to have quantum in the name.”
“Haven’t you both gotten comfortable,” Yuichi’s deep voice reaches us from behind.
Chieko and I look over the back pillows of our sofa. Yuichi must have taken a shower, because his thick, wavy red hair is combed back and damp. He’s wearing a grey sweat jacket and sweatpants. His sweat jacket features the drawing of a multi-limbed mechanical being with a red cape. I won’t try to deduce what it represents.
He struts to the replicator, which is resting on its stand, and tells it to produce his usual protein shake. In a few seconds he’s holding a metallic-looking, opaque flask. He approaches the armchair closest to us and plops down on it. As he unscrews the cap of his bottle, he stares at me brashly as if he intends to challenge me.
“So, Izar, are you religious?”
Chieko lets out a noise of dismay.
“Yuichi! You barely know her!”
The man doesn’t tear his gaze away.
“When my sister told me that she had taken one of the rescue missions, I was sure that she would bring home some nut from the Middle Ages, or an Ice Age sculptor. I would find myself having to listen to that person freaking out and wondering how his or her god fit into this new world.”
“I see how that would be annoying,” I say. “I’ve never been religious.”
Yuichi sighs, then leans back on his armchair as if he figures he can relax.
“What century did you come from again?”
“Early twenty-first.”
Yuichi arches his eyebrows as he takes a big gulp of his protein shake.
“Was your era as terrible as we picture it from the surviving records?”
“I don’t know what you’ve seen. I’m sure that any other era looks like hell when compared to living in this town. But I admit that I didn’t enjoy living in my time. I dreaded that everything was going to collapse eventually.”
“To me, it looked apocalyptic,” he says with sympathy.
I let out a long sigh.
“What can I say, I’m glad that Chieko brought me here. I can’t begin to explain how safe I feel now.”
A cat-sized creature is moving close to a flower bed filled with purple and yellow flowers. I glance at it absentmindedly, expecting to see a cat, but my gaze falls on a sleek, metallic octopus that’s watering the flowers through its flexible tentacles. My eyes widen, but neither of the siblings pay the robot any attention.
“You are a writer, right?” Yuichi asks. “Many of those around.”
“Yes, and not one that deserved being saved. There were millions of writers like me in the world back then. We were lucky enough to get published, but didn’t sell enough to pay the bills.”
“Izar, you need to stop putting yourself down,” Chieko says, more upset than I would have expected.
I lower my gaze to my lap.
“It’s true. I have no clue why you saved me.”
“I don’t know why my sister chose you in particular,” Yuichi interjects as he smirks at Chieko, “but your heroine was motivated by procrastination. You have avoided a sad fate because Chieko couldn’t figure out what creative project to start next. That’s the truth.”
My benefactress looks down and fiddles with the corner of a pillow. More than embarrassed, she seems guilty. I reach over to put my hand on her arm. I don’t want the person who saved my life feeling bad about any aspect of her decision.
“She didn’t tell you that she had lofty, virtuous reasons for bringing you over from the past, did she?” Yuichi asks with some concern.
“No, she told me that she was going through a dry spell,” I say. I try to hold Chieko’s gaze, although she’s avoiding it. “I wouldn’t care if you rescued me because you were paid to do so, or because you wanted to impress someone. If it weren’t for you, I would be living in the streets, and in less than a week I would have drowned in the river. You were never clear about how, but I don’t care. My life is yours.”
Chieko mumbles something as she blushes. Yuichi snorts, then shakes his head.
“She’s charmed you already, huh, Izar? I guess you can’t help it. That SFPT, they are running the ultimate seduction scheme. You have no idea how many of the people they bring over here from the past end up naked in their representative’s bed by the end of the first day.”
Chieko straightens her back and glares at her brother.
“It’s nothing like that!” She looks at me. “You lack some qualities necessary for me to… feel like that about you.”
“Hopefully just the physical ones that I can’t change,” I say nonchalantly. “I wouldn’t mind if you intended to seduce me. With this new life you have given me, I should fall in love with you out of principle.”
Chieko sighs and rubs her temples with both hands. Her brother empties the bottle, then chuckles as he wipes his mouth. He leans back again, with one hand behind his head.
“You know, it might do you some good, Chieko,” Yuichi says teasingly. “It’s been too long since you’ve been with anyone.”
“H-hey. I don’t have time for boyfriends!”
“What do you mean? You barely do anything now that you aren’t working on new movies!”
“You know I’m going through a dry spell.”
Yuichi grins as if he was expecting his sister to say it.
“That’s what I meant, sis.”
Chieko snaps her head back and stutters her reply. I have been letting my weight sink into the velvety cushions and the back pillows for a few minutes, my stomach is digesting that delicious pizza, and now that the siblings have forgotten that I’m here, a smile tugs on my lips. Every other person I had met either walked past me, or proved to me that I should have kept hidden the most important parts of myself. But now I can close my eyes and let out a long sigh as a warm feeling spreads throughout my body.

Chieko showed me how to use the toilet, which works the same way except that it contains a tiny matter decomposer that takes care of the waste. We keep hanging out in the siblings’ luxurious atrium. By the time that Yuichi left to his bedroom, the skylights on the vaulted roof brimmed with stars. The floating orbs failed to illuminate the huge open room with their soft white light, so it felt as if Chieko and I were sitting on an island surrounded by darkness.
My benefactress guided me to replicate cotton panties, because I needed clean underwear, along with silk pyjamas, which were lemonade pink and shimmered in my hands as I ran my fingers over the fine and smooth fabric. I follow Chieko up the stairs to one of the guest bedrooms. Once she opens the door, I find myself staring at the most comfortable-looking and luxurious bed I have ever seen. The bedding set, which is embellished with gilded, royal motifs, is made of thick silk that overflows the mattress with a liquid feel. The four pillows resting against the headboard look so inviting that I want to run over and jump face down into them.
I close my mouth, then speak in a dry voice.
“This is ridiculous.”
Chieko places a hand on my shoulder, and my heart jumps. I feel every hair on my arms. I wasn’t kidding earlier: if she tries anything, I’m done for. Chieko is pleasant to look at, a joy to be around, and now that my heart stores nothing but boundless gratitude towards her, I don’t need much incentive even though I’ve never gone for women. Back on Earth I wanted to disappear; now that she has brought me over to this paradise, the notion of disappearing into everything she might have to offer is intoxicating.
“That thing on the double dresser is the multimedia center,” Chieko says, oblivious to the tingles running through my body. “Talk to it when you want to listen to music, watch movies, browse the net… Stuff like that. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. The gear to experience virtual reality is in another room, though.”
I turn around and look at Chieko in the dimness of the bedroom, only illuminated by the beams of honey-colored light coming out of two lamps on the nightstands. I stare for a couple of seconds at her apple red hair, gathered in two buns. I wonder what Chieko sees on my face. Even with both of us standing just a step apart, our personalities are standing on the opposite sides of a wall.
“I think that tomorrow you should take a walk around town by yourself,” Chieko says softly. “See the sights, focus on what interests you. People are friendly around here. And hopefully one of these days you’ll feel like writing again.”
We look at each other silently. While Chieko glances at the bed, I get the feeling that she’s unsettled, as we are both held hostage by this comfortable, secluded bedroom.
“You better get out of here, Chieko,” I say in a low voice. “I told you that I sink my claws in the people that I care about.”
She blinks rapidly and nods.
“Yeah, I’m feeling weird myself,” she says, befuddled. “Anyway, sleep as much as you want, alright?”
We say goodnight. Once she closes the door behind her and I hear her footsteps fading, I shuffle to the side of the bed and sit slowly on the mattress. I wait until my heart calms down.
I undress, I put on my clean underwear and I try on my new pyjamas. They feel like they float over my skin. I can barely tell that I’m wearing them. When I slip under the silk sheets and the comforter and then let the back of my head sink into the pillow, I feel ready to die. My old life, with all its troubles, has ended. I would be happy if I never had to move again. I wouldn’t think, I wouldn’t talk, I wouldn’t write. I would keep floating in a warm cloud and never worry about anything else.

Note from June of 2021:

Yesterday I went back to work, and this contract will last until the end of September. I’m not the kind of person that is happy whenever he’s able to work for others, nor do I understand that kind of slave mentality. My last contract ended on May 11, if I remember correctly, and in about a month and a half I wrote frantically a novel the length of 2.2 regular novels, as well as a few short stories and lots of poetry. Yesterday I barely managed to write anything at work, because they kept me walking throughout the hospital complex to fix annoying problems that nobody wants to handle, and by the end of the day I was exhausted and felt like shit, so my brain kept trying to convince me to lie in bed and just rest. That’s the routine that I’m terrified of returning to for the next months. I hate living like that when I could be writing otherwise, but like everybody else, I need to accumulate money.

Anyway, I have planned the rest of this novella, and I’ll finish it for sure sooner or later, even though I suspect that it barely works as a story. I’m having fun with it, and that’s what matters as far as I’m concerned.