Morningwood

By Nandi La Sophia
Morningwood, a novel excerpt, art

A chapter excerpt from the novel Morningwood.

His plan failed, which meant he had to stick around, and clearly, he did not want that. Looking around him, he saw so many people enjoying the things that life brought them and he couldn’t feel it—couldn’t identify with it. By the time he reached 25, he didn’t feel like he was missing out anymore. In his mind, happy equaled stupid. Happy meant inexperienced and ignorant. Happy meant that death and disease were surprising and devastating. Knowing that heartbreak was inevitable and death ultimately imminent, he never waited for the other shoe to drop. He yanked it down and wore it. What else could you do with a shoe?

He was exhausted. He stopped taking the Lamictal that constantly churned the impulses and mood swings of Bipolar 2 disorder into the sweet exasperation of romance and longing (which often looked like having a soothing cup of coffee with a cigarette in the morning, looking over the Benjamin bridge—it’s high steel peaks and enormous concrete legs, stabbing into the harbor). He stopped taking the Hydroxyzine, Cyproheptadine, Gabbapentin and all the rest he’d lost count of over the years. He resented them, resented having to take them, resented himself for having to make a choice between living in agonizing depression and panic or living in a body that needed drugs for the entirety of its life in order to function productively and regularly. He stopped utilizing everything that helped him—advice, mushrooms, liquor binges, random and anonymous hookups and snogs in the bar to alleviate his dumb grief. He slowly, over the course of a year, whittled down to nothing. He abhorred the long death of waiting and the stifling of impulse.

He wanted to pass himself away—pre-empt the grave shovel and eschew the skeleton sadness that anyone might have towards him or their imagined loss. He wouldn’t have been disappointed by the blackness of death or in his being denied some experience with a grand light or dead ancestors. His eyes were dry and they hurt. He could feel the red cracks in the skin around them as they welled up, and the weak, emotional trails running down his dry face shone under the fluorescence of the room. His tears felt like vinegar and his eye sockets, wounds. He tried to will himself back to sleep, back into death. Back to the cold bottom of wherever he’d come from. He couldn’t tell if he’d been there or not, but the low feeling in his bones said he had.

He turned his eyes back into his skull, trying childishly to look into his brain. “What the fuck, asshole? Why’d you let me down AGAIN?” But there was no answer, just a weak and resigned, frustrated silence.

“First deep breath- Take it in quickly and force it out like a bull on a cold Spanish morning, day of the fight. Second deep breath- Make it slower and inhale in an arc like a trapeze artist in full swing. Third deep breath- Take it in slow and deep and then see yourself as a feather lilting softly to the ground, safely.”

He put himself under ground in his mind to fuck the safety that breathing assured him and felt the cold dirt swallow him, felt the hard steel of earth, noticed the lack of air and settled in amongst the bones of his friends and the too cold heart of his husband, taken by a knife and cleft in his dead breast.

His fits in and out of consciousness over the next few days created a surreal kind of environment that was comfortable and familiar to him; the same questions popped his mind open and tore into his guts time and time again. “What went wrong? How did I fail? What the fuck am I going to do now?  When people hear that you’ve killed yourself”, he thought, “you know that the grief can be immeasurable. For some, anyway, but when people hear you attempted to kill yourself, the rage and condescension are palpable. Embarrassing. Nauseating. Nobody likes a failure, especially a suicidal failure…”

Slap, kiss, slap. What an ugly way to communicate loyalty and love.

He lay in the hospital bed, hopeless and distant. He’d forgotten to keep his eyes in soft focus. He’d forgotten everything about finding his center. He lost it when he downed that bowl of meds he’d been squirreling away: his sleep meds, the leftover klonopins from the first hospital stay, the dilauded, morphine and oxys he stole from his mother. He swallowed them quickly and without remorse, confusion or tears. He wiped the slobber from his mouth and waited out his gag reflex until his eyes screwed shut and his mouth began to grind and twist in anticipation. He tapped his fingers and toes. He looked for apologies. He looked for something. He didn’t want his stomach to feel this way—sick and nervous. Excited and scared. He was equally thrilled and puzzled at all of the feelings. Surprise, surprise, motherfucker.

He wanted to diffuse whatever it was about him that people liked… He didn’t want anyone to grasp him, to whisper in his ear and force him to stay for their comfort or their love for his husband…after all, who might have loved him more, save his mother-in-law. He loved her too; more than his own, but then again, he could love a box of fresh shit more than her. He felt like he wore her face as the pills kicked in. She had to have felt this way. It was warm and comforting. Since he could remember he’d seen his mother slide into the slow, melting death of alcoholism and drug abuse and in tiny, finite moments he decided he just didn’t give a fuck about her. Couldn’t. She’d have sold him for a pack of Camels or less if she could have and nearly did.

Still, he didn’t want to be like those clumsy bridge jumpers who’d decided half way down that they didn’t want to die. He wanted to die feeling fuck yes! Let’s do this! Get it over with!  For all intents and purposes he did get it over with. Only life wasn’t quite done with him. People weren’t done with him. Obviously. He punctuated the lightness in his head with slashes to his face and head. Never pretty. Never again.

***

“Sacha….” A soft yet curt and low voice issued forth from a pursed mouth of a nearly indescribably beautiful woman with perky breasts and a soft, muted pink-colored blouse, sitting next to his bed. She continued and added “Sacha… Are you awake?” He allowed his sore skull and addled brain to roll onto his left ear and then remembered that a real man grunts at pretty ladies. Not that it related to her, but his dick was hard. That was the easy way to be.

“I need to ask you a few questions. Can you tell me your last name?” his mind sharpened and the impressions came in rapid-fire. She’s sober. No caffeine. No nicotine. Gross. He grabbed his dick and shifted it upward, pitching a tent under the blanket. “Morningwood“ he said, “my name is Morningwood.” He smacked his lips a few times and then let a loud fart loose in the sheets. Looking at him wryly, she said, “Erection. Well that’s a positive sign, and flatulence while rude..also a proper sign of recovering health. Now. I have your file right here, it says your name is Sacha—“ He cut her off before she finished. He hated his family name and should have changed it years ago but the idea of standing around in a courthouse made him go limp and paranoid.

He got the name from hanging out in a punk squat for the majority of his teens—M first arrived drunk and clumsy when everyone was sleeping, and the first thing Bluejay (the founder of the squat and originator of the ‘name you as I see you” clause) saw was M’s hard dick under the knots of a crocheted and crusty blanket that he henceforth dubbed the “cockwigwam”. People also just called M “would”, because would he or wouldn’t he? The answer was typically a resounding “fuck yes. He would.”  This question passed around about him frequently and for many years, and for a number of reasons. He’d just let people think whatever they needed or wanted to—it wasn’t his problem.

In his life, he’d been treated peculiarly for many reasons—his feminine androgyny, his flirting, his full, beautiful, sharp mouth and large green eyes or his effortlessly lithe figure. These things did not always feel very useful to him but kept people intrigued and engaged. A lot of stupid and privileged straight people fit that ignorant and boring bill. The straight men that wanted to see what it would be like to kiss or touch him with no actual use for him as a friend or lover; the straight girls who giggled and put on bisexual airs who’d said careless and tacky things about his body being so girly or how he should just be a girl. Morningwood had absolutely no interest in pursuing any gender of any kind. He just wanted to use his body as he saw fit whether or not that use served any purpose to anyone else. It ceaselessly annoyed him that anyone would reach out to touch him or overtly pursue fucking him without investigating his personality in the least. He’d often been mistaken for pretty and dumb, which sometimes stroked his ego and also felt like a useless summation of any subjective trait. People were so primitive in their defaults; defining arbitrary horseshit like looks, presentation or mannerisms. People are so complicit in torture, ousting and killing those different from them but freak out if you wear a swath of fabric assigned to those with vaginas—few people seemed to grok the proper mechanics and deployment of tactful social interaction and were too lazy to learn. Many people felt threatened and suspicious of M because of his clarity and selfhood. This was not lost on him and cut him deeply when he wasn’t trying to cut them first or either.

“Mor-Ning-Wood. Please. Morningwood. S’been my name for like, 10 years….do not use my motherfucking government name. Please.” The woman sat back in her uncomfortable chair unfazed and looked him in the eye. “That’s fine. Morningwood. I don’t have to use the name on your file. I just have to know that you know where and who you are. Simple. And so…what year is it, Morning? Can I call you Morning for short?” “Only if I can call you Dumpster Pam for longsies. Some people call me M though…” Effortlessly, he pushed out the year.

She exhaled sharply from her nostrils and screwed up her face for a brief moment before straightening up. “Ok, good—and now the month?” he tucked his chin to his chest and looked down. He mumbled out, “It’s February” She blinked and ever so slightly tilted her head to the side, “No. This is April. Fair dues though, it was February when you were admitted so I’ll give you that one.”

She noted the math in his eyes. He’d been unconscious for two months. Shit. She leaned in and touched his arm. He flinched, but not in an unfriendly way. It was a compulsory twitch. “I can fill you in now, with your permission, or we could finish the questionnaire, or you could tell me to fuck off…your choice. I’m confident that you are lucid enough for consent to any and all practices employed henceforth”. He was glad that she was finally cracking her own ice to speak on his level. She watched as the word “April” sunk in his chest. His eyes welled up and tremors rooted in his shoulders took hold. “Obviously you’re English. From London. South. Bromley. Ringer’s road near the high street is my guess? How long have you been here?” His words calmly and expertly betrayed his tears.

She noticed that her jaw had slightly dropped and what she could slowly muster was, “Ehm…E t h e l b e r t road…” It was his turn to put the math in her eyes, and he did so with usual aplomb. With this itch scratched, the tension left his body.  “Shall we please move on?” she smiled warmly, steadied herself in her chair, aligned her chin and her clipboard. “Must bring forth my cold, English bureaucrat face.…We’ve all got one,” she thought, even though the notion itself was offensive and dull. “No, I want to hear about your story. Why did you come here? Why did you leave England? What brought you here?” His tone shifted as a lightbulb went off in his quickly shifting perception of her. “Why did you abandon your fucking kids?! For HIM?! That dude’s a cunt!” 

She was speechless. Still as cement. For a literal second, she thought about her two children, Martin and Sadie—they were at school when she’d left with Michael, who, as it had turned out, was a cunt. Still, he was a cunt with an American passport. She’d wanted to live in America desperately, and so by any means necessary, she’d done it. She tapped her foot against the chair leg. Her stiletto against the chrome created a tinny clink that brought M a bit of Schadenfreude.

“Oh, I’m sorry”, he said, “did I make you uncomfortable? Am I being too invasive?” he continued with a short pause and a smile. “I’m one of those clairvoyant assholes. Psychic or some shit. Always have been. People say I get into their heads when it’s really the other way around and without any consent from me and it fucking sucks.” With a terrible stab at a cockney accent, he added “You’re too right. Let’s move on” He cleared his throat and asked her for a tissue and blew a hot jet of snot and blood into it. She snapped herself to. Bureaucrat face or no, this had to get done. “That’s fine. That’s all right,” she said, “A bit of confusion is normal in these types of situations.”

Her Bureaucrat smile flashed. She felt in control once again, but he could see the flinch in her hand that wanted to slap the shit out of him. “I’m not confused, jellybean, and I’m not scared. I’m pissed. Frustrated at the prospect of having to fucking drudge out breath and words for any more of humanity’s troglodytes or bougie fucking clinically hypocritical scum like you” He stopped looking at her and stared at the wall as she droned on. Insulting people in a position to help isn’t nice, but in the last few months of life that he could remember, not that many people accused him of that. She asked, did he know his address, employment, birthday and on and on. He stopped answering her questions and stared blankly at the same spot on the wall. “First deep breath- Take it in quickly…” He complied with this familiar routine and she quickly became invisible. Even still, her inner Bureaucrat dazzled with pride. She no longer cared if he answered any of her questions. They were perfunctory and pointless in this case. She’d done her British best and was rattled enough to make excuses. How could he know any of that? Did it matter if she denied it all? She had the life she’d wanted, sort of, and so what, some gutter trash with odd perception called her out. She’d never see that lowlife again and anyway, she had the upper hand. Send him to Ward 5. He’ll never get out. She rejected that knowing that he was, in the end, sane, and she was, in the end, a selfish asshole. He was sane more so than most people she’d given back to society. The interview ended and she left red-faced and annoyed—both with him, and her sweat-soaked butthole baking in her pantyhose. She needed the loo. She wept pathetically in the stall, removed her underthings and stuffed them in the sanitary napkin bin. She felt gross about it, but in her selfish misery, didn’t care enough to show consideration for anybody else. “My children. For fuck’s sake, I haven’t thought of them for ages,” she thought.

 

Flush.

 

Sitting still and cold, M entertained the question of whether or not he had a soul and if he did, what happened to it? Did he throw it away? Was he just an empty vessel now? He felt like he was. Curiosity may be a sign of compassion but it’s also the hallmark of monkey mind. Language and sentience may make a thing called consciousness but nothing is magic. Nothing is as great as the image of one of us only bigger, sitting in some nebula doling out lightning and disease; divorce and lottery wins. But how does any of that mean anything when dreams really can’t come true without a heavy price?

Why sacrifice? Why pray? Why dance and sing for shit you can’t see? A hundred years ago no one heard a whale sing and it sang it’s tail fin off anyway, so what’s the point in constantly altering anything just so it can be seen or heard? So many ideas and feelings collided in him at that moment that he couldn’t hedge one bet over another.

God? Satan? Orishas? Mantras? Buddha? Meh. That was his answer in the end. He might as well be a whale song from the distant past. Regardless of anything’s existence, real or imagined, he would be the same ridiculous monster he always wanted to be.

Though he’d had a touch of the ughs about it, M wasn’t terribly disappointed in his inability to recall whether or not anything “happened” when he died. He just wanted to go back. 

Feeling exhausted, he fell into a black sleep. In his dream, he sat up in bed and looked at his hands. His skin was transparent and lights were moving through them. Through his veins. His blood cells were bioluminescent and he sweetly admired the sight of the tiny particles flowing gently with pulsing, bluish-white light through him. Shrugging that off, he noticed a few people walking by in the hall. He touched his face before he got up from bed and although the texture of it was only slightly different, it felt like raw meat. He regarded his strange skin in the mirror, meaty and lit from under the surface. He stuck out his tongue with its newly undulating taste buds and then looked down, so typically male and concerned with his cock. He giggled and pulled the drawstring loose on his hospital gown and let it fall to the ground. Better. He turned around and approached the doorway. Looking down to the ground, he noticed a few smallish creatures on the floor. Little green slime balls with big mouths and no eyes. They followed him to the door and just sort of waited there, all globby and cute. A woman approached him in a white lab coat. She was slim and tall with strong Asian features and a giraffe-like neck. Her skin was like his, meaty and translucent, and there were light waves coming from her body. He could see the veins in her face move with blood and light. It looked beautiful on her. She scrutinized Sasha’s naked body with a slight tsk tsk and looked down at her clipboard, checked off a few boxes and then pointed down to the small creatures with a thin laser pen. The nearest little blob chomped playfully at the beam.

Without emotion she said, “Those little blobs are what you might call Guardian Angels, believe it or not. Either way, that’s a fact and I don’t personally care what you call them; nor do they for that matter. They respond to you energetically, not verbally. Whilst they may nudge you imperceptibly, be assured that most rational impulses come from them. They eat stress, depression, disease and whatever else, and transmute the energy into a kind of...what do you call that? Oxygen? In any case, there you have it. Read a book if you can find one. I’m too busy for this ” As she continued her trajectory, she passed through him and into the room. Making a left, she passed through the wall and was gone. Her little Guardians trailed behind. Sacha looked pointedly at the stragglers down the hallway, which confirmed what she’d said. Everyone had these blobs. They were all over the place, gobbling up the scummy, black pearls that oozed, fell or floated forth from the body of the host—this was first evidenced by a man in the adjacent room who, lying still, was oozing thick, black sludge from his body. His Guardians were so full of it they were nearly motionless. They were plump and thin-skinned like warty, little balloons and their mouths were unable to close. They couldn’t process his ooze fast enough to save him.

As Sacha watched this, he noticed small, blackish pearls falling from him onto the floor, where his friends gobbled them ferociously. Hmmm. negative energy looks like rabbit poop. He continued to pass through the labyrinthine passages of the hospital until he noticed he wasn’t actually walking, but floating. It was at that moment that he lost control. He began crashing into the walls and punching through ceilings, but not making contact with them, just sailing through. He moved quickly through the many levels and walls of the hospital before he managed to right himself and take control.

His mind took an inventory of the things he’d seen in all of those translucent people. He saw breast and facial augmentation, cancerous tumors, stints, all manner of tubing and implants, broken bones and pinched organs. He saw kidney transplant patients with their old, dead kidneys in their bodies. He regarded the pregnant women with two, functioning hearts in them and how their unborn children were like a battery to a remote control body. As he reached the top floor of the building, his momentum slowed. The Death Ward. Hospice. He’d been there before with sick friends, and these people reminded him of those sad days. The Guardians there were nearly invisible with death. They were slow like cold bees.

He watched an old woman with a smile on her face. Her Guardians sat on her chest, grayish and sweet. She petted them. They made a happy picture. She was the only sick person he’d seen interacting with them. She took in a long, deep breath and let it out. She turned her head, noticed M floating there and smiled at him, staring back. Opia was wildly present. Her heart soon stopped and then she was dead. Still staring. Still smiling. The lights in her went gracefully out and the light waves dispersed, moving like snakes to the stars. Her Guardians floated up and through the ceiling, and as they did, they began to glow and give graceful flaps like stingrays reaching for the sun. A crystalline sphere appeared beneath the woman’s skin of her chest and began making a slow ascent, following the path made by her Guardians. Inside the sphere floated three tiny stars. One larger, central star and then two smaller satellite stars. The sphere burned brightly as it made its way through her body and dimmed slightly as it hit the air and then rocketed up past the ceiling and into the sky beyond. He flew up and followed it through the ceiling.

As he looked around, he saw that this was happening everywhere. He floated high into the sky above the hospital. He began noticing the orbs all over the city, making their way up through the night sky, and all the Guardians gracefully leading them. Once high enough, he could see the slow arc of the horizon; he could see that the entire globe was a bubble machine of death and dying. He looked up into the black void of space and marveled at the constellations being formed by the lights. He watched them dance like jellyfish as they came together and then dispersed en masse.

As a flock of newly liberated Guardians buzzed him, he decided to follow. They zoomed quickly up into the dozens of schools of souls and then lead him far off, to a space that was liminal and silent. He’d been laughing from the velocity of the journey. He was a fucking space bird. A pig in space. A weakling faggot afloat in the ethers of fucking…whatever. His cheeks were flushed. The guardians formed a large, perfect circle some distance before him and wobbled like distant planets playing tricks. He was captivated by this. He was motionless and silent. They pulled in to close the aperture and in so doing, formed a massive, bright light. Sacha covered his eyes but could still see it  through his meaty translucence and it was too much. He closed his eyes instead, and even though that didn’t help either, he began to feel weightless under the strain of the light. He felt tight inside. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think; couldn’t envelop himself in the blackness of self and loathing. Something warm grazed his finger. The light had gone off or dimmed, and when he opened his eyes, he looked down to his left hand and floating there, was an orb. A soul. He took in his surroundings and there were dozens of orbs closing in on him. He swiveled around to take it all in and there were thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of these orbs with their pulsating lights and tiny, little solar systems in them, all racing in his direction. He turned back around, anticipating something. What it was, he couldn’t know, but he felt it. The now much more palatable light of the guardians began to pulsate, and the orbs followed suit. They were synchronized.  The light grew bigger with each pulse and the souls glowed a bit brighter but with an energetic intensity that pared him down to his bones and brains.

The central light shone a brilliant blue-violet, swirling until several tentacles of light emerged from its center, ejecting new guardians- Bright, shiny, phosphorescent blobs. They snapped out into a straight line across the center of the swirling light. Each guardian then began to divide in two, like primordial cells. The one line was then two, separated wide from the center and narrow towards the top and bottom. “Is that an eye? Is this supposed to be God or something?” The aperture began to open and close in a fluid motion, a slow motion wink. A kiss. Opening and closing. It swirled and vibrated. The orb-souls were still peacefully bobbing in space beside him and while careful not to touch, M couldn’t fight the impulse to reach one. To hold it in his hand and sniff out it’s secret. Does it smell? Is it heavy? Can I smash it? Will it burst?

His world took a slow dive as he pulled one to him. He closed his eyes at the hot surface of the soul. He’d always thought that souls were like cold sheets or something, or maybe they felt like nothing at all. This was smooth and warm like human skin. As he marveled at the tiny constellation, he could feel himself slipping into it. His eyes welled up at the beauty of the feeling. He looked at the guardians and the wobbly circle of light they tended, which was clearly the Cunt of The Goddess. He looked at all the other souls, their glass flesh now wobbly- the stars shook and fell with him, into the memories of this soul.

In that soul, lived the life of Abigail Dunsmuir. She was born in April 1941 to a Middle Class family in Suburban Michigan. The eldest of four girls, she was creative, and quiet to a fault. She sat religiously at the radio, listening to what she would later refer to as “ hyperbolic child-bride pornography”. She did well in school, was admired by her younger sisters and was treated well by her family. In the sixth grade, her father gave her a camera for her birthday, which changed her life. Photographs replaced watercolors, nail varnish, hairstyles and every other regular thing a girl was supposed to do, which she clearly had no interest in, but was very sensitive and subject to teasing. M felt this deeply. The camera gave her silence a purpose she lacked before and a discipline she craved. She blossomed behind the viewfinder. Before that, people would tease her for her awkward shyness, but they soon engaged her in their want to be immortalized by her. She was invited to parties and outings and became quite popular, while maintaining her dignity and humility. All through middle school and high school, she was never without her camera and spent her free time developing film and printing photographs. In her freshman year at college, she met Zachary Palmer, soon to be her boyfriend, then fiancé and then husband. They neither had nor wanted children. Both photojournalists, they often spent months apart. While on assignment in Viet Nam for Life Magazine, Zach was killed and received a posthumous award for his gritty and up-close portraits of people undone by war. She never returned to that kind of work. She put the plaque in the ground with Zach. He deserved an award for putting up with her, she thought, and she never wanted to see that plaque as long as she lived. It was to her, a perfect solution for an all too painful chapter of her life.

Years later, in her forties, she returned to Southeast Asia in order to document the new Cambodia, the new Viet Nam, the new Laos. Inspired by the throngs of Buddhist monks and nuns, she decided to live indefinitely in Thailand. She began to meditate in the temples, at the shrines and then she began taking long, silent retreats and then she was a Buddhist. She took refuge, received her new name and wept at it’s meaning. She was called Jigme Shiwa, which meant “Fearless Peace”. After becoming a more seasoned practitioner, she decided to make a pilgrimage to Tibet and then finally on to Nepal where she lived for ten years in a small cave-like dwelling in utter silence. She existed very simply and in perpetual meditation. After those ten years, she felt old. All those years of crouching had taken a toll on her body and she wanted to see her family before she died, which she did not fear. The Tibetans had instructed her for many years, as part of their practice, how to eject her soul, her consciousness, from her body at the moment of death, and so she did. The first word she said in life was “butter” and the last word she said was “butterfly”. She was wearing her favorite silk robe, which was purple, and delicately embroidered with butterflies here and there, in fiery yellows and oranges. Her youngest sister Charlotte was with her in the home she shared with Zachary all those years ago. As Abigail looked once more at the photos of him Charlotte had put near the bed, she stroked her sister’s face, called her butterfly and eventually just went quietly to sleep and that was that.

Even though Sacha’s skinny body floated in space, his face was drenched in sweat and tears. He felt an intense closeness to Abigail in the split second he’d experienced her life. Letting go of her glassy soul with the dancing lights inside was something he’d never forget and look on with a great humility and sadness. He lifted her softly and removed his red, hot hands from her. She lilted softly toward the pulsating light. The countless others began to breeze by him and he experienced unimaginable awe and pain watching them go by with the images of their lives playing out like little films inside the orbs. He saw many varieties of people and situations. He wanted to selfishly grab them all; hold them all and tell them they were worth something, that he loved them, that they all did their best and now they are missed and revered, yet…He knew also, he was just talking to himself and that these lives were over and complete in the way they were lived. He also understood why Abigail nudged him in her own way. He could no longer see her in the swarm of souls. With the combination of migrating crystal, light-filled spheres and a gigantic, blinding and wobbly Cunt Nebula, he could barely see at all. At that moment, the tedium of life’s moods and arguments did not exhaust him, but they excited him. Watching the orbs go by and seeing the breadth and wealth of the human race put a very fine point on a simple truth.

No matter what we call ourselves, or how we live or pray, we are all bound to our bodies. We are all residents of our planet; we are all caged by the same, finite senses and fragile bodies. We are all inevitable death.

The orbs streamed steadily into the light, which grew bigger and brighter by the second- rounder and rounder the light seemed to go, wobblier and wobblier until one last, tiny orb floated its way forward like a drunken bumblebee. The light dimmed and then closed, leaving behind violet vapors and tiny, pale blue traces. Sacha remained still and slack-jawed, not blinking. He corrected his posture, shook himself out of it and took a very slow, deep breath. For just a second, he felt like a feather floating on a warm current. And then the portal opened violently, explosively. Huge! Bright! It was blaring light and cacophonous symphony into the reaches of outer space. There were horns and violas, The thousands of orbs exploded from its center all at once. They were brighter, clearer, faster, and hotter. Sacha grazed one as it flew by and it burned him slightly.

It was then that he decided to hitch a ride on one, so he turned and blindly grabbed some hot soul glass. The one he grabbed was strong…fast…cheerful…it took him for a daring ride that reminded him of Peter Pan, or the little boy in The Never Ending Story when he finally got to ride Falcor. There were no pictures in his mind with this one. There were only feelings, such as contentment, assuredness...fearlessness and peace. Maybe this is Abigail, he thought, new Abigail. They descended on Earth in a blur of heat and wind, part of a meteor shower of souls headed back to new life. They headed for North America, closed in on New York City, flew down onto a Brooklyn street and up the steps of a dimly lit brownstone. Through the door, there was a soft moaning. A couple having sex. There were pictures of them on the wall in the narrow hall leading to their bedroom upstairs. The orb thudded ever so softly onto the wood flooring and slowly bounced forward in front of him, leading them towards the bedroom. They first passed another bedroom painted like a nursery with a few boxes on the floor, full to bursting with baby clothes and toys, but no baby. Sacha noticed a picture of the same couple holding a baby with tubes coming from her arms and face. Brave, sad expressions were all that Sacha saw. He returned his attention to the orb as they both passed through the closed door of the bedroom. He was aware that the sad and fucking couple couldn’t see him, so he sat on the floor. The couple had exhausted their effort and lay in a post-coital embrace. They were weepy and whispering to each other. Their pain was obvious. The hot little orb bounced high above them, and then shot directly into her body. The room grew very bright for a moment and then returned to normal. A strong breeze filled the room and the man rolled over to close the window. The woman palm stroked her navel and smiled nervously. Sacha stood up and walked out of the apartment and into the Brooklyn night, where he floated slowly back to his aching body, full of morphine and surprised ease.

***

The blinds were drawn when he came to and the sun was on his face, lending him a pleasant sting. His hands were below the line of the light and so felt cold. He loved the sun on his skin. He looked down to his right forearm. He took in the length of it; the musculature. He was taught and narrow. The tattoos on his arms combined meaningful occult symbols with the animals he’d admired. He bore deep, dark scars into the animal’s eyes and their hides were feathered and highlighted with ink, making them tactile and living with motion. The scar, purple and firm, gave each eye a deep and soulful stare. The texture was comforting to him—these modifications made a tactile landscape of his body. He had thick, black Unicursal Hexagrams in the crook of each arm. This hexagram was a spell, which stated no evil could pass the symbol, since when drawn it is one complete line, therefore creating an unbreakable barrier. Sacha liked that story because he’d been tempted by heroin from watching his friends reach impossible highs and then slip away into a dark, antithetical romance with impoverishment and darkness. This appealed to his inner victim who also appalled his soul. This balance was sometimes very difficult for him to maintain.

To a lot of people in his scene, lip service was given to spirituality. It had to be vague and showy. If it was understated and honest, it was deemed weak. Sacha mostly kept his woo to himself. 

The rest of his tattoos were incarnations of his paintings, which were in turn, incarnations of his life, his stories and his dreams. He looked again out the window, even though he was up so high in the building that all he saw was blue, cloudless sky. That’s enough for today, he thought.

He wished he could see the ocean and the Benjamin Bridge. He wished he could see the seals nesting on White Rock, nee Turd Rock—the thing has been painted stark white with bird shit since time began as far as anyone was concerned. He wished he could look down on the city of his birth, Estrellas Del Mar, a place blissfully distanced between two major cities meant for tourists and starlets. Estrellas Del Mar was a coastal town, but thankfully the hippies never took over.  It never got so granola that it got taken by six dollar lattés and hippie curio shops with eye-blinding tie-dye shirts and useless garbage made from carved iron trees or palm hearts—no hookas. No scabies. Well, nearly no scabies. Estrellas Del Mar was a city of great grit and harsh vinegar, which ate weak-ass hippies up and spit them out at breakneck speed. Sacha took a moment to wonder why they always put people on suicide watch so high up in the building? Was it incentive? He also hated tourists who called his city Eh-Streh-La. It was the city of stars on the beach. If you’re going to live in California, Learn to speak some fucking Spanish. On a clear night you could see into forever and he would think of Abigail on every clear night for the rest of his life.

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Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.