They came without warning, without provocation, and without mercy. I was spared, but not left unscarred. They came for my neighbors and my kin, all of whom were taken without a word of protest. We couldn’t understand what was happening—not at first.

The first few fell flat on their back and just lay there, disbelieving, not wanting to believe what was happening. Then came the butchering. I watched my brethren be systematically dismembered. Their limbs were chopped off with a sickening crack and fed into some abominable machine that ground them into infinitesimal pieces. Their bodies were skinned, and what remained was sliced into thin strips. I could see their hearts at the center. Some of these pieces were simply set aside, others were fed into the grinder and reduced to a pulp.

I looked upon countless stacks of atrocities no one was meant to see. My cries emerged as mere whispers, I couldn’t scream for the horror. Why were they doing this? They were indiscriminate, taking husband from wife and child from father. They decimated entire households without passion, without remorse. Corpses were stacked in full view of the rest of us, who wondered who would be next. I would have jumped to defend my people, but I was rooted to the spot. I could only flail helplessly.

As quickly as they had arrived, they were gone, and night fell upon the dead. I couldn’t leave them, so I simply stood over their bodies and mourned. Weeks passed, and they returned to stack the skinned limbs of my brethren, fashioning a kind of structure with them, some grotesque sculpture with sharp corners and harsh edges, a stark contrast to the roundness of the bodies they had defiled. They brought our infants with them and half-buried them in neat rows. They were alive, but I didn’t recognize them as belonging to anyone I knew. Who could imagine why they were buried here?

A foul stench rose over their heads from the structure behind them, the smell of burning flesh. My people had occupied this place for centuries. Some of those who were killed had been here since the very beginning, but it only took a day to halve our population, replaced by these poor half-buried children. It was a long time before I learned their purpose, but eventually I came to understand that the bones of my people were being used to build domiciles, or burned for fuel. Limbs were cut and shaped to make chairs and tables. Their appendages were ground down to a pulp that was then watered, stretched, and dried to make thin translucent sheets. These were bound together and marked with the blood of flowers that used to grow beneath my branches.

So much slaughter, so much torture, so many of our lives lost for the sake of houses, furniture, and books.

My Tattoo

I dry my face and look up into the mirror. Two days have left my face overgrown with bristles, a dark five o’clock shadow. My jawline is fuzzy. I look rough. Weathered. I reach for my shaving cream.

Without my glasses, I have to lean in to see my face. Has my beard always had this much gray in it? It was only a couple of years ago that I started shaving. Just recently, it seems, my face was soft and I only had to worry about a little bit of down that would accumulate every week or so.

I put the can down. When did I get like this? My whole face is peppered with gray––and is that white? How did this happen?

I face my reflection every day, but somehow I haven’t noticed the change. I guess time catches up with you after a while. When I was a kid, every day was a chance to try something new and different. I would go to school for what felt like forever, then still have the rest of the day to explore my neighborhood. Growing up is a process of letting habit and routine shape your days into uniform copies of each other, and time just slips away. Aging is so gradual you’ll go to bed a teenager and wake up middle-aged or retired before you know what happened. Hair color changes. Has my hair changed?

I turn my head and my temples are indeed a tarnished silver color. There are some wisps of rusty brown remaining, but most of my hair is fading, like a Polaroid developing in reverse. I raise my hand to my forehead and trace my hairline with a crooked finger. When did it recede? Didn’t I have more hair?

I should call Steven. He’ll know what’s going on.

Steven’s dead. I hear the flat voice speaking from the back of my mind. How could that be true?

He had a heart attack. Don’t you remember?

No––no, I don’t remember. Who has a heart attack at twenty-five? Isn’t that how old we are?

My eyes look back at me from the mirror. I’m shocked to see trisected creases at their corners, sagging bags beneath their lids. I squint and half of my face turns into accent lines converging on the bridge of my nose. What is going on? I don’t look like myself. I look like an old man.

You would think I would remember getting old, but after a while, your laps around the sun all blend together. Life just passes by and you’re left to fill in the narrative gaps however you can. It seems I have a lot of gaps.

I remember dropping out of college. I remember graduating high school. I can remember dances and first kisses, summer camps, sleepovers, birthday songs. There was that song we used to sing at Vacation Bible School. I can remember the tune even though I’ve forgotten the words.

A shocking thought occurs to me. Am I married? Do I have kids? I hold out my hands, palms up, bearing witness to my wrinkles. Sure enough, there’s a wedding band on my finger. When did I get married? Where’s my wife? Why can’t I remember?

I look around the bathroom for clues. The small room is empty and white. There’s only one toothbrush in the cup, one white towel on the rack. A roll of toilet paper. No sign of feminine hygiene products––not much of anything, it seems. I look in the medicine cabinet. There’s peroxide, Vitamin D supplements, IcyHot, dental floss, aftershave. A can of shaving cream sits on the bathroom counter. No Viagara, no Midol, nothing that would suggest I share this bathroom with anyone else.

When I close the door, there’s someone in the mirror behind me. I pat the porcelain countertop to find my glasses, then turn around to face them.

It’s a woman, leaning up against the outside of the doorframe, her arms draped across each other and the toe of her shoe pivoting behind her other heel. What is she doing here? Is she––is she my daughter? She must be in her forties! It takes a second for her to notice me staring.

“You were shaving,” she says with indulgent eyebrows.

“Shaving.” I wipe my hand across my face, still damp from the wash. “Are you––has my hair always been this gray?”

“Long as I’ve known you!” She says, with a jaunty smile, like she’s said it a thousand times already. “Now you just take your time and I’ll be right here when you’re finished.” She’s wearing blue scrubs.

I turn back toward the mirror, blinking. With my glasses on, I look just like my grandfather in his seventies. Am I seventy? That can’t be possible. I don’t understand what’s happening.

Reaching for the shaving cream, I notice some black marks on the underside of my wrist. They don’t rub off, not even with soap and water. It’s some kind of tattoo.

I raise my hand to make out the words. They read, You have Alzheimer’s in plain, factual lettering.

Now I remember. When I was nineteen, my grandmother died from Alzheimer’s and I learned that it’s a genetic disorder, passed down through the maternal line. I thought about getting a tattoo to remind myself of my condition if I ever fell prey to the same sickness. I thought it would help me if I was confused.

Alzheimer’s. What a depressing thought. I look at my face in the mirror, that dumb look of sagging incomprehension. Is this what it looks like? Constantly wondering where I am and what I am doing?

Three to nine the voice said. That’s how many years you have after being diagnosed. The tattoo was still black, but the edges of the letters had started to feather. It’s already been a few years.

That means in a few more years, I’ll be dead. I’ll lose more of my memory until my muscles themselves forget how to work and I’ll have to be carted around in a wheelchair, fed through a tube shoved straight down my esophagus because I can’t remember how to swallow.

My friends will die, or I’ll have to perpetually remember that they’ve already died. My parents must be dead already if I’m this far gone. Is my sister still alive?

Now my eyes look sad, like my own reflection is pitying me. At least if my tattoo is true, I won’t have to dwell on it for long. It’s better if I just let it pass, let myself fall back into forgetfulness. What a painful reminder. I roll down my sleeve, covering my tattoo for the time being, and notice a woman standing behind me.

She catches my eye in the mirror and says, “You were shaving.”

I look down at the can of shaving cream in my hand. “It would seem so.”

As I spray the white foam into my palm and start to rub it over my beard, a verse from a song that I haven’t sung since childhood floats back into my head. This time I remember the words. I hum quietly to myself:

He’s got the whole world,
In his hands.
He’s got the whole wide world,
In his hands.
He’s got the whole world,
In his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands!

Crow and Nut

Crow danced up on the updrafts to perch on the black power line, equidistant between the wooden crosspieces. He was black against the sky, all profile and no definition. It was impossible to tell whether he was looking forward or backward, but he was certainly looking back and forth, jaws agape, an unshelled walnut’s width apart.

With a sharp, pointed snap of the neck, Crow flung the nut from his beak toward the asphalt below. It landed between the white stripes of one of Portland’s many bike lanes. He cackled a warning to the other crows that this was his project, then flitted down to inspect his work. walnuts are tough to crack, and it may take several drops to break open the crisp outer shell. Crow turned it over with his beak and concluded it needed more dropping. His movements were jerky, or so it seemed to my admittedly human eyes. He would look left, then instantly be looking right, the transition too brief for me to track. The nut appeared in Crow’s beak and he pushed up into the air to drop it again.

After a handful of drops, Crow could not contain his excitement. He hopped around his prize, fluttering his wings, poking at it with his beak. Crow used one forked talon to hold the nut steady and thrust his beak into the crack in its side. It was still too small to eat the meat inside, but the nut stayed on Crow’s beak when he raised his head. With several violent shakes, he slammed his nut against the asphalt until it split neatly into two pieces.

Crow cawed again, flapped his wings and spread his tail feathers in victory. In small quarter-inch bites, he nibbled at the soft walnut inside, savoring each morsel until he had hollowed half his walnut shell. The other half he speared on the pointed end of his closed beak, disappearing with him, with Crow, as he flew off to the dark places far away from this shelling ground.


A tickle on your nostril makes you subconsciously snort and sniffle, rousing you from your unconscious slumber, but just enough for you to reach for your blanket, or the black satin sheet, anything to cozy yourself back to sleep. Another tickle, you wipe your nose, you reach again.

Your fingers close, but not on down, nor pillow, nor sheet. Your fingers close on a clump of cold beads, smaller than ball bearings, the size of rounded grains of sand.

What? What is this? You pick up the pile, but it holds its shape in your hand, conforming slowly to the curvature of your grip. You drop a few, tighten your grasp, but lose more through your fingers.

With your other hand, you grope for the lamp. Some beads roll down your wrist and remind you of the way an insect crawls, pinballing between the hairs on your arm that are now standing on end, pulled taught between rippling goosebumps.

Where is that lamp? You look. There’s the light. You hit the switch. You look back.

What IS it?

In your hand you hold a black pile of tiny glittering jewels that are trickling down your arm, like sap from a tree. The trails leading from your palm to your elbow look wet, but your arm feels dry. You pull your hand close for inspection (no need to find the glasses just yet.)

You’re holding ants.

You lunge for your glasses. Now you can see that your hand is a black sequined glove, teeming with the psychedelic undulations of thousands of ants. The glove reaches halfway up your forearm like bejeweled formalwear, then splinters into sickening black veins, snaking toward your bicep.

Expletives fly as you smack the flat of your hand against your mattress, flicking your wrist on the upswing before low-fiving the bed again, *crunch*. Some of the ants fall off and the glove starts to deteriorate.

Oh God, I can feel them everywhere! But you know you’re overreacting. It’s understandable, you have a handful of ants. Now less. A few more whacks and your hand is clean, excepting a few stragglers that you can brush off with the other hand.

Better make sure they’re out of the bed.

You reach for the black satin sheet that has slipped down to your hips, but when you grab it a part breaks free, crumbling like moist sand between your fingertips, tickling your belly as it falls.

The bedsheet is ants.

This time you scream, no words to express the terror of being trapped under a blanket of ants. You scramble to your knees, slapping your legs. The ants are everywhere, fat tendrils creeping up your thighs.

Thank God I wore underwear, but you didn’t, you went to bed naked tonight because the low was only 79 and it was fucking scorching all day and your fucking box fan stopped working. It was a temporary solution, but the weather was supposed to break tomorrow, so you thought fuck it, I’ll live a little.

You’re not wearing underwear, it’s more ants, they’re traversing your genitals through the crevice of your buttocks.

All composure is now a long-forgotten dream. You’re stamping your feet, smacking your knees into your chest and rubbing every inch you can reach with your hands, but every pass just sweeps ants with more ants. You’re making progress, but it’s slow, and the ants keep finding interesting places to tickle you.

An ant crawls into your ear so you send a finger in after it, but your finger is covered with more ants so they’re going in too.

You stamp your feet on the bed, hoping to crush the ants you’ve thus far divested, but retch when you see the bed is ants.

You jump down onto the floor, but the floor is ants.

The room is ants.

Everything is ants.


I can see it coming, like a roiling thunderstorm on the horizon. There’s a rumbling in the distance and darkness swells from the corner of the sky, billowing through the blue like ink in water. The wind turns sharply in my direction, blowing my breath back into my lungs. It’s like I’m breathing nothing at all.

There’s an electricity in the air, but I know it’s not rain. Neither thunder nor lightning announces the tempest that approaches. Below my feet, the tide recedes with impossible speed, leaving fish and mollusks on the sea floor, rudely exposed, flapping their gills or their shells in vain. It’s not a storm, but a giant wave that comes racing in at me from the surf.

An arching wall of water seems to move in slow motion, curving in and up as it grows toward me. As it gets higher, it blocks out the sun itself, allowing me to see illuminated in the water the silhouettes of great sea beasts, unaware of the impending destruction of their medium.

I’m alone on the beach, there is no shelter that could withstand the impact. I don’t know how it is in other worlds, but in mine there are two choices. Stand and maybe live or die here on the ground with my head between my knees and the stink of my own armpits in my nostrils.

So I stand. I remember my form and plant my feet like anchors, bracing my legs to absorb the force and transfer it downward, into the sandy earth. It’s the front stance, which has some Japanese name I’ve long since forgotten. I try to remember its name while I wait for the tidal wave, idly biding whatever time I have left. Like enormous jaws of curved glass, the sea itself opens up to devour me, but I will not be destroyed.

Then the towering wave crashes into me and everything is chaos. My stance holds for the initial impact. A solid wall of water smacks into my braced forearms and I settle deeper into the stance, sand rising past my ankles as my feet sink into the continental shelf. I can hear nothing but the low-frequency roar as water fills my ears and swirls around me. The force is incredible, but my stance is strong and I am not obliterated.

Surviving initial impact is only half the battle. Now I am under water with the rushing current threatening to tear me asunder. Shells, fish, and floating sea foliage strike my body, tearing my flesh in a thousand different places, but I refuse to break my stance. It’s the only thing keeping me from being swept away into the watery darkness.

One good thing about being planted at the bottom is you know which way is up. Swallowed whole, I am surrounded by black. No light can reach me at this depth. Although my muscles burn from the strain and the swirling sand is now up to my knees, I hold my position and wait for the riptide to subside.

The cool water soothes my straining frame. I’m completely submerged, patiently holding my breath, trying to stave off the panic that I might run out of air before I can reach the surface. My ears pop to adjust to the pressure and I can slooshy the amniotic swish of my surroundings.

Slowly, the current loses speed. What feels like the pull of an undertow is really just a return to still water. Easing my stance, I push down on the ocean floor so I can lift my legs out of the sand. Time is running out. I need to reach the surface, I need to breathe. The sun is still nowhere to be seen.

Like a cat ready to pounce, I squat down as low as I can. I raise my arms above my head and press my palms together, fingers stretched toward the sky. With what strength I have left, I kick off from the ground to begin my ascension.

I am weightless, but still so deep. Everything around me is silent and dark. The air in my lungs has gone stale, swelling in my chest like a toxic cloud, screaming at me to replace it with clean oxygen. I bring my arms around and kick my feet, sweeping the water behind me in an upward breast stroke. When my ears pop again and my lungs feel like they’re going to burst, I exhale to relieve the pressure.

There’s only so much left, but I breathe out bubbles in a slow steady stream. I can see them rise in front of me, so I look up and there, impossibly far away, I see the twinkling light of day peering down at me from the surface. My hands are flippers and my feet are propellers and my mouth is a chugging exhaust pipe, sending word to the sky to prepare my arrival. The water is blue now, not black, but my lungs are almost empty.

It’s slow work, swimming to the surface. My arms and legs grow weary. With the last of my oxygen turning to carbon dioxide in my blood stream, the blue begins to turn black at the edges even though it brightens in the center. I am looking into the eye of God, blinding at the center of an otherwise impenetrable void, the only sign of warmth in the frigid water. My lungs are empty, so I seal my throat to prevent the panicky breath that would end my life. I flail my rubbery appendages in desperate determination. This is not how I die, I think to myself, even as the darkness threatens to overtake my vision.

At last, my head emerges from the waves and I gasp for breath. The panic in my mind almost makes me hyperventilate, but I force myself to remain calm, float on my back, and take slow, deep breaths. I’m still alone on the water, but the sun feels warm on my skin, red on the inside of my eyelids.

All that’s left is to swim the few miles back to shore.