the realist


the realist

Life is short.
This is true.
So there’s nothing
I will do.

With little time I
can’t do a lot.
It’s better to do
absolutely naught.

Every day
I consider my choices.
“But what’s the point?”
-My inner voices.

“Try your best,
you may succeed.
You also may fail.”
This I heed.

And so I sit here
on my sofa.
A good for nothing
lazy loafer.

I am proud of
my lack of action.
I don’t lose any

I don’t try,
and I won’t soon.
I live on Earth.
Why shoot for the Moon?

In life you can
try your best.
Not give up
like all the rest.

And over time
you’ll reach your dream.
But at what cost?
For how much steam?

No, it’s better
to give up now.
So, you’ll never
wonder how

your life went by
so very fast,
striving for
that very last

wish of yours
you couldn’t shake,
all your time
it did take.

the mission


the mission

“Systems have been triple-checked and are stable, captain,” Hassan, the system engineer, announced. “We are ready to enter deep-sleep mode.”

“You heard the man,” Yoon, the captain said, smiling to the group, “it’s time for us to take a nap.” The rest of the crew smiled back at her.

Amongst the crew, there is the doctor (of medicine as all members have PhDs), Zhang. The mechanical engineer, Cruzas. The astrophysicist, Siregar. And me, the biologist, Linden. We are on an exploration mission.

In 2132, humanity’s hope of settling on Mars was dashed when it was discovered that the artificial global-warming systems had been set up slightly incorrectly and malfunctioning for decades without our knowledge. Ironically, we were destroying our second planet the same way we did the first.

It was calculated that we had about 100 years or so before we reached Earth’s 2075 levels of CO2. The older scientists insisted that we had to find a new home quickly. They had desperation in their eyes. All of us grew up on Mars. We are all in our late twenties, and the first generation of new scientists (since The Collapse). Many of the older scientists have died. It is up to us.

“Hey, don’t snore okay?” Siregar joked with me as we were walking from the bridge. She is always flippant in tense moments like these. I knew that the reality is that she is just as nervous as I am. “Everyone, make sure to empty your bowels before entering the sleeping chambers,” Zhang called out to us. I guess nobody would want to clean that up.

It is now 2145, and this mission is called New Hope. It sounds a bit silly, but the first ship that took scientists to Mars was called Hope. Now, we are moving into the next galaxy. We don’t even have a planet picked out that we are sure we can stay at. We are basically stabbing in the dark.

The sleeping chambers are a little bit bigger than what we saw in the movies, but not much bigger. We are able to move around inside but not stand up. Not that we will be doing much moving. There are simple straps with buckles that we attach to ourselves after closing the lid to help ensure that.

Yoon is going from chamber to chamber to check that everybody is ready. We all check our systems and confirm once again through the radios inside the chambers that we are ready to start.

We hear Yoon climb into her chamber and shut the lid. “Okay everyone, I’m going to set the countdown. Remember, the AI systems may wake you up in the case of an error and then you can just try again. Otherwise, I’ll see you guys in a few years.” “See you guys in my dreams,” Siregar jokes. “I hope not, I’m looking forward to a little bit of a rest from your jokes,” Cruzas teases her.

At that moment, a countdown starts. 10… 9… 8… 7…





Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.
Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

I feel groggy. All of my dreams quickly dissipate. I try to move my hands to unstrap myself, and I feel noticeably weaker than I did just a few seconds ago. Was it a few seconds ago? No, I start to remember, it was 15 years ago. The preservation systems slowed down muscle atrophy, but nothing is perfect. I feel like I can’t breathe in here.

I open up my chamber. I can barely stand and try to crawl out of it.

Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.
Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

I look around. All of the other chambers are closed. I guess I’m the first one up. The beeping continues, but I’m not the systems engineer. I stagger to the main panel and read the output on the screen.


Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.
Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

I realize now that the AI system must have woken me up. I go to the bridge and check the system. On the panel, it says that the year is 2190. I look at it again. “That’s impossible,” I say. Speaking feels strange.

Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.
Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

I tap the screen and stop the alarm. I look up the navigation system data. Yep, we overshot with a shot of anxiety. There is a simple visual which shows that we went past our target years ago. Did the AI system do a detailed scan and find that there was no possibility of life in our initial target? I look again and realize that we are not even in the galaxy that we aimed for.

I tell the AI to open the protection shutters on the windows. Again, speaking feels foreign to me. Looking outside, I see three large planets. One of them looks very close to us, and the other two are off in the distance. It’s possible that one of the other two is a moon. I’m a biologist, not an astrophysicist. I realize I should wake up the others.

I go to Captain Yoon’s chamber first. I press the manual override and start the waking system. It’s strange that it hadn’t started already. After waiting about 5 minutes, I open up the door. She is still not moving. I try to wake her. I check her pulse and realize in horror that she is dead. Her body has been preserved, but her eyes are glazed.

My breathing begins to become more rapid. It’s hard for me to stay calm I I start to panic.

I stagger quickly to the other chambers. I override their systems.

It’s the same for all of them. Every time I open up the door, one of my colleagues that I’ve been training and living with for years is dead. Some of them have foam in their mouths.

The panic is increasing. I hobble as quickly as I can to the bridge. I fall down a couple of times. I’ve never had such weak muscles.

“AI system, I need to set an alert.” The words feel like sandpaper in my mouth.

“AI system, I need to-” like machinery that has been seized by rust.

“Alert activated. The alert has been sent back to Mars. All astronauts have died except for the biologist, Linden. Mars will receive this message in 7 years, 3 months, 14 days, 6 hours and 19 seconds.”

“AI… what happened?” I get a glass of water.

“There was a chamber error 2 hours and 32 seconds ago. Respiratory systems failed. The reason for the failure is unknown. Possible particle buildup in breathing systems.”

I realize that they all suffocated, and I would have suffocated too if I hadn’t woken up. Why did I wake up?

“AI, why weren’t we woken up at the correct time?” I can feel my voice rising.

“The galaxy that we planned to visit showed no signs of life or potential for life. Mars was notified. I was instructed to conserve fuel and keep going.”

“AI, where are we now?” I feel like a child on the verge of tears.

“We are in galaxy 1728. Scans show that there is potential for life and or living beings already.”

“AI, can we turn the ship back?” I feel the panic increasing.

“No. That would go against the mission. Moving the ship back at the same rate that we came here with the fuel that we have left would cause us to arrive after the fall of Mars. Your mission is to find a livable planet and relay that information.”

I knew that that would be the answer. I’m going to die alone. Before that, I alone have to save humanity.

Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.
Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

I look at the screen.


“AI, what is happening, what is going on?” I feel a tightening in my chest.

“The rear hull has been breached. The ship is depressurizing. Something ha entered the ship.”

“What, what do you mean?!” I cry with an atavistic dread.

Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.
Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

I start to feel like I can’t breathe. It is getting very cold. I know from my training that I likely only have a few minutes to live. I hear a sound. It is something I’ve never heard before. A noise that causes my spine to tingle in a horrible way.

I turn around slowly. I see something… I can’t describe it. There is a shape, moving, but it’s more like a shadow. It moves and jilts and spasms.

I start to scream as the shadow moves towards me. It feels like it is already inside me while being far away at the same time. It enters my mouth as I scream. I can’t scream anymore.





Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.
Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

I hear the chamber door open. I look up groggily. I see Siregar smiling down at me. “Wake up, sleepy head. Wow, you look like you just had a bad dream. I don’t even want to talk about the dreams that I had,” she said while extending her hand to help me up.

the childhood home


the childhood home

She was only back for a short time. By this time, everyone she knew had moved to other cities and even other states. Her parents were up north in a retirement home. Her siblings were out east or out west. In fact, she had only decided to visit her hometown because she had a 24-hour layover in the big city, and she was reading an article on the plane about how “going home is never the same after a trip away.” She didn’t even bother telling her parents. There was not enough time for a visit.

She rented a car at the airport and drove down. She figured she could go visit, maybe take a picture, feel some nostalgia, then drive up in time for dinner and then settle in at the hotel. As she drove down the highway, she thought about how her family had made the reverse trip many times to go to a museum, see some family, or even just to “visit the big city.”

When her car reached the town limits, a rush of nostalgia overtook her. Here was the small-town diner she never ate at but always passed. Here was the car lot where she would cruise around and look at dream cars. Here was her old elementary school, looking much smaller than she remembered. She remembered her teachers. They must be retired now. Or even gone.

She decided to stop at the old grocery store and get some snacks that she could eat in lieu of lunch. The aisles in this store seemed so small compared to how she remembered them. As she drove out of the parking lot, she saw how the city had been renovated, and decorations were up all along the main street. This made her a little sad.

She was happy to see, however, that many of the houses hadn’t changed. Some had been repainted of course, but overall the same “feel” of her old neighborhood had stayed the same. This gave her a bit of comfort. She found a place along the street and parked her car. It wasn’t busy at all. She got out and walked the few meters it took to get to the front of her house. She took a picture. She could hear the birds and the insects. It sounded the same as before.

She looked up at the house and wondered if she could go in. She thought that this would give her childhood some sort of closure and help her to accept the reality of her adulthood. She walked up the sidewalk to the front door and rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. She waited. She turned around and was about to go down the stairs when she noticed someone was watching her from the window. A friendly face. It disappeared again behind the curtain. In a few seconds, the door opened.

It was a woman in her late 30s or early 40s. “I am so sorry, sometimes weirdos walk through our neighborhood. Can I… um what is the reason you rang the doorbell?” She explained about her layover and how this was her old house. She thought that maybe she could come back and see it for the sake of nostalgia. She apologized for bothering the woman and turned around to leave.

“No!” The woman responded, eyeing her in a way that made it seem she was trying to figure out if she could trust her, “of course, it makes sense. Would you like to… come in? You just want to see the inside of the house? If you like, feel free to have a look around.” The woman seemed like she would be a good neighbor.

She followed the woman inside. The front room was the same. The same small door to the right. The same place for a mat for boots during winter. She saw a man looking with a surprised smile from the kitchen. “Oh! Who is this?” “She used to live here.” “Came back to see the old digs eh? No problem. I hope it doesn’t look too different. You can see we kept the wood floors bare. We moved in a few years ago, but we made no major changes.”

She looked around at the bay windows, the small bathroom, the few rooms on the first floor. It was nice, but she felt like it still wasn’t enough. She had to be thorough. Like how she always kept taking her antibiotics after feeling better, because that is the prescription, and she wanted to do it right in order to not have to repeat it. It’s always better to do things right the first time.

“Would you mind if… I went upstairs?” The couple looked at eachother. “Sure, of course! No problem! I will take you up there.” The woman led her up the old wooden stairs to the second-floor room. It was hotter up there. The door to the attic was closed. The woman noticed her looking. “Oh, you don’t want to go in there, it’s all bats and boxes.” She felt an obsessive need to go through the door. She ignored the woman and went for the door. “Excuse me, what are you doing”? The woman asked.

She pushed the door open and went in. Something felt wrong. Off to the right, she thought saw something. It was a bit dark, and her eyes were still adjusting. It was a body. It looked like it had been there for no more than a few days. This is the first time she saw a corpse, and she wasn’t sure how to react. Her body backed away from it.

She turned around, and saw the door shutting behind her. She ran to the door and tried to push it open, but it was locked from the other side. She banged on the door. She pushed. She called out to the woman. There was no response. She started to feel desperate. She heard the woman walking down the stairs.

She took out her phone and dialed 911. It wouldn’t make a connection. She called again. Still nothing. Only one bar. She called again. “911, what’s your emergency?” Suddenly the door opened. The man was standing there. He was holding a gun. He pulled the trigger. The phone fell to the floor. So did she. She could feel wetness around her.She looked down at herself. Her blood was seeping into the cracks between the floorboards. She looked at the man.

He looked like he was scared and embarrassed. Like he knew that he had made a big mistake. “I am so sorry… I… you don’t understand we aren’t monsters… we aren’t… I’m so sorry! This… he…” he gestured to the body, “We didn’t have a choice. He was… and now you… now we … I am sorry it’s just… of course we can’t… it’s just not fair. I know.” He looked at her as if he really was sorry. With this expression, he slowly backed away to the door, opened it, backed through it, and shut it.

The wetness was growing. The phone… she tried to reach for it. She could hear the operator asking loudly if she was alright. She didn’t have the strength to pick it up. In her old attic, hot from the summer heat, she heard birds and insects outside, and the tree leaves rustling as the summer breeze blew through them, bringing her the sweet scent of summer flowers from her childhood.

the bicycle


the bicycle

The metal is cold, aluminum or steel.
One item, not needed, yet crucial you feel.
This cold thing, not beating, and yet is your heart.
An organ outside you, that needs you to start.
You move with your legs, and this makes a beat.
You guide with your arms, and drive with your feet.

It’s not very heavy, 10 kilos or so.
And yet such a light frame, is needed to go.
A simple design of, weapons engineering.
That cuts away pieces, of all that you’re fearing.
Anxiety, depression, get sliced away.
Once you get going, you know you can’t stay.

Chemicals needed, they flow through your veins.
Chemicals hated, you’re free from their reigns.
Nature and beauty, it demands to be seen.
In kilometers per hour, it’s best at fifteen.
Now see, you can notice, the way life goes by.
Too slowly or quickly, it won’t meet your eye.

This tool is used best, if it helps you see.
This tool does not rest, until you can be.
Pedaling from others, away from it all.
Pedaling towards something, something that calls.
Don’t leave for too long, as you must then come back.
That which you don’t need, will be at your back.

When you return, you aren’t quite the same.
The world is not different, there’s no one you blame.
Cold steel may bring you, to this revelation.
And yet this sustains, with each revolution.
But soon you will have to, use it again.
So it is there waiting, your true metal friend.

the president


the president

Good morning.

783,692 people were reallocated yesterday. This should balance the equation.

Have a nice day!

The President

This is the message I read while sitting at my table eating my morning oatmeal. It is the most logical food to help fight against starvation. I like oatmeal, but a lot of my colleagues dislike it. The President says it doesn’t really matter what we eat, as long as we have enough to eat. I take my bowl and spoon to the dishwashing machine and turn it on. It is a new model that conserves water and recycles any of the food waste to be used by an energy burner.

I get into the shower. I don’t bother moving, the water just turns on automatically and sprays you in strategic locations. Then a soapy foam comes out and you have 10 seconds to wipe it around you. Then the water sprays in a strategic location again. This water spray was analyzed by complex AI systems, and it is 99.9% guaranteed to wash off any excess soap (though nowadays, the soap doesn’t cause irritation if left on).

I put on a suit. It is the same suit I wear every day. It covers my top and bottom in a professional way. Undergarments are also provided. Everything is comfortable and made from recycled synthetic materials that are also not damaging to the environment. Fashion is considered unnecessary at this point. Everyone wears the same thing.

The bell goes off and I realize that it is time to go. I go to open my door, and it opens into a long corridor. Other doors are also opening. These are my colleagues. I have been working with them for about 3 years. Re-election is coming up soon. We are especially worried about being re-elected with the famine issues. Unfortunately, the world just isn’t like it was when I was born.

At the age of 62, I am nice-looking and respectable. I know just how to wear my hair and glasses. Laser eye surgery was an option, but I haven’t had a prescription change for over 20 years. I still hold onto these old frames and lenses. I protect them and do my best to prolong their life. That is a good metaphor for my job.

In 2040, the world entered the extreme stages of global warming. Of course, some governments prepared and took the science seriously. America did not. American politics permeated all aspects of the culture. Ideas, thought, and education became political. Certain beliefs became political. Certain actions that weren’t political before became political. Your actions were dictated by which political sphere you walked in. Eventually, it wasn’t people who were voting for politicians, but politicians who were molding the thoughts of the people to match their interests.

I started to walk down the hallway, in single file behind the others. Some looked weary, others looked like they still had a bit of “American patriotism” in them. Most were without emotion. Everyone got the same email.

As temperatures rose, the fish in the oceans began to die out. Countries that depended on fishing went to deeper and more contested waters. War broke out in the South China Sea..

We walked into the meeting room and took our seats. It was a large round room, with enough seats for the 50 of us. We sat in desks facing each other, and each of us had our own screens as well as a microphone. These screens could pull up information or help us to communicate directly with other members by message. I saw I had a private message. “Can you believe it? I thought this was only supposed to happen once.” I didn’t respond. All messages were read by the President.

After 5 years, most of Asia, the shining beacon of the future, became a wasteland. Surviving nations closed their borders and depended on regional economic trade with their last surviving allies. Famine led to multiple diasporas. Ships filled with starving people entered and overflowed South Korea and Japan, taxing their resources.

An announcement was made. “Thank you for coming in today. All are present. As usual, a vote is held to see if any tweaks will be made. The floor is open for discussion.” Everyone began to speak and fight for their voices to be heard. “A tweak needs to be made!” Said the tweakers. “No tweaks, stay the course!” Said the non-tweakers. It was like this every day. Tweaks were uncommon.

Land that was capable of growing crops shrank while ocean water levels rose. This water perpetuated salination of lands along the coasts of North Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. Refugees of the crisis fled to Central Asia and Europe. European countries built walls along their borders to slow immigration. Russia welcomed the new potential labor. Those who moved south and survived the trek across the Sahara met with violent hoarding of resources.

“Votes have been tallied. A tweak has been approved.” This made the room hush. Again, tweaks were uncommon. “A new vote will come up, tweak for mercy, or tweak for efficiency.” The floor again rose in volume. Everyone was screaming again. The emotional ones pushed for mercy. The logical ones pushed for efficiency.

In South America, populations along the border fled south. Chile and Argentina became unlikely allies and walled themselves off from the northern countries, dooming many, and forcing others north into Central America. Canada, Mexico, and America joined to make the North American Alliance and walled off any land south of Oaxaca. War ships were placed on all coasts to prevent immigrantion.

“The votes have been tallied. There will be mercy.” The merciful cheered and shook hands with the other mercifuls. The logical ones looked as though something terrible may happen. As though they were in a room full of fools. After the voting took place, the meeting was over. We all filed out. It lasted in total about 30 minutes.

By 2050, the global population had dropped to 8.2 billion people – a 33% drop due to famine, deadly weather patterns, and disease caused by global warming, ballooning populations, and increased CO2 production from unsustainable consumption. The air was almost unbreathable, and the summer temperatures were oppressive.

We returned to our rooms. Some of us looked tired, though there wasn’t much we did besides this. Of course, we met and socialized, but in terms of real importance, these votes were our lives. This is what the Congress did now.

For most Americans, there wasn’t much of a big change. They managed to keep their lifestyles, and went on believing that they lived in the best “country” in the world. But politics continued to divide the populace, and presidents continued to benefit from these problems. That is, until the big change.

After I went to the exercise room, I came back home and turned on my television and computer. I watched the news. More food was being handed out today. Lines as long as 6 miles were stretching outside of warehouses. Here, food was packaged. All food delivery and production was eventually controlled by one organization. This organization was nationalized, and food became politicized.

Illegal immigrants began streaming in over the walls and past the border patrols. Scientists said that the food would run out soon. The government decided to round up a large amount of these immigrants and place them outside the border. Some of the people placed outside were not immigrants. This created outrage, protests, and riots.

By 2048, AI was very advanced. It could make objective decisions that would benefit the greatest number. In 2052, overwhelmed by the climate emergency, the President transferred their power to AI, now the new President, with an executive order. Those in the opposition party were outraged. Those in the now former President’s party hadn’t realized yet that this was what they really wanted and felt conflicted.

The members of Congress sat on their beds at night, and thought again about how they could save more lives. Should they feed more today, or expel more to have more food tomorrow? Life had come down to these two outcomes. It came down to mercy or efficiency. The President would act in the way that it felt best, but it altered its behavior with these tweaks.

Good morning.

458,302 people starved to death yesterday. This should balance the equation.

Have a nice day!

The President

the power


the power

I was walking down the street on the way to work, and someone bumped into me. They didn’t even look back or apologize. I was so angry. I lost control and yelled that the man should consider using their eyes when walking. A few moments later, after I had turned and walked away, he was yelling.

I looked back and saw that he had fallen and his face was bloody. I panicked, ran over, and called over another bystander. I said, “quick, call an ambulance!” I asked the man what happened. He said, “I tripped on the sidewalk and fell onto my face. I can’t see!” Although it was irrational, I felt nervous, and even guilty.

I never was a violent person before, but after that I was extra careful about what I said when I was angry. I made sure to say only kind things to people. As it turned out, this seemed to have an effect as well. The friend that I hoped would find love started dating someone a few days later. The friend that I wished would find success in their art was published after two months.

But then I noticed that these effects weren’t always positive. The friend who was published ended up feeling depressed after she realized that her success didn’t make her feel fulfilled. The friend who found love eventually broke up with his lover, and he experienced heartbreak like never before. Had I caused this suffering?

I felt that this power was dangerous, and I should only use it for serious cases. What were issues that really needed to be solved? Hunger? Oppression? Inequality? To learn, I started to read. I read about the history of human acts and terrible things. I learned what we had done to each other. I was shocked about how humanity could do such terrible things.

I read good things too. Stories of hope, creativity, and inspiration. Times when people helped others in distress, or when they offered themselves as a sacrifice to save others. But all of these stories had one thing in common. They were always in response to a terrible situation or unfair circumstance. Even the good things were somehow connected to bad things..

I tried to remain neutral as much as possible to prevent any more negative outcomes. I would say things like, “everything happens for a reason.” I found that these words didn’t alter anything in my surroundings, so I realized they must have had some truth. This seemed to work until one of my good friends got sick.

He suffered from a painful cancer. I didn’t want him to die, but I also was worried about the effects my words might have. Over time, his condition worsened. Of course, he didn’t want to die either, but the pain was taking a toll. So, every time the nurse would visit him, he would save a little bit of the pain medication. Over time, he built up enough to “end it all”. One day he confessed this to me, and I felt torn.

If I took away his pills, he would know it was me, and wouldn’t forgive me. If I told him I wanted him to live, I would be forced to see him suffer in some other worse ways. So I said, “everything happens for a reason.” He got angry and asked me to leave.

A few days later, my friend took the pills. I thought, ‘this must be for the best’ as I didn’t say anything that wasn’t neutral. Still, I fell into a deep melancholy. I didn’t leave my home or talk to anyone. I couldn’t dispel the idea that I could have done something to prevent this. Eventually, I thought that by just living I could be the one causing the world’s suffering.

Naturally, I considered suicide, but I also knew that this was not a neutral act, and as such, could have dire consequences. I remembered the books I read. Humans had been causing suffering long before I was born. They would likely continue to do so after I had left. No matter what I said or did, suffering would happen.

Over time, I got over my friend’s death. I met someone and we fell in love. After a few months, we got married. When the child came, we named her Lucy. I wanted everything good to happen for her, and I wanted to protect her from suffering. But, I knew that I couldn’t. This brought great sadness to me.

I saw Lucy experience great joy in many things, as a parent sees a child do. I also saw her experience suffering and pain. When she got older, she continued to struggle in finding her right career, a person to love, and other issues humans all experience. Throughout that time, I tried to remain neutral. I tried not to wish anything for her and said, “everything happens for a reason.” Luckily, she seemed to have a pretty normal life. It seemed to work.

When I was 60 years old, I developed an aggressive cancer. My daughter was 30 and very sad to see me in pain. My wife could barely handle it either. The doctor had told us that I had a low chance of survival. Of course, I did not want to suffer like this, and I knew how this was making my family suffer as well, but I also tried as hard as I could to remain neutral.

When the illness has progressed so far that I was on my deathbed, my daughter came to me and told me that she wished that I didn’t have to experience this. I told her that she should be careful to wish for such things, as we didn’t know the consequences. She got angry, and with tears in her eyes, she left. I called after her, “everything happens for a reason!” I hope I was right.

the price


the price

He was chosen. He wasn’t sure why, but nobody ever did. The meaning was there. It was just arbitrary. He was chosen by a set of people, but this is just as random as being struck by lightning or hit by a vehicle. Life chooses for us. It is outside of our control. Finding the “reason” doesn’t change that. In fact, he was glad that he didn’t know.

He was taken to a damp room. It was a basement or a cellar, and the walls were grey cement. There was a bulb hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. There was a tiny string that hung from the bulb. At the bottom of the string, at eye level, was a small plastic ring. Possibly part of a toy. Below that, an old wooden chair.

“Do you know what this means?” they asked. He did, and there was nothing he could do now. He saw it coming for months. He tried to ignore it. He tried to escape. But he couldn’t. The debts were too high. His debt to society. His debt to his family. When he decided to stop caring, when he decided it was too much, they showed up. Right on time.

Were they philosophers? Artists? Sociopaths? Did they even need his body? Would his organs be taken? All he knew was that he could trust them. They had done this many times in the past decade. Some were high-profile cases.

On television, they talked about how they wanted to help. But they said there had to be a price. Nothing should come for nothing. They also never let you have a choice in the matter. They knew what was best.

“I know that I get to do something. I get… something for my life,” he said. “Yes,” they answered, “whatever you want.” So he asked that his family would be comfortable. That all of his debts would be paid. “Of course,” they said. His whole life he tried to make this happen, but now they would accomplish it in an instant. When they chose you, your dreams came true.

They gestured for him to sit. He sat down and began to think about life. Did it have any meaning? Would this give it meaning? Did this make him something? Or was there only nothing? While thinking, he felt the prick of the needle. A solution was injected into his neck. There was no warning.

There was a comforting coldness that spread throughout his body. Almost like someone opened the front door on an early spring day. You see the sunshine and hear the birds, and then a fresh, chilly air hits you. He started to lose consciousness. He found the door, and he went through it.

the procedure


the procedure

It’s raining outside. Your brain recognizes this fact before you actually wake up, as your eyes are still closed and you are continuing to focus your attention on the dregs of the last dream you had.

It was a strange one where you were a circus performer for the UN counsel and you’re making the landing would decide whether Russia and USA would go to war. You realize that your job is both absurd and also pertinent to the protection of the human race. You wonder how you never questioned your employment in the past.

The moment you actually wake up, you feel a sense of relief. Luckily, such matters don’t depend on your physical skills. Not that you aren’t in shape. You exercise. You just don’t really have the energy you had when you were in your twenties. You think back and wonder how you could ever have had such energy. It is slowly retreating.

Now you hear it. The rain is pattering. You grab your phone and swing your legs over the bed. You look and see the window pane is streaming with a deluge of smashed together rain drops.

You wonder, how many raindrops does it take for a window pane to flood like that? Some scientist has likely already solved this problem and written about it. How odd what people write about and do in their lives. Though, you say to yourself, you were just a trapeze diplomat. One thing you noticed was there were no elephants in the ring. You are proud of your subconscious for keeping things ethical.

You look at your phone. It is wrenched from the plug without you thinking and the cord drops to the floor with a slap. You do this too often. You see that the time is 6:51. So early.

You hoped to get up at 7:05. Those extra five minutes always give you a bit of satisfaction. Like when you are walking and the squares on the sidewalk are so perfectly set apart that you never even have to think about avoiding the cracks.

It is odd that childish games still drive the way that you ambulate, you think. Of course you would never say ambulate out loud. Such a pretentious term.

You notice you have a message. An email. You open it.

“Dear ___,

Your proposal has been reviewed. Please come in at 10am tomorrow for our response.

Sincerely yours,


What an annoying response. Why not just tell you what they think? You have already met with them twice in the last three months. You were hoping that the negotiations were over.

Do you have time to shower? Yes. Eat? Maybe. Food is not really that necessary for us sedentary 30-somethings anyways. Sometimes you think it is just a habit. Eating. You always have a little bit of a belly. Not a lot. But a little. You never go beyond that either. What would happen if you stopped eating for a few days.

You go to the fridge. Almond milk and oatmeal. Uncooked. Good enough. Time for tea? No. But you wish there was. There isn’t much of a life without tea. You strip off your pajamas and turn the water heater on. It is a bit chilly now that fall is coming. You are satisfied with this cooler weather. Of course, you can’t forget your umbrella.

You look in the mirror naked. It looks good today, this body. You feel like a narcissist. Who cares, everyone else does it. We all care too much about our bodies. We are happy or sad based on what we think when we see it. If only this, if only that etc. There must be some people out there who look at their bodies and say, “now that is a great body.” Anyways you feel good about it today. Toothpaste is almost out. No reason to replace it now. Maybe in 2 weeks. You can stretch it. The soap is getting so small that soon it will go to the drain forever.

The water feels warm and nice. You wash away your dream and start thinking about the meeting. Will I dress up? Maybe something simple and professional? You think you should. Nothing too showy. But, you know those black pants make your backside look great. You wish that the world always demanded that you wear black pants. Then you could always have a nice looking backside. Shorts are soon to be something of the past.

Suddenly, your phone is ringing. Oh wait, no it is the alarm. It is so loud. Why didn’t you turn it off? Now you have to let your phone go off for 4 minutes while you dry off after stopping the shower.

Your neighbors must think you are one of those people who can’t wake up from alarms. Or worse, one of those people who has multiple alarms. You wonder why people even do this. Just put one alarm at the end. It makes no sense. How can you fall asleep after waking up? Life is filled with anxiety.

You get out of the shower. In fact, you did miss a call. The alarm masked it. You see the number is unknown. Well it doesn’t say that, you just don’t know the number. You think about calling back, then wonder who would call at this time. Can’t be good.

You ignore it, throw on the black pants, black socks, and a white button-up and grab your light jacket. You put that on and put your computer bag over your shoulder after putting necessary items in. The last thing you grab is your umbrella.

Outside is pouring. Your umbrella opens up and you see the streets are white with the impact of raindrops. There is someone running to their car. Someone running from their car. They are using their computer as a way to protect their head. That makes no sense.

You walk briskly to the nearest bus stop. Now you wait. It is a 2 hour ride of busses with changes in the middle. You need to allow at least 2.5 hours because you never memorize the bus schedule. As you are waiting, you notice someone watching you.

It is an older man. He has a briefcase. He is just standing by his car. It is very strange. This city is strange. City life is filled with weirdos. You join a city and then you are allowed to act more strange. You would think that more people living together would have better social standards. I guess not.

You get another ding. They called again. You missed it. You decide to call them back as you get on your bus.


“Yes, Hello, you called?”

“Yes, sorry, is this ___?”

“Yes it is.”

“Oh, we thought we could just call you with the meeting details. We saw that a typhoon might be coming in.”

“What? A typhoon?”

“Yeah, so anyways, we decided to accept your proposal. However, there is one condition.”

“What is that?”

“You have to do it without pain meds.”

“I don’t know, that sounds scary.”

“Well sure, but we think it will have a better chance of succeeding this way.”

“Yeah, but still… what if I can’t handle the pain?”

“Well, we just think it is best. Can you do it?”

“I’ll think about it. I mean, I’m sorry, I need time to think about it.”

“That’s fine, please let us know by tomorrow.”

“Ok, I will. Thanks.”


You hang up. The bus already is a bit down the road from your apartment. You get off and decide it is better to walk back. On the way back, you notice the newspaper. It does say something about a typhoon. Who reads newspapers?

You get back to your apartment soaked and take off your clothes and crawl into bed. Today you don’t have to work, and you need to think.

It is just pain, you think. But it is a big request. You decide you don’t want to do it. But you need 24 hours to build up the courage to say no. Maybe you will change your mind later, but you enjoy saying no right now in your head. This makes you relax a little. A false balm.

You look out the window next to your bed down to the street. The man from before is standing there. Suddenly he looks up at you as if he could feel you watching him. You close the curtain and think about the procedure.