Island Among Elsewhere


The world was dark when I awoke. I felt a stab of pain in my left hand; it was red and blistering around a faint white pustule. Some little fiend had bitten me while I slept, and now I could scarce close my fingers without a pulsating agony. Nightly sounds surrounded me; almost familiar, though not quite, but little could I tell the different after nearly seven years on a Corporate Administrative Dreadnought. Beyond the rustling of foliage in the ocean breeze, I heard a gentle bddrrt, bddrrt, bddrrt of something between a cricket and cicada with a lower underlying frequency than either. I stood up and stretched, careful not to extend my left hand more than was necessary. There was no moon, a fact I had forgotten and suddenly found disquieting. This would make my nocturnal navigation far less profitable, moreso as I had no means of making fire for a torch. I thought if I set off in one direction, I would eventually reach the shoreline, and then be able to follow it in the dimness of the stars to some other part of the island.

After what seemed like several hours of walking, I came to realize how easily darkness and forest can confuse even the most accomplished navigators. I must have been turned around at least seven times, and by then had no indication of which direction the shore lay. Long having overcome the almost hungover state after eating so many of the unnamed fruit, my awareness began once more to press on me the seriousness of my position. I had no food once more, no access to fresh water, I was lost on an alien planet without direction or even hope for rescue. I pondered these thoughts over and over as I pushed through branches and vines, becoming more and more fearful as I did, moving faster now, from walking to jogging to running, thorns swiping at my sides and face and hair, looking into a dark and moonless sky, panting and gasping for air in the humid climate. When I had climaxed in a flurry of human terror, arms reached out from below and grabbed onto my ankles. I shrieked a wild cry that excited several birds nearby and collapsed. Clawing at my ankles, I discovered the arms were merely vines that had become tangled up in my legs. As I removed them, I laughed at myself half-heartedly and ran a hand through my hair, my left hand, which squeezed with pain at the touch. My running had increased the blood flow to the spot, and now – though it was hard to tell in the dark – it seemed to be twice the size it was.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a tiny flicker of light. My eyes trained on the spot. It was like a star had fallen and twinkled in the distance, only with the orangish glow of a fading light, and once in a while was obscured by some dark cloud. I got up and made my way to it.

I misjudged the distance to the light, as well as its altitude. Back into the forest of island trees I went, skirting around them and once more almost losing all sense of direction. But now and again I would spot it, the light growing larger, peeking out from beyond the immediate obstacles in my path, and I would joyfully push on with renewed strength. Certainly the light of day would come soon? Or perhaps the nights were far longer on this planet than I was used to? Whatever the case, I had an Objective now. The ground harder to travel, and I had the distinct impression of traveling uphill. My legs wearied, though my determination did not falter from the Objective.

Suddenly, I stumbled upon a line of broken trees. Off to the right, the tops of several palms were snapped like a child’s playfully clipping the heads of flowers, and closer before me they were absolutely ravaged, shattered to the base by a mightier force. The ground was riven into grooves, and following these grooves to the end I saw the source of the flickering light. It was fire from a burning wreck, undoubtedly the Expeditionary-039! I ran to it with glee, approaching the blaze like a wild man, jumping and shouting with joy, laughing manically and tearing at my ragged and bloody clothes as though my salvation were near. It troubles me later to write of this, for now I know I was no closer to quitting the island than before, and in fact this discovery would lead to much greater anguish and true horrors unlike any I had hereunto felt, impossible though that seemed at the time. But I would not be reasoned with then, and I plunged into the flame looking for… what? I knew not. Food? Water? Companionship? I entered through a broken portal, wrenching the door off its frame and pushing around it to walk down the short hall. It led to the cockpit, where before me the windows were smashed and the nose irreparably compacted into the ground. On the pilot’s chair was a mass of blood, but no Samuel. I thought it was possible he was thrown outside the ship, so I searched the immediate area for a flashlight. Finding nothing, I went back down the hall and turned into storage cabin.

I felt along the inside wall, and on a bracket discovered the familiar heft of the object of my search. Lifting it from its metal bracket, I turned the flashlight on and swept it around the room. There was Johnson. The broken remains of his body were stretched out on the floor, a look of permanent fear stretching out his face in rigor mortis, and the lower half of his body fused to the deck in what must have been the hellish oven of a sudden suborbital descent. He was clinging to the only wetsuit in the cabin, one arm wildly tucked inside, as if he expected to be able to swim away from the Thing which brought had them down.

Even the insinuation of that Thing, and the memory connected to it, made me drop on all fours and begin to babble. My head shook uncontrollably as words poured out over Johnson’s deathmask. I felt my soul tearing away from my brain, unable to take the strain of continuing in the presence of my own memory. Only the callousness of an indifferent universe saved me then. Fire obeys the laws set unto it in a way the mind of man will not, and as such had been creeping steadily through the portal and igniting the flammables which before were withheld from its gluttony by the door which I had so thoughtlessly wrenched aside. Now it licked my heal, and I jumped in surprise. If I didn’t move quickly, the fire would make escape impossible. I cast around the room one more time, finding several things which I considered would be necessary in the coming days: a tank of oxygen, a mask, the wetsuit, which I carefully removed from the deathgrip of poor Johnson, several coils of rope, and a gallon jug full of distilled water. Then I rushed through the flames, which by now had almost reached the cockpit, and threw myself threw the jagged teeth of broken glass.

The ship behind me burned with an increasing glow, and I ran, trying to get some distance between myself and the inevitable explosion. Looking behind me through the trees, I stopped for a moment to remember my companions, thinking of them as their pyre went up into the atmosphere. Then the flames reached the fuel tanks, and Expeditionary-039 bellowed in several roiling explosions. The sound reverberated against the side of the mountain and echoed over the island. Black smoke crowded the site, the surrounding trees catching fire as sparks were caught in the breeze. Then I left the ship and trudged down the other side of the mountain into the night.

Island Among Elsewhere


I awoke in the late noon to a bitter taste in my mouth. The tide was rising, and I was half submerged in its ascent. The salt of the tides had entered my mouth and nose as it did so, and I snorted them out as I quickly stood and stumbled up the sand. Behind me, the raft was trembling uncertainly; then it yielded to the comforting roll of the surf and fell back into the sea, an artificial island swirling about on hidden currents. I watched my sole means of conveyance heave left, tilt right, and roll with the waves for what seemed like an age, unsure if I should rescue it from the ocean’s hand or let the ship burn at the hand of the universe. Then it was swept deeper out into sea and was lost forever.

Soon after, I was quickly reminded of how terribly thirsty I was. I knew from a simple knowledge of biology and several dull novels I had once read that a human being could survive for more than a month without food, but only 3 days without water, though there was no method of comparison between the passing of days on Earth and this new planet. Perhaps there was some standard of time I might have kept, say, via a watch upon my wrist, and then compared it to the dawn and dusk of the alien world. But I had no such preparations in mind when I set out on this, a mundane task. I laughed silently, heartlessly, at my observation. I had no options left but to hope to whatever god or chance had created this world that there might be some source of fresh water deeper inland.

I struck out in a northerly direction – if such a direction existed on that planet, though I decided if I kept the rising suns on my right I might make for myself a non-arbitrary means of navigation. Close to the shore was a line of trees, and I had to cut through several hundred feet of foliage and brush before I felt that inner sense of distance feed my intuition that I was indeed making headway into the unknown. I was grateful for the trees. Looking down at my skin, it was burned and peeling where the radiation of twin suns had stared down upon me. I was not a creature made for this planet.

I heard a noise a few yards in front of me. Whatever made it, it was loud, but I couldn’t see it for the large fronds and thick trunks of trees spreading before me. There again, a raucous squawking, like a crow with many throats, or a lark with guttural aspirations. I crept slowly around bush and tree, hoping to see or even catch such a creature and make a meal of it. A third time it cried out, and then I saw it. It had four wings, each shaped like an elongated V, and a beak much longer and thicker than any terrestrial fowl. Its eyes gleamed a dangerous green, and then it saw me. It stared for a moment as I stared back. Then, in an inexplicable and frantic motion I grabbed a stone beneath me and heaved it weakly at the inquisitive alien bird, which fluttered gracefully from its perch and settled just a few branches higher up. I shouted at the bird, but it did not move. I took a small pebble, thinking myself some great David – though of less noble instinct – and tossed it into the air. The bird merely sidestepped and cocked its frill of headfeathers in a mocking gesture. I screamed in exasperation and lunged at the tree. Then I noticed the weakness of my grip, the flabbiness of my limbs, how ill-prepared I was even to live, much less to catch a meal. Nevertheless, I was angry, and with that strength I lamely pulled myself up the rough undulating bark of the tree to the first branch, and rested there panting. The bird looked down. I clasped the sides of the tree again, expecting another rush of adrenaline to bring me to the throat of my would-be prey, but instead I found myself sliding down the tree. I clawed and groped and shouted and fought, but I could not slow the descent dictated purely by the weakness of my body. The four-winged bird tilted its head at me, squawked a final cry of insult, and then fluttered beyond the trees and into the free air.

The dryness was now almost unbearable. Where was water? There must be some on the island. I could not live without water. Here was a rock, but it had no water. There, a pile of mud. No, it was the dung of some large animal. I had a vague sense of uneasiness looking at the size of it, but it was soon forgotten amidst the growing desperation for moisture. I don’t know how long I spent shambling through the beautiful, shaded greenery of the unknown world. I had survived the crash, hadn’t I? I had seen Death and yet lived on. I of all people deserved to live. I would live! I, the product of centuries of man’s greatest achievements, would not be so easily destroyed by the laughable dangers of nature.

There! A fruit of some kind. Surely it would satisfy the dryness, without the infernal salinity of the mocking oceanic body which surrounded this bulwark of sand. They hung, hundreds of them, in something like a natural grove, and the first I plucked from the branches was large with a translucent green skin, revealing just within a pulpy blue interior. I bit into it, squelching into sweet flesh, watery fruit gushing out of my mouth and down my lips. I ate another. And another. A fourth, a fifth. I had to be satisfied. I would not be thirsty, or hungry, and here were a hundred or more fruit hanging for me alone to eat and to enjoy. I belched loudly with contentment, drying husks of the unnamed fruit about me as I settled into a cushion of brush and loam, my eyes heavy and slowly closing.

Island Among Elsewhere


My soul buzzed in numbness for lack of being. I was swirling about a great concave depression. The world I inhabited circled around a singular point in the infinite distance, where flew the birds of the air and other beasts in distant stars. The images coalesced, spun more slowly, then stopped entirely. Suddenly, I was irrefragably reminded of an inner motion connected to anchors which were lodged in immovable crevices in nature; I began dry-heaving, and thus was forced to turn from staring into the night-black sky to retching air onto the floor of the raft upon which I found myself.

Several minutes passed in this state of intermediate misery. Eventually it subsided, and in the darkness I tried to determine form from formlessness to make sense of the boundaries of my new world. There seemed to be four of them, two opposite sides sloping up to a wall on one side, and down to a wall on the other. Their edges might have been smooth or jagged; of this or their specific material properties it was impossible to tell in the night. I presumed these boundaries had some close relation to the shifting floor I was laid upon, assumptions I formed based on their closeness to myself and each other, and the rigidity with which they moved in the undertow of the waves. Yes, I was floating in the ocean. The waters and not the fleeting air were now the foundation supporting my existence, though through which I might fall just as easily should fatigue overtake me. And in darkness, faster predators than weakness might drag me still deeper into the depths.

For perhaps several hours I laid awake in the raft, listening with rapidly beating heart at the slight disturbances in the uniform chuckling of the waves against the sides. I waited for It to come back to finish Its meal. But it did not return, at least not in my waking hours or frantic vigils. I was left alone in the ocean.

At length, the darkness began to slowly break, and I beheld a halo of blood on the horizon. The halo imperceptibly grew to a waterfall of molten gold, and then spread the color of wine-dark roses to touch the underbellies of vast and scattered clouds, as though signalling the arrival of a great king coming down from his distant throne. Then the first disc, blazing with gold approaching white fire, breached the surface of the water and climbed into the sky. When it floated unaided in the sky, the golden fire underwent another change. The blue sun was rising, and as it did the ocean was excited with spasms of color at each wave-crest that gave it the scintillating effect of a vast field of diamonds. These crests reflected the golden-whiteness of the higher sun such that the underbelly of every cloud was alight with unsearchable light and hidden color, and the sight was unlike any that might be brought justice in the medium of the written word. It were as though the king, heralded by the first sun, had now come fully, and the way was paved for him to walk in this feeble world, and the atmosphere made alight with the glory of his halls. I had no choice but to look away, for the brightness was blinding.

Eventually, the glory faded, and I beheld the day as any other. I was indeed on a raft of scrapmetal. It was a square section of coated aluminum from the interior of Expeditionary-039. I guessed it was from the area nearest the buoy deployment, since that was the place I had lost consciousness before discovering myself in the ocean, and the surface of the aluminum seemed to angle to an implied point at one end, though the point was itself lost in the sea. And I felt a similar way about my own predicament, but dark humor would not suffice for my survival. I got up and looked far into the horizon above each of the jagged edges on each side of the raft, hoping almost to despair of seeing the Heath-Adams Atoll. I did not know how close Expeditionary-039 had traveled to the island before attempting an orbital insertion, nor how far I had drifted from it in my moment of unconsciousness.

My first watch was unsuccessful, as was my second. The day was growing brighter, and hotter, and the clouds became much dispersed so that I was exposed to a parched and mocking sky. I was becoming thirsty, and my vision gradually blurred from staring for long hours. I would have lost hope, had not a low hump in the distance made my heart leap. I stared at the hump, thinking perhaps that I was deceived either by lack of water or by some slow leviathan tasting the air again before lazily submerging into the waters. But I was not deceived; it was land. Land!

I decided to cast about for something approximating an oar. There was a small pile of debris on the floor of my makeshift vessel, and beneath a larger pile I found a long, floppy strip of metal. I then got to the side of the raft and dug the metal into the waters. Undetectably at first, but more and more as the vessel picked up speed, I made my way toward the flat stretch of land. It was miserable work, sweating underneath twin suns where my skin burnt twice as fast as under my terrestrial Earth, and using the atrophied muscles along my back whose need had long been replaced by technological “progress.” To exacerbate my misery, the metal sheet was much less rigid than an oar had a right to be, and so was affected interminably by the oceanic undertow. This caused the metal to cut my palms where I was awkwardly holding it. And the waters also had no desire to aid me in my noble quest of survival, but would sometimes hopefully throw me forward one moment, only to retract it the next, or sometimes swirl my craft left or right or turn it altogether, and I would have to reposition myself with respect to the direction of the island. But by degrees and by unceasing desperation, I willed the craft forward.

I was utterly exhausted when the suns had completed their trek across the sky, and I had completed my trek across the ocean and had beached the raft upon the sands of the Heath-Adams Atoll. I stumbled out of my conveyance onto the sand and fell instantly into a dreamless sleep.

Island Among Elsewhere


I entered the door leading to the cockpit. Johnson was there, eyes wide and frightened, and when he saw the poor state of my mental constitution written in dark shadows across my face, his fear grew to terror.

“Where are they?” He asked. But I had grown tired and despised human company. There was not a soul on this ship who could – indeed, would even try! – to understand what lurked in unseen waters beneath the incomprehensibly vast deliberations of a world consumed by ocean. It was all I could do to repeat the first answer I gasped to Victor before pushing past him and heading to my seat in the cabin.

Gone?! What do you mean? Explain yourself, Gelios. Gelios!”

But I was beyond hearing. I collapsed into my seat and pressed my palms into my eyes as if to wipe away memories wrought by those unremitting nerves. If I hadn’t been so appalled at the thought of indescribable agony, I might have gouged them out then and there to rid myself of their possibility of ever seeing what was now indelibly marked upon my mind. As it was, my sudden retreat from the visible world was a laughable attempt at escape, as the moment I closed my eyes It returned. The awful form, the vague displacement of water about the open abyss, horror in the eyes of my late compatriots, and the glowing spot, which might even have been an eye, stared back at me. But then the image froze, and that glowing eye took stock of me, acknowledging my existence alongside its in the order of universal matters. I went rigid. It was a memory, reprimanded the logical mind, a thorough reproduction of a past and unrepeatable event, without either contemporaneous relation or agency. But I was not so sure. A memory rarely exerts effort to know the rememberer.

Gelios. The word rolled about in my head, whispered quietly. What did the word mean? I no longer knew.

Gelios. There again, a vaguely dissimilar repetition of the same sequence of vowels and consonants. Surely it meant something. But I was made dumb by this Beast which was drawing the soul from the mind of the being whose name was Gelios. It was not in my faintest wish to escape the waters. I wanted to go back. To fall. I craved annihilation.

Gelios! The eye was fading. No! Come back again and speak, bring me to nothingness!

“Gelios!” Johnson was violently shaking me. I looked up. My name was Gelios. And Johnson was concerned for me.

“Gelios, we’ve almost reached the Heath-Adams Atoll. Samuel’s been calling, he needs you to prepare the surveillance buoys. How are you feeling? We need to finish the mission, but if you’re not well enough to do the job…”

“I’m fine, Johnson,” I snapped hoarsely. I shoved up out of my chair and headed towards the stern. Down the hall. Through the launch bays once more, as quickly as I could manage. Into the tail of the vessel, where were stored a dozen small geostationary sensor buoys each no larger than a can of paint. Antennae extruded through the thick, waterproof carapace on the top and bottom like some omnidirectional insect with useless feelers. Several diodes blinked an easily accessible status report on the operational stability of the micro-circuitry of their interiors: blue and green signified that every one was ready to drop. I tapped into the com.

“Buoys ready to launch.” I said into my wrist. The response crackled through from the other side.

“Launch on my signal,” said Samuel from the pilot seat. I put my finger on the control panel in the wall, where protruded a large button with a single word engraved into it: “launch.”

“I’ll be watching this time, my dear Gelios.” Said a voice from behind me. I spun around: Victor had been hiding between the launch silos of the buoys. His smile was more of contempt than amiability. “A steady hand, a competent mind, and a loyalty to the Corporation is all one needs to succeed.” I had heard this phrase before: it was the favored slogan among Corporate propagandists and stooges alike. “We shall see in which of these you lack. So carry on, Gelios. But I’ll be watching.”

Moments later, I heard Samuel again. “Launch buoys on my mark.” I waited. He counted down from ten. Then, “three… two… one… Mark!” I pressed the button hard, eager to dispel any chance of misfire with enthusiasm. The faces of the silos slammed shut, and two by two from the front to the back they hissed the telling release of their charge.

Right as the final two buoys released to drop into the ocean, three things happened. First, Expeditionary-039 tilted violently to one side. Second, Samuel screamed like a maddened animal through the wrist communicator. I shall never banish the sound of his demented babbling from my mind! Third, I heard the sucking again. This was the most horrible of all. I knew it’s Source, it’s monstrous Source, that Thing! I collapsed to the floor, my heartbeat exploding within my chest, and my vision blurring as I was throwing into a rant of inexplicable purpose, perhaps spilling the final remnants of sanity through guttural expletives and chanting the Name of the Beast in worshipful adulation, though my soul knew not the Name, and I was divorced from all agency with my mortal frame. Victor was nowhere to be seen.

What our altitude was will be forever a mystery, as will the power of the Thing to climb and tear at a metal bird so far beyond its domain. Perhaps it was a experiment in Nature’s pride, callous and indifferent as it is; or maybe humanity has yet to plumb the deepest terrors this side of the opaque barrier of death. Whatever the truth may have been, if ever we dared look it in the eye, Expeditionary-039 dropped from the sky. And as through a keyhole out of my broken mind, I preserved one final memory from the seen of destruction as we careened out of control. It was Johnson frantically signaling for Victor to activate the auxiliary thrusters. So there was an engine down, and with it an entire wing. But Victor, as I have already said, was nowhere to be found. Johnson’s voice was lost in the screeching – of metal, or Monster, I knew not what – and I blacked out.

Island Among Elsewhere


The reverberation of several multi-stage compression chambers enlivened by the accelerated motion of rotor blades and ejection of their contents in an intense jet stream was the only sense of humanity I was provided in the seconds that followed the emergency closing of the lower bay doors. All sensation was numbed to the point of oblivion; I had been tied hand and foot and dragged by cruel Masters to the edge of the Pit, and forced to look down. Several voices screamed through my wrist. Expeditionary-039 was increasing its altitude; this I knew by the subtle changes in my inertia, compensate as the dampeners on the small craft tried. They were angling in a northerly direction, rapidly decreasing our absolute longitude with the much-tilted oceanic planetary body which circled binary suns. Then they leveled off, and there was only the vicious abrasion of atmosphere against the civilized hammer of jet engines.

My ears were the first of the four that returned from its apprehension of Oblivion.

“Gelios! Gelios, are you there? Are Howard and Sylvanus on board?” Samuel’s excitable voice was hoarse with shouting.

“No.” I replied.

“Well, where are they? What happened? Speak, Gelios!”

But I could not speak. Could you? My ears could now verify the sensations of my nervous faculties, but this remained as yet my primary means of interacting with the universe. All other portals were closed to me. I could only see the Pit, only taste Oblivion, only smell the flatness of annihilation. My mouth hung open slightly, my eyes blurred. I offered no explanation to the fearful exasperation at the other end of the line.

There were two doors acknowledging entry into the launch bay. One leading to the prow, the other to the stern. This was in part due to the construction of the doomed craft, as it was in effect constructed for the purpose of carrying such survey vessels as I had so recently misplaced. It was a bulbous cavity supported in the stern by a receding and awkward geometric space for storage, and in the prow by such display consoles and control equipment as would allow the direction of a ship of such seemingly simple aim. The prow-side door hissed open, and I screamed in terror, unleashing the horde of dark beings festering in my gut. It was only Victor. He accosted me with noncommittal uncertainty, then proceeded to the wall of gadgetry which had fused together in places and began his affectionate assessment of the damage. I, however, released what physical remnants existed in my stomach, spreading it unevenly over the floor.

“I see there is extensive damage to the tractor beam equipment.” tutted Victor. “I will have to review your contract. Charges may be added to your account, pending a formal inquiry.” Then he turned to me. “How did it happen?”

His eyes were a solid black, with yellow around the rims. His face was an impartial square; I could not attribute any humanity to it, though in retrospect malice was the sole gravitational pull of his soul, and this I infer from numerous professional interactions with this Mouth of the Corporation. I felt his words crawl with like two black spiders into my ears, slipping the barrier of my eardrums and deep into the darkened regions of my heart. Then they squeezed, and my voice retched out in minute gasps.

“Gone.” I said.

“Gone where?” Victor’s eyes narrowed as he walked the perimeter of the keel bay doors.

“Below. The planet… took them.”

“How?” Victor asked, stepping out onto the retractable frames of the bay doors, practically daring me to open them and spill him into the upper atmosphere. Could I tell him the truth? Would he believe such a fantastic tale if I did? Or what demons would return if I uttered a description of that Hellspawn, which forevermore would haunt my waking hours with the singular, vague impression of an eye, and a maw so black and deep the sky was consumed in its hunger?

“A mouth…” I tried, then vomited again on the smooth metal floor. “A nightmare. Something from the deep…”

“Fantastic.” Victor muttered. “Foolishness.” Then his eyes snapped to meet mine. “The truth, then, Gelios. What really happened?”

“It’s as I told you! I swear by every faith, by every creed, by all that is holy, if ever there can be after the sight of that- that- monster!” My voice rose to a scream. I was half aware that my face no longer resembled that of a sane man, and Victor beheld me as such.

“Myths and inventions will not quell the terrible justice of the Corporation. Our Inquisitors are artists in the way of truth and its extraction, and your pocketbook would do well to remind your mad delusions of that fact.”

“I am not a madman,” I stated with a growing attempt at calm, and another to stand, though the world swam and I fell back onto the floor. My legs were still too shaky. “I know what I saw. The shipboard sensors will prove you wrong. Doubtless Johnson is checking the external feeds and PPI readouts as we speak.” Though my words shot out like acid, they fell to the floor like ash as I watched the triumphant sneer slide across Victor’s face.

“You seem to have a habit of underestimating me, my dear Gelios.” Victor laughed and walked to the door leading to the stern. “I am not just another Corporate lackey here to keep this Expedition in check against its baser passions. I have a thorough knowledge of certain technical fields even you would struggle to master, which isn’t saying much, I grant you. There was only one radar signature on the display: that of our good friends Howard and Sylvanus, who now rest in a watery grave purely on account of your failure, which I shall report. And have you forgotten that the keel cameras of Expeditionary-039 were removed for this orbital insertion? Doubtless, in the throes of fabricating your cunning story, you had failed to factor in this inanity. Or another;” here he stepped over my vomit and myself to the tractor device readout and pointed at one display which had frozen on its face the output history of the past few hours, “that the tractor device you pushed beyond critical capacity had captured no load at twenty-three seconds after the survey craft began its ascent. You let them go, my good Gelios, and there will be no Advocate who can save you.” Then he stomped out of the launch bay.

Island Among Elsewhere


We were two miles south of the Heath-Adams Atoll, and the water was smooth as a planetary oceanic body could be; that is to say, riddled with waves of heights not quite approaching five feet, though Howard and Sylvanus were quite a long time in returning to the craft. What could account for their tardiness was beyond my impatient mind to comprehend as they strapped their diving gear to the netting that lined the survey craft and prepared for lift. I watched them scramble to ready themselves for the jerky and somewhat ill-developed ride of the tractor lift, and couldn’t help notice an undefinable rapidity to their movements. It was a difficult sensation to accurately describe, being more than a hundred feet above them and looking through the open bay doors of the Expeditionary-039, the ocean currents dancing with the atmosphere and the atmosphere swaying in turn, which would invariably punish the stability of our vessel in its state of suspension over the water.

“Howard! Get a move on! Our fuel reserves are dropping!” I shouted, but the alien world carried my words away over its churning waters before they reached his ears. The two went on with their packing and stowing, and finally threw up their thumbs for the tractor lift. But it was too fast. For Samuel or Johnson, or even Victor, an accentuation of action with enthusiasm was their modus operandi. But not Sylvanus, and definitely not Howard. These men were the cool heads, the deep thinkers, temperate and stubborn and abidingly slow. Yet they were hopping around their cramped vessel like scared rabbits. I grabbed the lever which would activate the invisible hand of energy and draw them and their conveyance from the roiling planet surface and into the underbelly of Expeditionary-039. The switch actuated, I became a spectator to the supernal phantasm which was to me an accustomed monotony, and the survey craft rose into the sky.

Sylvanus looked over the side of the boat as its very bottom finally receded from the grasp of the ocean. From his mouth issued a noise I shall never forget, not as long as I am allowed to continue life in this universe of terrors. It was much like a shriek, but brutish, primal, as though he had suffered a hundred-thousand year devolution in the span of several seconds, and the faculties of reason of two men – myself and Howard – were reduced to apish grunts of ambiguous half-meanings. It was the cry of the prey in sight of the predator. And when the shriek climbed finally to its height, another overwhelmed it. The ocean was calling them back.

The survey boat was halfway to the Expeditionary-039, some fifty or sixty feet above the water, when the sucking began. Howard and Sylvanus began to drop. I cried out to them, but they were both impossibly out of reach. Searching the controls of the tractor lift yielded no method to increase the rapidity of their ascent, and that Victor had all the practical necessities such as rope be removed for the purpose of “instilling absolute assurance in the latest advances of the Corporation.” I now bitterly wished to use his own intestines as rope.

“Samuel! Johnson!” I shouted into my wrist-communicator. “If you can read this, get down to the launch bay immediately. I repeat, get down to the launch bay immediately. We’ve got a major – “

But the roar from the waters was too great. Directly beneath Howard and Sylvanus and their boat was a swirling maw of blackness. Deeper it pulled them, the tractor lift struggling valiantly with every foot to break the invisible hold on the men from the Thing below the rushing waters, but the certainty of its failure became increasingly evident as the moments passed. The two men stared desperately into the launch bay, where I looked back, but I could do nothing, and they knew it. That monotonous task which was mine to perform had here once more been filled with mysterious awe, but not of the handiwork of man, for his own device was sparking and shuddering with the futile effort of saving its charge, and I could feel our vessel begin to lean into the match of tug-of-war, though slightly down and to the left from my vantage. No, the wonder came from Below, the Thing which came up just beneath the waters, which frightened steady Howard and temperate Sylvanus into madness, which hid its hideousness from our view, which even now was exerting its unseen and ineluctable influence on the two men and their conveyance beyond its physical self for a purpose all too clear to the three of us witness to this ghastly event, though only myself would survive to speak of it.

And I wish I never had to, but as it has been forced from me for the purpose of the “exploitation and capitalization of alien worlds and their resources, spatio-temporal locations, and inhabitants,” I have been given no recourse, save for the elimination of my occupation in the Corporation and possible elimination from the universe altogether. They are very thorough.

Nevertheless, there was I, helpless as an ant who watches his brothers flail with what remained of their crushed limbs and abdomens after a bipedal callously smashes them on the edge of its shoe. One final blast, and the electronic gadgetry was revealed as the facade it was, and they sank with heart-stopping speed into the blackness of the maw and disappeared forever. I could never know for certain, but before the swirling of the waters were washed by the onslaught of ensuing waves, I thought I caught the barest glimmer of an eye very near the surface, and its size intimated a beast of impossible magnitude. This alone has caused me many a nightmare since.

Lyzard Froygindeck

About me floats a green warmth. First, the thought of summer, and greenest grass releasing energies relayed it by the sun into the lower strata of the earthly sphere, and upon which I am but a passenger, as Aladdin of old on his flying carpet. But there was no life in this heat. Next I thought the ocean, so green, carpeted as it was in watery locales with buoyant algae, and saturated without by the food for the Leviathan, myself drifting steadily from the roiling surface through this subtropical flow. Again, I was in error. I did not smell the greens of summer, nor choke in asphyxiation, but beheld with dawning dread the terrible revelation of the setting of my darkest dreams in garish color about me.

I laid upon a table riven with green light. There were alien tools and trinkets scattered on a sidebar to my left, and at my feet a screw of some kind, upheld by several retractable arms above the dull floor to perch in predatory fashion over my shoeless feet. It menaced me as only a device of torment could, awakening within me some primal dread. Were this a room dedicated to the convalescence of its prisoners, I had but to cry out to discover my happy captors, and they shush me to sleep whilst injecting liquids into my bloodstream. But alas! I was not so fortunate, and knew such an utterance would but cause the rushing of some demonic form to seal me forever to the table upon which I had awoken. This would not be my final place of repose, nor would I expose my organs to their fetid air. Off, I say! I will leave, and there will be none to stop me. Except, of course, the fear like fire punctuating my heartbeat.

Was that unusual suction, or did aught evil approach from the hallway to my left? Nevermind! I flew to the right, for their were portals in both directions, and by one human sense at least I knew my choice had been limited to the one. Down that passage, and around another, and down again I passed portals of exactness and mathematically frequent nature. Would that I had stopped, I could have examined how precise, how perfectly flawless, how impossibly rounded these portals were, and by what hidden mechanism their spiraling doors opened and disappeared again before me.

But my fear drove me half insane with desire to live, to survive the ordeal Dame Fortune had had in her joy to thrust upon me, and laugh at my silly fate in stumbling down primly slick metal walkways and around blind corners into the invisible nightmares of my own imagining. Was I indeed there? Even now, I often question if it was all a dream, some fascination of the id to draw out the grossest impossibilities in their most famous caricatures, and reveal them for the farce they were, laughing alongside the cackling creatures as they pierced between the muscle and the bone. But I knew this was no game of the unknowable mind. I rounded the final corner, saw It, the one I knew had taken me away. It pointed at me one of three unnatural fingers, and what control I once had over autonomic nervous function by the power of the medulla was wrested from me in an instant. I collapsed unmoving to the cold floor.

When I awoke this second time, this last time, the final awakening my humanity was ever again given allowance, I screamed an open scream. And there was pain and despair, and I knew I was dead. This was communicated to me by that finger, the unnatural one, which might even now command me had I not accomplished what soon I will tell, that secret of liberty for all mankind to record when It returns and attempts the enslavement of men across the earthen globe. It commanded, and I was silent. It offered, and I wept with desire. It told, and I knew. I was It’s servant, to do his bidding, for now and evermore. As now I already said, this is not so now, so take not this writing as writing from It! I will not deceive you as It has! It will tell you what is well, and draw you like cattle before It, and marry the base of the skull with It’s devices so that you cannot divorce the truth from Its own machinations. Believe me!

It led me to the window, and I gazed as a wondering child. There were stars about me, brighter than ever afforded by the crude window of Earth through its stifling atmosphere, pure and unadorned. Something shifted within me, or mayhap the ship itself, and the window turned. Now I saw the greater sight, the eye of our solar deliberations from eternity past. I saw the galactic core! And somehow, through powers given by the benevolent being that stood behind me like some gentle guardian, I discerned the outlines of its cause, those colossal black maws of spatial attraction churning the stars like so many manifestations of the ancient Charybdis. So it was a craft meant to sail the space between the stars, I discerned. And I the first among all of humanity to tread its hallowed decks.

It communicated again through a point of Its finger, and I discovered my true purpose. Through revelation, I was given sight. And through sight, I knew the object of my life’s striving. I would return to earth. I would rise above my fellow men, and lead them into a bold future. And, when the proper time had come, I would smite them all.

Lyzard Froygindock

It was the blackness of unconscious miasma which bore me into the land of the living. There was light, as though a horizon of asphyxiating brightness were opening up in the dawn of a world whose beginning groans were just now heard, and that among the organisms imbued with life upon the subsequent space-borne rocks. Of my two throbbing ears, one was pinned to wood of a roughness which can be likened to the tortured bark of an oak tree after an uncomfortable bear has had its way with it. The other was open to the sky. And what misfortune did I find myself in this slow apprehension! For the rough barks of command and violent snapping about me was a nervous harassment of which I was seldom accustomed to except in the harsh classrooms of my youth. And that opening horizon dimmed even as the world of endless possibilities closed about my bleary eyes into a focus of movement about the deck of a ship of which I was not accustomed, as in fact I could not have been, for beside one short and terrifying voyage from Tunisia to Sicily three years hence I was but a stranger to the shifting seas beneath my stomach. Thus did I awake into the first of many uncertain realms.

Ragged black shoes with dull brass buckles approached my face, and with them legs covered in strangely colored stockings. I had little time to consider the rarity of this combination, for in that moment their owner grabbed me with knotted hands by the lapels of my jacket – ah, why was I wearing a jacket! – and hauled me to my feet. The purpose of this seaward voyager was made evident immanently by what I discovered lacking in the brutish grimace of the grimy sailor’s face. And here was breath that I hardly found beaten by a dog’s.

“Cum wid’ me. The cap’n wants ter see ya.”

I guessed the extent of his vocabulary varied little more in breadth from his present choice of words, but in this transaction I was at a disadvantage, for though the modern man was ruled by mind, in the barbaric and untamed places of the world, might was yet the ultimate conqueror. As he dragged me aft into the door of the captain’s quarters, his own was illustrated by a tattoo of an anchor upon one great bicep. I did not hesitate to maintain reticence, nor follow him swiftly up to the captain who appeared nearly as seedy as my perception of the remainder of his crew. He stood from behind his salt-encrusted chair, slammed a filthy and broken-edged dagger through the map before him on the worn table of wood, and swept around it to confront my own face with his. Nor, did I discover rapidly, did his breath improve my impression of his seaborne charge.

“Yaaar, be dis tha scum that dropped from the heavens onto our deck?”

The sailor’s nods were fierce in its support of his captain’s claim.

“And be dis tha cause of our troubles of late?”

Beside and behind my peripherals, the hairs of my neck, covered as they were by the lapels of this strange coat, were affected by the same swishing of air, signifying the dumb sailor’s assent.

“Den we know what to do wid im’, eh? Trow ‘im overboard!”

With this pronouncement of my fate, rapid in conclusion though it was, I found myself back upon the deck, and now in the thick of crowds which before in the blurriness of my vision were but legs and arms crawling about the ropes of the ship. They chanted in their methods of crudity and barbarism their praise of superstitious phantoms for relenting in harassment upon their sorry souls. I found myself chanting in silence that those phantoms would return and continue their good work.

Just then, whether by force of fortune or the wordless workings of belief in superstition, the sun was blotted from the sky. There was a cry of terrible distress from the open mouths of the sailors on the deck. We all turned to stare at the blankness where before shone the life-giving rays of our solar star, they with dread, and myself with quiet curiosity. You see, I was a man of science, as they are called, and knew the solar workings of the orbits of the planets, their ecliptic planes and Lagrange points, the exact tilt of the Earth, its axial rotation, and its orbital period – the source of our days and seasons. In this study I found solace. It was among the dust and ink of equations and theories printed in the books of academia that the human mind found its highest magnification, the consideration of logic and mathematical formulae to dissect like a laboratory cadaver the unseen depths of Nature, and the key to Her citadel within which only the wise and most learned might tread. All else was rubbish to my fascination: poetry, artistic expression, music, and that fictitious prose of fantasizing madmen were wasted hours in search of meager existence. So when my gaze assessed the spinning round object covering our immediate observation of the sun, I knew it not to be some mundane deity from the mythos of mankind, but rather a natural occurrence, though admittedly of extreme oddity.

The sailors scattered on the deck, and I was left alone, shifting on the deck of an undirected vessel lifted by the suddenly swelling ocean, and upon no horizon lay the intimations of land. The spinning circular apparition drew nearer, and its shadow I now discerned was cast over a greater surface area of the sea, where before it had been localized about the confines of the ship. The interval of time in which my dilating eyes adjusted to the sudden differential in light was all that was necessary for the object to come to rest parallel to the port side of the ship, so swift was its approach. And its size! It was behemoth, this object, many lengths of the ship in diameter, the peak of its circular arc stories above the mast of the ship, and it floated without affectation by the winds or seeping waves against its faultless and impassable gray surface. I watched with the speechless awe of a child. My mind was incapable of comprehending such wonders, too small to encompass so large a reality, as I then learned, though learned I had considered myself in the presence of those vanished fools!

Slowly, I perceived in the center of this colossal disc upon whose side I gaped open-mouthed, a minute fracture in its flawless face. This fracture spread around the axial point of the disc, forming a perfect circle concentric with its edge. Then, a web of similar fractures fragmented the now-separated disc, and this slid away from the center in manner foreign to any design I could apprehend. From the opening formed by this withdrawal issued an illumination whose intensity could scarcely match the star whose light it intruded upon, though excruciating it was to behold, and certainly defied the jolly yellow which it exuded, for its color was the essence of Sirius or Rigel B. There, framed in the circular light, a shadow, a silhouette, a nightmare! It was not human! It moved as though alive, yet there existed no creature which roamed the surface of God’s Earth, nor preyed in its deeps, which could compare to this otherworldly daemon. It could not be real! It was chimera, apparition, phantasm! What thin attachment I decided to be an arm moved in my direction, and though perhaps a hundred yards away from me across the heaving waves, I saw its eyes!

I sobbed. I could not move. Stricken by the suddenly increasing intensity, I was paralyzed in every limb, and could only weep into my hands as I felt the force of gravity loose its grip upon my frame. Then I was flying. I saw between the frozen gaps in my fingers the waters beneath me, and knew I had left the ship. The sensation that embraced me was beyond the likenings of any invention of man; if the unseen forces of nature could feel, if heat and energy could be given form and being, and if they could move upon a man of their own volition and lift him from one island to another without his feet brushing the surly dust of Earth, then might one define what was my present and actual reality. For that was what it was, and could not be expressed otherwise, even if I could, though I will do my best to describe it and what follows in the ensuing chapters of my recollection. I am a man of science, no matter what anyone else will tell you. I am not a madman, as the papers might suggest, and for this reason have attempted to pen my experiences in accordance with the truth of their events, for if these words and events are not spelled out in their entirety, then I am certain every inhabitant of Earth will be soon be doomed to utter annihilation.

Frizzard Sloggindeck

What is this pulsing glow which saturated my vision? Were it but a black darkness, I would say it was lightning in the horizon, but nay: I have met a mystery too great for this mind to conceive. How can I ascribe its properties? What can be said of its facets? From a tree it grows, like the haft of a blade pierced deep into its roughened folds. Blue and green it foams in light. I draw close, and it buzzes in my ears. Does it make a sound, or only in my mind? Do I imagine it swirling like an oozing puddle? Can I feel its metal grow between my ribs? I draw near again to touch it. It sparkles with desire. My hand stops shy, and I shiver; this thing of evil, thing of beauty, light mystery, I dare not touch it. My hand curls up in indecision. Why am I so uncertain?! Feel it, for it is beautiful! Obey me, my own hand! But it is static and immobile. Bested by my own nature.

There it is, and I am here. Where? In the night? In the abyss? Flung to Tartarus by heretical thoughts? Falling through the infinite, a hole in the fabric of time? Why is there nought about me but the tree and its apparition, struck through the heart? It alone is illuminated, and I see not my hands, nor my feet, nor the body of my beating heart. And there is absolute silence, the stillness of death. Stillness?! There is no beating within my frame! I am dead.

This haft of light, it beats with the pulse I should expect from within. There again I approach. Do I have no control over my self? My legs move without command, forced in direction undisclosed. Oh, universe! Determine a different path, that I might find annihilation, and not forever the embrace of darkness! But I have thought these thoughts, even as I approach the certain blade. I have thought these thoughts, my Self, and not you, for you move with purpose intrinsic, yet I move with determination of MY own. Yes, I. Can you say that of your Self? Can you truly Be? Can you Act? No, you can merely exist. As it shall stay. But now I am by the tree.

I reach again for the blade. Would that I could move. My foremost finger nearly touches it. It brushes the handle. It must be full of vision, for my eyesight was replaced with another’s and I saw a universe of impossibilities. Planets with eyes and no faces stared mutely, curiously at the stars they circled. They were wide, baby eyes, massive in form, covering continents. The suns had white wings, and fluttered slowly in the vacuum. Were they flying? I could not tell. How else did they move in the galactic dance?

There was another planet! Black eyes, a face of smog, and covered in pricks of yellow light. It had more than a face, but a texture, and fingers, flying fingers, fingers that moved in space! The fingers reached out, little things, toward the wings, to grab them and become like the sun. The sun became red with anger, expanding, swallowing up the children; the black fingers nearly touched its face, until the sun rapidly contracted, and then the light. Brightness of light which lit up the dark void! How I could not look, for I was blinded. To this day, there is not another sight so bright. The evil textured planet of singular yellow power was consumed in the starry wrath, and left behind was a sight of speckled color more beautiful than Monet.

What was this revelation?

I recovered into the previous realm, and to my great surprise and consternation discovered the chief cause of my vision to be held in my hand, upon its impossibly black edge the drippings of green. From the wound of the tree it was pulled, oozing the green of life, and the tree moaned. There was no wind here, but its hair moved; there was no soil, but its trunk shifted. And moaned. Oh, how my soul was rent by that moan! It were as though a mighty animal had been stabbed in a vital, and I its unwitting executioner. How I wished to let go my grip of that horrid Vision-Maker! Yet I could not. It was sealed to me, glowing still in pulse with my heart which would not beat, blue now, red then: the color of nebula, and the black of space rimmed with the grime of green.

I was servant to this blade. I would serve it. I would die by it. It is a precious thing.

Mogumlula hofestebula ugummamu. Oayubi ughorabu memmoyalo. Frizzard Sloggindeck.


So there I was, like five or six in the morning, watching the early trucks delivering their steaming goodies, streetlamps snuffed out one by one by the yawning sun, a faint breeze to stir the dust and plastic shards scattered with the dried food along the walk. I approached the cafe nestled in the street corner, a disgruntled, squat little shop with grubby windows that peered grumpily down the street towards me. There was a stray dog guarding the door, growling and snapping at me as I got near. I edged around him nervously. Stupid dog. Someone should’ve called animal control, but I was busy that morning.

I pushed open the door, realizing the faces staring at me. So many. What had I done to deserve this? Wanting to appease them, I slunk to the table where I usually sat, plunking down an empty coffee cup – my favorite, it had the word INSPIRATION written on it – and a disheveled folder of paperwork, only then to realize the young woman in the knit sweater. Its light brown color fairly complemented her eyes, but they were slitted and staring off into the middle distance, and I presumed she was in some sort of trance. I leaned closer, but not too close, for I was a man and daren’t make it appear I was interested in her, especially with that entrance – Lord knows – but I still wasn’t certain what all those stares were about. She was murmuring a song at the wood paneling across the room, something about not being lost and interjected with prepositions at fairly odd intervals: “Down… Before… Around… During… Under…” and so on. A pleasant noise, she began to creep me out, so I left her to her words and connected my ears to my phone.

Now I was in my own world, and the dancing colors of my imagination distilled the pure vibrancy out of the dreary gray papers I perused as I sipped at my coffee cup. What? Empty already? Ah yes, I had forgotten. There needed first to be coffee in the mug before it could be drained. I was momentarily disconnected from my phone – all those cords could be a hassle, you know – and shoved off for the counter. The squat woman behind it eyed me suspiciously. What had I done? Nevermind. I handed her the mug.

“The usual, please.”

“Which is?” She replied, still squinting at my general person.

“Ah, um, black coffee, one cream, no sugar, and a plate with a plain white bagel… Please.” She kept staring. I wasn’t sure if my words had actually been spoken, or if they were still rattling around inside my hyperactive imagination. Then she pointed at the card reader.

“Payment before pleasure, hon.” I took my card and inserted it.




Payment denied.

Only a little shocked, I took my cheap plastic back and handed her the only three dollars I had to my name. She snatched it, sniffing the green, then stuffed it in her coffee-stained apron.

“Wait over there.” She waved at me in no particular direction. I spun around. Then she was gone.

I returned to my seat to find my papers strewn across the floor. It looked less the outcome of malice and more that of carelessness. The mildly attractive woman had moved and was swaying to herself in the corner. A large mountain of man sat across from me on that tiny table.

“Hey there.” He said to me.

“Hey.” Said I to the mountain. He leered over me, almost smiling, though blast me if I knew why. His breath smelled like salt, and his eyes were like lightning.

“How would you like a chance to get out?”

“Out?” I questioned. “Out of where?”

He waved his arm in no particular direction.

“Here! Anywhere!”

“Get out of anywhere?”

“No, no, no…” He shook his head and settled down. I was by now incapable of being more confused. You see, after a certain point I simply assumed it would make sense, or it wouldn’t.

“You want to get out, don’t you?”

Not really, I thought. I liked my table, though people kept sitting at it, and he was sitting on my papers right now, which was bothering me. After all, I had come here early enough to have it my way, hadn’t I?

“Sure, I’d love to get out.” I decided to say. After all, when a mountain is about to tell you something, why not give it a go?

“Really? Then here’s what you do. First, give me all your papers.”

“Uh, hmm, let’s see here… Those are important papers. In fact, they’re very important. As in, very. I’m just not sure I could give them away.”

The man looked at me with the lightning flashing so honestly in his eyes.

“I promise you won’t regret it.”


“That must be my coffee. Take my papers, do what you want with them, as long as it’s finish them for me. I’ll be right back.”

I got up and ran straight into an old man. Who was this guy? A toothy grin distracted me from the hand of smell just long enough for it to grab my nose. I reeled backward, though not so dramatically as to make it appear he did it, for I was polite like that, but I looked for any excuse to run the other way. His teeth opened, and for a moment I caught a splotchy tongue as he coughed a smoker’s retch into his hand. Then that gnarled hand – the one not holding a grimy plastic bag – shook as it opened, palm up and towards my chest. His green eyes stared into my soul.

“Help for an old man?”

I froze. How did I get around him without causing offense or making a scene? This place already had my number. They were all looking at me again, a long-haired musician in the corner tuning his guitar while eyeing me indifferently, a stern painter scanning my figure primly, a poet shaking his head while regarding me wistfully, a blogger giving me thoughts as only a dabbling cognoscente can. I smiled my best fake and sidestepped the hand. His green eyes stared into my soul.

“Help for an old man?”

“Ah, not today, I don’t have anything.” I inched around him, stumbling over a wastebin filled to the brim with papers, and appeared at the counter. The squat lady was waiting for me.

“Hmph.” I reached out for my coffee, but she withheld it.

“I said wait over here,” she waved indistinctly.

“Sorry, ma’am. Thanks for the coffee.”

“Hmph.” She handed it to me, and I sipped it: three packets of sugar, no cream. My eyes bulged at the sweetness. She plopped the bagel on a napkin and shoved it across the counter, returning to an impatient customer without a word. I picked it up. It had Jalapeno’s on it.

Returning to my seat via a circuitous route around the old man – though indiscreetly bringing me within earshot of that young lady from before, who was falling asleep and had fallen silent from her pretty birdsong – I landed my pitiful catch on the empty table. Empty. Wait.

“Where are my papers?”

“For a man who wants out, where would important papers be?” It being only five or six in the morning, and my stomach full only of that shot of sugared coffee, I sat on it until my eyes wandered to the wastebin. Papers were scattered, more from carelessness than from malice, all across the floor.

“Wha-… Did you throw them out?” The man nodded. I waited, then more insistently, sort of realizing I had given him authority over them, I asked, “Why-did-you-throw-them-out?” With each word he needed to understand the significance of what he had just done.

“Because you let me.” He replied. I could feel my mouth beginning to loosen, but before my jaw could drop entirely, I got up again to rectify his mistake. Then that squat little woman from behind the counter gathered up the papers, stuffed them in the bin, and tossed half a cup of coffee in with them. They were ruined.

I sat back down, my hands in my head. The burden of all that work fell off my shoulders like hot slag, and I felt I was melting. At least I had my phone to comfort me. Ignoring his flashing gaze, I reconnected to my own little world. Silence. Furrowing my brow in frustration, I jerked my phone in front of my nose. It had that terrible sickly look of death lingering about it I had seen reflected in the eyes of countless other consumers. I watched as it died in my hands, and I wept at its passing.

“Now,” he said, that mountain of man looming over me, “Give me your coffee.”

I looked up wearily. Why, why, why? Was it this guy’s fault nothing was working out? Maybe he was in some criminal syndicate where they selected a random citizen from a big lottery to punish each day. Hooray, I’d won.

Hoping that by appeasing this agent of wrath and the criminal overlords that sent him, I heard myself agreeing once again. He took the INSPIRATION mug away, all three shots of sugar, and carried it to the corner of the shop where the girl in the knit sweater was asleep. He woke her up gently, handing it to her, and she drank. Immediately she sat up, started to hum again, and the long-haired guitarist in the corner got up and began to play. The two of them came together and sat near each other, picking up the chords of a song about wanderlust. Then the eyes of the poet lit up, suddenly struck with the next great bestselling novel, and began to write until his notebook burned with the speed of his scribbling. Then the painter relaxed and stared into the lines of her white canvas, and her brush brought vague contours together to take the shape of real things.

“Now,” he said again. “Give me your bagel.” Wordlessly, I gave it to him. He broke it in half and gave part of it to the old man with the rasping cough. He took it excitedly and bit into it, the fiery peppers no doubt giving him taste again where nicotine had taken it away. The other half he gave to the growling dog outside, which sat down and began wagging his tail. The old man shuffled out and the dog, smelling Jalapeno on him, must have thought he was the source of the treat, and the growling dog and the old man walked away down the street happy in each other’s company.

“Now,” he said, returning to my tiny little table and dead phone and cheap piece of plastic. “Leave that behind and follow me.”

I got up and followed him.