"And death--death is either oblivion or an eternity with our minds. Oblivion is fine. Eternity..."
May. 13th, 2010
A beginner's guide to hunting killer sheep.
[The following is all but whispered.]
If you haven't read Dr. Chase's recent announcement, please do so immediately. Avoid the sheep if possible. Refrain from fighting them unless you know what you're doing. Quarantine yourself if you are bitten.
These sheep apparently hunt in flocks; the attacks I've seen were carried out by anywhere from four to a dozen sheep. Unlike most sheep, these have teeth on both their upper and lower jaws as well as--if their bites are any indication--sharp canines. If you are outside, please keep in mind that sheep have remarkable auditory and olfactory senses. Don't try to sneak up on them. They can see behind themselves without turning their heads. Their depth perception, however, is limited, making darkened areas and hilly terrain difficult for them to traverse in--
[A pause. The sound of baaing grows louder before fading, allowing Justin to continue.]
Shooting them in the head is, as far as I can tell, the most effective way to kill them, but use caution. The sound of gunshots seems to attract rather than frighten them. Since these sheep seldom move alone, be prepared to face several even if you only see one.
Finally, the sheep appear to be selecting their victims. I've seen them ignore several easy targets to attack well-armed individuals or groups. Make of that what you will.
Jun. 15th, 2010
Dear Deities: A short essay on pain.
There are a number of questions that might be asked about pain: Is pain a purely subjective experience or an objective condition of a physical object? Does pain exist outside of perception? Does pain have a purpose beyond the biological? Is pain something to avoid or something to embrace? I could present the answers of philosophers and poets (Nietzsche, haunted by pain, had a lot to say on the topic), but that isn’t what the deities want, is it? They don’t want recitations and paraphrases; they want to know our thoughts and feelings. The subject with no secrets is easiest to manipulate and torment.
The prize they’ve offered is, I hope, worth a small surrender of our power.
There is no single definition of pain. We’re all familiar with physical pains—the brief sting of a cut, the useless throbbing of a bruise, the urgent scream of a serious flesh wound—and the more insidious pains of the mind and emotion. Physical pain is, I would argue, more straightforward and easier to overcome than emotional pain. Our bodies are equipped to handle the pains they suffer and our minds are strong enough to distance us in overwhelmingly painful situations. When the mind is tormented by pain, however, there’s nothing to save us. Despair, betrayal, jealousy, desolation, internal conflict—we’re not equipped with natural analgesics to combat these pains or a desire to extract ourselves from the situations causing pain. There’s something desirable about mental and emotional pain. At times we savor our bleaker, darker emotions, fostering their growth rather than distancing ourselves from them. Who hasn’t felt a sense of satisfaction in jealousy’s slow burn? Who can say that they haven’t found a certain amount of solace in an agonizing fit of sadness?
Pain can heighten our perception and sharpen our minds, leading us to epiphanies that would normally escape us. Pains can send us into a creative fervor, igniting thoughts and words that are only accessible in the depths of apparently inescapable agony. The antithesis of pain—not pleasure, for pleasure and pain appear to be inextricably intertwined—is ahedonism, or a complete lack of the pleasure-pains that spawn genius and an appreciation of existence. Nothingness may appear preferable to pain to those who can’t find an end to their suffering, but, to those who find themselves devoid of all feeling, pain is a treasure. Without some measure of pleasure or pain, life is a wasteland. There is no hope, no brilliance, no drive, no goal, and no reason for being.
We shouldn’t seek life without pain. Instead, we should master our pains—channel the raw emotions they create into something of value and learn to express pain appropriately. Unchecked pain is a weakness. It dims our minds, impairs our judgments, and makes our actions artless and overhasty. Pain controlled, however, can be beautiful. It can be powerful. Someone who has mastered his or her pain experiences a true freedom. Pain, as Nietzsche says, is the greatest tool that the strong can use to manipulate the weak. If we have control of our pain—not of the cause of the pain, perhaps, but of our reactions to it—then we are impervious to all attacks. Those who cause pain do so to assert their power. If the subject of pain doesn’t react favorably, then the victim gains power over the aggressor.
Pain, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, shouldn’t be avoided. What doesn’t destroy us wholly only gives us strength, and the pain that we master gives us freedom.
Jul. 4th, 2010
Depression and a holiday lead to drinking and rambling.
Growth, and then they send snow. The deities appreciate irony. If it's like last year, however, the garden will keep growing after the snow melts. The sudden snowfall doesn't kill most plants. It insulates. Still, I wonder about the connection to their prompts.
The flowers are all inside this year. This happened last year (June--I lost a pot of orchids to ice), and it seemed reasonable to assume it would happen again. Everything repeats itself here. The carousel turns, the clock keeps ticking, curses revisit us, there's constant leaving, entering, leaving again, re-entering... there's something to it. It means something. We can't even die without coming back. It's a city of self-perpetuation--of circles and repetition. Is that why time doesn't move at home when we're here? Does time run in circles here, too?
The clock and carousel mean something. Maybe time is bound in the clock.
What's the line... flottaison blême... et ravie, un noyé pensif parfois descend. "I bathed in the Poem / Of the Sea, star-infused and churned into milk, / Devouring the green azures; where, entranced in pallid flotsam, / A dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down..." Rimbaud. "The Drunken Boat"... Le Bateau Ivre.
A dreaming drowned man. I've wondered if this is a dream a thousand times since I came here, and I still expect to wake up and find that none of it happened. I don't know where I would wake up. I don't know where the drowned man goes once he's done dreaming. "Deliriums"... "under the gleam of daylight." Is there more to the City than that? A clock spinning in endless, delirious circles while we dream, convinced all the while that we're not dreaming?
The snow feels real. It's beautiful--snow. I never saw it at home. Not snow like this with icicles hanging off of the frozen flowers. I appreciate the illusion of purity it gives, however fleeting it is. It'll be gone in a day or two. The snow melted quickly last time.
When I used to dream, the dreams melted as soon as I was awake. I've never been a poet. I couldn't hold on to a dream long enough to write it down.
If this is a dream--and a persistent one--I should be able to write, but its dreamlike qualities come and go. Most days are like any waking days and, on those days, I'm convinced that this is real. The curses don't matter. It only becomes dreamlike when I think about it and try to understand. If I just experience, I feel awake; if I think, I feel like I'm dreaming.
Experiencing or thinking, I can't understand the symbolism.
Aug. 5th, 2010
After dying and buying his life back from the Keeper.
Asters. More specifically, these are Eurybia divaricata, or white wood asters. They flower in mid to late summer and early fall and are, to some, a symbol of patience. It takes approximately two years for an aster to flower fully, as this one has.
This was the second plant I had in the City. The first was an orchid, but Neith killed that last year. I'm surprised by how well plants do indoors with standard fluorescents; prior to the City, I had a greenhouse that received more than enough natural light for my purposes. They thrive, however--the plants--in spite of the artificial lighting, the occasional curse, and the insects they coexist with.
We do well as transplants. It takes time for us to adjust to this environment, but we do adjust eventually. Some of us do better here than at home...
For those who have wondered what the cost of a life is (I know I've given it thought), the answer, in my case, is eighteen eyes. Five pairs from cattle, four from pigs, all available for purchase in the City.
Sep. 20th, 2010
A curse induces over-sharing!
I don’t remember how old I was when I saw a cat catch a bird on the school playground. It must have been in kindergarten… first grade. It doesn’t matter. I was reading when I heard this noise. It was—there’s nothing to compare it to. I dropped my book and went to find what had made it and, under the old jungle gym that no one played on, there was a cat with a small brown bird in its mouth.
I just watched. I didn’t know what else to do. The cat released the bird and we both watched it as it tried to escape, wings fluttering and head turning this way and that. It was frightened. There was a moment when I felt as if I was watching something important… something strangely relevant. Some part of myself trying to run from the inevitable.
The cat killed it. I watched that, too, even after the bell rang and everyone else went inside. No one noticed, and I couldn’t make myself leave. Even after it was dead, that bird—I didn’t want to leave it. I chased the cat away and just stared at the bird’s body. It was sickening, but compelling. I felt like I had made a discovery, although I didn’t know—I still don’t know—what that discovery was.
Someone found me eventually. The gym teacher. He asked me what I was looking at, so I showed him. He called me a sick little fucker, picked the bird’s body up with a tissue, and threw it in the dumpster.
I cried. It’s idiotic in retrospect… slightly ironic. That was the same day that I learned that boys aren’t supposed to cry and parents don’t appreciate being asked what “fucker” means in certain contexts, but the bird was the worst of it. That was the first time I saw death—when I first began to understand it outside of vague childhood euphemisms. I didn’t fear death, and I didn’t regret not saving the bird… but I had a new awareness. Worthlessness. I had a glimpse at how meaningless an individual life is, and how little impact death has on the world as a whole.
Oct. 8th, 2010
This follows a supposedly apocalyptic flood, Beckett's abduction, shooting someone...
I prefer sins to threats of floods of Biblical proportions. Sinning--if you believe in sin outside of the context of curses--is part of being human. Even if you don't believe in the concept of sin, we're still inescapably flawed creatures that allow our base instincts to overwhelm our social conditioning.
Assuming this string of curses isn't followed by a Biblical punishment, it's not that bad.
Watch me jinx the entire City. I still think that atheists should be exempt from strictly religious curses.
I've been thinking about religion, though. I don't believe any of it--I have yet to see convincing evidence that a divine power exists--but, at times, I wish I did. Imagine having a set code to follow. Roman Catholics have seven sins that they must avoid and seven virtues to uphold; their world, in life and in death, has order and certainty. That's why I've read so much philosophy. It must be. I've been looking for secular codes of conduct--anything to give existence clarity, meaning, and structure.
Knowing what is moral and what is amoral is difficult regardless of what rules one follows. Many philosophies and religions provide ethical decision-making tools, but who can truly stop, analyze, and determine the best route under pressure? When I was given the choice to face Myrnin or find Beckett, what should I have done?
Almost two years ago--and before that--I wouldn't have made a choice. I would have stood there weighing the pros and cons of each decision until it was too late to act on either. I wouldn't have replied to Ken's message. I wouldn't have shot Sorrow. I was so obsessed with finding a philosophy and following it that I couldn't make decisions, even when it was necessary. I never realized how rigid life was. Go to school, study, read, think. Repeat. There were no decisions to make until Richard, and even then... even then I was too inflexible. The structure changed, but I was still trapped inside of it. It was religion. We were gods and, in this framework we--I--created, we had a course to follow. We had a path to enlightenment and perfection--oneness and power.
That's what it was to me. I don't know why Richard went along with it. Was it the thrill? I don't understand minds like his.
I regret being alive. It's taken almost two years to realize that. I regret building a cage around myself and becoming trapped in my own idiocy. Life's framework left no room for emotion. Decisions had to made intellectually and gut instincts were base things to master and control. In a way, it was useful. All of the emotions I could have felt were discarded. Any pain I could have experienced was stifled with reason. The emotions were still there--looking back, I can remember them--but they didn't fit into my rational worldview.
What would have happened if I had acted on the fear that I dismissed every time Richard and I broke a small law? What if guilt had kept me from strangling that woman? What if I had stopped thinking for a moment and started acting outside of the designated lines?
Something happened near the end. When the plan crumbled and the framework collapsed, there was nothing between me and my emotions. There was no nihilistic philosophy to fall back on. There was fear, disgust, anger, loathing... a sense of self-preservation. The dam broke and all I wanted was to erase my life and write it again. Cassie must have known that I wasn't motivated by selflessness when I saved her, both from the bullet and from falling. She must have known. I was weak. I wanted to save my life, even if it wasn't worth saving.
I still don't know how I feel about Richard. In the end, I couldn't sort out the emotions--assign them to events and people. I felt betrayed when he backed out on the suicide pact, but there was more than that. The knowledge that he would have watched me blow my brains out after all we had done...
But I'm not angry. When I think of Richard now, all I feel is guilt. If he hadn't had me as a tutor for biology... if we hadn't started discussing crime... I don't know what would have happened. I would have stayed trapped by idiotic dogmas and he would have gone on to do something remarkable. Then again, if he hadn't encouraged me--if he hadn't translated my abstract ideas into actions--it wouldn't have happened. We destroyed each other. That is undeniable. Cassie might have been the one to throw him off of the balcony, but I was the one who killed him. He killed me. I think I was dead--dead in all of the important ways--before I set foot inside the state jail.
We built our own framework. I provided the blueprints, he provided the labor. I'll never know if Richard believed in becoming more than human and unity or if he was ever serious about the suicide pact. I think it was a game to him--one he could quit if it became too difficult. I don't think he had any intention of dying. Then why did he play? He said it was me, but at least half of everything that came out of Richard's mouth was a lie. I did believe him, at least to a degree. I wanted to believe that I was special and worthy of the power we were seeking, and he almost had me convinced. I regret that, too--not feeling where Richard was concerned. Maybe he was manipulating me. Maybe he meant some of what he said. If I would have let myself feel before the plan was made, we might have been friends. It seems unlikely, but if he saw anything in me...
When I saw Richard's body, it was like having every emotion I had repressed up to that point hit me simultaneously. He meant something to me. I don't know what--I never will know--but he did.
After that initial outpouring of emotion, emotions ceased entirely. I wasn't afraid of prison. I wasn't afraid of dying. I wasn't thankful to my father for flying back to California, hiring a decent lawyer, and moving my execution date forward so I wouldn't have to spend an extended amount of time surrounded by other murderers. In retrospect, prison could have been hell. A seventeen year-old on murderers' row. I was fortunate. I didn't realize it at the time because I had already decided to die. If the Haywoods' lawyer hadn't been so convincing and I had been given a light sentence, I think I would have died anyway. There was no plan and no philosophy to save me. There wasn't a point.
There weren't visitors. A few months of isolation--I think they drove me insane.
And now I can see how far I've come. When I came to the City, I was a shell. Even with Richard here, my emotions were remote and all I had was a shoddy reconstruction of my prior beliefs to guide me.
When did it change? When did apathy--an almost self-destructive apathy--turn into feeling? When did I begin to listen to emotion and reason instead of reason exclusively? What was the catalyst? Did it happen when Road showed me what kind of a monster I had been intent on becoming?
What good has it done me?
Feeling doesn't result in wise decision-making. I could have apprehended Myrnin, assuming he had been willing to surrender. That would have been logical. That would have been right, I think, according to the police code. I went after Beckett instead. I could justify the decision... had Myrnin resisted, I wouldn't have had a chance against him; my position in the department doesn't require that kind of activity; locating Beckett was as much a priority as capturing Myrnin. I followed my emotions--fear that Myrnin would kill me, concern for Beckett. It wasn't noble. A couple of years ago, I would have considered my choice a weak and cowardly one.
And the debacle with Sorrow. I didn't have to reply to Ken's message; Tuesdays are my days off. I didn't have to respond in person because I'm not trained to handle violent situations, but it seemed like the right thing to do. There was no time for analysis. There was no time to analyze the situation before I shot Sorrow. I thought he would kill Ken. Emotion prompted a hasty and regrettable action.
I had meant to kill him--Sorrow. I had aimed at his head, but my hands were shaking. There was rationale behind the decision. If he was dead, Ken would be safe and Sorrow would return, presumably not as a vampire. Simple. I didn't think it through before I shot, but I can justify it.
I tried to kill someone. I've never shot anyone before. I used to practice at home, and I was good, but I didn't shoot anything living. I'm a terrible killer.
Richard ran over a cat when he was fifteen and he had his learner's permit. He drove to school even though he wasn't allowed to and, one day, he hit a cat in the parking lot. I cried about that--about a cat. I was fourteen. Three years after that, I strangled a woman. I think I cried then, too. The emotions associated with the events were, and still are, vague... detached. I had mastered the art of detachment. But something about them still hurt.
I threw up when I dumped the body. It wasn't the gore. I can tolerate blood. I don't remember throwing up, but it must have been guilt. The same thing happened with Sorrow. I can't tell the difference between guilt and nausea anymore.
It would have been kinder to kill Sorrow. I saw his post on the network tonight. If I had had better aim, I could have solved his vampire problem. I could have prevented whatever pain is involved when a jaw is reconstructed. Better yet, I could have been a more efficient leader during Beckett's absence. I could have done something to capture Myrnin and Sorrow, making the above decisions unnecessary. I could have been kinder to Shilo and Zia. They both wanted me on the ark, but reason said no. Reason told me to hold my position.
I've made more mistakes than I can count in the last few weeks. I've thought about them; when I think about them, all of the other mistakes I've made come back. I don't even know how to feel about them. Part of me is still controlled by reason and part of me feels things with an urgency that I can't fully deny. This must be normal--how normal people are. Part reason, part emotion. I'm not used to it. I'm too weak to listen to both parts.
Road has known that since we met. I've fought her about it, insisting that emotion strengthens rather than weakens. Maybe it does in most people, but it's a lie when I say it about myself.
I'm weak. No matter how I try to refute it, it holds true. The worst things that Richard said about me might not have been true then, but they are now. I thought I was becoming stronger, but these last few weeks--I've done nothing but make mistakes. I've hurt people. I joined the police, in part, to repent--to make up for what I had done. Now I've undone any progress I might have made while I was here. I don't even know if that apparent progress was authentic or if I had simply convinced myself that redemption was possible. Not religious redemption, but a way of making up for my past mistakes. Of erasing them.
Cassie told me that it isn't possible to escape past mistakes. We all have one life to live, even if a dimensional crossover intervenes and gives us the illusion of a second chance.
Even without the rules and philosophies that I depended on--even without the repression of emotion that was more an instinct than a conscious decision--I'm a destructive force. Some defect in me--in my mind, maybe--will keep me doing more harm than good. I'm wrong. Fundamentally, genetically, however. The world would have been better if I hadn't been in it. Richard would have graduated by now... he would have done something with his life. He could be cruel, but he could also be sincere and kind, albeit in a warped way. The woman--Olivia Lake--would still be alive. She would still be able to shop for groceries and do whatever else she did. Lisa and my parents might have been better off. There's no way to know.
After I shot Sorrow, something strange happened. I don't know if it was a kind of magic--I have to accept that such things exist here--or a trick of my own mind, but it was terrifying. There was fear, pain, loneliness... guilt. A worried face. I think the thoughts were from Sorrow, but I can't be sure. Other than the faces, the feelings could have been mine. It must have been him.
It could have been me.
I couldn't avoid his entry on the network, and I was compelled to read Beckett's reply to him. "I'm not really interested in what a murderer's idea of just and unjust might be." That's what she said. She said it to someone who could have been me, and she said it with such disgust. Do I need to remind her? Does she know that I'm the one who mutilated him?
Sometimes--usually when I've been around Shilo, Neil, and Todd fairly frequently--I believe I've changed. I believe I'm a good person. When Beckett trusts me to handle paperwork, I feel like I've accomplished something. To have someone like her trust me--surely that means something. When the other officers treat me like a peer and not a socially awkward killer... I lie to myself. I lie convincingly. I've been building a new framework in the City, and something tore it down.
I want to run. I've made too many mistakes. Thinking that I could redeem myself somehow by trying to enforce the City's nonexistent laws was idiotic. There aren't second chances, and Beckett could say that to me as easily as she said it to him. She would be justified in doing so. Shilo--I don't understand why she doesn't have someone better. I've hurt her before; it's only a matter of time before I make another mistake. I barely know Zia and I can't fathom why she seems to care. Is it because I bought candy for her?
The only company I deserve is Road's.
If I was convinced that death--the true death that comes after the City--was annihilation and not another chance to ruin more lives... if I thought that death was enough to escape...
Would I do it, or am I too weak?