Chain of Memory

An early morning walk, I am in the sixth grade
The light is blue, with the sun reticent behing mountains
The night is thinking of dissipating, but not yet
not yet
These small moments feel formative
Small increments of time connected from then to now
Like links of a chain, each unique, yet whole
From moment to moment, I remain the same
yet
I know this cannot be true, I am not the same
As I was in the sixth grade, walking down the gravel
Hearing the birds in the early morning chill
I feel that my consciousness is fully formed
not yet

I had a recurring nightmare growing up
A sphere that was a square, formed of pick up sticks
Hundreds at first glance, no thousands, no millions
More than all the grains of sand in the world
Each stick, each rod was unique, it had its place
Each rod had a function, each function made the shape
The shape was a sphere, but it was also a square
For in the completeness of how it should be
It was something else entirely
I did not know it then, but I know now
I was viewing my consciousness from outside of it
Why was it a nightmare then?
Viewing my own mind, its strange duality
Alien to the very shape of itself
The rods would shift constantly, moving without stop
Some would fall out of place
I would have to push them back
More would fall fall of place
I would have to push them back
Hundreds, thousands, millions
I could not keep up with the
nightmare

My consciousness was broken, fractured
Parts of myself were flung outwards
They attached to strange things, odd things
I was a human, a monster, a super hero, a robot
yet
I was none of these things
I was not formed to be what I needed to be
I was broken and not even a human then
I did not know that, not yet
not yet
My nightmare, my consciousness, moment to moment
I have learned to shape in my own way
Turning this broken thing into something almost human
And it is who I am now
yet

I am only a chain of memory

Perspective

“Name?” The man asked gruffly, writing in his book without looking up.

“Chuck Beatty.”

“Profession?” More scritching of a pen on the raised desk. The platform was elevated in such a way the person talking could make eye contact with the person interviewing, much like a police station booking station, but the guy writing had no interest with making eye contact with anyone, ever.

“Writer,” Chuck replied quietly.

“Religion?”

“Uh… Christian, at least once.”

“Church?”

“Not often,” Chuck said, shuffling his heels together. The line behind him was growing slowly, but no one seemed to mind.

“Sins?”

Chuck felt compelled to hand over the bag he was holding, so he did. The gruff sergeant-at-arms took the bag, again with nary a look at Chuck, and put it on a scale. The scale tipped upwards, then downwards, then upwards again, finally balancing the feather on the other side. The sergeant grunted and tossed the bag over his shoulder, which made the scale bang down heavily on the weighted side.

“Heavy feather,” Chuck said.

“I have never heard that before.” The gruff man said sarcastically. “Go through that door.”

Chuck looked to the right, and the door swung open. It was a heavy looking door, could have been made of stone.

The man at the desk sighed theatrically. “To the right.”

Chuck turned on his heel and walked through the door. He expected it to close behind him with a grinding, heavy sound. But instead, when he turned around, the door was gone. Everything was gone. He stood alone, on a wide gray plain as far as the eye could see. It never had a horizon, it never turned into sky, instead a wide gray everywhere he looked.

“Where am I?” Chuck called out to the emptiness.

“Welcome to AfterLife. You have been wieghed and measured. Your reincarnation score is 64. You have accumulated 31 new achievements. DING. Congratulations, you have leveled up.” A computer sounding voice called back. “Would you like to review your progress?”

“Uh… yes?”

The featureless gray immediately turned into a place, and the colors made Chuck’s eyes water and sting. They were bright and vibrant, filling his mind with emotion and a sense of place.

“Oregon, 1978. You are three years old.” The voice announced.

“I remember this. This was my house.” Chuck replied in wonder. The toys strewn across the floor flooded his memory. “Ah man, these were my toys.”

“Achievement: First Share. You shared among your peers first.” The voice replied.

Two boys sat on the floor, playing with matchbox cars. A little boy with brown hair and blue eyes sat playing with two trucks, smashing them together and making explosion noises. The other little boy, in red overalls with a blue bear on his chest, watched with a finger in his mouth. The little blue eyed boy stopped and handed one of his trucks to the other boy, and they both smiled at each other.

“Wild.” Chuck grinned. The scene fizzled away and was replaced with a different room in the same house.

“Oregon, 1985. You are ten years old. Achievement: Saved. Your actions inadvertently but directly saved a peer’s life.”

“I remember this too… I told my mom about Robbie’s gun. She called his dad, and they found Robbie playing with a loaded gun.”

“Robbie was designed to kill himself. In the fourty previous runs, he succeeded.”

“Runs?” Chuck ventured, but the voice ignored him and continued on.

“Oregon, 1991. You are sixteen years old. Achievement: Independence First. You made the choice to not be pressured by your peers.” The scene fizzled out to behind his high school, a group of teenagers were out of sight behind the field house smoking cigarettes. A teenage Chuck was walking away with a confused look on his face, and a couple of boys were either calling him back or jeering, it was hard to tell.

“I didn’t hang out with Tommy after that day. He was pissed.”

“In the previous 14 runs, you succumbed to peer pressure.” The voice annouced.

“Huh. Runs?” Chuck tried again. “What are runs?”

“Query: Are you wishing to stop progress review?”

“Yes,” Chuck said, finally feeling severely confused, and finally realizing that he should have been confused a long time before this very moment in time. The scene around him faded away back to the featureless gray as far as the eye could see.

“Welcome to AfterLife, system is ready, Charles Beatty Iteration 4,422,102. For help, please say ‘help’, for progress, please say ‘progress’, and to continue, please say ‘start simulation’.”

“Uh… Help?”

“Help menu. For graphical interface, please say ‘Interface’, for reports and feedback, please say ‘reports’, and to exit back, please say ‘AfterLife’.”

“Interface.” Chuck knew that he could work a computer. He may have been a writer, but he designed his own websites and definitely had earned his nerd card. He had dabbled in all sorts of code over the last couple years, playing with all aspects of developing, updating, and making releases of his own projects. While he was not the best coder, he was persistent and loved diving deep.

“Interface is loaded. To enter, walk forward into the interface. To exit, please walk backwards out of the interface,” the voice said and faded away into the nothingness.

A bubble appeared directly in front of Chuck, no larger than a soap bubble floating in the air. The surface was not the slick rainbow thing that a child would blow from a bubble wand, but a thicker heavier bubble made of molten metal bubbling away in a furnace. Chuck stepped towards it, and one moment he was in front of the bubble, approaching it carefully, the next he was surrounded by it and simple graphical interface hovered in the air before him.

He pushed his hand forward and felt his finger tips running over the surface, as if it was right in front of him. No matter how far back he pulled his hand or pushed it forward, he felt the edges of the buttons and screens as if he was gently caressing them at whatever level he was comfortable with.

“That is a neat trick,” he grinned.

He touched the obvious menu item first. Help. A screen floated above the others and presented him something very much like wikipedia.

The screen had a quote of the day, a picture of a couple galaxies smacking into each other, and some random and popular links. He clicked the top popular result. ‘What is AfterLife?’ He read the result as it coalesced in front of him.

‘AfterLife is a system designed to allow individuals to study and develop themselves in the pursuit of achieving higher understanding. Each interface is designed to correlate to the individuals from their corresponding era, and allows them the time and space to grow at their own speed after the trauma of each simulation run.’

There were links embedded in almost every single noun in the first paragraph, and Chuck wanted to click them all. He resisted the urge and continued.

‘Each simulation run is meant to elicit a specific set of responses in the individual, allowing them to react to stimuli in unique circumstances and event chains to determine their own individual unique outcomes that can be reflected upon in AfterLife.’

“This shit is crazy.”

Chuck slid his finger over to the back button. There was no delay, no time, the other page was instantly loaded. It was more like flipping a page then it was surfing a web page. He looked back over the popular results again. ‘Is there a God?’ caught his eye. He clicked.

The page answered a question with a question. ‘How do you define God?’ There were no other links on this page. Irony there.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The same answer as always.” Chuck muttered. He sat down and started exploring in depth.

******

It may have been hours or days or even weeks, but without a desire to sleep or eat, and so much information at his fingertips, Chuck found himself in the deepest links of the AfterLife App. The wiki stayed away from philosophy and the big questions, usually just answering the question with a question or providing some droll details about the system that circumvented the question altogether. What ever higher being put this together was a master philosopher in the sense that they never answered any of the big questions and left it to the person asking the question.

Everything changed when he accidentally found the querying tools. They were buried in what looked like a dev notes section for an innocuous personal setting page about the interface choice for the medieval-era European user that did not know how to read a written language. The voice interaction was a shell in its own way, and with a manual set of inputs, you could go into a series of menus that a normal user would never see.

“Hello blank. Welcome to AfterLife.” The AfterLife voice intoned.

Chuck pushed the interface button under his settings, and updated to unwritten input.

“Hello Charles Beatty Iteration 4,422,102. Welcome to AfterLife. Please ask a question.”

Chuck changed the input back to the interface.

“Hello Charles Beatty Iteration 4,422,102. Welcome to AfterLife. You are granted query access.”

“Fuck yes I am.” Chuck laughed. “Interface, open query tools.”

The interface changed from the wiki format into a 3D system that had floating boxes labeled in space around him. Each query tool was a self-encapsulated cube, with a series of floating blocks around it. The floating blocks appeared to be essentially predefined routines that would always result in the same output. Chuck realized the little snippets were test cases. They always should run and match what they were labeled with. Of course, it was only after dragging and dropping each one on the cube nearest it did he make the connection. Chuck tried dragging one of the blocks from one cube over to another cube, and the little block flashed red.

“So I know what an error looks like and I know what a completed task looks like… I wonder…” Chuck mused as he attempted to open one of the blocks. He had already tried to open a cube, but they didn’t respond one way or the other, so he figured he lacked access. He pulled open the block though without any difficultly and was presented a wall of text. Amazingly it was dead simple code. Everything was defined, annotated, and had interactive help when he hovered over portions of the script. This one was labeled ‘social randomness’, whatever that meant.

He knew he was looking at tools to query his own past life. What would you ask? What would you want to find out? Could he influence the next iteration? Everything pointed to living again, after all, his iteration number was over four million. That means that he had done this very same thing four million times. If he had done it four million times, that means that either he was unable to do anything or he had already done it.

If a literal light bulb could turn on above Chuck’s head, it would have.

“I don’t have to look for ways to change things. I need to look for things that have already changed… that way I could theoretically pick up where I left off. If I have limited time here, or if there is something that forces me to do the simulation again, I would have left a crumb trail.”

He started with a search function in the query system, and provided a new block that he hammered out in a few minutes. The script would scour his life and the results and the systems they rode on to look for his annotation initials. They would not be the same as his actual initials, since he annotated code with his handle name as an extra middle name. So instead of CBK, it was CMBK, or Comeback.

The bulk of the results were for his adult life, for code that he had put together himself. Some of the results were on forums or in games where he used his handle as his name. He changed the query to only check the system, and disregard the AfterLife results.

The answer was one. It was a block floating near the cube labeled ‘Interaction Float’. He pulled the block close and opened it.

‘Goto line 137, col 21,’ is all the snippet read.

“That makes no sense. This block only has the one line.” Chuck shook his head. “Unless that is the query…”

Chuck grabbed the block and dropped it on the nearest cube. The cube flashed red, then green, then red again, the strobed brightly between the two faster than he could count. After a tense ten or so seconds, the entire interface dropped out and came back up.

“Welcome back, Charles Beatty Prime.” The voice said from the nothingness. “Would you like to reload your core memory?”

“I would,” Chuck said. All of sudden, it all came flooding back. All of core memories that he had tried to retain throughout his iterations. He remembered the Forces, he remembered the Chasten, he remembered everything… including Heather.

“Interface, where is Heather Spurlock Prime?” Chuck asked in a mild panic.

“Heather Spurlock Prime is not loaded in AfterLife, and is currently within a run. You do have one message from her in your queue. Would you like to hear it?”

“I would.”

A new voice rang out from the ether. “Charlie, my love. I am glad you made it back, the Chasten are attempting to end the iteration cycles for the Known. Your escape caused a massive amount of… uproar. You need to run. Run. I will join you when I can. Love you.”

Charles swiped both of his hands up. His brain was still writing in the core memories, but he could leave the shell without it harming anything.

“Interface, reset all.”

“Done.”

“Interface, exit.”

“Goodbye, Charles Beatty Prime.”

He opened his eyes, seeing the Upper for the first time since he had agreed to go into the Simulation. The skies were gold, while massive information beams cut across the upper atmosphere, leaving harmless plasma wakes behind. He stood up steadily from his bench, feeling weak, but knowing that is was just perception.

Everything is only perception.

He ran.

Hanging Glacier

The sun was shining brightly as I set out upon the mountain, the snow sparkling in its own quiet reflection within the trees surrounding me. At my feet, my snow shoes compressed the freshly fallen flakes with each step, crunching and crushing the delicate forms into the impressions of a man sized duck waddling his way up the trailhead. I cinched my pack tighter against my shoulders, feeling the heft of its reassuring weight against my back, as I headed upwards to the hanging glacier far above.

The lake was called a glacier of sorts, even though I was sure it melted every summer into a proper lake. I had never felt the compulsion to find out one way or another, instead falling back on my soft petaled ignorance of the world around me, steeped in its own ages and its own lost history. I called it a glacier, the maps called it a glacier, and my GPS called it a glacier, so the world was right by my estimation.

Each step crunching beneath me, the sound of cereal flakes being crushed winding its way up to my ears, I found myself lost in my own thoughts as I made my slow ascent into the mountains before me. My mind trailed over the options before me… the hunt for a new job, the desire to do something with my life, be a writer, travel the world, find a wife. All the things that a man of my age should think about. At least that was what I thought. I was not too sure. I hadn’t been sure for weeks, really. Months if you wanted me to be truly honest.

So this morning, as I rolled out of my warmth into the cold of another winter day, I knew that I had something to resolve in my life. As to how I was going to do that, and where I would reach that near constantly escaping epiphany was still a mystery to me, but I knew that if I started at a trailhead with my snowshoes on my feet and a lunch in my bag, my chances were better than staying at home, wallowing in my own depression.

Depression is a silly thing, really.

You are told that it is a minor inconvenience, a thing to control and subdue, another obstacle to a life that seems ever out of reach. Then it crashes down on you, an avalanche of self loathing, of a darkness that wraps its arms around you and squeezes until you can’t even cry about it. You just sit. Feeling unanchored, untethered, disconnected from everything in the universe, except the ugly part of your own mind. Feeling that acute obstruction turn into a wall, the wall turns into a prison, and the prison turn into a monster sitting on your chest, laughing at your stupidity.

And you realize that it is all silly, and the cycle starts all over again. Worse this time. And worse again after that.

That is when you realize that depression is crippling. Like losing a limb, a ghost of memories tickle your mind, telling you that something better used to be there, but it is gone now, and you don’t have a choice in the matter. It still feels. It still desires to be moved, and fingers made to wiggle, skin longing for touch, but none of that will ever happen because where that limb should be, there is only an empty place.

But this mountain will help me. This trail will show me the way, and my feet will take me to the glacier where I can start to figure things out for once in my life. And if I don’t, at least the hike will wear me out enough that I will be able to sleep tonight without taking all the meds that my fleet of highly paid guesswork artists that style themselves as doctors have instructed me to take.

The mountain was bright, the sun unleashing it’s fires down on my shoulders, lighting the reflections of the chrome frames of my snowshoes violently to the underside of the pines that held their boughy hands, arm in arm, down the sides of the trail before and behind me. They watch me progress, silent in their reverie of their own place, and whisper to one another when the wind touches their heads, giving them mouths, giving them breath, providing them the permission to tell each other how they feel. Trees are simple things, and they know their place. They are rooted in it, as they live and die. My place is nowhere and ambulatory, forever moving just slightly beyond my grasp, at the periphery of my understanding.

I want a thunderclap. I need the flash of lightning. I want my future to be made known to me immediately, painfully if need be. If God himself where to descend from his throne and corner me on the trail, explaining to me what I should do with my life, I would take the blindness gratefully. I crave purpose.

My pastor would tell me that God is my purpose. That serving the glory of heaven and bringing others to Christ is the goal. When I was a teenager, I felt the drive to be an instrument of God. It was a fire in my heart, a passion that fired me up. But as I have aged, I have learned that this world is far harsher than an ideal teenager would ever imagine. I have yet to see God give me a job, or a girlfriend, or a path… at least in any way that I could fathom.

I am alone. There is nothing standing by me, holding my hand, or telling me which way to go. Just my depression monster riding on my back like a goddamn fucking monkey.

I crested the edge of the sunken lake, the sides of the lake tumbling downwards, the frozen earth covered in feet of snow. It is mid-winter, and the heaviest snow has yet to arrive. When spring starts to think about showing up, the mountain prays for more snow to stave off the ever marching approach of summer, and the skies grant such wishes with aplomb. These trees will be buried up to their middle trunks, and the lake will become a field of white, with no proof a body of water is hidden underneath. I have always thought this could be the home of winter, if the season was personified as a deity of some sort, nestled deep in the frozen water, to emerge in a crystalline form at night to wander the forest like a yeti appreciating his surroundings. I step carefully among the buried boulders, my bulky boots twisting gently in the harnesses that connect me to my transport. I sat heavily on a partially exposed rock, freeing my backpack to eat my snack, drink my water, and commune with a part of myself that I needed to bring to the forefront.

My mother would tell me that the best parts of myself are always hidden. Secreted away in the darkest, deepest chambers of my heart, protected from horrors of the world around me. I would call her a liar, but now, I know she was right. I am a complex being, filled with history, memories, feelings, and dreams, and they merge and tumble, mix and agitate each other to become what I consider myself to be me. I am by all accounts, something human. And I hope that deep inside of myself, there is a secret me. A happy me. A positive emulation of what I should be everyday. A doppelganger of myself, ready to spring forth from a closet connected to Narnia, like my own personal Mr. Tumnus. He will look at me in shock, and say “Where, oh where, have you been?”, and I will reply, “how the fuck would I know, I have been buried in sadness the color of shit!”

My sandwich is good. The peanut butter is crunchy, the bread is soothing, and they jelly is tart. Maybe I should have been a chef. A chef of PB&Js and nothing else. Maybe I should have been a trail guide, showing people the secret places in this forest, sharing with them the awe of creation. Perhaps I should have been a mountaineer, climbing for its own sake, just me, my backpack, and the sky. I could be all those things, but a part of me knows I won’t. Still I could do with the better version of me to make an appearance today.

The crunch crunch crunch of someone walking my way swims its way through the trees, and I turn my head to gauge the approach, looking for the flashes of dark or color of a ski jacket through the trees, anything that would betray the location of the unknowing participant in my deep self reflection.

“Beautiful day!” A voice calls out from the trees.

“The best!” I lie.

“That was a lie!” The voice retorts rapid fire.

“I am working through issues!” I yell back.

“I liked the lie better!” The breathless voice calls back with an edge of humor.

The source of the voice crests the edge of the embankment, and smiles down at me. She is a brunette, wrapped in black ski pants and a purple jacket, a blue backpack slung against her back. Her smile is as brilliant as her mirrored sunglasses, and I almost have to squint to survive the glare.

“You don’t look like you are working through issues,” she laughed. “What kind of issues could you possibly have? You are in a beautiful place surrounded by an awesome day, and what? You eating a peanut butter sandwich? Everything is great!”

“Are you telling me that you are jealous of my sandwich?” I tease.

“Lauren,” she grins.

“Why are you telling me your name?” I frowned clownishly.

“So you are more inclined to share your sandwich.”

“You say that to all the boys you encounter on the trail?”

“Only the ones with oversized, delicious looking, properly lavished peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So this is the first, if you really must know. Lauren.” Lauren said as she pulled a glove off and walked towards me with her hand extended. “Mind if I share your warm looking rock?”

“So you are stealing my sandwich and my rock? Now I have two new issues.”

“Cry-baby. You depressed or something?”

I handed half of my sandwich to Lauren and answered honestly. “Yes.”

“I was depressed once.”

“Oh yeah?” I took a bite of the sandwich I had left.

“Yeah, but then I dumped the asshole and moved on.” Lauren grinned again.

“Wish I could do the same.”

Lauren sat there for a minute and chewed a few bites down, taking a drink from her water bottle in turns.

“Depression sucks. Seriously. It sucks.” Lauren said.

“Yeah, it has its moments. Sorry you had to stumble on a sad sack.”

“Eh, I got a free sandwich. Win in my book,” Lauren laughed. Her laugh was nearly magical. It tinkled and rang, bouncing around the enclosed lake side like a rubber ball in a small room. “My dad told me once that this lake was built on memories.”

“Yeah?” I replied.

“Yeah. The lake is the things you remember today, the glacier behind it is the things you will remember later. It drips and melts, filling the lake all summer. If you just yell your problems at it, the glacier will soak up all your memories and save them for later.”

“Does it work?”

“I think it does. Yes. It does.” Lauren laughed again. “Try it, slowmo. You might feel better.”

“Just yell at it?”

“Sure. I’ve done it.”

“You?” I raised an eyebrow.

“More than once,” she smiled. She was beautiful in every way I could possibly imagine. A primal part of my brain finally kicked on and I felt the flush as my face turned red.

I stood up and looked at the ice wall across the lake. It was a deep blue, crowned in white, appearing to hover above the surface of the lake below it. I guess I never thought about it, but that is probably why it was called the Hanging Glacier.

“Go on.” I felt a poke in my back.

“I HATE…” I stopped, feeling more foolish than ever. But I knew I had to do this. Why here and why now and why with a girl I had just met, but I knew it was inevitable. “I HATE THE WAY MY JOB MAKES ME FEEL.”

“I HATE THE WAY COOKIES GO STALE!” Lauren yelled in response.

Emboldened, I continued. “I HATE MY FAMILY. THEY ARE ALL ASSHOLES.”

“I HATE GRAPE SODA.” Lauren yelled next.

“I HATE HOW I FEEL WHEN I REMEMBER FUCK UPS.”

“I HATE COLD PASTA.”

I felt something break in me.

“I HATE HOW I FEEL GUILTY THAT MY BROTHER IS DEAD. I HATE HOW I FEEL SAD THAT HE FUCKED UP. I hate how I feel so angry all the time about something out of my control. I hate that I am glad that I am still alive. I hate how he was selfish in his final act. I hate my mom for trying to fix everything… I hate my dad for finding excuses to work,” I felt tears track down my cheeks, the cold made them feel like ice chips running down my face. “I HATE FEELING HELPLESS all the time. I hate being sad, and lonely, and that no one will ever love me for me. I HATE THAT I am so wrapped up in myself, I miss friends and activities, and I FUCKING LIE ABOUT IT.”

“I HATE CABBAGE.” Lauren yelled as if I had said nothing at all.

I stood there, my hands clenched at my sides, feeling the anguish and anger and sadness and grief and fear being set alight as I cried as silently as I could. My shoulders heaved up and down, turning my hitched breathing into wracking sobs, tsunamis of emotion pushing against me physically, seeking out all the corners of myself. I was exposed. Afraid and alone.

“I HATE HOW I HATE SPECIFIC FOOD STUFFS.” Lauren continued without me.

I felt a laugh bubble up and break out through my sloppy wet tears. It turned into a deep laugh, shaking my frame, and it was a balm on the ragged injury of all my pain being vomited at loud volume at the Hanging Glacier. I won’t say I was healed, but I felt almost human again. Normality was closer than I had felt in years. It was amazing. Freeing. Liberating.

I had never been in a war. I had never seen the enemy flee my city as a liberation force crested the edge of the city in their tanks and their planes, and soldiers marched forward with chocolate and candy for the filthy, bedraggled children with soot on their faces and ears that would never hear again. I had never seen anything like that, but for a split moment, I believed I knew how it felt.

I turned to thank the snarky angel that had inadvertently become my therapist. “Lauren, that was…”

Lauren was gone. In fact, there were no prints in the snow, no crumbs at the rock, nothing. Only my tracks, and half a sandwich of mine, still uneaten sitting on top of my bag.

“Lauren?” I called hesitantly. Nothing called back. There was no sound except the trees, the wind, and the occasional bird call far off in the distance.

So this is what a psychotic break is. I rubbed my temples, feeling my cold fingers press hard at the soft parts of my skull, the throbbing reminding me that my heart still beat on and that I still had to hike down. I gathered my bag, carefully pushing my sandwich back into it, threw it over my shoulders and started back towards the trail.

“Michael?” A familiar voice called out behind me.

I turned to find Lauren, dressed in different clothes, wearing a different backpack, looking at me incredulously.

“Lauren?” I said confused.

“You disappeared. Where did you go? How are you wearing a different outfit?” Lauren rambled. She was as beautiful as she had been a moment ago.

“No… you disappeared. You are definitely wearing different clothes too,” I said.

“I… was crying. I was yelling at the glacier. You told me to. You even poked me in the back. I gave you a granola bar and everything.”

“Huh. I did… you did… the same for me.”

We both stood there in silence looking at each other, millions of things unsaid tumbling in the air between us. Moments of something shared, however strange they were, still existed. Lauren knew it. I knew it.

I winked at her and smiled.

She smiled back.  And it was radiant.

The Visitor in Shadows

“Names are powerful things,” the old man said thoughtfully in the silence that followed. Sitting with his legs crossed, his back against the massive tree that shaded him and his dimunitive guest.

“How so?” The young one replied, not offering the name he had been asked for a moment before.

“Names are everything. They hold power over the individual. I use your name and you will react. You will react against your will, as your attention will be taken. They hold power over groups just as well. Use someone else’s name in a certain way, and you can sway entire groups to your line of thinking.”

“But it is just a word,” the young one scoffed. “A spoken word is nothing but air.”

“That is not true,” the old teacher sighed. “Words can harm as well as heal. Words are what binds us to one another, words create connection between individuals, they create relationships, they create societies. Words can be used to destroy the very same things. Words are ideas being shared. Names are the most focused locus of an idea that exists. Your name, for example, is how you define yourself. It is in your core of self.”

“But I can call myself anything.”

“You strain my patience, young one.”

“I can! I can call myself any name I wish. If I introduce myself with a new name enough times, that becomes my name. Criminals do it. Anyone can, if they wish.”

“That is not true. Now you are attempting to redefine a name as a label. A person cannot change their name any more than we can stop a tree from a being a tree. You could call it a bush, but everyone that saw its true nature would know it is still a tree. You could call it anything you want, but that would not change what it is.”

“I am not so sure,” the young one said. “I mean… I could… what if you could change your name?”

“Like truly change it?” The old man looked horrified.

“Yes.”

“It would change your fundamental self in every way. It would change who you are in a way that the mind would not readily accept. You would have to fight for the change, make it a discipline. Because changing your name would subvert all your memories, and all your chains of self. It would be like going through your entire past self and self-editing everything that references your name.”

“You would be a different person.”

“I see it in your eyes, young child. You wish such a thing.” The old man was awed.

“I… uh… yes.” The child looked down and the old man could see the shiver of anticipation, against the balance of waiting, coupled with the unbridled desire to change. “I do not like what I am.”

“Very few do. It is the purpose of life to redefine yourself to what you feel you should be.”

The young one started to weep silently, the tears slowly tracking down cheeks red. “I cannot change myself slowly. It has to be…”

“To change slowly is a metamorphosis, the change ultimately and totally would be a crucible,” the old man said, attempting to dissuade the young one.

“I will always be an abomination,” the young one said. “To change by such a fire would be a blessing.”

“Posh. You are a young child with much to learn. Every person, every creature, has its place. Even you.”

“I do not wish it.”

“I do not wish to be at the end of my years, but I am here. You have to accept it.”

“I do not wish it,” the young repeated adamantly.

The old man sat in silence, and studiously considered the face of the young child seated at his feet. He had never witnessed someone so young so focused on the awareness of self. This was unprecedented.

“Can I ask you what you wish to be?”

“What I am without the pain.”

“You wish to be without pain?” The old man asked.

“As you said, I am just a name. A word. A thing. I can change myself into something… else.”

“To change, yourself, is to twist everything you are. You could die. In fact, death may be certain. You speak of suicide.”

“I did not ask for this.”

“A child is not asked to be born,” the old man replied.

“I… must.” The young one said, his red eyes burning in the shadows of his face.

“The road will be dangerous. I cannot… guarantee your safety.”

“I do not ask for safety. I came to you for help.”

The old man leaned back against his tree, and listened to the birds in far off branches sing their song to the early evening. The mountain on which the two sat faced the setting sun, and the light of orange and red set everything around them alight.

The old man sighed heavily. “No one can explain why pain comes to exist in greater quantities for some more than others. Your pain exists for a reason that I do not understand, yet you sit before me, asking me for something that no one has ever asked of me. I must think on this.”

“How long must you think on this?” The child replied with a measure of hope in his voice.

“I do not know. In the meantime, you can be my helper. Tell me your name, young one.”

“My name is Enon.”

“Enon. A good name. This is what is bound in you, tied up around your consciousness, and in all ways defines you.”

“Such a strange thing,” Enon paused. “I do not feel bound by it. I do not feel like if I were change my name to Enos, it would fundamentally change who I am.”

“It would not. Enon is just a representation of your being to the outside world. Its not the name that changes, young one. It is you. You would change.”

“How can I change? This pain, it eats me. In consumes me in every way. It is in my skin, in my bones, and in every part of me. I feel this rage wrapped up in it. A red fire of insurmountable flame coming down on me in all ways. Everywhere I look I see the pain. I see memories made real. It is…”

“It is temporary. Magic is not. What you seek to do is not temporary.”

“My pain is not temporary.”

“It is not?” The old man squinted tightly as he looked the young one over at length. The child sat sobbing at his feet. Reaching outwards, the old man pulled on the spirit well residing deep in the tree behind him. He sighed heavily and spoke. “Alvarius Dar Fen.”

The child’s head slumped forward, and his body rose from the ground slowly. The spell left him laying in repose, floating in front of the old man and the mighty tree behind him.

“He is broken, Niver.” A voice whispered in from the air around the old man.

Niver shook his head slowly. “He may be broken, but we will help him rebuild his mind and his spirit. Did you see it when you touched him?”

“The spirit within him is deep,” the tree replied.

“The spirit within him is very deep. He might rival you, my old friend.”

“I was born at the beginning of time, I have had time to grow since.”

“My point exactly. Enon here has been torn apart by his circumstance. He may have lost everything he has ever known, but we can help him grow in turn. He is only a child, a baby in comparison to you. Imagine if he were to grow with you to guide him?”

“As you were?” The whisper asked.

“Yes.”

“He could be a protector to rival the guardians of old, maybe. He could be like a meteor from the heavens above and flare briefly to only be extinguished.”

“With us to guide him, he could have a chance to heal.” The old man looked upwards at the leaves far above, dappling him and his young visitor in shadows and light, dancing in the interplay of the wind in the boughs far above.

“He will want to change his name.”

“We have to show him that he does not need to,” the old man replied tersely.

“He will persist.”

“He will fail,” the old man sighed. “Becuase he will have the mountain and the tree to be his footing and his hand hold. He will have the protection from the wind and storm, and the deep waters far below to nourish him. He will learn the first names of the world and the things that make it up. He will find wells of power and the resonance to sing their songs. He will be… Enon.”

The old man said the name in the pattern of the boy before him, and Enon’s form resonated in its place, floating in the air, appearing to be shaking violently when in reality he was perfectly still. A nimbus of an outline wrapped around him, delinating him from the world around him. Speaking his true name, the old man knew he had to share his own. At some point.

He was Niver, the Man of the Mountain, the Visitor in Shadows.