When the sun goes down, we tell stories; here are five shorts to get to sunrise.
There’s a magic about the middle of the night, isn’t there?
No matter how you cut it, something transformative occurs when all the color in the world conspires to sink the sun, triggering the great cosmic pulley system that hoists the moon high above us all, its immersive glow luminous and transformative, its silver beams bouncing off its neighbor stars on their journey down to us — so much smaller and more numerous and flickering than all the stars we could possibly see.
We twinkle and refract the light, glistening in the night — doing our best mimic of the cool and the mystery of the heavens.
Every night, I think I must be on the road, driving down some archetypal highway with the dashed white center line speedily billowing out beneath and behind me like a the train of a great big wedding gown as I charge forwards powered by the sheer momentum of certainty. I let the windows down to sense the speed, to at very least give myself a chance to comprehend my own quickness and how superhuman it is.
The sharp, cool wind hits me square in the face… and yet I remain unmoved from the intoxicating inertia of my rush forward!
I turn the music up and my face hardens at the swift wind outside. My knuckles curl and tighten, white around the steering wheel. I am all motion. My present moment is the future I rush towards in cold blood.
All was dead quiet in the house when I woke up. Or — well — when I opened my eyes. I never knew I fell asleep in the first place.
I felt a creep in the room — something behind me, some indefinable force of creepiness sneaking up on me to… to… tickle the back of my neck and make me scream, or pinch my butt and not in the good way. I feared a fright behind me, and so I collected my thoughts and coiled my dread tight. And 3… 2… 1!!! I threw myself over myself to look behind me, my eyes wide and keen to catch the big bad spooky creep committing its heinous midnight crime behind my back!
But there was nothing. Not even the familiar red LED glow of the alarm clock that lives on my bedside table. It was just dark. It was so, so dark.
I felt not fear, but an emptiness in its place. I stretched out my hand from under my crisp, cool bed sheet and walked my fingertips across my bedside table — still there! — to where I remembered my alarm clock to be.
Aha! It’s there! Dusty, but that’s to be expected the way I clean, and more than that, it’s still there in all this dark! The emptiness in me filled with certainty as warm and silky as my most favorite bedspread at the end of a long and challenging day. I reckoned the clock’s plug must’ve somehow gotten yanked out of its wall outlet, so I picked up my little bedside alarm clock to pull it towards me, my left hand repelling down the length of the power cord.
I heard the tap-tap-scrape of the plugs two prongs on my bedroom’s hardwood floor — but strikingly distant and surprisingly sharp.
I pulled and pulled on the power cord, the tap-tap-scrape growing no closer, no louder, no friendlier as I drew the cord out from under my bed. My reaches grew wider and more determined, vigorous and unrelenting, and the emptiness returned to captain my certainty.
I pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled until finally my already-tired frame reached the point of physical exhaustion and I collapsed into to my pillow in defeat.
Just then, an all-too familiar, all-too near tap on the wooden leg of my bedside table and an all-too gentle scrape on the hardwood floor beneath me.
I regained life! The emptiness that had rendered me steely and resolute thawed to tickle my heart with the hope of ending my terrible nighttime task! With one generous reach of my right arm across my body to finally wrest the power cord from the abyss, I retracted the plug from my side like unbuckling a gigantic seatbelt.
And there it was! Lying on my chest, I could discern in the darkness the cool edges of the plug’s metal prongs.
I closed my eyes and sighed, relief!
— but no sound came out of me.
My eyes sprang open and the two glistening metal prongs were gone from my sight.
With aching awareness of my over-tired muscles, I drew my hand to my chest and felt the rubber of the plug. I walked my fingers towards the plug — the emptiness in place of fear deeper than it had been all night — and found it.
And over the edge of the plug, something else.
Something soft, something alien, something alive. Holding on.
My entire body froze with chills when we made contact.
Time stopped — really stopped, not just ‘pulled the plug out the outlet’ stopped, but dropped dead in its steady march forwards.
The Darkness itself became somehow more impenetrable than it ever seemed before. I saw nothing and felt only the chilly cocoon of fear in which I had suddenly been mummified alive.
The two coagulated to form an infinite pitch blackness, a never-ending, void, that stretched over me, scooped me up in its arms, and engulfed me — and my bed and my room and my town and friends and family and silly little life — whole.
And I fell.
I fell for what must have been an infinity or an eternity, whichever is longer and more excruciating. I felt nothing besides certainty that this would never stop, and there was no part of me, rational or otherwise, that believed this would ever end…
Halfway through this eternity — what is half an eternity — I realized: the emptiness was gone — the emptiness in place of fear. It had disappeared along with everything else when I was swallowed up by the Darkness.
And I smiled. Or, at least, I think I did. I couldn’t be certain in this particularly formless context.
I smiled, comforted.
And I kept falling. And I keep falling.
I tumble freely, falling down the Darkness’ obsidian trap towards God knows what. And I smile.
Here goes nothing.
Just when I think I’ll be moving forever, you put your hand on the back of my neck and everything melts.
Isn’t that where lionesses bite their cubs to indicate familial bond?
Or… Isn’t that where dog owners are supposed to grab their beloved pets to encourage cross-species accord?
…it’s something like that — something like ‘cross-species accord,’ I’m sure.
Maybe it’s chemical or psychological or something I don’t need to understand all that well because it feels so good and it feels so right.
You put your hand on the back of my neck and I just thaw. Your hot touch warms each and every molecule in my flesh immediately upon contact and I melt to a puddle, contained only by the shadow of the space I’m supposed to occupy.
More and more, I’m convinced that space is the palm of your hand.
You need not do anything with it, you need not use it. You just touch me and I am moved.
My time lapse life halts to slow motion so languid we can taste the details:
- Your hand, salty and rough like the beach we sat on all day.
- The back of my neck, clammy cool with the chill of a metallic midnight drive.
- The pads of your fingertips, your touch — spiced and pink and perfect.
- The hair on the back of my neck — standing at attention, the strongest military force in the great big beautiful world we’ve built together, each soldier licked tart with hair product.
I may be moving sixty miles an hour, but my heart skips a beat — my quartz clock forgets to tick — when you put your hand on the back of my neck.
…I zoom down the highway, the cool night cutting age-lines into my young face; I rush, all haste and expenditure for the sake of activity. Look busy, God’s watching.
Right? Or someone else. Either way, it’s always someone. Someone is always perched on high ready to snipe another criticism at the innocent frivolity of youth and so we try our damnedest to hustle and sweat our way through the tough spots until we’re squeaky clean and streamlined, automated and mechanized to perfection, beta-tested and focus-group’ed and ready for market. And then we’re no longer fresh, we’re merely ripe. And prying eyes wish to ogle. Groping hands wish to squeeze the fruits of our sweet dreams’ sincerity to tart, tasty juice to rejuvenate their dry cotton mouths for a few fleeting moments.
But this story is not about them. In fact, they can be written right out. Because what can they see, what can they taste, what can they do when this world, this moment exists between just me and you?
And I will live here as long as I can afford.
I moved quickly, chasing myself home.
I don’t think I actually wanted to walk back to my hotel from the river, but I did anyways. It was a gorgeous night, and I had just passed through Piccadilly Circus. I knew my way back well and I had traveled it many, many times before. I was staying at a hotel in the very neighborhood in which I lived when I spent several months abroad a few years ago. It would only be about a half hour from here, and what was I rushing back to? A bottle of wine, some poorly synchronized texts and calls back home, and a repeat of the Beyoncé music video marathon I had watched on 4music the night before?
I would enjoy my favorite city, really drink it in as much as I could while it was once again — briefly — in my possession.
Each of my steps fell to the well-trodden and storied sidewalk in my weathered black leather shoes with authority. My dance tonight would make me known to the city, my weekend amour. It rode the rhythm hard, sinking into its deepest grooves until we had become one.
The sly British summer breeze melded us together, smoothing our edges down to something sleek and sexy. It fashioned between us a sort of lock and seal, almost sinister in its inextricability. I was trapped and happy, comfortable in the sort of manic martyrdom I feel drunk dancing with a beautiful stranger well past my bedtime.
I slid past the massive Piccadilly Waterstones bookstore and past a bus stop when I tripped.
Everything seemed to slow and the night revealed to me a figure walking out of step with the rest of the city. He moved in the opposite direction, towards me, towards the center of the city. He resembled a ghost, gaunt and indistinct in feature, but clearly, deeply, and eerily purposed for something only he knew.
My heartbeat slowed with my internal rhythm and I saw him make contact with each of the Britons with which I moved in lockstep out of the city center. Finally, he found my eyes and raised a single finger to his thin lips. He mimed a hush.
I was torn from my music. My partner had deceived me, my secure trap was compromised.
The romance evaporated and I watched this man sneak up behind an older woman and slowly, deliberately bend himself nearer to the ground to collect all of the shopping bags — full of groceries and other goods — around her feet.
I remember this occurring in crystalline silence, like the city itself has been plunged underwater and all I could do was float, suspended, and watch through bleary, stinging eyes while this man, a creature in mid-dive, enshrined by the dark and the deep, expertly and viciously carried out what felt to me like a devastating catch.
The woman from whom he stole had no idea — her eyes remained trained on where the street disappeared, searching for her bus home.
The man flashed a wide, toothy smile for any and all onlookers — a dastardly proclamation of pride intended for all, but spoken in a language not one of us could understand. He carved his way through the immediate crowd of fellow passerbys, all of us seemingly sinking in quicksand while he simply evaporated from the event itself with belongings in hand. We stuck shared this moment, our darting eye glances at one another desperately attempting to seek translation, transcendence to no avail.
I muscled my head to turn over my shoulder to look back at the same busy street corner from which the robbed woman sought her transport home. I could make out the faint outline of this evening’s vaporous villain as he disappeared into the bright and effervescent periwinkle Piccadilly Circus evening. Like that, he was gone.
And time itself swung back into motion, crashing into me. I was inexplicably panicked. Alone away from home and unsettled, I felt voiceless. I wanted to help. I wanted to alert the woman. I wanted to rally my fellow onlookers to action. And I did nothing, paralyzed in an alien fear mid-step.
So, too, seemed those around me — natives, I assumed, whose myriad thoughts on what to do clogged the works, too many to translate to decisive action. Or perhaps they’d witnessed much of the same countless times prior.
Perhaps I was being too sensitive. Perhaps I needed to just chuckle at the misfortune of it all, the woeful way of the world, and continue my walk to my cozy hotel room, but I could not. I could not shake an ever-deepening sense of guilt that I had witnessed a crime and chosen silence instead of action. And in doing so in that fractal moment, I became an accomplice to theft.
We dispersed and moved forward. The moment had passed. I was dancing solo again, hastily attempting to recover from my missteps and gracefully dismiss my lost partner.
I caught eyes with a woman with whom I shared a few more paces. I thinned my lips and pursed my cheeks in a poor excuse for acknowledged helplessness. Her green eyes lit up beneath thick raised eyebrows and she smiled at me through evening’s shadow. In retrospect, it was so sweet and so generous. She lent me some of her light and my eyes, accustomed to the dusk, resisted. I turned and continued on. Her kind comfort felt wrong to me. I began to devise permutations of the same scenario in my head, ultimately laughing off each as implausible.
I grappled with this to a quickening pace home. Why did inaction seem the wisest course of action? Ignorance is bliss, sure, but such bliss is temporal at best — a house of cards we leave unplayed, ready to fall over at our next exhalation confirming we are alive and breathing and terribly confused while we try to do our best.
Several blocks before I reached my hotel, I passed a woman asking for spare change, and I gave her a few pounds I had left over after my day about town. I felt rotten about the night — rotten and alone — and something feeble in me thought this might contribute some positive equilibrium to the karmic balance of the universe… or something.
Up the elevator at the Kensington Holiday Inn to my room with two double beds, I heard voices of criticism call out to me about all the things I should have done instead of the nothing I did.
I crawled into bed with a bottle of wine, some poorly synchronized texts and calls back home, and a repeat of the Beyoncé music video marathon I had watched on 4music the night before.
I thought of this evening’s partner, the ghost, resolute that we grow and change, for better or worse, with all we encounter. There is a delightful, masterful grace to slipperiness, but at this moment, I was happy to be off the dance floor and in my bed with my comforts. I had slipped away from home for a long weekend in London, and I felt a bit unmoored.
Perhaps the karmic balance to which I aspired was more an acknowledgement that one must spend as much time dancing through city streets as they do at rest.
I finished the bottle of red, turned the volume down on “Drunk in Love,” and turned over to dreams of partners more lasting, more graceful, more grateful than my partner, the ghost.
‘I had a nightmare.’
I wake up in the middle of the night because I’ve had another dream about the end of the world.
‘I had a nightmare,’ I tell you…
I think the sky was falling again. I think I was on the beach with all my best friends playing beach volleyball, which none of us ever do. And the sky was rife with flying objects — kites and airplanes and seaplanes probably and also remote controlled flying toys and frisbees (many of those) and pollen.
I’ve been to this beach before.
Last time I was here, I had come after a night at a party with a man I thought I knew very well. He and I sat on the beach and made all the Right Faces at each other. They looked like this —
:) :D xD ;P :O :| :) :) :* :*
so on and so forth, as defined in The Big Book of Flirting, volume 2: gay people, chapter 4: Faces for Dream Beach Days.
I looked at him in his squinty face and said something about having children because on the dream-night prior, I had found an infant in a car-seat in the middle of the floor at a party he had thrown. All his friends trusted I would know what to do, but all I knew to do was make another martini, and so I sat on the couch and stared at the child while everyone else danced to the Lorde album.
The next dream-day, I mentioned the child to him in between volleys at the beach and he laughed it off. We didn’t talk about the party-baby. This was a shame for many reasons, chief among them that I think it would’ve been a fun conversation and I was left with many unanswered questions such as:
- Where did it come from?
- What was it doing at this party?
- Who brought it?
- Why was it in a car seat?
- Was it going somewhere?
- How did it make its way to the center of the party?
- Why had no one noticed it?
- Was it having a good time?
We fell silent and watched the ball bounce back and forth.
That was when I mentioned having children and the things began falling from the sky. First and fast were the kites that dove down into dunes the whole beach over. Then, helicopters one by one, tearing spirals through the shore. Understandably, this was also when the frisbees and flying toys fell, their flingers and controllers fleeing the scene. And finally, the planes and the seaplanes rushed into the earth themselves — sand and smoke and chaos everywhere I could see.
Everyone had left but us. We sat and watched the sky fall, the active and seemingly senseless destruction happening feet from our beach towel.
The smoke grew thicker and darker, and I woke up, scared and alone, and I quietly worried myself sick for years until I forgot.
And that was the last time I had been to this beach where the sky falls and the world ends… before tonight, that is.
‘I had a nightmare,’ I tell you.
I wake up, scared and beside you, and I tell you.
You quiet me and put your hand on the back of my neck and my heart rate relaxes, my consciousness realigning with reality.
I tell you about the nightmare.
This time, I was on the beach with all my best friends, once again playing beach volleyball. I suppose this is something we do, just only in my dreams. The sky was rife with its flying objects.
And you were there. The night prior we had robbed a bank with Ariana Grande, wearing the black latex bunny mask from her “Dangerous Woman” album art — we all were, that is. It was a surprisingly easy feat and a really good time. The three of us had a few drinks and shared whispered fantasies of our wealthy lives just around the corner. We picked the lock at the front door and walked right in. It was empty and quiet. Banks, you have to admit, are no longer the gleaming palatial fortresses they used to be. A few more doors, a few more bobby-pin-picked-locks, and we were face-to-face with the safe, drunk with excitement, ready for the piece-de-resistance of our scheme. To crack the safe, Ariana hit the sweetest, highest head voice open vowel imaginable. The gears lept to action, dancing with each other to her singular and pure dulcet tone. Like the global music-buying public time and time again, they were so easily seduced by the pint-size ponytailed pop princess. We were in! We tip toed and shimmied into the vault — its walls floor to ceiling shelves replete with stacks of cash. We had brought with us Santa-sized sacks for our respective hauls, which we now filled with patience and ease. It was an easy robbery, really. At one point, I took a pause, so delighted with our experience, and looked up at my two partners in crime: how lucky I was to have these two with which I could commit high crime. And we were going to get away with it, too! We left the bank an hour or so later, our operation entirely uncompromised and wholly successful, and walked the streets of our city with our sacks of cash flung over our shoulders until we found a bar. There was an open mic. Ariana seized it and sang us into the night as we ordered rounds and rounds of drinks for the whole establishment on us.
And the next day, the beach. We were celebrating, obviously. Ariana had just hit a mean spike.
I think there were fewer seaplanes this time, but, as I suppose I could’ve expected, that didn’t keep the kites from tumbling to the ground, triggering the reckless ballet of crashing copters and jets.
Ariana flitted past us to safety, shouting, ‘the sky is falling!! The sky is falling!! We have to get out of here!!’
I looked to you and you smiled at me, your wide open eyes shining through the smog.
What is this? I thought. What is this face he is making? I rebuked him. What was this face he was making at me and how was it appropriate to this mad moment on the beach? My panic grew. I reached for my copy of The Big Book of Flirting, but GOD DAMMIT I did not bring it with me to the beach that day!! The only reference material I had in my beach bag was the piano & voice sheet music book for Ariana Grande’s chart-topping album Dangerous Woman… Rife with answers? Yes! But none that would illuminate this strange face you had made at me with your eyes and your teeth.
Another plane fell to into the crashing waves that washed ashore and, like a cloud parting, let the sun light up your bright and open face even more than before.
Ack! I stared, distressed. But you kept making it!!! A seaplane fell and it grew brighter. A private plane tumbled to the ground and it looked its brightest yet. I couldn’t help but stare and stare and stare… and as the sky cleared itself and the sun shone brighter down on your weird face, it began to make sense to me. I began to understand it and how it worked and how you made it.
And so I made it back at you. And we made this stupid, strange, and indescribable face at each other as the sky fell, the madness happening all around us. We did this for a very, very long time — a time longer than I know how to count.
Finally, the smoke grew thicker and darker, obscuring our faces from each other, and that was when I woke up.
‘I had a nightmare,’ I tell you.
I elaborate and tell you more and more. And as you laugh at my recollections and ramblings and rants and assure me all is well, the sun came up — as it does each and every day — and filled the dark of the bedroom.
Goddammit, there it was: my dream (??) or nightmare (!!?!) or fantasy (!!?) come true… that strange and indefinable and all captivating face. Illuminated by the sun climbing higher and higher in the morning sky, it shone directly from the shimmering and sparkly sky blue of your eyes, in this light more infinite and unadulterated, more crystal clear and sublime, more infallible than any beach day sky my sly subconscious could try sabotage.
Thank you for reading! I made an accompanying playlist for you here. xo