The sea churned and boiled as the Galleon lurched forward and back, seafoam being cast to the winds as the storm carried on, seemingly endless. Bodies were tossed about the deck; sailors on a final journey; not toward peaceful shores, but the solemn, sandy graveyard depths below the thrashing waves. The man at the helm gripped the wheel tight, a lone soul on the bridge of a ship, being carried through a storm in unknown waters. As the mast came tumbling down, tattered black and green banners whipped about the deck, illuminated with each bolt of lightning. As if guided by the steady hand of fate, or the careless hand of fortune, the sound of wood splintering against rock signalled to the crew the hopelessness of their situation.
Flooding immediately took hold of the bow of the vessel, the murky liquid filling the cabins, and bringing immediate darkness to the unfortunate souls trapped below. It wasn’t long before the bubbling ocean clawed its way towards the stairs leading to the deck, swallowing lives indifferently, and rushing to meet the base of the bridge.
Cries of loss, and anguish were drowned out by the howling wind; the sound of agony and despair giving way to each gust as if the sea’s pain was unmatched by the plight of man. Pulling the brim of his cavalier’s hat down, the captain leaned hard to his left, bringing the wheel spinning with considerable force. As it resisted, so did he, dragging each of handles harder than the last down to the port side. It was the only side left to rely on. Pools shifted directions, and poured off the bridge, into the ocean. This was it. No turning back now.
“Abandon ship!” declared the captain, thrusting his finger outwards at the remaining lifeboats, now being tossed about the deck. “Save yourselves, you silly bastards! FLEE!” The remaining pirates aboard looked to each other, a look of grim understanding on their rain-battered faces. Another swipe of his hand through the air as the captain attempted to reiterate his point, all the while clutching the wheel in its resting position. “There’s no saving her! Don’t you understand that?! You all don’t have to be here! I can finish this! None of you have to be here! Leave with your lives! Does that mean NOTHING?!”
The ship rocked, and they all erupted into laughter, shaking their heads furiously at the bridge. There was still a job to be done, and the hounds of death had not yet come calling. The captain’s brow softened, and in that moment, he grasped perfectly what was not just poetic, but necessary. Cupping his hand to his mouth, he called out to the sailors, “OKAY LADS, WE CAN MAKE ENEMIES WITH DEATH, ONE LAST TIME! ON MY MARK!” The men watched eagerly, awaiting the signal. As the captain’s hand fell sharply, they all rushed to the port side railing. The galleon, suddenly forced onto its left side despite taking on water, spat a series of cannons and supplies out its port bays.
Instantly, the ship lifted up by several meters, gaining speed and flushing seawater as if in revolt. The captain grinned, releasing the wheel long enough to gain stability. As the crew returned to the deck, they hoisted two long oars off each railing. Upon each was a long, wrapped emergency sail, fastened by a series of hooks. The crew held fast to the oars; there would be only one chance at survival, and it was growing slimmer by the minute. As they stared with morbid fascination at the bridge, the crack of thunder shook the wood violently, causing them to shiver in place. With every flash in the night, the silhouette of their man at the helm appeared again, hardly discernible behind a curtain of darkness and water. The captain’s hand swept upwards, and the winds blew forth his long coat as though the elements had heard his pleas. With the faith and hopes of the crew on his shoulders, he loosed his grip on the wheel. Spreading his arms far, he prepared to grab the furthest two handles, positioning himself for quick turns.
Calling out to the closest man on his right, he ordered them to the bow, as vision was key now. As the officer reached the bowsprit, they saluted the captain, knowing this was a mission they couldn’t return from. The man reached to the deck, pulling a rope about his waist, then winding it up and around his shoulders. He then brought the end of the rope to his eyes, tying a knot that wouldn’t budge. Securing it to the bowsprit, he gripped the front railing tight; it was his job to be the eyes of the ship, and he would not fail. With bolts of lightning serving as his temporary lantern, the sailor made a map in his mind, plotting a course through the field of rocks ahead. Arms shifting rigidly like the hands of a clock, the ship swayed to his will.
Hands raw and blistered, the captain pulled desperately at each wooden handle, sending the heavy ship lurching to one side. With each close encounter, the hearts of the crew rose and fell together, treating each fleeting glimpse of death as a blessing. Another show of hands catches the captain’s gaze, and he swings his arms across the wheel. It’s too late. With a grinding screech against the starboard hull, the spotter up front is thrown from his harness, the railing cracking under the immense pressure. Cries of terror fill the air, and the handful of remaining crew members rush from the deck to the bridge, knowing that he won’t be able to steer by himself for much longer.
As they rush the helm, a flurry of hands reach out, pulling the captain up from his knees, and onto the closest two pairs of shoulders. From his elevated position, he could see the enemy. In waves, large rocks came flying past the borders of the ship, coming closer with each pass. The captain arched downwards, relaying directional advice with each looming threat.
Leaning back up, his eyes caught sight of their next opponent. Preparing to warn his men on the wheel, he pulled his head down towards the ears below. With a halting gasp, he met with a shocking revelation. The rock ahead was not a rock, but the shadowy, protruding form of a reef. With grim urgency, the captain shoves off from his seat, immediately clawing at the wheel.
“REEF, RIGHT AHEAD!” he exclaims, throwing the handles to the port side. The men, knowing the gravity of the situation, force the wheel as hard as they can to the left, and then commence throwing themselves at the railing, hoping to gain a turn so sharp they miss their date with destiny. It’s not enough. The end near, the captain calls out to his men: “It has been an honor gentlemen. Brace for impact. I’ll see you on the other side.”
As per tradition, he threw his arms around the wheel, embracing death. With a deafening burst of chaos and splinters, the ship exploded against the coral reef in a triumphant show of nature over man.
Bodies soared over the opposite railing, thrown by the impact. As the shower of wood and dust came raining down on him, the captain climbed slowly to his feet. Hearing the rushing sound of the sea climbing the stairs to greet him, he removed his hat, a gesture of respect to the crew he had lost.
Looking down at the puddle growing around his feet, he stepped onto the railing of the bridge, turning backwards to face the storm, and the horizon. As he did, the bow of the ship began to sink into the depths, bringing the stern of the ship up to greet him. Resigning himself to the sea, he stared downwards at the black, swirling pool coming up to claim him. As his eyes closed, and his grip grew slack, he was tossed from his seat, face first into icy water.
He rose to his knees, wiping soaked eyes with his sleeve, swinging his head around wildly. Puzzled, he crawled to the starboard railing of the bridge. A small pocket of moonlight reflected off the sand bar on the other side of a thin reef, littered with the fragments of his ship and the unconscious bodies of his crew.
Filled with boundless joy, he wailed into the night, flinging his hat from the railing like a disc. Howling in a fit of ecstasy, he reached down, plucking a large, loose rung from the railing. He sprang to the outside wall of the bridge, reaching down over the rails to grab their crew’s banner, bathed in the green and black colors they embodied.
As it unfurled, a slot on the inside opened up, revealing a reversible white flag within. After all, there would be no use getting rescued if your ship of saviors knows you’re a band of pirates, is there?
Dedicated to The Sic gaming community. Thanks for not leaving me there.
“WE’VE BEEN AT THIS FOR OVER THREE HOURS, AND YOU HAVEN’T DONE SHIT,” one of the admins derided as I attempted to calm the group of agitated ladies.
This was the fourth day in a row sparks had flown within the walls of the Sisters of Resistance, a gaming group that was born from the ashes of their previous endeavors. Established with a solid crew of seven, the “Seven Sisters”, as I jokingly called them by the name of a song from the metal band “The Sword”, were comprised of three multi-game professionals, and four new admins. The original trifecta consisted of three bright young ladies, all of whom were tragically torn by their self-righteous sense of justice. Born of the womb of a broken gaming clan, their splinter group was established under the premise of “absolute democracy”, which ironically led to some of the same pitfalls the American voting system breeds every four years. With no ideals of order set in stone upon their inception, they were left in a state of constitutional limbo. Of the seven sisters, only the three senior members were left vying for the rank of “leader”.
The first was a strong-willed, stubborn as hell lady that the group had lovingly dubbed, “Max”. Maxine was the group’s designated “tank”, which meant she took the hits for as long as possible in-game, and protected the group from harm. This was appropriate, as she more often than not carried a demeanor that one could only describe as “prickly”. She was a die-hard believer in the fact they had done the right thing by leaving, and it was her view that, “the only way the old group could survive was through us. We did all the work, and made all the progress. It’s only fair that we reap the benefits.” Unfortunately, she also had a quick temper, and the slightest transgressions sent her into a fit of rage.
The second of the trio was my liaison to the group. Her name was Caroline, but everyone in the group insisted on calling her “Carrie”, as she was informal, the oldest of the group, and was the member who hatched the idea to discard their previous guild, the Shield of the North. SotN was a guild on the game “RIFT”, who had a reputation for picking up primarily females, and members of the LGBT community. This had a positive effect, until the original leader suddenly disappeared, leaving them all to fend for themselves. Carrie decided it would be best for them to take as many people as possible and begin an exodus, and being that everyone in the guild knew Carrie as the only active admin left, they did as she requested out of respect. While Carrie was an experienced officer in multiple guilds for several years, she had a tendency to be indecisive on serious issues, and moments of temporary weakness left her paralyzed with inaction.
The third, and final member of the guild’s senior members was a remarkably calm girl that the majority of the group knew as “Saffron”. Her actual name was Molly, and she was Maxine’s younger sister. As you can imagine, this was a consistent problem for the both of them, whether it was between others or just themselves. Molly was the group’s “healer”, which meant she played a role as important as her sister’s. She kept her alive in dungeons and raids, and by way of reason— everyone else. While she was useful in the most desperate of situations, she was also regarded with an apparent amount of distance from the rest of the group. Molly was cool, and constantly calculating. She never flinched, but for some reason was prone to starting fights within the guild over positions that she felt were indefensible.
That’s where I come in.
I was brought in at the request of Caroline, in order to solve the disputes of the fledgling clan, and get them off the ground. Leading The Sic for over eight years, as well as the work I had done for multiple other guilds at the time, had given me an illustrious, if not notorious name among the series of games out at the time. Knowing my level of commitment, however, was enough to inspire confidence in Caroline, and she threw me a message requesting assistance. She wanted to place a cornerstone on the foundation of her guild by building a rank system, assembling a small council for top-tier members, and enacting a constitution for the guild to follow as law. I agreed, and informed her that her guild’s senior members would need to be present for at most a week, simply to create balance and order. She accepted the terms, and within hours her members were gathered in a TeamSpeak channel, readily awaiting the steps necessary to give birth to their cause. From the moment I opened my mouth, they became a flurry of innovation.
The first three days went by like flowing water. The sisters had worked tirelessly to come up with the right words to pass their code of conduct. In the end, the settled on a concrete base of seven rules; one created by each representative of their member corps. They knew their goals, and what sorts of targets they wanted to aim for. They knew who their prime recruiters were, and what their efforts could yield. They worked with purpose, discipline, and finesse. They had a website, an expanded voice server, and a forum to match. Everything moved at a quick, and even pace. That is, until the topic of leadership came up.
It started softly at first. Whispers danced through the air that there would be elections. Other rumors played with the idea that they would all lead in the small council. A couple of people, disillusioned by their momentary lapse of cooperation, felt there would be no chain of command, and they would exist in pseudo-anarchy. Even I had no idea what they had in mind, until all three of the most likely candidates approached me simultaneously.
“So…uhh. We were just curious because you haven’t made it clear yet,” Caroline gingerly inquired. “Who is going to be leader?”
I stared at my screen in disbelief. We had come all this way, only to be met by a cliff.
“W-Wait. Wait. Let me get this straight,” I stuttered as I worked up the courage to ask the question. “You…don’t have a leader?”
As if answering a question that hadn’t been asked yet, the three women began listing their own qualities, often deliberately louder than the other two. When they finished their positive outlook speeches, they started in on each other. Maxine condescendingly informed her sister that since she was technically brought in later, that she might as well be disqualified from the conversation. Molly retorted by questioning her older sister’s level of dedication, stating that she couldn’t just run away from these people the way she did every other person. Caroline attempted to pull rank by claiming that this was all her idea originally, commenting that without her, their group would’ve never survived the week. This only exacerbated things, as they soon began an inflammatory dialogue about the meaning of seniority versus superiority, as well as a lengthy discussion about the merits of achieved status over ascribed status.
This was a disaster. They weren’t the unified coalition of females I had known for their integrity days earlier. They were squabbling children, more interested in tearing each other apart over a silly title, than attempting to create greatness out of nothing. After a few minutes of attempting to regain their attention, I resigned myself to the loss of control, and began scheming as to how I could find out who was truly cut out for it. At the rate they were going, their clan would be dead long before they decided on leadership, and this was an integral topic for them to ponder. However, it needed to be done quickly. They couldn’t be torn over this, nor could they allow themselves to be seen as compromised in the face of their peers.
They stopped instantly, surprised my by sudden volume. I was given the floor, and I began.
“You can’t let this kill your ambitions. This position is worthless, thankless, and the most important job here. Only the person with the right mindset should do it. I would ask you to consider that.”
When I finished, I was met with the all too familiar voice of defeat, and frustration.
“That’s easy for you to say, when you don’t even have a guild anymore,” Caroline chided. “So, how is your ambition doing these days?”
I froze. You smug bitch, I thought to myself. In seconds, I realized what I had to do. It was time to make or break this group. After all, it’s what they wanted me to do, and the sun was quickly sinking into the afternoon sky. I switched channels in the TeamSpeak server, trying desperately to seek the right key to this doorway. I didn’t have to look far. The head admin of the newer members of the group was a highly-trusted woman named Gabrielle. Everyone called her “Gabi”, and more importantly, it was universally accepted that she was the guild favorite. No desire for power, and no need for recognition made her an invaluable asset to the community. She brought people in. She made friends with them. She gave them information. Gabi was an all-star, that I would’ve liked to have stolen from them. Alas, it was not to be. I told her my plan, and she accepted it without hesitation. As I dragged her into the other channel with the bickering broads, I spoke over them to make an announcement.
“Hey guys, I think Gabi has something she wants to say.”
They all paused, pricked by morbid curiosity. This was an irregular visit by her. It was all coming together. I sat back, and watched the fireworks.
“Well,” Gabi began. “I’ve thought about it a lot, and all of you are my friends. I want you to know that. The past few months have been a really awesome experience between us, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know all of you. However, with all that has gone on over the past couple of days, I’ve come to realize that I can not be an admin in this guild, and I don’t think I like who I’m becoming around you all. I thank you for the good times, and I’ll excuse myself.”
I beamed from ear-to-ear. The silence in the room told me that they had just been bomb-shelled by their most reliable person, and now had no clue what to do about it. It was the perfect setup. As Caroline’s microphone lit up in the server, I shivered with anticipation of the coming events.
“I guess…okay, Gabi. Thanks,” she conceded.
It was a tone of surrender. She buckled under the pressure, and now had nothing more to add. This was her moment of weakness, and it took its toll.
“Gabi, I’m really sorry. We just let the leader shit get really out of control,” Maxine chimed in. I had never seen her apologize before. This was interesting, and enlightening. She left her microphone on for a second, but evidently felt it didn’t need to be stated, so she released her push-to-talk key. I allowed myself another grin, as Molly was last to speak and as far as I knew, the person with the least to say. What I was met with, however, was as far from the expected result as possible. As she clicked her key, a tirade of unparalleled resolution escaped her lips.
“OH FUUUUCK YOU, GABI!!!!”
The room stood still.
“You ungrateful cunt! Oh, so mommy and daddy have an argument and that’s your cue to skip town on us, eh?! Well, guess what? You’re replaceable. EASILY. You think the others aren’t waiting to get at your spot? They are. They want everything you have, and now, I’m gonna have to give it to one of them. So thanks for nothing, and get the fuck out of here,” she finished.
I sat staggered. Gabrielle too, seemingly, as I didn’t hear another word out of her mouth. I took a deep breath, and remembered the point of this exercise turned incident.
“Well, it looks like you know who your leader is,” I asserted. “A real leader doesn’t waver, even in the face of their friends. They stay resolute, certain, and act with a purpose even when that purpose isn’t as clear as they would like it to be. Nicely done, Molly. Oh, and a big thanks to Gabrielle! I couldn’t have demonstrated this without her.”
Gabi was either still regaining her composure, infuriated with me, or both, because she left the channel and I didn’t see her again. Mission accomplished, though.
Knowing my work was more or less complete, I informed the three of them that I would be leaving a couple hours later. They had accepted that Molly would be the best for the position, and with that out of the way, they could finally focus on the important issues at hand. Rebuilding is a hell of a task. We had a chat about how many times The Sic had set up our house of cards, only to have it blown over time, and time again. I informed them that it will happen again. It’s guaranteed. They just had to be ready for it. They thanked me for all my help, regardless of how unorthodox it was, and asked me what I intended to do now. I told them I didn’t know, but it was beginning to become clear that I was gunning for a ceremonious return to my gaming clan. It was time to stop hiding from it. You can’t run forever, after all.
“Any chance you could stay and watch us launch the guild officially tonight?” Maxine asked excitedly. “I mean, you’re as much as part of this as we are, now.”
With a chuckle, I responded.
“Sorry, I can’t. I wish I could, though. I have a big date tonight, and I’m heading out to the drive-in theater later. I’ll let you know how it goes, though.”
The seven sisters bid me farewell, and wished me good luck. I would need it. I had been at this same location ten years earlier, on my first date. I couldn’t tell if it was coincidence, or fate that brought me to this place on this day, but at that point I didn’t care. It was the start of a strange, and unfamiliar era, and for the first time in forever, I felt like a different guy.
Dusk came, and the night brought the appealing prospect of a new beginning.
Run, to where the smallest ray of light will never find you
Run, to where you will not need to shield your eyes
Run, away from all the soulless, heartless fiends who hound you
Run, away and let your memories go blind, when I
Take all the pain away
I cannot stay my hand
From reaching out so that I can
For all eternity
It seems to ease my mind
To know that you’ve brought
Meaning to my life
Cool water rippled around my feet, as a brisk autumn wind thrashed my hair about.
The day was September 26th, 2014. I felt right at home here. I wasn’t home, however. I was a thousand miles north, with my legs hanging off a pier into clear water, in Lake George, New York.
Four years had passed since my ominous date with destiny. With everything crumbling around me, I didn’t have time to reflect on how it had changed me. While staring into the beauty of that emerald lake though, I lost myself. I had been through hell and back, and had done my best to try to shove as much of it as far down in the grave as it would possibly go. This day was different, though. Sitting peacefully with the chill of autumn whipping me in the face, it all came flooding back as if it had clawed right up my legs. It was the pain of remembering how much ground I’ve lost; a continuous sting of watching members and loyal bodies walk away without looking back. It was the multiple connections with women in the vain attempt to find love again after burying it myself, years earlier. It was compounded by the deaths of my last two grandparents, whose bodies were slowly taken by the crippling effects of living in a world where the vices and vigor of a person are two paths leading to the same end. It was the lack of vocational purpose, brought on by my own career suicide years earlier. It was the slow desertion of friends who had lost their zeal for the pact of kinship we had all signed in blood, and sweat.
It was my funeral, and every new defeat was another layer of dirt shoveled on top of me.
As my feet swayed back and forth in the water, waves swished in either direction. Flashes from the past year, and the past month still echoed. They were both realizations, and ones that had left me no closer to figuring out who I was, what I wanted or when I wanted it. But here I was, away from home, my family, and even the life I knew. This was the odd direction I had chosen to go.
My computer’s monitor was off, but I could hear the sounds of annoying children bickering at each other through my speakers. They were discussing angrily the aspects of restructuring their gaming community. That’s why I was there. What had initially been an easy task of cleaning up their member inactivity, designing a simple website with forums, and creating a communication server for them had turned into a month-long ordeal where I was made to babysit these kids every time they had a spat. One side of them argued that their glorious leader was being tyrannical, a common complaint among people in a power struggle. The leader was coward though, not an autarch. He hid behind a series of diseases and disorders that were more than likely fiction, and when it came to significant decisions, he deferred to my judgment, regardless of the fact I was an independent party in their silly online passion play. I understood my position, and the people had a respect for me that I neither deserved nor demanded. Their gaming guild was pathetic, and one that, despite my best efforts to clean up, was doomed to fail within six months if they didn’t stop acting like children. I hated them. I hated all of them, and my fake smile was held up only by the sheer miracle that I was being paid for my assistance. I wished a swift death to their community, as it was a toxic environment that bred everything I couldn’t stand for. I longed for the days where my friends were right there with me; our legion’s influence both unpredictable and powerful, forcing people to question the nature of the world around them. It was a better time. I couldn’t stand to listen to the incessant whining anymore. I clicked the sound off, and sat in silence. There wasn’t a point in announcing my departure. They wouldn’t care anyways.
I had left my Jeep parked in the elementary school’s parking lot 500 feet away. Leaving it alone at night wouldn’t harm it, as this was my old school, and I knew the area better than most. I strolled around the side of the building, staring into the large windows as I passed them. They had the intentional design of being able to see from one end of the building to the other, straight through the upper walkway of the cafeteria. The school was showing its age, but it smelled the same; a mess of weathered brick and mortar, an old library full of books in poor condition, and the rusting sheets of aluminum from the portable buildings fifty feet from the side doors. This was definitely the same place I had been less than fifteen years ago. It brought back bitter-sweet memories of self-worth, from reading to kids in higher grade levels, as well as my first kiss. Things were simpler then, and I longed for a person to communicate my frustration to. They never came. I trudged out to the school playground, past the cracked blacktop of the basketball court. It was a larger than average park; one that kids would drool at out their passenger side windows as they drove by it. In the center was a dome-shaped jungle-gym that reached at least eight feet into the air. I scaled up the hexagonal bars on all fours, recreating my childhood internally in that hope that I could escape the life that had somehow strangled me. I laid there and planned at the top of the dome. Staring into the light polluted sky above me, I realized I couldn’t even see the grandeur of the stars if I wanted to. It had all become hopeless, and I came to terms with the idea of ending my life that night. There was nothing left for me, and not a thing that could bring me joy again. In that moment, I hit my lowest point.
My head hanged low. I leaned up, my hands moving to wipe hot tears from my cheeks. I pulled my shirt collar up, drying my face and clearing my blurry vision. As I pulled my shirt back down, my hand brushed against something small and rectangular in my pocket. I struggled with the object momentarily, having to force it from its now lodged position. It sprang from my pocket with a push of my index finger, and though in the dark I could tell instantly that it was my iPod. The earbuds had been wrapped around the case as usual, and had become tangled in the confines of my pocket. I hated knots, and I decided at once that I had to fix this issue. In the process of untangling, I accidentally hit the “play” button, and the screen illuminated with the image of Disturbed’s album cover for Asylum. I had been listening to the album earlier that evening, and had stuffed the device in my pocket on pause as I left the house. Untying the last knot, I clicked the back key six times from “The Animal”, to “Remnants”. I slid the earbuds deep into my ears, and cranked the volume to a degree that would drown out the noise in my head. The guitar solo ended, and the BOOM of the track change signaled that “Asylum” was starting. I banged my head. Hard. It was all I could do to make the pain subside. It was the only reasonable action, and I committed to it like a ritual. When the song finished, I listened to the next track, “The Infection”. Then the next. Another. When the album finished, I threw on “Indestructible”. Three more albums went by, and when I finished, the sun had begun to creep over the Eastern horizon. I climbed down off the jungle-gym, and began a jog to my car. I had to get home. There was no time to waste on any of these thoughts, anymore. I still had one thing to be grateful for. Disturbed as a band had freed me from bullies in the past. Now they had saved my life once more, by reminding me that I still had something to live for. If I left now, I could never listen to Heavy Metal again. I could never go out and find the person I want to be with. I could never reunite my friends under one roof. I could never recover from my economic depression. I could never inspire someone again. My chest pounded with the words that begin Asylum. They’re two powerful words of defiance, proclaiming one’s will to survive. On my birthday of 2014 , I declared my insecurities, my fears, my weaknesses, and my despair to all…
In Asylum (I live a lie)
I let go
Now it’s dragging me into your grave
For Asylum (Relive a lie)
Overcome by the feeling that I won’t get to join you in time
(without you) this world is not fulfilling me.
Everything, and everyone you know will ditch, decay, or die.
My crown sat high on the chessboard. I was the king of the black. Around me laid the tools of my success. I played the wrong game.
The first two turns were a merciless assault of one close death after the other. The third and fourth brought to me a mass exodus. The past five turns have been a suffocating, dehumanizing necrosis. Piece by piece I have struggled to maintain some sense of sanity as I slowly descend into this grave. Talent squandered, care devoted to poor choices and poor people, attention constantly diverted toward the stars of systems light-years away. I can’t see around the mirror I’ve put up, and within it lies a hollow boy with little left to grin at, and nothing left to overcome.
Wallowing would be easier to do, if I weren’t too busy withering.
I: I sit a king on the mountain of dirt. My queen watches all and I drive the Lincoln Continental of our victory tour. It’s not to last. The pawns of the board are beginning to flare, and the knights have rallied a mutiny. They take their shot, and I’m left with less than a quarter of my previous squad. Stricken by defeat, the rooks fearfully swarm. They scramble to hide behind the king, forgetting the game and retaining nothing. They have no moves. No rules. No honor. The board turns white, and the last remnants of the black army hold tight to their corner. It’s not a friendly table, anymore.
II: The queen no longer values her kingdom. She removes her crown, and exits the game. The king desperately clings to the last of the pieces. The white army is no longer playing. The board has consumed them, and is now slowly sinking. The king sends pawns to return as queens, knowing it for the suicide mission it is. They return with the power, and none of the will. Their resentment of the king drives them away from his corner. The king attempts to alter the game; a last ditch effort to save what was left of the kingdom. The board just changes direction. The table stays the same.
III: You can change the game, and you can stop being black and white. You can’t remove the red you’ve earned, though. It’s permanently stuck to you, and will eventually be the last trace of you. Unlike black or white, you have to take red. It’s a color of passion, and worse. Red is proof you’ve made victims, and those who smell red come running. Red attracts hyenas, and those same hyenas who were once part of your pack eventually will devour you. I inform them all that I can lead us again. I tell them that I have the ability. I give them assurance, and feed their needs. I don’t supply their food, though. My fatal mistake came too late. When living amongst hyenas, only females can be their leader.
IV: This game is not chess. It’s a grapple with the others for carrion, and the king is now fighting to get across the board for scraps. We no longer see the board. We just see orders, demands, and requests. The game has long since become a bloodsport, and the last animals standing are wandering in circles. The king trips, and falls off the table. On his way down, he is met with visions of other games; these realms are filled with other pieces, cards, and boards that he had never imagined. He just wants to find a game where he fits; one that allows him to take off his crown, and find somewhere that his decisions, and the decisions of others can no longer harm him. He hits the floor.
V: As I regain my footing, I look back up at the table. Suspended miles above the ground, is the island of chaos. Black and white clash as the remaining bishops, pawns, and queens struggle for my crown. I pity them, and I begin the long walk away from the feet of the table. The towering appearance casts a long shadow, and the weight of the world above me begins to lift. It doesn’t lift far, though. The pieces peer over the side of the table, calling my name and urging me to return. Behind them stands a fiery glow. The table is burning, and the ashes are a snowfall on my head. I can’t save them. I can barely recognize them. My words fall on dying ears. The table splinters, and collapses on itself. I approach slowly, and as the dust settles I catch a glimpse of a shattered bottle, and the crushed contents of a cake. The labels hit me in the chest. Scrawled on the two notes are either instructions, or pleas of suicide I had dreamed of for years. They say:
Eat me, Drink me.
I was invited to
A beheading today.
I thought I was a butterfly
Next to your flame.
A rush of panic and
The lock has been raped.
This is only a game,
This is only a game…
As I finished my shift at Cinemark, I quickly grabbed my spare work shirt from my locker and, at the speed of a hushed sprint, bolted for the computer to clock out. It was Friday, and the sooner I could get out the door, the less chance there would be I’d hear the voice of my manager conveniently waiting to catch me leaving so he could guilt-trip me into taking the night-shift as well.
I hit the furthest exit doors I could find, closest to the trash compactor and quite the opposite direction my fearless leader would be. A rush of frigid air hit me in the face, causing a moment of surprise and delight.
I love the cold. It excites every fiber of my being, and pushes me to do new things. As I strode quickly off the sidewalk and onto the pavement, I spotted my Mustang in the distance. The car was a cherry red color, so it wasn’t difficult to spot through a sea of vehicles. I began an awkward dance of weaving through the grid of cars. As I approached the driver’s side door, a glimmer caught the corner of my eye. I turned my head, expecting to see a ridiculously chrome-peppered vehicle, or a reflection off a nearby pedestrian’s attire. What I was met with, was the brightly-lit form of a man, illuminated by a street-light at the edge of the parking lot. His head was bowed, staring at the shiny object in his hand. The tiny spark that averted my eyes was no more than a ring, but to him it was worse than a wound. I clicked the button on the Mustang’s door handle, using an unreasonable sense of caution to avoid catching his eye. Quietly, I took a seat in the driver’s chair and instantly adjusted the outside mirror for a better view.
Whether I was swift, or he was lost in the catacombs of recollection, he remained in place. I sat mystified, attempting to understand the thought pattern of the man. He was clearly at the edge of this parking lot for a reason, and whatever it was, a movie was not on the agenda. He relaxed for a moment, his hand closing around the trinket. As he leaned back against his truck, he turned his head upwards. He withdrew once again to his mind, an apparent frustration now rising with each heave of his chest. He turned around to the door, opened it quickly, climbed in, and sat down.
Lost for a moment in the shadow of the cabin, I resigned myself to the idea that the scene was over. I was soon proven incorrect, as the outline of his face appeared in the illumination of his phone’s screen. He was unmistakably chatting on his speaker phone, and from the exaggerated movements observed, it was clear that he was distraught. His hands turned to talons; he flailed wildly in multiple directions, all while his head shook and jerked back in disgust. He put his head in his palms, rocking back and forth in furious exasperation. His hands moved to the screen, jabbing the smartphone’s face in frantic desperation. A careless toss of the device told me that his patience was gone, along with the caller, and whatever he was doing there in the first place was about to become evident.
I recognized instantly his expression upon exiting the truck. It was the mask of lovelorn rage; the composite mix of betrayal and defeat, coupled with the sting of loss. I had experienced such an event before, and it had left me in the same agonizing state. The feeling of content belonging had been stripped, and replaced with a miasma of confusion and despair which now clawed at him like a rabid animal. His future was suddenly capsized, and in its place was the absence of trust. Never again would this moment come to pass. From this point on, planning would be the only love he embraced.
Safety. Certainty. Probability.
This would be his anchor, and assurance. He would never let such a crippling story come to fruition again, and for the rest of his days, a wall would begin building in place of the faith he once willingly granted. Too much had been lost; the time for wasting had been spent, and his next encounter would be a hunt, not a collision. Within that one moment, many absolutes had been determined, and all of them pointed to a single exit: the driver’s side door.
He leapt from the vehicle, fists balled. Now was not the time for words. No poetry could undo the damage. No melody of love lost could repair the rift. This time was meant for action, and the action was severance. Emotionally drained, his hate took hold. He dared not chance a second look at his oppressor, his clenched fist was the only shield he had from his mistakes. With a sigh of grim apprehension, he turned to the black. Bitterness drew back his arm. Resentment cradled him in its numbing embrace, adding power and reason to his actions. Grief steadied his hand; this was not a task for the weak. Shame enveloped him, and all at once the small, circular shackle was cast out, vanishing immediately into the night.
And here I sit, hand on the telephone
Hearing the voice I’d known
A couple of light years ago
Headed straight for a fall
At some point, you’re going to sink.
It’s inevitable, and you shouldn’t attempt to save yourself from that moment. Why not avoid devastation? Because you need this sobering moment to face a mirror and view yourself the way you would’ve five, ten, even twenty years ago. There will come a time when you will become unrecognizable to your former self, and it’s at this moment that a change occurs. Whether it’s innocence lost or morality reclaimed, a chapter closes when you glimpse what the past has wrought. I recently gained a sense of clarity thought dead for ten years.
There was a journal. In my sophomore year of high school, I entered the “Introduction to Psychology” course. My teacher, who was quite the insightful metal-head, held in high regard the personal records of all his students. At the end of every day of class we would be instructed to chronicle our emotions, fears, and beliefs in this notebook that was meant to be a haven of privacy, and a bubble of inner dialogue. It was a success, as my classmates and I spent our time furiously scribbling away in it. My section for morals and ethics though, looks surprisingly unlike a column I would write today.
In my mid-teens, I was significantly more of an optimist than in current days. Throughout my four years of losing the mass of innocence I started with, I held it self-evident that all people should be respected for who they are and what they believe in. There was no doubt in my mind that good and bad are absolutes, that are completely dependent on each person’s nature and nurture. I never questioned that “in the real world”, every person who was on your team was working their hardest to accomplish a common objective, or believed in the greater good of a project or task. I believed that if you were the best at something, then you were the prime candidate.
These tenets all have one trait in common:
Not all people should be respected. You could hold that up as a grand standard to dealing with anyone, but you would be lying to yourself and anyone you preach it to. We’re all human, and despite how much you might self-righteously claim to respect all people for who they are, some people have codes of conduct and honor that have deteriorated so much that they’re more comparable to animals, begging to only sustain the most fundamental empty desires of blood and flesh. It’s okay to not respect everyone. Some people just don’t deserve it. They think so lowly of everyone around them, that you would still be thinking higher of them than they of you. Just remember there are lines that separate them from you, and those lines must be upheld. Respect is earned, not given.
Regardless of what you believe, a person’s morality can be shifted slightly north or south of the status quo. Powerful feelings get in the way. Feelings that complicate the process and can cause people to commit terrible acts on their behalf. Feelings that can bring out bravery in one who never thought it possible. Great notions can lead to heroic deeds, but can alternatively lead to disaster. Passion, greed, animosity, selflessness, and pride; all accidents in the grand schism of good and bad, and claiming absence to their existence in the formation of a person is a simple and efficient way to make the world appear to be less than it is.
Not everyone is climbing the ladder at the same pace you are. Some people are sitting on the ladder, waiting for something magical to happen. Others are climbing back down, too afraid of how much further they have to climb, or what they found when they got there. Some are breaking out the rungs as they climb, trying viciously to prevent their peers from ever getting a foot-up in their lives. Finally, there are a select few sitting at the bottom of the ladder with a set of matches, ready to burn the whole thing down when they feel everyone else has gone too far.
If you have done your job right, you may not be enough. If you have filled out every checklist to the best of your abilities, you might only be good. Even if you surpass all your rivals, triumph over every challenge, and leap over every hurdle, you might only be satisfactory. “Best” and “favorite” are strange terms to throw around, and they are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes, you need something a little extra to push past people’s expectations. Tragically enough, sometimes different beats strong. Whether or not you can accept that will undoubtedly change you. I will tell you that success is not measured by numbers though. How victorious you feel can only be measured by how much punishment you’re willing to take, and if you’re able to endure.
Do yourself a favor. When you finally get a look at yourself, stare hard. You’ll realize I’m not lying, and everything you thought you knew about yourself snuck out the back door with your original ambitions. Once you’ve had enough, smash your fucking internal mirror. It is possible to forgive yourself and like who you are, even if you don’t like everything about what you’ve transformed into. In fact, you might think it an odd transition and joke about how you would’ve looked down upon yourself years ago.
I believe I would look strange to my former self.
I’ve become a fairly cynical, remotely unsuccessful, passive-aggressive, callous, selfish, vulgar, vengeful, ethically-challenged smart-ass with a talent for everything in the field of nothing. I’m an acute observer of the irreducibly obtuse, and a realist cursed with idealism. I’m stricken by hope in an age where I’ve already taught myself to abandon it all. I scorn the hero with bad intentions, and revere the villain with a conscience. I think peace is a bitter mask for belligerence, while war is an ideal ending for antagonists. I think the pen is mightier than the sword, unless you HAVE a sword, in which case use that. I’m intimidating to others; tragically, it’s my kindness that makes people uncomfortable. I’m Frankenstein’s monster without the facade, I’m a religious metal-head with no god, and I can’t get behind what I do when I’m always in my own way. I’ve led my herd to a slaughterhouse, and I beat a dead horse until blood paints the walls, all while having a field day in a desert.
I’m going to break my mirror now. I guess I was just tired of wallowing comfortably in a jacuzzi of my own-self loathing.
So crucify the ego, before it’s far too late
And leave behind this place so negative and blind and cynical
And you will come to find that we are all one mind
Capable of all that’s imagined and all conceivable