part 1...

i wasn't always like this. well, i mean…i was, i guess. maybe my eyes were closed. maybe my eyes were just...lying. but the feeling was always there, constantly bubbling in the dent of my chest. i always felt that my insides were too big for my skin. like any minute my skin would start to separate and let out my organs and my bones, which were dying to escape. i was a water balloon, on the brink of exploding, saturating the hands of whoever was dumb enough to keep filling me, testing my elastic sheath. other people exaggerate and claim that they can see their heart beating ferociously out of their chests, pushing their skin out like a cartoon when they are scared, or excited, or when they catch zoe kissing stan in the back of the video store. well…fuck those people. because its not just my heart that i could see trying to escape. it was my lungs, my stomach, hell, sometimes i even saw the forms of chewed potato chips poking out through my throat as gravity and muscle contractions force them to descend to the hell that is my intestines. and it wasn't just when i was scared. it was when i was awake... it was painful to watch. but not nearly as painful as not being able to watch. when i think about it, my eyes never had the benefit of seeing the beauty that was painted on me all along. at least, not until he came. i didn't know his name, hell i don't even know what he looked like (she? no, it wasn't a she…those dissipating footsteps weighed at least a good 200 lbs. and the only 200pound woman i can think of who would be a delivery-man is wanda sykes but i'm pretty sure she's out on the road somewhere telling fucking retarded, high pitched jokes about the men who fail to bow down to her). was he cee-lo sized or was he that tall skinny fuck from road trip? or if he was even human for that matter. at this point though, i don't think anyone is fully human. but i remember his knock. god, his knock. if i got robbed for 300 bucks, a book full of clichés and a starter jacket by a knock and had to pick it out of a line up i could do it with my ears closed. there was such a distinguishable tone to it. like the sound of an empty snapple bottle bouncing on a rotting pier. 3 knocks. and those 3 knocks changed everything….

part 2
knock. knock. knock. it was quick. i was caught off guard. and for that reason alone i will never know who (or what) knocked. and even though i like to let my imagination run wild and picture a 2-headed chimera galloping with the grace of a bulimic gazelle up to my doorstep and knocking his porcelain fangs against my front door, i guess who knocked isn't that important right now. but what they left on my door mat, is. i was writing at the time. i do that a lot. a lot. i'm not a writer. i like to pretend i am, though, disguising a shitty journal entry by dressing it up in a ton of over-descriptive similes and adjectives. maybe at least this route would take me to hollywood to write for gillmore girls if i ever showed anyone. but i won't, because i know who i am. actually, scratch that. i know what my abilities are. i have the ability to imagine. that's it. unfortunately nowadays, the ability to imagine can only get you a room full of people telling you to stop because its not medically sound. imagination is a sickness, i guess. an ancient taboo. so i keep it to myself. and i write. and i write. and i write. probably poorly, but i don't mind. though i have a good idea, i forget exactly what i was writing at the time of the knock because everything following it happened so quickly. the light. the fear. the rooftop. the pain. i think i was furthering the adventures of a character i created called "manda". yah, you guessed it. he's a man

with a panda head. manda gets into all sorts of perilous and ridiculous situations because he's caught between 2 worlds. part of him wants to chew on bamboo leaves and live alone, while the other part of him wants to party! he's the world's first endangered man. hunters are chasing him, conservationists want to help him and study him, and girls want to marry him. i told you i wasn't a writer. when i heard the knocks, my bic hit the paper, and the adventures of manda the panda-man stopped faster than mario and luigi when they switch directions in the first mario bros game. and my adventure began…

part 3
...the left half of my body practically lunged to the peephole of my apartment's front door after the knock, out of sheer terror, but my right half stood its ground and held down the fort like any good texan would have done during those first 12 days at the alamo. i was startled, to say the least. fresh venison in the headlights of a hatchback. you see, i don't get many visitors where i live. and when i do, its either someone looking for the meth lab 2 doors down, or the kids from 415a scratching their names in my doorframe as their knees accidentally hit the door. needless to say, after the initial shock of hearing 3 distinctive, heavy, (almost magical) intentional knocks, i wrangled both halves of my brain into the same bullpen, and became instantly curious about who that heavy hand was attached to. excited, almost. my apartment's small enough to where 4 steps makes a huge difference in the location of my body. i used to make myself laugh by calling my apartment my "12-step program" because it only takes 12 steps to circumvent the entire thing, including that sick yellow toilet of mine. i never did figure out if that thing was originally white when it was installed, or if it really was genuine yellow porcelain. the window shades were yellow when i moved in too, but i was told that was because the woman who died here before i moved in smoked 4 packs a day for 30 years, and the shades, over time, got painted with huge brush strokes of emphysema. 2 and a half steps north of my desk and i was at the door. i leaned in and tilted my head at just the right angle to get the widest field of vision as i glanced through the peephole. no one. i put my ear to the door and listened. i mentally switched on my selective hearing and disregarded the incoherent rustle of the regular cretins who camp out in the hallway and focused strictly on feet of the mysterious knocker. i heard wanda syke's male counterpart walk further away from my apartment and i flew into a hurried conniption as i struggled to undo the 4 locks on my door and remove the duct tape from around the rim of the doorframe. even if it was just some recovering crackhead pretending to sell miracle cleaner so he can get inside my apartment to case the joint, i still needed to put a face to those hypnotizing knocks. fuck. as i began to rip off the tape, a corner of it shoved itself in between my ring finger and my ring fingernail, separating the nail a millimeter or 2 from the skin. not enough to whine about, but enough to startle me and halt the removal process. and possibly enough to abet father time in his act of robbery, because when i finally hurled the door open….he was gone completely. looked left. gone. looked right. gone. like a prequel to that fucking retarded car-stealing nic cage remake, he was gone in less than 60 seconds. but when i looked down, there was a small box on my door mat. and it looked like it was leaking…

part 4
…i hesitated to pick up the box at first, but it seemed to be smiling at me. not in a literal sense, of course, just the shitty tape job it had been given was crooked enough to form a bent smirk where the flaps hold hands on the top of the cardboard box. and to me, it was instantly appealing. almost calming, despite the subtle, pinkish liquid seeping out of one of the corners onto the carpet of the hallway, instantly soiling anything in its path. for a moment, as i was leaning down to snatch up the box, i imagined a microscopic civilization of dust mites, the carpet their earth, holding a

ceremony to crown their new mite-king, as the celebration is swiftly disrupted by a record-setting pink tsunami, drowning an entire planet of mites, leaving only 2 left alive to repopulate the carpet. and by annihilating an entire civilization, the leakage from the box simultaneously created 2 heroes! but that thought wasn't with me too long, as i quickly grabbed the box with my left hand, closed the door, and, like in the movies, moved my right arm in a sweeping motion and knocked almost everything off of the kitchen table to make room for a box that couldn't have been bigger than a large cantaloupe. something must have swept over my inhibitions, because i fucking hate when i see that happen in movies. right as the door was swinging closed, out the corner of my eye, i briefly caught a glimpse of the black, textured stain that the box had left on the carpet outside my door. was the stain steaming? or is that just my assumption, cloudily looking back and knowing now what happened to me? either way, at the time, it didn't register with me. i was drawn to the box almost immediately. i stared at it for years. or at least a few seconds, but it felt like much longer. i've never had bad eyesight, but it felt like i couldn't focus on its surface. i felt the auto-focus feature in my pupils struggling, and i swear i heard the mechanical cries of a frustrated camera trying to focus on a swaying handful of dandelions. the box itself was about 6"x6"x6" (the mark of the devil!? no, that's fucking retarded, it's probably just the dimensions of it) and had only one marking on it, other than the scuffs and scrapes it endured during its obviously long, unloved travels. that marking was dark, very symbolic,and... almost technical. like a road hazard sign mixed with all those symbols you see on the function buttons on your keyboard. it was obviously a hand symbol. but what did it mean? it looked like an extremely simplified drawing of a hand getting savagely ripped apart from the wrist, up. i've seen this symbol before. i know i have…

part 5
the headaches have always been there, slowly growing larger inside of me at the speed of a magnesium burn. i have learned to deal with them. at first, or at least as far back as i can remember, i was convinced that 2 top-heavy but miniscule creatures were holed up in my eye sockets, and, every three seconds, would heave themselves against the sides of my skull, trying to escape. i didn't know why they would want to leave the perfect abode of my skull, because a.) it seemed so cozy, and b.) i figured the climate and atmosphere outside of my head would kill them in a few minutes, and all of their focused angst would be for nothing. the larva inside a mexican jumping bean spends its entire life eating, sleeping, probably fucking itself, and attempting to escape its sole source of life. once it succeeds, it dies within 2 days. i think it dies from disappointment… my larva-driven head pain advanced from a pushing feeling to a stretching feeling over the years, and from then moved to a crushing feeling. sometimes, back at belshaw, in second and third grade, the pain was too much to even go outside for recess. instead, i stayed inside and read. however, over the years, like i said, i learned to deal with it, i guess the same way anyone learns to deal with any kind of unstoppable abuse. you just….kinda do. but the jaw pain, that was brand new. 2 days before that soggy, beaten, mysterious box got left on my stoop like a hated baby, a ferocious pain appeared in my jaw. rather, not just appeared, but a ferocious pain erupted from the imaginary bowels in my jaw, and the only way to describe it is to echo the description of the pain from when i was 5 years old. 2 creatures were nested inside my jaw, throwing themselves against my mandible in opposite directions, hoping to splinter my jaw, and drift the 2 halves apart from each other because perhaps they were participating in forbidden jaw-love and they got caught by their feuding parents. this type of pain is very familiar when you're a 10 year old kid, and you feel it in your legs, or your back. they're growing pains. but these growing pains were in the lower half of my face, and i was in my mid twenties at this time. the first day i felt this, i examined myself in my bathroom mirror, gently exploring my jaw with my left hand, motioning like i was making sure my beard met with all personal beard standards. i had no beard. i was simply trying my hardest to pinpoint a spot where i could either feel extreme pain, or extreme relief. but there was nothing. the pain was all interior. the only thing that felt different

(though, at the time, i wrote it off as dementia and lack of proper sleep for who knows how long) was that, although i could see myself in the mirror rubbing my jaw, my arm was bent in a way that my hand had to be at least a foot and a half from my lower mandible. i didn't make the connection, or even think about this pain again, despite its constant tugging and hammering, until the day after that box arrived…

part 6
i didn't open the box right away. it did such a great job of peaking my curiosity and simultaneously triggering my paranoia that i really didn't know how to react to it. i looked in the thesaurus, and i found over a thousand words to describe its exterior, but the word that keeps going through my head is "alert". it's not the most descriptive word, but it's the most accurate. though it was a joke when i first thought it as i picked up the box from my doormat, the box "smiling" at me didn't seem impossible anymore. as i subtly pivoted my neck back and forth, sweeping its cardboard surface with my eyes, i could swear to you that the imperceptible fibers making up the paperboard were following my eyes, moving along the surface as if to make sure i wasn't sneaking up on it. and the surface seemed to change periodically. once again, i wrote this off as my over-imaginative brain arguing with my ridiculous lack of sleep and resulting in my eyes seeing dreams that my mind had vandalized the real world with. insomnia is a weird thing, and staring at something with such intensity when you haven't slept in 5 days turns your eyelids into tv remotes, and every time you blink, a different channel appears on what you're staring at. the cardboard turned to water, then to a galaxy, then to a bob ross painting, complete with a burnt umber barn and a field of "happy little bushes". staring at the box made me smile, and aside from catching "american movie" on cable a few times, i can't remember the last time i genuinely smiled. time passed, i continued to stare, mesmerized, and surprisingly, i was never really curious about what was in the box. at least not yet. my imagination ran wild as i stared at the corrugated imaginary tv screen, but in mid blink, i jerked out of my trance as there was a loud slam against the sole window in my apartment…

part 7
before i completed the 6 whole steps it took to get to the only window in my apartment, i noticed the huge crack in the glass, resembling a lightning bolt with a sword piercing though it. i also noticed the blood. and there was a lot of it. i'm not a huge fan of light. i have only one small lamp in my entire apartment. and even that is usually turned off. however, my room is usually pretty well lit. the illumination that cascades in and drenches my belongings with pink and yellow light is supplied by a ridiculously large neon sign about 10 feet to the left of my window sill. "the sandman: authentical food karaoke" is what it reads. and no, that's not a misprint. authentical. i always got slightly delighted at the thought of "food karaoke" and imagining an apple fritter belting out "material girl" in front of a bunch of bizarre, talking-food-fetishists who get yelled at by management if they "try to grope the donut." but despite living here almost as long as i've been on my own, i have never set foot inside of the sandman, most likely because, like the larva in the jumping bean, i would probably just die of disappointment, as there would be no dancing pastries with beautiful voices. i should thank them, though, for basically paying for my electric bill and simultaneously providing extremely dramatic and colorful studio lighting in case anyone wanted to come film csi in here or anything. the lighting is annoying because of the sheer amount of it that sneaks in. but, aesthetically, i guess it's pretty. when that slam hit my window, however, the intruding light had minimized instantly. the blood was so thick it had stopped anything, even radiance, from fully entering. i opened the window and looked down on the sill, which was offset under my window by a few feet, and saw the pigeon, obviously dead. i'm not a pigeon-vet, but have seen enough dead pigeons to know that an almost unrecognizable face, a pint of blood and wings spread out equals

dead bird. it was blankly staring up at me behind his beak that was smashed and….flowered. i can't think of another word to describe it. in old looney tunes cartoons, when elmer fudd would light up a cigar, and bugs bunny would provide the torch, and the next thing you know, a small explosion erupts and when the smoke clears, elmer's cigar is ripped and curled up in every direction like a flower. that was the beak. i had wondered what had drove the pigeon to commit suicide by glass. maybe it wasn't suicide. maybe it spotted something inside my apartment and my trusty body guard, the window, defended its treasure as it dove. or perhaps…it was pigeon-on-pigeon murder! and someone will have to film pigeon csi here. pigeons with high tech flashlights, cameras, and witty remarks would be hilarious. i looked up into the sky and usually, the sky is populated, even at 6 am, with some type of birdlife. but today, nothing. i went to pick up the pigeon to clean it up and give it proper disposal. i couldn't bear to just leave it there, rotting. and i couldn't just push it off of the sill, watching it fall 3 stories, possibly giving one of the vagrants that constantly patrol outside of my building a pigeon hat. so i picked it up with both hands, and felt the last bit of life seep out onto the ledge where it was laid. i brought it closer to me and reached up to close the window, when i felt a burst of air inflate the bust of the bird and he emitted a high pitched screech that cracked my window even more. instantly, his body thrashed around in my hand, squirming like the outraged, 10 pound maggot from cronenberg's "the fly", and what was left of his destroyed beak, got a hold of my thumb and bit down so hard i tensed up and let go, and the pigeon, full of life, flew back out of my apartment, off to live its life as the elephant man of pigeons. i apologized out loud to it as it escaped, and i shut the window…

part 8
i was staring at the unrecognizable beak bite on the base of my thumb. unrecognizable, that is, unless you were aware that there is an angry dead pigeon flying around with a destroyed beak. i would be ecstatic to go see a doctor and show him my wound, and, just for fun, tell him i don't know what it is from, and have him say "hmmm, yes, i've seen this before, looks like a bite from a resurrected pigeon who destroyed his beak by flying headfirst into a window…" there wasn't a lot of blood trickling out of the bite-mark, but the sensation was extremely hot and painful. it felt better if i pressed my thumb against my index finger, closing the mangled wound, but then my hand looked even more ridiculous. almost every time i am writing, i will come to a halt, and get completely frustrated as i stare at the 2 or 3 words i manage to get out before this 6 car pileup happens in my brain. and its almost habitual that, while i am thinking, i draw eyes on both sides of my left index finger knuckle and use my thumb as a mouth, and i converse with my hand. the back and forth conversations that i have with my hand ( who i have actually named patrick) are simply to get my brain unstuck, and to create dialog that i may be able to adapt when i'm writing. i can't say that it's the best method of stimulation, but patrick has helped me fill over 400 journals cover to cover. patrick was there when i created manda, and now, because of the gaping gnarled gash that was presented to me by the pigeon, when i make my hand into a loose fist, and press my thumb against my index finger, it looks like patrick has herpes. i decided i needed to at least wash out patrick's mouth with some bactine or neosporin or something, so turned to head to the bathroom sink. but i didn't even finish a 90 degree turn before i heard a second thump, this one a lot less intense, and coming from the kitchen table, where the box was nested. the box was now on its side. it had been knocked over. but where did the thump sound come from? the box itself was very light. whatever was in it couldn't weigh more than a pound or so. if the box fell over, there was no way it would make that much of a sound. but when i went to set the box up on its proper side, it was extremely heavy now. and, to make things even more frightening, once the box was right side up and staring at me again, its sides started slowly expanding in and out subtly. the box was breathing now…

part 9
i wasn't frightened of the box until now. but there was still something mesmerizing and calming about it. i sensed that it was attempting to communicate with me. if only i was friends with c3po, who can translate 6 million dialects, perhaps he can speak "weird box"? i continued to stare at the box in admiration, finally curious as to what was inside, beyond the living surface. finally curious as to who brought it. finally curious as to why it was given to me. finally curious if i should be worried that some of that pink mystery-shit got on my hands and clothes. i would guess "yes" to the latter, but i'd worry about that later. the surface of the box had changed. fuck, maybe it hadn't. i hate the fact that sometimes i think i am more observant than i really am. maybe the cardboard exterior always felt like skin, but because i never associated cardboard with skin, maybe i passed it over. either way, the box's surface was no longer corrugated, recycled, coarse paper stock. it was an organ. and the more i looked at it, the more i noticed living qualities about it. tiny pores and imperfections were dominant throughout all sides. scattered, minute hairs. when it breathed, i could see almost invisible veins waxing and waning like a sped up time-lapse of a crescent moon. and the marking on the box was, indeed, a marking, but not in the usual sense of alcohol-based stencil marking ink. it looked like…yah, it was a tattoo. the packaging tape that was clumsily adhered to its skin from who-knows-how-long-ago was practically begging to be ripped off. its slightly upturned corners flirting with my urge to tear it off. however, part of me felt like the pain of getting a couple of layers of tape torn apart from its skin and hair would cause it to let out a deafening scream from its tape-made mouth. i decided i would be careful, as i didn't want to hurt it, but i was going to open it…

part 10
it was a little after 6am according to my cuckoo clock. that's what it means when the wooden bird with the broken beak comes springing forward and makes a violent jerking motion with his head like he's struggling to breathe 6 times. a noise used to come out of its antique, shattered beak, but i would awake with every caw, on the hour. and since i can't afford to lose any more sleep than i already do, i decided i would operate on the clock, and i dismantled its noise-box. in the process, i broke his nose. i couldn't get rid of clock because i bought it out of pity (and a little bit of charm) from a homeless man a few years ago who i saw every day on my way to the grocery store, and he would ask about it every time i walked by him after that. "how's the bird workin out for ya's?" he would ask, "ya knows, if yous move to the east coast yous gotta reach in them bird guts like you're deliverin a baby and turn your wrist to the right about 30 degrees to reset that aviatin bastard of a machine…never did like that sombitch. gives me the creeps, all broken, and cryin like a squished baby when its time on the hours…nevertheless, how is she"? i would always just simply reply "she's good", drop him a quarter or a dollar, whatever i had, which was never much, and that was that. but he always asked. every day. he didn't even take holidays off. it was raining when i saw him get hit by that car. little tiny geo metro, too. took his right arm, from finger tip to right breast, clean off. the wound was so large that every drop of blood from his grimy, frail body instantly (i mean within a millisecond) threw itself on the blacktop, and his body, before his brain even realized there wasn't enough blood to use his brain, turned immediately white. as white as teeth on a cartoon game-show host. no one can survive with no blood, despite how much they use it. so…i kept the clock, out of respect. or guilt, i suppose. after the 6th epileptic, silent spasm of the cuckoo, my vision focused immediately back on the box (can i even call it a box anymore? it has more life than i do!). i usually keep a pretty sharp scalpel that i stole from the doctors office a few years ago in one of my drawers in the kitchen. i have never used it, i just always wished there would be a time and a place where someone would say

"chadam, scalpel", and i would hand them a scalpel, and a life would be saved (by someone other than me because i know shit about anything medicine-related). i figured if c3po was here, like i wanted him to be, he would be translating the "weird-box" language into "chadam, scalpel please…" so it was a good time to pull the scalpel out. because the box, regardless of its living qualities, was still shaped like a box, with the same folds and flaps i'm familiar with, the decision as to where to cut it open wasn't hard. so i pressed the scalpel into the middle seam on the top of its surface, where the packaging tape was adhered so haphazardly. as i inserted the blade, i felt a chill rain down on my back from the heavens, and, as i pulled the knife gently toward me, a bellowing, haunting moan leaked out of the gradually growing opening. i could almost see the sound, as it moved all of my arm hair 45 degrees during its run. before i even finished with half of the cut, i could see a pulsing light radiating from inside, attempting to escape like the blood of the cuckoo-bum….

part 11
as i gently sliced the tape down the middle like i was performing an autopsy, i ran through hundreds of thoughts as to what could be in there. i know that i think a lot. probably too much. and i know that there is no point to a lot of my thoughts. i simply like envisioning the impossible. i enjoy it. i like that i can look down at a discarded penny in the street and, judging by its placement, angle, and surroundings, create an entire story in my head about a man who replaced his teeth with pennies so he would always have spare change, and how he got in a pointless argument over a slice of pizza and got his front tooth-penny knocked out from a punch. and here i am, staring at his front tooth, dead in the street, worth so little that the bums don't even pocket it. i like that about me. when you spend so much time alone, your only friend is your imagination. and now, the box had mine in overdrive. an old episode of the twilight zone popped into my head about a wooden box which, whoever opened it would receive instant riches, but, unbeknownst to them, whoever was standing on the exact opposite side of the world, would die. if i knew that this living box was going to vomit money all over me as soon as i opened it, but someone i would never know would die instantly, would i do it? i don't know. but it doesn't matter, because there wasn't money in the box. i completed the cut, somehow (at least for now) blocking out the horrifying moaning sound that was escaping from the slit. i was sweating profusely. beads of sweat the size of breakup-tears fell from my upturned brow onto the table in front of me, landing in a small drop of the pinkish discharge from the box, thinning it out to the consistency of strawberry quik. part of me flinched in defense when i pulled out the blade, perhaps expecting it to explode the second it was opened. as i pulled out the scalpel….nothing. same box. still breathing. still leaking. hints of light showing through the slit. the only main difference was that now, it was screaming. too loud to dismiss. whereas before, i got the feeling it was communicating with me. but now, it was plain as day. the box was screaming at me. and it hurt my ears. my nose clogged and i couldn't breathe for a moment. but the vibrations also soothed me, and forced my eyes to flutter in a way that was surprisingly relaxing. its voice caused me to feel as though i was floating. my selective hearing moved the scream to the muffled court of my eardrums, while i sat there, hovering and staring at the cut open lid of the box. the screaming morphed into a gentle lull, the sound of a human attempting to imitate an air conditioner. the breathing stopped. and i swear the "skin" was even changing colors, adopting a more olive hue. "was it dying?" i thought. was the sound of screaming its blood? was the tape i sliced through its heart? as it sat there, seemingly withering away before my eyes, the single lamp next to the sofa-bed began to flicker, then turn off completely. next it was the sandman sign outside of my window. flicker. flicker…zzzzsst. the tv, which was the only source of light left, followed immediately. coincidentally serving as an eerily appropriate narrator to what was happening, gene wilder's willy wonka character filled the tv screen as his group of merry winners descended into the factory's bowels:

"there's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going there's no knowing where we're rowing or which way the river's flowing" and father time gave mr. wonka just enough time to belt out this last line: "not a speck of light is showing…" and the tv shut off. for the first time since i moved in this apartment, i was in complete darkness. and though i couldn't see even 6 inches in front of my eyes, i still know what it feels like when something wraps around my forearms. and that's exactly what was happening. something was wrapping itself around my forearms. something thin, and fibrous. and there were a lot of them. because it was pitch black, i can't tell you what it really was. but i imagine if i cut open my wrist from the bottom of my palm to the crease where my radius attached to my humerus, and set my tendons free to explore, and wrap themselves around my other arm, it would feel similar to this. the tendons from the darkness tightened around my arms and began pulling me toward the box. i planted my feet firmly against the carpet, tilted back my neck, and a full-on game of tug of war was in play. as i resisted, the tendons squeezed tighter and grew more abundant, edging their way up so that now my entire arms up to my shoulders were covered. the hair on my neck was standing at attention, ready to battle anything that came near it, though it would no doubt fail. you have to admire the nobility that lies in your body hair sometimes. my eyes were starting to adjust to the darkness, but still, i couldn't make out anything feasible. i managed to pop 2 of my right fingers from the grasp of the tendons, and was able to blindly feel around on the table. i felt the cold handle of the scalpel and i clumsily picked it up, balancing it perfectly between my 2 fingers. almost instinctively, i flicked my fingers in a backward motion and was able to jab whatever it was that was wrapping itself around me. that tiny jab startled it enough to loosen its grip on my right hand, and i yanked my arm free, fully grasping the scalpel now. in a leap of faith, i randomly stabbed and sliced in the vicinity of my left arm until i felt that grip loosen too. i heard the sound of a trio of wet ropes being dragged upon a garbage bag, and i knew it was the sound of retreat. the last of the tendons brushed against my fingernails as they withdrew, and a loud slam (like a cellar door violently closing) came from the box. and the lights came on. gene wilder's odd looking face returned to the television screen. the sandman sign chirped back into operation. the fleshy box, staring at me in a mockingly innocent manner. fuck this. i swept up the box as quickly as i could. i took 4 large strides to the blood-stained glass, opened the window, and threw the box out, not giving a shit who it hit below…

part 12
…the box fell from my third story window at an alarming rate. i could practically see the animestyle action lines accompanying it on its way down to the concrete. when it hit the ground, it embedded itself into the sidewalk like a meteor, creating a loud thud and a small shockwave of movement. the roaches, ants, and whatever viruses make that patch of sidewalk their home will most certainly have something to talk about at the water cooler. i was both shocked and relieved about it hammering into the ground like that. i really wanted to know what could be inside there that could change mass at the drop of a dime, almost by its mood, but i was happy to know i wasn't the guinea pig. at least, not all the way.

i nervously paced around the apartment, every few seconds peering out the window, looking down at the box. it was still there. if i saw someone pick up the box (unless it was like the sword and the stone, and it wouldn't let anyone pick it up but me…) would i warn them? would i fight them? i would, more than anything, love to follow them, and study how it reacts to someone else. or to see if anyone else even notices all of its living qualities. maybe if someone else opened it they would just find a box of sharp objects or something. the expression "fly on the wall" couldn't be more fitting for what i wanted to be at that point. i wanted to spend years studying teleportation, build a teleportation device, test it by sending a baboon through it, horrifyingly but accidentally mutilating it in the process, only to discover the kinks in the machine, fix them, and send myself through the machine. only, unlike seth brundle, i would purposely put a fly in the machine with me. and when my transformation was complete, i would then work on my shrinkray. after years, my plan would be complete, and i could then spend my entire 2-week lifespan puking, spreading disease, feasting on a delicious meal of shit, and watching what happens to whoever picked up the box. i would be the ultimate voyeur. or..i could let it go. teleportation is probably harder than it sounds. my arms and hands had light lesions covering them where the tendons (?) groped me, and where i cut myself trying to fight them off with the scalpel. the cuts stung, but nothing more than an average scrape. they just made me look very self-abusive. and they reminded me of the darkness. i closed the window and went into the bathroom to shower off the night. i had to work in an hour, and i doubt mr. ferlon would buy the old "i-got-a-weird-box-at-4-in-the-morning-and-itattacked-me" excuse, so i turned on the hot water and let the bathroom steam up before i undressed.

part 13
i always pee right before i get in the shower. i hear about a lot of people who just pee in the shower and, while i guess it makes sense, it seems dirty to me. to stand, even temporarily, in your own waste is…kinda gross. i mean, the shower water just moves the pee down the drain as it circles around the floor and grabs hold of your feet for dear life before falling in the endless pit of the drain. the water doesn't destroy the urine. it just gives it a ride. yet, i bet those same people, even though they are wearing shoes, move their feet out of the way if they are pissing in public as it starts to trickle anywhere near them. the thought of these people came to mind because i wondered how far "getting a little piss on you" was ok when they were alone. and i thought this while staring at the packaged granola bar that i had just dropped in the toilet as i was pissing in it. i was gripping it with my mouth so i could use my hands to hold steady. i didn't want to reach in and grab my breakfast, let alone eat it afterward, but technically, it was fine. it was still wrapped in its safe, engineered vaccu-pack, only wearing a coat of urine that was so brightly yellowed since my body was in a state of shock and dehydration after the events of the last couple of hours. if i was one of those "piss" people, would i just reach in and grab it since i'm jumping in the shower afterward and not think twice about it? i don't know, but i decided not to worry about it just yet, since there was nothing to use to fish it out with. so i didn't flush. and i stepped in the shower. about halfway through my shower, the lights in the other room flickered again. not quite the same as when they did before the box ravaged me, and after all, the building i live in is pretty shitty, and lights flickering is just one of the repeated problems that occurs here. so i didn't really question it. and i closed my eyes to rinse the soap off of my face. unless you are in front of a heat lamp, the only way you can ever really feel light is when your eyes are closed. i can't explain it. it's like our eyes are light-antennas. they feel around their small territorial bubble and report back to the brain that there is some light around and, if our eyes are closed, we still need to know that there is light around so they tell the brain to make us feel it. i'm sure it has something to do with light sensitivity and an overabundance of light to your optic nerve or something, but it makes me question the ability of my eyelids, which i assumed were used for

protection, even from the light and other invisible enemies. i have thought this before, and, actually gone so far as to stretch out one of my eyelids far enough to shove the end of a penlight against it to see how much light penetrates my great wall of eyelid. my eyelids are pussies. that's what i deducted from the experiment. so even if there's low lighting and my eyes are closed, the surface of my pupils are basking in radiance, and there is a warm sensation on my eyes. however, the opposite works too, and when there is sudden darkness, my eyes get a cold tingle. well, this cold tingle hit my eyes and immediately pinballed throughout my entire body as i realized it. and sure enough, when i opened my eyes, i was in complete darkness again. and the water ran cold. as i fumbled in the darkness to find the faucet, a faint siren sounded from what seemed to be inside the building. as the siren's frequency increased, i noticed that the sound wasn't coming from inside the building. it was closer, and it wasn't a siren, like an ambulance or a fire truck, though it gave off that appearance, as to fool someone who is not paying close attention. attention, and patrick, however, are pretty much my only friends. as i put my ear to the cold linoleum, naked, shivering, and vulnerable, i listened. the siren was much more organic than that of a normal warning. it was as if it was a cry of pain from an actual siren, one of the sea-nymphs that i used to read about when i went through my brief greek mythology addiction at the jc. and i was right. it wasn't in the building, it was in the wall. the vibrations caused the tile to shake, which startled me and i jumped back, nearly slipping in the soap-lined basin, my eyes barely now adjusting to the darkness. i stared at the vicinity of the linoleum, not really sure what i was expecting to see, since blackness had still possessed my apartment. but the shaking of the tiles on the wall got more intense as the lurid scream from greek bird-woman grew closer. am i the only person in this whole building who can fucking hear this!? a tile rattled loose and fell from the wall, breaking the skin on my foot before shattering on the tub floor. i awkwardly stumbled out of the shower, soaking wet and blind, and tried to throw on my work clothes as quickly as i could muster as more tiles dropped. and seeing as how i never attempted to get dressed in a hurry as a mysterious noise grew louder in the dark, i think i fared pretty well. the noise reached an almost deafening decibel. i felt a little blood run down and out of my left ear, which felt like a fly scampering down my sideburn, in search of something to vomit on. then, when i was sure that the noise was going to make my head explode, it stopped. silence. the only sound was the trickle of the cold water as the final few drops committed suicide off of the end of the faucet. after the 3rd droplet disintegrated on the porcelain, the lights returned on, and, like before, i felt the intensity of the light as the warmth spread out of my eyes and throughout the rest of my body. and that's when i heard perhaps the scariest noises i had ever experienced. if you had met me on the streets and asked me to write down the most frightening noise i have ever heard, and i wrote this down, you would think i was a coward. you would get furious that i wrote this down over the sounds of the bum getting ripped from life, or the sound of the sobs the first time a man gets told he has cancer. but i don't care, because at this moment, i would have rather heard the ringing in my ears from the explosions in viet nam than this sound. but it happened… "knock. knock. knock." …

part 14
my white button-up medona shirt stuck itself to my body by using the water i neglected to wash off as an adhesive. at this point i figured the shower was pretty much null and void, since i was sweating out of most of my pores after hearing that now infamous knock on my door, and the leftover water and soap was mixing with the perspiration, creating a film that made me feel even filthier than before. i didn't know how to react to the knocking.

i took the necessary 2 steps it took to exit my bathroom and enter the main room. i stared at the door. the tape was still on. good. the locks were bolted. good. my childhood bore itself up to the surface of my present, adult situation, and forced me to close my eyes and plug my ears, taking an innocent leap of faith off of the "see no evil hear no evil" cliff. i put my hands to my ears, shut my eyes tighter than a fist bandaged in an iron cast, shook my head violently and hoped that when i opened my eyes, i would awake from a short slumber that i had managed to fall in while staring at my journal. it wouldn't be the first time i fell asleep writing. unfortunately, that wasn't the case. i opened my eyes and quickly surveyed the apartment. yep, blood on the window. yep, gene wilder's face still on the tv, this time he was yelling at mike tv for fucking with his microwave. and yep, there was the mysterious remnants of thick pink blood spattered like flies on a windshield all over the carpeting. damnit. i was standing in front of the door, staring the peephole directly in the eye as if i really had a chance to see through it from 5 feet away. vertigo was setting in as my glare grew jealous of medusa's, wishing i could transform whatever, or whoever, was on the other side of that door, into concrete. sadly, my eyes can't do anything too spectacular. they can only feed my brain's anxiety a hearty dinner. fuck…again. "knock knock knock." this time it was harder. faster. i knew what was on the other side of the door. i didn't have to look through the peephole. and it wouldn't even matter what i actually saw, or was made to see though the hole. it mattered what was there. and i knew what it was. and it scared me. something so beautiful and new and mysterious. something scientists and occultists would give a pound of flesh to spend a minute studying its surface. something so…mundane in appearance….scared me shitless. knock knock knock knock. again, even faster, and more assertive and impatient. though i have a ridiculous imagination, i see myself as quite a skeptic when it comes to real life experiences, but these past couple of hours have thrown all of my previous opinions and inhibitions out of the window with the resurrected pigeon. i was beyond questioning my sanity at this point. i was simply accepting. and this is why i knew what was on the other side of the door. these acts weren't possible in the world that i am familiar with. but that didn't matter now. "all bets are off", as patrick dempsey would say circa the year 2000. what mattered was that there was about 1 foot in between myself and something possibly very, very fucking dangerous...

part 15
most of the time, i am ok with being a coward. about physical things, i mean. about bungee jumping, shooting guns, skydiving, bowling with a razor-blade-lined ball, etc. no one's really around me to belittle me if i choose not to raft with piranhas or stick my hand in a bear trap. and the way i see it, being a coward just assures a little extension to your life gauge a little longer. and there's nothing more gratifying when playing a video game than extending your life gauge, so why not apply that to real life by not being an idiot? it's so easy! but something about this situation bothered me. i was scared. that much i knew. but i was also scared of feeling scared, questioning my rationality towards the situation. and, like i said, i'm ok with being a coward when no one is watching. but i knew that whatever was on the other side of that door was watching, or at least listening. they know i am in here. and they would know i'm just a coward. this is as much of my thinking process as i can remember: "i know that it's the box i know it but how did it get back and how is it knocking without anything to

knock with did he bring it back are those tendons forming fists and hitting the wood it sounds like a regular knock this is all so fucking ridiculous how would that even happen but im scared and its probably all for nothing but the fucking box wanted to kill me or did it? was it trying to tell me something or just play with me i don't know anything at all fuck i cant see out the hole, something is blocking it, wait, is that smoke!? why is there smoke where is it i know its there but i cant see down on the ground what the fuck im opening the door…" and as i pulled back enough tape to open the multiple locks, i heard the thumps again. they were amplified in my head and sent shivers on a roller coaster ride through my ear canals. part of me wanted to yell at the impatience of the visitor. but most of me would have been happy knowing that i mustered up the courage to open the door, but ended up lagging long enough for them to leave. i gripped the doorknob tightly with my right hand, pressed my left palm up against the door itself, where there is a slight discoloration in the shape of a palm, as this is the exact position i always seem to fall in whenever there is a knock on my door. and one last time i peered into the eyehole of the door. i have never been as startled by such a cliché in my life, but my body uncontrollably changed positions the moment i looked though that tiny fish-eye lens and saw an eye looking back at me. i tilted my head back and took my hand off of the doorknob. that was much more than i had anticipated. shit. weird, huh? that someone with an eyeball (maybe even two), and possibly a body, was using their hands to knock on my door?! those previous couple of hours really changed my perception of what to expect i guess. i was prepared for a battle between a 6-sided, mysteriously-able-to-travel-byitself, tentacle-shooting, cardboard skin box and myself. not something with actual anatomy! i stepped a couple of feet away from the door and reverted back to just staring. then a gruff female voice waltzed through the wood, tape and deadbolts like a ghost, "chadam!" she said "you in there? wake up. i need your help really quick. c'mon, you don't leave, wake up wake up wake up wake up wake uppppp.." my eyes changed from on the verge of crying to slightly inquisitive, and very relieved. i leaned back in and pressed my eye against the peephole. it was sandy pierce from down the hall, smoking a cigarette and tapping her feet impatiently. i hurriedly opened the door and saw her standing, holding her 6 year old daughter's hand, and looking at me desperately….

part 16
sandy pierce is a prostitute. she's obsessed with zebra-print patterns. and she's filthy. a rail-thin frame barely holding up skin and muscle that is begging to fall to the ground out of pure exhaustion. it's no secret that she bleeds profusely, often in public, due to her extreme calcium deficiency which prevents her blood from clotting properly. i had no idea it was even possible, but sandy's deficiency caused her to become addicted to calcium, which she injects constantly behind her ears, in the small, soft indention that she calls her "stargate". i am convinced that this calcium is the only thing giving her bones the willpower to stand upright. i wouldn't be surprised if the next time i saw sandy, she was a blob, gliding like a boneless stingray along the patterned hallway, still bumming smokes and gossiping to the deaf guy in 222a, which she often does for reasons unknown other than her own personal therapy, i guess. sandy was also born with cerebral palsy, which didn't start affecting her motor functions fully until a few years ago. now, though, it's gotten so bad that during a normal conversation, her arms flail and jerk as if she is constantly demonstrating how to play street fighter 2. she makes jokes about

it, and for some odd reason is in higher spirits than almost anyone else in this complex, despite her obstacles. perhaps its because her palsy hasn't affected her business yet. she is still as busy as ever. her high spirits, and her surprisingly loving but often misguided mothering skills is what makes me really respect (i guess respect is the wrong word, but accept is a better one maybe) her as a neighbor and, in a weird abstract way, almost a friend. you see, most of the people in the complex treat me like shit. not really directly, or intentionally, but just…in that way. my right eye is angled downward, and located lower than it should be. almost resembling the result of getting a small splash of stereotypical "toxic waste" splashed above my eye when i was young, melting the skin and bones housing my eyeball. it's been like that my whole life. and it's never affected my vision. though, until after all of this shit happened, i am now questioning whether it did affect how i see things. also, my septum is severely deviated to the right, like it's trying to join my retarded eye in its failed escape from my face. since i have never really had any kind of conversations or encounters with anyone in my complex, i can only assume that my slight disfigurement is the sole reason for the weird looks and the cruel comments. sandy, on the other hand, is my savior. whether it is out of pity, personal redemption, because i sometimes watch her daughter, or genuine care, she protects me. not in a physical way, but part of the reason, i'm convinced, that the rest of the cretins inhabiting our hallways haven't ever gone farther than the occasional hurtful remarks, is because she has told each and every one of them that i am ok, and that if they hurt me, she will stop handing out free hand jobs every few days. and seeing as how the palm of an anorexic, palsy-inflicted, calcium-addicted hooker is probably the best a lot of these guys can get, i imagine that not fucking with me is a small sacrifice. so, in a way, i am also slightly in debt to her, i guess, which is why i continue to do favors for her when she needs me, even if i realistically don't have time, like right now….

part 17
"i need to get some cigarettes. can you watch ripley?" i wanted to say no. i do have to go to work, even though, right now, with the asteroid of events that have happened throughout this morning, i would really, really like to change back into my hermit outfit and tell the outside world to eat a piece of shit. but her asking me in front of ripley is bad enough for the kid to see, so to deny sandy in front of her kid might make ripley feel unloved. ripley's life is probably bad enough living here. a prostitute mother. 4 different fathers a day. barely any hot water. no books, no tv, home schooling (from her mother…i guess?), no real role models, unless you count her mother, who, aside from the hooking, actually shows a great deal of affection and tires to spend a lot of time with her. unfortunately, that time is sparse simply because, well…sandy "works" a lot. she has the respect for her daughter's upbringing enough to send ripley into her room while she's working, though, which is more than i can say for a lot of non-prostituting moms around here. these factors leave ripley with one outlet: her imagination. the power of a 6-year-old's brain is fucking incredible, especially when it's surrounded by absolutely nothing to distract it from dreaming. ripley is extremely imaginative and that's why we get along. not because we are intellectual equals. for someone to say i have the brain of a child would be just plain mean, and uninformed. but to say that i have the imagination of a child would be an accurate description. the only difference is that my 20 some-odd-years has taught me how to turn it on and off at the push of an imaginary button. if this trait was instinctual, the world would be run by 10-year-olds and it would be beautiful. like mad max part 3 beautiful. ripley liked me because i told her stories. like a stand-up comedian, i had an audience to test out my materials before i showed them to anyone else. this particular audience, however, was an audience of one, and she was 6 years old. so she was a little biased. ripley liked the manda stories the best, because they were full of mischief and action, and they had visuals, as i would cut out pictures of pandas from national geographics and paste them on

the heads of models from catalogs. and when it was time for manda to fight, the panda head would be pasted on pictures of conan or the hulk. i could animate my stories for her. little paperpuppet shows. of course, i would let her take over the story sometimes, but in her version, manda always ended up stealing a pony and taking it to a sorcerer to change the pony into a pegacorn (pegasus and a unicorn combined), and fly into the evil volcano to fight the giant lava shark that was guarding all of the chocolate from the rest of the world. i thought that chocolate wasn't enough incentive to risk his life for, especially because panda's can't really digest chocolate too well, but ripley's response was "he likes chocolate, because chocolate is the best and he only needs one bite to last him forever, and he gives the rest to his friends, who are ant-people." i guess that made sense. she didn't like the stories of relationships and "real people stuff", mostly because she didn't understand them. but i still read them to her, and she still listened. and this time would be the same. "sure, sandy, she can hang out with me for a bit, but i have to go to work soon. how long are you gonna be?" "just a few," she said. then she added. "i also have to try to cash this check too. have fun, guys!" and she "spazzed" off down the hall. spazzing isn't what i call it. it's what she calls it. her inability to walk a straight line, she says, springs a lot of wild adjectives to mind, but her favorite is "spazzy". sandy left on her journey to get cigarettes, and i took ripley by the hand, led her inside, and shut the door. she immediately asked me to tell her a story…

part 18
i grabbed one of my more recent journals, not from the manda pile (unfortunately for ripley, but she's heard almost all of them anyway), and opened it up to a page that had a horrible scribble of a fat guy with balloons and the name "shannon bennet" inside a heart-shaped scrawl. the word "fall" was scratched over the whole page in black sharpie. "this one's a revenge tale. you know what revenge is?" i asked. "nah uh." i know that most of the stories i tell ripley should not be told to anyone under the age of 15, let alone 6, but the simple act of reciting tales, regardless of what they are, makes us both occupied and happy. and ripley, despite being unable to understand the harshness of a lot of my writings, is super attentive and loves to learn new words to use in front of her mother to sound smart. and i adore getting a child's innocent perspective on things that she won't encounter for years to come, if ever at all. plus, ripley has seen things that i could never imagine when i was 6, living in this shithole. i doubt a few words told by an open oven door would harm her in the long run. she's got a good head on her shoulders. "revenge is when…umm…when someone does something really bad to you or to someone you love, for no reason at all, and your brain starts making you think you have the capabilities and the rights to go and do something bad back to that person. doing these bad things back to the bad person is called revenge." "cooool. like if mr. halford hits mom again, and then i don't like that so i put worms in his coffee?!" "yah, kinda like that." then, under my breath i muttered "but you should do more than worms." "yeay, revenge!" so i gave ripley a cup of milk in my old favorite cup, a garfield mug i got from burger king when i was a kid that says "i hate mondays." i never knew why i liked that cup, i fucking hate garfield. she took a sip, holding the mug with both hands, and sat back to listen… "fall" by chadam

i fell for it. i fucking fell for it. maybe it's because i was raised not to waste anything. no, that can't be it. i toss at least a quarter of every #2 with curly fries into the garbage like an unwanted newborn. and my shoes. jesus, i've only worn those bacco bucci lizard-skins once, to a fucking christmas party no less, where the only person that was gonna notice em was a balding hairstylist who's name was probably jonas or…jerrod or some other repulsive j-word. it can't be that. i mean, it,s not like i needed it, either. but it was a 20 dollar bill! if there's anything i like looking up from the ground at me more than my housekeeper's huge chipped-tooth smile with cum on her gums, its andrew jackson's fucking face on the sidewalk. i mean, really, how long can an orphaned twenty last before someone adopts it and just…blows it? was i honestly the only jackass who mistook a sawbuck for a beartrap? or was it meant for me? the instant i bent down to reach for it, i remember the only thought that ran through my mind was "i'm gonna be pissed if there's shit on the back of this". not that the shit thing has happened to me before. i just saw it on tv, and thought it was hilarious. either way, if a feces covered hand was the worst thing to come out of that jackson, i wouldn't be so fucking scared right now. but there was no shit. there was nothing. the bill almost levitated into my right hand as i kneeled down. i'm pretty sure even the breakdown of how i was going to spend it cycled through my frontal lobe before i blacked out. lemme see…yah, i finally had an excuse to buy that daniel powter shit on itunes. i mean, hell, theres no way i was gonna spend my own goddamn money on that asshole. but i love that "bad day" song. heh, that's actually almost ironic, considering my situation. i guess everything has its place in the world…including me. except i have no clue where my place is. i have no clue how long i have been here. if we are measuring in nightmares, i've been here for about 6 years. though, realistically, it may only be a few days, maybe a week or 2. time disappears altogether when you can't see or hear. time disappears altogether when an iv is shooting its sperm into your arm and what started as a steady, flowing sensation morphs into an la traffic jam inside your veins, overstuffed with flaming cars and pissed off commuters and doesn't stop. time disappears altogether when you aren't allowed to sleep. and time disappears altogether when every 42 minutes (after about the 78th time, i started timing it) something hard and cold is pressed against the only part of your head that's exposed to the elements. and it's fucking here again. and i think it's being pushed harder this time. it was the same exact thing for a while: a door would open, there was the sound of 3 steps, the door would close, what i think was a chair sliding over, and someone would sit down. i can't be positive that it was a chair, or that someone actually sat down. it sure felt like a chair. because with every slide, the "chair" would bang me unapologetically in the ball of my knee, so much as though i could feel the water in my kneecap start to part, like a tiny moses was trekking across the vastness of my knee's interiors. yah, it was probably a chair. then the hard cold metal was pressed against my temple. it was held there for 17 minutes. then it was gone. no sounds except the dueling breaths of myself and the metal-man. if this were some sort of bizarre breath-race, i would have beat that fucker every time. and no smells, except for the scent of the rotten urine that was seeping though my pants and probably causing some infections on my skin by now. but i was more than used to that. nothing. just a chair sliding, a metal rod at my head, heavy breathing on my part, and then…gone. until 42 minutes later. the routine lasted a while. it was a dizzying repetition. not because it was strenuous or anything, but repetition is dizzying in itself. if you force anyone to do the same thing over and over they will lose touch with reality. in my case, i was forced to fear. i was just as scared every single time. but even though i was scared, i tried to make the best of it. in the back of my mind i knew it was a gun. most likely a .357 magnum, not that i know anything about guns, but i've seen my share of eastwood flicks and i've always imagined what it felt like when dirty harry bruised the side of some rat's head before he fired. and i guarantee this is what it felt like. but sometimes i would try to lighten the mood. not that it would stop myself from pissing or panting or crying, but i've always been a half-full kinda guy. i imagined it as a robotic hot dog. i imagined it as a tiny, frozen tree.

i imagined it as steve martins nose from roxanne. i imagined it as a thick metal straw, and maybe memories were getting sucked out into a vat, only to be examined by a group of scientists from the future. i imagined it as a prosthetic arm. i imagined it as electrical cord that couldn't quite fit in the outlet on my head. but mostly, i imagined it as what i knew it was. i continued to be scared. then, about the 7 or 8 hundredth time, i was suddenly intrigued. the silence was broken. after 16 minutes of imagining the gun as a futuristic dildo getting ready to machine-fuck my brain, he spoke: "remember." then he was gone. 42 minutes later, repeat, now with the added vocabulary again. "remember." "remember what?", i thought? who the fuck did i piss off enough to kidnap me and bathe me in my own piss and fuck me with a glucose solution until i cry like fat girl when she runs out of chunky monkey?! i mean, yah, i don't stop for people in crosswalks, but fuck them, they should drive. the environments not gonna disappear in our lifetime. could it be trevor billson from accounting? he fucking deserved to be fired, he was swiping office supplies and selling em on ebay. shit's a lot more expensive than trapper keepers nowadays. no, that greasy fuck is way too dumb to plan a kidnapping. and if paul is pissed off enough at me to hold me hostage for not giving him back his criterion collection robocop, then fuck it man, i'll buy you 30 of em! let me go! maybe it's just bad luck. maybe daniel powter is punishing me for liking his shitty song. i doubt he wants a fan like me anyway. the amount of random acts of violence is incredible these days. maybe he thinks i'm someone else. should i be remembering the alamo? and how it doesn't have a basement? fuck man, i don't know. "remember." again. "remember." again. remember. remember remember remember remember remember "fuck, man what the fuck do you want me to fucking remember?!!!" as i uncontrollably screamed this, it kinda came out like "fjkshj mahjhd wha dkd fuck ooo wan me to fucking remember!?" because the farther i opened my mouth, the more the sutures holding my mouth closed ripped apart. blood was the first thing i had tasted in ages. the man's voice spoke softly and calmly, "shannon bennet." shannon bennet? shannon bennet? then my voice, uncontrollably, but the least bit remorsefully, muttered… "fuck." that was one of the girls i raped and ki… (before he could finish his thought, the gun fired, and the captive's head exploded. blood immediately cakes the wall and, almost as if shannon had been watching the entire thing from

beyond the grave, spells out "thank you daddy" as it drips down toward the ground. the story ends with the captor walking out of the door, kissing a photo of his dead daughter.) the end. ripley almost made it through the whole thing, but i could see i was losing her about the time i referenced her favorite ice cream, chunky monkey. i saw her smile with her eyes half closed and then fade off as i read the rest of my story to her. oh well, you can't please everyone. maybe it still needs work. i use an old throw to sleep in. it's too small for my lanky body, but it works. i tossed it loosely around ripley and decided that this is a good opportunity to finish getting ready for work while i wait for sandy to return…

part 19
with ripley conked out momentarily, i stepped back into the bathroom to finish up, or rather, re-do getting ready for work. if i worked like a normal person, today may be a good excuse to call in sick, but since i only physically go into work once or twice a week, i pretty much have to venture forth, despite my eventful night/morning. i closed the bathroom door and looked in the mirror. my lack of sleep was really taking its toll on my face. there was an entire baggage claim area surrounding both of my eyes, and my skin looked like there was dry film encasing it, almost as if it was time for me to molt. i started to pick at my skin, and noticed that yes, there is indeed an extra layer of dried up, pasty epidermis. i guess i should start using lotion, even though i'm convinced that lotion is made purposely to temporarily moisturize your skin, only to leave it even more dried out than before, so you become addicted and have to keep buying it and buying it. i wonder why the conspiracists haven't looked into this yet and connected lotion with the government and the attack on 9/11. or maybe they have. either way, i can't afford to keep buying lotion all the time. i can deal with some dry skin. but man, i'm starting to look like gary busey. i brushed my teeth and splashed some water on my face, hoping that the excess baggage rings would simply wash away. there was still a constant pain in my head and chest, as well as the newly formed jaw pain. it hurt to close my mouth all the way now. shit. lockjaw is one of the worst things i can think of. wait, what do you call it when your mouth gets stuck open, instead of closed? it's not lockjaw. it's like…zombiejaw. craving brains, walking with a limp and moaning after you die doesn't make you a zombie. a constantly gaping, hanging mouth, however, does. and after seeing a man with zombiejaw in front of safeway last week, i think i am now well prepared as to what to look for in case of a real zombie outbreak. he was overweight, mid 40's, greasy, stringy and sparse hair. he was dressed in old dark khakis, a faded red and white button up shirt, and a light blue t-shirt. a real patriot. he was meandering slowly, not seeming to be wandering in the direction of the grocery store, just kind of hovering outside of it, clueless, but definitely in need of something. from far away, i noticed that his shirt was filthy, and had a large tar-colored stain on the chest. maybe he's a mechanic, i thought. but as i got closer, i saw the man's side profile. his jaw locked open, like there was a wrench jammed in the cog that hinged his mandible. his bottom lip, which looked like it weighed 6 pounds, was being tugged downward by a thick, constant rope of dark drool that was literally anchored into his chest and covered his spherical stomach like the ocean markings on a globe. and his eyes could care less that the stain on his shirt wasn't from mechanic grease, or even sweat. it was the result of a 24 hour drool problem, a major symptom of zombiejaw. but this zombie was different, because he needed some groceries. when i walked by him, he smelled dead, too. poor guy. i put my socks and shoes on (i always do this in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet. i don't know

why, but it's the most comfortable place in my apartment to put them on) draped my tie around my shoulders, and opened the door to go back into the living room. i was a little startled by ripley standing there wide-eyed and awake. "chadam, what's this, it's pretty…and it's moving." my eyes felt like they grew to the size of robert wadlow. my jaw did temporarily lock in the open position. and the sweat and fear that i just washed off in the bathroom, rained right back out of my pores. had i not pissed on my granola bar a little while ago, i would have surely done so now. ripley was holding the box …

part 20
the moment my corneas sent instant text messages to my retinas, which in turn delivered a tiny package of neural impulses with a note attached reading "holy shit it's the fucking box" to my brain, i panicked. i expected to hear 3 deep strikes from the felt-covered hammers of a grand piano, like in old hitchcock movies when a sudden plot twist is thrown at the viewer. "jesus, ripley where did you get this!?" i snapped as i ripped the box, now even softer and more organic-feeling than before i attempted to murder it, out from her loose grip. she responded with something i wasn't expecting, even given the recent incidents that have decided to invade my life since last night. "the man in the closet gave it to me…" if there was ever a time to think in leet speak, "wtf" would definitely be the only thing that would come to mind. "huh?" i said. that was the only response i could muster. in fact, i'm surprised she even understood my mumble, since my "huh" came out like "gugh?" "over there. the man living in your closet. he woke me up and gave it to me and told me to give it to you. he said you'd like it." she pointed to the only closet in my apartment, a small walk-in with an old wooden door guarding a small amount of clothes, journals, art supplies and boxes of wires and old video game consoles. sure enough, even though i haven't turned that doorknob for months, the door was cracked open just enough to cast a pizza-slice-shaped shadow on the floor, right next to an old stain on the carpet from when i stubbed my toe on the closet door frame and dropped a bottle of india ink i was holding. my foot was almost completely black from the ink, and had my foot not distracted the ink on the way down, the stain would have been a lot bigger. i gently moved ripley (even though she wasn't the least bit scared) behind me with my left arm as i held the box in my right and stared at the closet door from a few steps away. the box was giving off a hot sensation, almost too hot to hold. i wanted to set it down. hell, i wanted to smash it, but there was no way i would risk ripley getting hurt, so for now, i had to keep it close to me. "stay behind me," i ordered ripley in an almost heroic manner, which is kinda funny, because i was feeling as far from heroic as cringer before he's forced to morph into battle cat. "what's his name?" she inquired. "he says he's lived here for a while, but i've never seen him. do you know his name, chadam?" "no" i was inching closer to the door. i wasn't even really listening to ripley at this point. my deformed eye was watching the box out of my peripheral, while my good eye was looking at the darkness that lied behind the cracked closet door. i needed something to bash it with, if the situation should call for a celebratory bashing. i quickly panned the room, and somehow managed to do so without taking either eye off of its target. i saw a hammer on the kitchen sink that i use to knock the water faucet loose when it gets stuck. without taking my eyes off of the closet, i crossed my left arm over my chest and reached over the counter to grab the hammer. it would have to do. hammers are one of the worst weapons when you're playing video games, but i guarantee that i can do some damage with this thing. i'll just have to get close. i could feel my asthma coming on strong, but i inhaled as deeply as i could, causing a weird

"wheeze" to escape from my sinuses, raised up my hammer, and i swing open the door to the closet and started to swing downward toward whoever was living among my old nintendos. unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, there was no one there. not even any evidence. just the same shit that's been in there for months. a conniving, young cackle erupted from behind me. ripley was laughing, "hahahahaha! i tricked you!" "what?" i was even more dumbfounded than before. "you thought someone is living in your closet. where would they go number 2, silly?" i didn't know how to react. i wanted to fucking choke her. i mean, not really, but jesus, had she any clue what the hell i'd been through all night? well, no, i guess she didn't. and she's a kid. with a good god damn imagination. it wasn't the first time she sent me on a goose chase to catch one of her imaginary friends, and i doubt it will be the last. "that wasn't very funny, ripley." i said, slightly embarrassed that i fell for a 6-year old's lure, "i've had a weird night, and….never mind, it doesn't really matter. where did you really get this box? its dangerous." "they brought it and told me to give it to you." she said, like a broken record. "ripley, this isn't funny, you and i both know no one is in the closet. you sound like the poltergeist girl. stop it." i was getting more impatient than i usually do. "not the man in the closet…they brought it in." ripley then pointed to the bloody, broken window, which was now completely shattered and was letting more than the light from "the sandman" sign in. posted on and around my widow sill, some inside, some outside, some hovering, was a flock of about a hundred pigeons, all with broken and battered bodies. and when my eyes connected with the closest to me, i noticed his beak was twisted, and his face smashed. i swear it was the pigeon that, only an hour or so ago, i held dead in my arms. and he was staring at me…

part 21
the phobias that have bloomed inside of me over the course of my life had eventually heated themselves up in a pot, stirred themselves, and melted into one general, unidentifiable wariness of my surroundings. needless to say, some of that wariness wasn't irrational. the helminthophobia is maybe a little off-center, but the acrophobia and the anthropophobia definitely had their catalysts. a month or so before the box was left on my welcome mat, i began noticing the staring. though it has always made me somewhat uncomfortable and, on rare occasions, angry, people staring at me has always been something i've dealt with. but this particular staring was more than just a curiosity about why my eye had fallen victim to gravity, or why my forehead was a little higher than tyra banks'. no, this was more like an alarming, oh-shit-there-he-is-what-do-i-do kind of stare. the kind of stare you expect to be followed by a quiet whisper into a watch phone, stating your location: "i'm in the liquor store, subject just left. he's coming around your corner." not just one or two people either. over the course of a few days, i got more stares than i had received in years. from bus drivers in their rear-view mirrors. from solo housewives in the supermarket. even from children, stopping their swings and looking at each other as i pass the park on 19th. and after a few more days, i would even catch my name being tossed around in conversations i could only half-hear on the bus, or at the video store, or at least, i think i heard my name. but when i would turn around to aim my ear in the direction of the conversation, it would stop, or change subjects. bums and drunks were the worst, though, spouting out shit to me that, normally, i would disregard as banter, but when it contained the words "chadam", and "or else", i couldn't help but dwell over it, considering that my name isn't the most popular name for strangers to mutter. i asked sandy (and even ripley) about this, but she just said i was paranoid, and that she hasn't heard anyone talking about me, and that i might just need a girlfriend. "no

shit", i told her. regardless, i became suspicious of everything around me, although i felt no particular danger. until 4 days before the knocks. i was returning from work, passing the sandman on foot, looking at the ground, creating pictures from the cracks and debris so chaotically evolved throughout the concrete. the combination of crevasses, stains, and muted out color build-up from years of smog and spit that mother nature painted on the cement were more beautiful than half of the art i've seen at the moma. someday i hope to frame my favorite sidewalk squares and hang them throughout the walls of my apartment. there was a fairly big puddle that took residence in the middle of the square i was walking through, and i saw a sudden shift of objects and colors in the reflection of the water, causing me to halt and tilt my head back up, startled. the police were struggling to arrest a balding man in a wheelchair about 2 feet in front of me. as i was backing up away from the scuffle, the 2 police yanked him out of his chair to detain him, and the man's eyes widened, looked right at me, and gruffly shouted, "don't let them in, chadam, don't let th-…". he was cut short by the cops, throwing him into the crown victoria like an overstuffed bag of garbage into a compactor and shutting the door. the police sped off before i could even muster up enough conscious thought to ask what was going on. there was no one else around. i rushed out the following day and bought 3 more locks for my door, not really knowing why, it just…felt like it couldn't hurt. the duct tape on the door frame was just as an added annoyance, as i figured if anyone was going to come in blazing, i would at least hold 'em off for an extra 30 seconds. standing in front of a flock of possibly undead birds, holding a burning box of who-knows-what in one hand and a hammer in the other, knowing that a wheelchair-bound man warned me of something, and that everyone else seems to knows something that i don't know, it was hard for me to hide my fear. but i didn't want ripley to know i was too scared to protect her. it probably doesn't take much to prove you're tough to a 6-year old, but i was for sure going to try. i told her to stand in the kitchen, but it looked like she joined the "things chadam doesn't know" club, because while i was doing my best attempt at acting brave, she assertively said, "why? they won't hurt you, chadam." i responded, my eyes still glued on the flock of zombies with wings, "wha…how do you know that?" with every arrogant twitch of one of the pigeon's green and lilac necks, my hammer-filled hand cocked farther back. i have never hurt anything with a heartbeat, but i don't feel like getting pecked by a ton of broken beaks and possibly infected by whatever fucking thing makes the dead walk. "because", ripley said, "they told me they wouldn't. they just said to make sure you got that boxything." great, i thought, she can talk to animals. i'm babysitting aquaman's fucking daughter, and i'm scared shitless, about to commit a pigeon hate-crime out of pure confusion…

part 22
my chivalry, however half-assed it was, had been thrown down and stomped upon as ripley stepped in front of me and stood among the birds, embarrassingly giggling like one of the pigeons whispered in her ear the pigeon-equivalent of that one fucked up joke about the eagle, the leper and the 10-pound ham. "seeeee?" she said, very sarcastically. "they are just here to play with us. they're beautifuuuuul." playing or not, it didn't seem right. not that pigeons have the same unpredictability as rottweilers, but anything in enough numbers can do some damage. even birds. so i was hesitant, and wanted more than anything to pull ripley away, but to do so may startle them, and i would hate to be responsible for sandy's daughter being pecked to death by severely scarred, telepathic zombirds. so i watched as she twirled

around. more and more birds showed up, some so haggard looking you could practically see the loose soil from whatever pet cemetery they were buried in still clinging to their moist, decaying feathers, further cementing my theory that these were, in fact, previously dead birds. one of the birds, the biggest one with the least amount of feathers still intact, had no beak at all, but was somehow clutching a small piece of wet meat in its mouth. its face, minus the beak, was void of any sheen other than the reflection in its only open eye, and resembled a small sock puppet crudely forged from dried up chicken skin. and yet it too began frolicking in mid air around ripley, among the rest of the rather graceful sky-dancing scavengers. the scenario i was witnessing had somehow, right in front of my face, morphed from an impending horror-movie scene to something completely opposite. something…aesthetically beautiful. ripley was smiling (she had quite a beautiful smile, as she incredibly lost all of her baby teeth before she was 2, and had a full set of perfect teeth, unscathed by the years of junk food and neglect that most of us share), pirouetting like a ballerina amongst over a hundred birds, circling her with an elegance i had never before seen in a pigeon, let alone a rotting, mangled pigeon. feathers that had lost their grip on the skin of the birds were floating around in the cyclone. the act had made me wish that the human body was equipped with a slow-motion option in the eyes, so we could experience times like this cinematically, as they were no doubt meant to be experienced. i like to pretend that songs are playing when i am witnessing something worthy of a soundtrack. in my head, al jolson's "sonny boy" was playing as the birds were circling in my apartment: "when there are grey skies i don't mind the grey skies. you make them blue, sonny boy. friends may forsake me, let them all forsake me. you pull me thru, sonny boy. you're sent from heaven and i know your worth. you made a heaven for me right here on the earth. when i'm old and grey, dear, promise you won't stray, dear, for i love you, sonny boy. i was in a trance, so much so that i completely forgot about the fucking dangerous living cardboard that i had been cradling against my chest with my left hand. but i guess the box got jealous, because it decided to remind me it was there. i noticed the box heating up in my arms back when i was ready to pounce on whoever was supposedly in the closet. i hadn't noticed it getting any warmer since then, but perhaps its jealousy inflamed it's surface because i instantly felt like i was holding a raging campfire. i couldn't grip it any longer. the box fell to the floor, and, like before, must have magically changed mass mid-fall because it hit the ground like a cartoon safe in a failed attempt to murder a road runner, breaking through the first layer of wood and carpet, embedding itself in my rug. there goes my security deposit. rad. the box hit the ground with so much force my apartment shook. the framed picture i have of 2 zebras (i won it at a local fair, it's the only thing i have ever won) fell instantly. the television moved a few inches, and a stack of journals on my desk tumbled to the ground. so did ripley. the box's fall had interrupted her dance, and she tumbled sideways to the ground, nearly hitting her head on the corner of the couch. her fall had startled the birds, which were now frantically diving, chirping and crisscrossing throughout the room, mimicking old archival footage of dogfights from pearl harbor. i put my guard up to block any rogue beaks or talons. i kneeled down and covered ripley so she too would be safe. the pigeons were blindly flying in a panic, knocking over everything that didn't weigh over 10 pounds. in the span of about a minute and a half, from the time ripley showed me the box, to the moment i was playing the role of the shield in hitchcock's the birds, the tone had changed from scary, to mesmerizing, to dangerous, to, finally, deafening. i was trying to think as quickly as i could about what to do. at that moment, however, the box showed me that it has more emotions than just plain jealousy, and it let out a second high pitched scream, exactly like the siren song i had heard in the shower, that seemed to last forever. i don't recall exactly how long the noise polluted the air, but it was

long enough to drive every pigeon out of the room through the destroyed and bloodied window. i sat on the floor, protective of ripley, staring at the box embedded in my floor, now wondering if the box is help me…

part 23
with ripley protected by the cave my lanky body formed as i cloaked her, i stared at the box so hard i almost expected it to get embarrassed…i think it actually did blush. i mentally snapped a hundred different exposures of the box as it lay there, halfway pushed into the floor. my eyes, although they may not look like the best quality equipment, are digital cameras. not metaphorically speaking, either. they are literally cameras. instead of the latest japanese technology, though, these camera bodies were constructed over 25 years ago, forged from flesh, tendons and membranes, and they house a one-of-a-kind lens, shielded by a million cells holding hands with each other forming a multi-layer anti-reflection coating. and the memory card in my head made from compacted gray matter holds an infinite number of photos. i can retrieve any one of these photos at a moment's notice, which is both a gift and a curse. my photographic memory surely has come in handy with my writing. or perhaps it's the other way around, and my writing is the outcome of my memories lacking a printer. i used to love drawing, and this might have been my brain's first attempt at creating a way to get these memories on paper, but it failed miserably. i can't draw. i never could. but i liked it. then i started writing, and even though i'm not the best author, it's a form i have been able to see improvement upon since i started years ago. i file away all of the mental pictures i capture in hopes of being able to one day, call upon them to make movies. that's been my dream since before i could walk. unfortunately, though, movies take more than one person to create, unless of course you made el mariachi. it's a collaborative effort. you have to have friends, equipment, and, in most cases, money. so, because of the obstacles, my journey to moviemaking has just been forced to be a roundabout one, honing my skills in other aspects of filmmaking while i prepare to make the greatest movie ever produced. this over the shoulder p.o.v. shot of me staring at the breathing box, slowly zooming past my head while lone feathers gently meander their way down to the carpet as the mixture of pink and yellow hues from the sandman sign leak in would look great in a movie. i filed it away for later, assuming there would be a later. before anything else happened, i decided i need to get ripley out of there, even if she's in no danger from the birds, or the box, or whatever was screaming in my shower. i shook myself out of my trance and reached for her hand. she seemed scared, but not devastated. "what was that noise?" she asked. "it was just a siren, it scared off the birds. c'mon, we gotta get you back to your house." i kept my bad eye on the box while i gently pulled ripley up by the hand and escorted her 3 steps away, into the kitchen. i just needed to get her out to safety before i figured out how to handle this. i reached for the phone to call down to the manager's office. i don't know if she'll be up to it, especially this early, but if i explain to her that i have to go to work and that i don't want to leave ripley alone, maybe she'll watch ripley for a few minutes until sandy comes back. i ask ripley if she's ok with staying with tab, the manager (tab's a nickname. and it's not short for tabitha. her real name's virginia. everyone calls her tab because she always wears the same moo-moo, a bright, solid colored-salmon-pink fabric with 3 diagonal white rectangles on it that, if you squint your eyes, looks just like a giant fucking can of tab, the worst soda that has ever graced our planet. and she's okay with it). "sure, she's alright. she lets me drink soda and watch cartoons," said ripley. "no, shit…she is a soda", i mumble under my breath. "huh?" "nothing."

i found tab's number in the book next to my phone, but before i could call, ripley spoke up again. "chadam?" "yah, ripley?" "what's in that box that the pigeons gave you?" i paused…opened and closed my mouth a couple of times before i replied. though i was almost completely dehydrated, i felt a string of spit grip both of my lips, then break apart and half of it hooked around my lower lip, like a lip-ring made of drool. "…i don't know. i guess i'll have to open it." "will you tell me what's in it when you open it? the pigeons said you'd like it." "yah, ripley, i wi -" i was cutoff by the loud ringing of my phone as i was reaching to grab it. hopefully it's sandy. i pick it up. an electronic voice said "this is the county correctional facility calling with a collect call from..chuvargetsdf (that's how i made out the interference-ridden name that was given). push 1 to accept." i didn't know anyone in jail. i didn't really know anyone at all. it's probably the wrong number, i think to myself, and if i deny it whoever it is won't get another call, so i should pick it up just to tell chuvargetsdf (?) that this is the wrong number and hopefully the guard will give him another call. i push 1 on my phone. "hello?" i said, inquisitively. there was a ton of static on the phone, the voice on the other end was garbled, and i couldn't make out a thing. "you have the wrong number, sir, i'm sorry." the static turned into an electronic growl and escalated instantly in volume, then cut short, and the interference was gone. "i don't have the wrong number, chadam", the grizzled male voice said. i wish my ears' memories were as good as my eyes'. i tried to remember where i heard that voice, but i couldn't immediately place it. but with his next words, i remembered. "you let them in. you let them –" the phone cutoff and relayed a busy signal in my ear… shit.

part 24
if i thought too hard about that phone call i'd freak the fuck out. surprisingly, i haven't freaked out yet. i guess the rapid succession of moments where i have no clue what the fuck is going on had happened too quickly for me to think twice. so i continued the trend, looked at ripley, and realized i still need to get her out of here. i dialed tab's number. she picked up. her tone of voice relayed that she had been up for a while. "i hope you're calling to apologize, chadam," she said. "apologize? for what?" i asked. "that fuckin thumping and screechy shit you got goin on up there. building a god damn time machine?" though her untalented use of sarcasm was displayed nicely, it didn't occur to me that while all this shit that's been happening to me, it was only a little after 7am, and i highly doubt that a lot of the tenants were waking up to go to work. sorry, tenants. it wasn't really my fault. "sorry, tab", i say, humbly, "there was…a rat and, i was trying to chase it, and my…chair…fell?" damn, i pride myself on telling stories and that was best i could do? ripley boisterously spoke in the background, "and pigeons!" i turned to ripley and put my index finger over my mouth, the universal sign for 'shut-the-fuck-up-

can't-you-tell-i'm-trying-to-lie'. "you calling bout a rat? really?" she asked. "no, i'm calling to ask you a favor. ripley's here and sandy was supposed to be back by now to get her, but she's not, and i have to go to work. can she come hang out with you for a few?" i was beyond going to work by now, but i highly doubt tab (or anyone) would believe me if i told the truth and said "well..i have a possibly life-threatening box embedded in my carpet that whoknows what delivered and i'm afraid that maybe the angelic kamikaze zombirds that destroyed my window will eat ripley if she stays here." that's the shitty thing about real life, and how it carries over into the movies, and from the movies. movies have engraved in our brains that nothing fantastical ever happens in the real world, so if someone says something out of the ordinary, they are told they are crazy, and the truth never gets told. and when this happens in films, you always yell at the screen something like "just tell the fucking truth, god, this is so fucking fake." but then it happens in real life, and…you bottle it up. so, i didn't tell the truth, out of fear of being ridiculed. "sandy's here, chadam, let me put her on the phone." "hey chadam," said sandy. "how long have you been back?" i asked, obviously frustrated. "i haven't even left yet, man," i started talking to tab about some shit and i'm about to go right now." jesus, i thought. well, at least i know that the whole apartment isn't infested with zombies or boxes of death or whatever. "don't," i say, "can i send ripley down there, i really need to go to work, sandy." "yah, sure, tell her to come straight down here, i need to go too." "k. thank you." i hung up the phone and grabbed ripley's hand. "c'mon, let's go downstairs." the instant we walked out of my door, i uncontrollably hunched over. my shoulders tensed and my eyes shut like bear traps. a stabbing feeling sharper than any headache i had ever had overtook me instantly, and i crippled in pain. i took a step backward through the threshold of my apartment, and the pain ceased. "hold on a minute, ripley." i tried to catch my breath and stand up straight. "what's wrong, chadam?" "i just got a headache, i'll be ok, let's go" again. the attempt at crossing out into the hallway was stopped by the instant headache. shit. and again, i backed up. the moment i got back inside, the pain stopped. "it's ok, chadam, i'll go myself, its just right downstairs." "i'm sorry, ripley, i'm not feeling good. go straight downstairs. promise?" "promise," she said. i shut the door, a little reluctantly. i hated leaving ripley alone, but she's lived here longer than i have, and the danger is only in here, i hope…

part 25
i watched ripley begin to descend down the hallway to the stairwell. i closed the front door and pressed my hand on my head where the pain was burrowing its way out through my skull. my entire head felt like it was a giant brick, but the pressure subsided a great deal as soon as i closed the door. it wasn't that hard to figure out that the box was causing my headaches. so much for it being nice, i guess. fuck, man. why this stupid fucking box, i thought.

i fantasize about changes in my life. i daydream that some day, i will have a higher purpose, aside from being a slightly deformed babysitter with social anxiety, bad bowels and a journal collection. i dream that one of these mornings, a cloaked woman with horse hooves for feet emerges from my closet and tells me that her people are in danger, and that the wolf-king is turning her family into half-wolf slaves to work in the salt mines and feed off of sheep. i could follow her into the closet, and transport through the back into a world where i am looked at as a savior, not just…looked at. i never really expected the hoof-woman to show up anywhere else other than my dreams, but out of everything that could have come and changed my week, i get some kind of alien cardboard crap with pink blood, a recyclable body, and mind control powers. if this were a superhero comic, and this box was the accident that caused me to get superhuman powers, i would later rip open my shirt to embarrassingly reveal a costume with a large cfb, which would probably stand for captain fucking boring…lame. i surveyed the apartment, standing with my back to the door so i can see its entire area. there was sunlight invading the room now, reflecting off of every shard of glass scattered on the carpet amongst the feathers, and blinding me if i tilted my head a certain way. the box was cradled in the floorboards, using the carpet as a half-tunic. my journals were thrown about. the tv was now showing some kids' show with a bunch of characters with huge awkward looking heads and big eyes dancing around in front of a crudely painted landscape, singing about their adventures. i turned the volume down a little, but kept the tv on. i like having a little movement and noise in the background no matter what. it keeps me company, and it drowns out the interior noises that my body manufactures that seem to haunt me in complete silence. i can hear the blood driving inside of my arteries, my food fighting off the acid of my stomach, and my heart throwing itself against the backside of my sternum. i hate it. everything in the room seemed to be at a lull. now, if i don't move the rest of my life maybe everything will be fine. i guess there would be no better time than now to share this letter i got from ripley 2 days later, after everything happened..(note: the letter was extremely cute looking, and this is my translation of it since it was written with a bleeding pen on a series of like a hundred napkins.) dear chadam, thank you for telling me the new story. it was nice and but had gross words. and scary. i'm at tab's now, in the room with the tv, and she gave me a waffle with no butter and its not even hot its gross. i don't know when you'll get this, but i think you will soon i hope. i made it down here ok, but all the weird people that usually sleep in the hallway kept staring at me and made faces like they were mad. one of the pigeons made it into the hallway but i don't know how. he was crazy. i couldn't talk to him like the other ones in your house. he pooped on one of the mad guys and it was funny and i wanted to tell you something that i saw in your house but i left before i could tell you, but it was pretty. when you pulled me up from the ground after i fell, i saw a baby tiny light come out of the top of that pigeon box, and a fly went and landed on the box where the light was and the fly looked different in the light. he wasn't a fly no more. he was prettier. and i pointed to show you but the light went away and the fly left. and he was a fly again. and chadam when i got here mommy and tab said to go in the tv room and when i was coming in here i heard them talking about that box. mommy asked tab if you opened it and tab said like we'd all know if you did. they sounded like secrets so i didn't tell them i heard but i want you to know. i like it at your house. i wanna write you a story too. i gotta go. had i gotten this letter when i was intended to, it probably would have just added to my confusion. but since i received it 2 days later, it made perfect sense…

part 26
i was alone, studying the box from across the room. déjà vu. shit, in the last few hours, i keep repeating this, only each additional time i catch myself lost in a daze, staring at this cube that

could be the bane of my existence, my apartment and my sanity are a little more destroyed. the kid's show that was airing on the television got rudely interrupted by an emergency broadcast system test. that annoying flatline tone mixed with the static from someone's personal hell is a recipe for crying wolf. i'm probably the only person that somewhat pays attention to them, and actually watches the 1985 commodore 64 font-trains racing across the screen, competing with each other as to which line is more important. the big flashing one that reads "this is only a test" always wins over the others. i can't imagine anyone reacting to these in the slim chance that it were not a test. the broadcast would have to be louder, flashier, and scarier, which i doubt can happen without some really good creativity over in the emergency graphics department. "***this is only a test ***" what i noticed about this test, however, was that it was longer. not by too much. just enough to notice. it looked like it wanted to end, but it kept going. the words disappeared from the screen, leaving only a blank black screen, with the usual constant sound of a dying siren continuing on. then, the siren noise was cut off by a seemingly panicked, gargled computerized voice. a voice that would ooze out of a broken speak n' spell that had been abandoned in a toy box for years. "this is a required weekly test of the emergency broadcast encoding and alarm system. this is only–" the voice was cut off and an extremely crude graphic quickly blinked on the screen twice depicting what i can only describe as a face (?). i mean, i think it had eyes, and maybe a mouth. i don't know, it was too quick. but it didn't belong in the middle of that broadcast, despite its ancient 8-bit graphic design. the closest thing i could compare it to is the blinking pumpkin in the opening credits of halloween 3. yah, that halloween 3, the one that had to do with a corporation of alien mask-makers taking over the world by hypnosis, and nothing to do with michael myers. fucking awesome movie, though. after this graphic flashed on the screen twice, the screen blackened again and the voice continued. "a test. if this had been an actual alert, this message would contain specific information on the actual warning being issued. this concludes the weekly test of the emergency broadcast system. don't let them get the box. they won't know what to do with it. run." the broadcast shut off and the the large hammer-headed mascot from the kid's show filled the screen and finished his rendition of "dem bones" while confetti furnished his set. "fuck…" in the last 4 or 5 hours i have developed a new skill called "don't question shit", which came into play right now. i picked up the box, and i headed to my front door…to run.

part 27
i never hated being a paranoid schizophrenic more in my life. i cursed the godzillion locks i had bolting the door shut. it's weird that in a state of panic you seem to forget how to do certain mindless tasks, like sticking a car key in a car door, speaking, or, in this case, turning a deadbolt. the feeling of panic came over me the second that fucking drunk-hal computer voice said "run". but there was really nothing i should have seemingly been afraid of. i just simply believed the television, i guess, as it didn't seem too far fetched considering the shit that has gone on here today. my hands would not turn the second deadbolt. i was crippled by fear. paralyzed the same old antics. i managed to undo the first one, i think by accident, or by force, as i practically threw my right side against the door panel. i tried to toss the box on the table that i originally set it down on, an event that seems like it happened months ago. "did it?" i thought. for a second i remembered that, when i was little, i used to call rifts in time "cesspools" because i had heard the word somewhere and it sounded really sci-fi, and no one said otherwise, so i would freak out whenever i would hear news that a car or a building fell into a cesspool. i believed time travel was real, and that it was happening all around me. so for a second, i thought i might have fallen into a "cesspool" and that there could have been months between these events. "no, get your fucking

head straight, calm down. turn the bolt." the box wouldn't let me throw it down. i figured that out as soon as it hit the table and an invisible sledgehammer hit my head and the pain caused me to fall against the counter by the door, ramming the counter's corner under my chest cavity, giving me the heimlich. a small piece of food jetted out of my mouth and hit the counter. a full tortellini shell from the night before that had either got stuck in my throat, or simply refused to fall into the pit of my stomach to be disintegrated. i'd have been more grossed out if i could focus on something other than the ghost of a construction worker shooting nails into my brain with an invisible nail gun. the instant i cradled the box with my left arm, the pain ceased. "great", i thought, "i have a fucking siamese twin now." the relief i felt from the pain leaving my head allowed me to focus enough to get the second lock turned. only 2 more to go. i had nothing to fear, really, except that warning, which who-knew what kind of merit that held. it turns out, that warning held more merit than evidence of evolution. out of the corner of my eye i saw a bit of movement from across the room, at the window. the little amount of bloodied glass that still held on to the pane fell inward, and a grotesque halfgloved hand with its index and middle finger fused together appeared and gripped the edge of the sill and i could only imagine what type of arm and body was going to follow. my digital cameraeyes optically zoomed in like a thousand times and i zeroed in on an entire colony of ants meandering through the forest of blood and knuckle-hair that was coating the fingers that weren't webbed. at this point i would like to translate, word for word, what my brain was processing before my mouth could even react: fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. the tsunami of fear drowned me yet again, instantaneously. and again, my hands were as useless as diapers on a tree. i was fumbling even trying to touch the locks. i couldn't keep my head from shaking back and forth between the approaching hand and the deadbolts. i finally got my right fingers to conform to the football shape of the lock and turned it clockwise. "click". breathe. look. fuck. a second hand had followed, not as grungy as the first but just as yellowed and leathered. the hands both changed angles and i could see the top of a head and a huge set of shoulders rising over the horizon of the window sill…

part 28
i wish that genies in bottles were real. ironic, that i would wish that a being who grants wishes would exist to grant my wish for his existence. kind of an oxymoron, i guess, as i just confused myself. if genies did exist, however, i would most certainly not be a grandiose wisher. i would simply ask for things that would just make my life temporarily a little easier. not too easy. i was never one to cheat. but sometimes i like a little help. case in point, right now i would really really like to wish for a pair of eyes implanted in the back of my skull. i don't have too much hair, so blocked vision wouldn't be much of a problem. i tried to remember if i had any old egyptian perfume bottles laying around that had been unopened for hundreds of years that might contain a genie…nope. damn. i had to take my eyes off of the door to see what the status was on the window man. not good, it turned out. whoever the fuck was able to scale 3 stories and wrap his hands around broken glass was now slinking through the window and had one foot on the carpet. his hands were not deceivers. the rest of his body was just as dingy, if not more, than his ant-infested, crusty, over-exaggerated cartoony hands. his hands were fucking huge. i swear that he must have slipped on a pair of

those "hulk hands" toys and somehow grafted his own rotten skin around them to amalgamate the two. i couldn't see his face. not because it was covered in long hobo-hair or anything. in fact, i had a perfect view of it. it's just that it was…pitch black. not like it was cloaked in shadows or anything. it was greasy, and glimmers of light radiated off of the sharp planes created by his face, enabling me to barley make out that yes, it was indeed a face. just not like anything i had ever seen before. there seemed to be no eyes, and no nose. only a mouth, which was barely visible except for the small, spread out teeth that he exposed briefly when he licked the left side of his mars-black upper lip. the blackness looked soaking wet. drippy, almost. the walls of my apartment have only seen 2 or 3 other visitors in the years that i have been here. i often thought they hated being the foundation responsible for holding my ceiling up, simply because of the lack of action they get to see. sometimes, when the walls speak in creaks and moans, i can make out the word "borrrrrinnnnggg". well, as much as i have appreciated you for making sure the roof didn't cave in while i was sleeping all these years, fuck you, walls, this is as far from boring as you can get. i hope you're happy. something long and blunt slid out of the drippy man's right jacket sleeve and that was as long as i could afford to look, i turned my head back toward the door. i fumbled with the last lock. not nearly as much as the previous ones, as it seems my panic ceased and i regained slightly normal motor skills simply by a desperate fear of....dying? "click." awesome. i turned the handle for the door and tugged, almost ripping my arm out of its socket. the door didn't budge. shit. in a series of panicked attempts to perform the simple task of opening my door, i completely bypassed the duct tape that i was so adamant about lining my door frame with to "annoy" any intruder for an extra 30 seconds. "funny", i thought, "that extra 30 seconds is going to going to annoy me, and possibly help me meet my demise in a horrifying manner. rad." i glanced back and mr. drips was about 3 steps away, exposing his teeth fully now, which looked like rotten baby teeth jammed into the gum-line of a bear. and to add fuel to the out of control forest fire that is my life right now, my depth of field changes in my sight and i see another hand reach up through the window. i bent down and grabbed the turned up end of the tape with my forefingers and pulled upward, extremely relieved to hear the sound of the tape's adhesive abandoning the door frame. the sound of the tape was loud in my ears. or so i thought. but it wasn't the sound of the tape i was hearing. an deep rumble escalated immediately, a huge shadow was cast in through the window and filled up the entire apartment and i felt the sun fall out of the sky. the wall that was connected to the window literally exploded inward, shattering the hundred year old drywall and brick layers, being led in their destruction by a swarm of thousands of pigeons, flying so close to each other that i saw no light shining through them at all. there was a horrible squeal from the swarm as they poured into the apartment like god just filled a gigantic pitcher of pigeons and dumped it all into my apartment. i didn't stop undoing the tape. i was almost finished. mr. drips was raising his hand, holding whatever had slid out of his sleeve, in his fucked up huge hand. i only needed about 3 more seconds, but i was sure i wouldn't make it. as the end of the tape jerked off of the door frame, the swarm of pigeons attacked. but it wasn't me they attacked. they engulfed mr. drips the instant his arm swung downward toward me and he let out a curdling scream. i couldn't see through the mass of pigeons attacking him, but i was assuming a similar fate had occurred to the other window-man, and whoever else was following him. i didn't stick around to see. fuck that, not now. i opened the door enough to slide myself and the box out and i slammed the door behind me and leaned up against it, breathing harder than i ever have before…

part 29

an intense combination of noises roared from behind the door, in the same studio apartment that i sat, day after day, writing meaningless stories full of characters who wished their lives were bigger than life. the same studio apartment that was so cut off from the outside world i felt comfortable enough to cry out loud in when the pain in my head got too intense. the same studio apartment that i spent months guarding, only to let my guard down the day i thought someone was nice enough to get me a present. the same studio apartment that i will never be able to live in again because of that present… there are 2 stairwells in my building. one for the tenants, and one for maintenance, even though there hasn't been a steady maintenance team here for ages. tab usually just talks some random meth addict into doing a shitload of work in exchange for some trinket that they can trade for some speed. the maintenance stairwell is closer to the front entrance, and also has roof access, but no one ever uses it because the lights are busted in there, and walking up and down some shitty stairs in complete darkness hoping that no one is actually hanging out in there is spooky as shit. my parents were always a little embarrassed of my appearance as i was growing up. i didn't realize it until later in life, the way they kinda hid me from certain events, or just convinced me that we didn't need to go to places like theme parks or zoos, or pretty much anywhere in public. i loved to swim when i was a kid, though, but my parents could never afford a pool, so we always went down to the community pool a few blocks from my house. when i was younger, i never really questioned why we would always go there at night and jimmy the lock open until i found out later that my mom would pay the janitor there to look the other way while we broke in and swam after hours. she told him she didn't want me to be ridiculed by the other kids, and that it would surely happen if we came by to use the pool in the day, when everyone else uses it. i didn't mind swimming alone because i simply loved the water. my mom never swam though, she would just let me in and sit in the bleachers for a while until she usually fell asleep. the pool was pitch black at night, like the maintenance stairwell. and because i was alone, i would frequently get really creeped out by the floating pool sweeper. the first "droid" i had ever encountered, the pool sweeper had incredible ai. i knew its sole purpose was to just meander around the pool and clean it, but at night, when its dark, when visibility is next to nothing, and when i was alone, it seemed to seek me out. the calming babble of its motor as it treaded water and snaked around the surface of the water is the only way i would know its location. and i swear, if i would make a sudden movement that it didn't like, it would turn back around toward me so quickly its hose-of-a-tail would get wrapped around itself like a snake who was preparing to eat an egg. i would go under water momentarily, and pop back up only to see the sweeper hovering there, staring at me. i knew it couldn't hear me, but i used to tell it to go away frequently, and i eventually wouldn't go under water unless i knew that it was too far away to be there when i came up. i fear the uncomfortable unknown, and i'm sure many people share that feeling, which is probably why even the scariest people don't use the maintenance stairs. even psychos and cretins have fears, at least a few. to the left of my apartment is the normal stairwell. i didn't know where i was headed, but i knew that i now needed to get out of this fucking building and find someone or something that knows what the fuck is going on. i don't know if it was the immense noise of the pigeons exploding through my walls, or if it was the prophecy that my tv spat out via emergency broadcast, but the hallway to the right was filled with tenants, all facing me, staring at the box cradled in my left arm. even mel roth, the blind man from 40b was there, staring like he could shit lasers out the bowels of his empty eyes. i couldn't tell if it was confusion, concern, or determination that was painted on all of their faces, but as soon as i returned my own look of confusion, they all, in unison, began to advance toward me. "that's fine," i thought, trying not to panic, "i don't need to go that way anyway." i gripped the box harder and briskly walked to the left, glancing back over my shoulder to see if the tenants were still advancing. yup. crap. i picked up the pace a little. it was weird, when i usually walk this hallway, regardless of the time, the floors are littered with vagrants and wanderers. but this time, nothing. the carpet lining the

hallway was perfectly discolored in the places where they usually set up camp though. soggy, faded spots created from years of drug-addicted asses pressing against the carpet. gross. the stairwell is right around the corner. but, right as i was turning the corner, a lone, mangled pigeon skillfully flew underneath the bottom of my right shoe as i was picking it up in stride. i noticed this and immediately stopped my foot from crushing it, and, in turn, lost my balance, and fell forward. the box threw itself from my arm (or maybe i just threw it, who knows) and hit the ground, lightly, its bottom facing me. it was only a couple feet in front of me, but as soon as the box hit the ground, my head screamed with pain. i was crouching on my knees, palms down on the disgusting soiled carpet, neck tense from the headache, when i heard that familiar high pitched, horrifyingly beautiful song of the siren escape from the box. i rolled my eyes up slightly in the direction of the box, the side with the "hand" marking facing toward the ceiling and its top facing away from me, down the hallway. and not only was the box singing for me, but it was completely open…

part 30
i have been writing this whole recollection in one of the few journals that didn't get destroyed during the great pigeon war of 2 days ago in my apartment. i don't think i'll continue to live here, though. its fucking freezing in here. i put up the only blanket i have over the meteorite-sized hole in the side of my apartment to block out at least some of the breeze, but it's not too much help. the wind chill feels weird against my new skin. it's all in my head, i'm sure, but still, my mind has always played tricks on my body, which i guess is obvious now, huh? when a small amount of congealed air slithers in through one of the small gaps that the blanket can't quite cover, it pokes my skin like a boiling syringe. the coldness seems to land on one spot on my skin, and sit there like a bleeding pen, quickly spreading out the stinging cold through the rest of my body. i must be more sensitive now. it's not just the coldness that feels different. my eyes seem even sharper than ever, and one of my ears can now pick up mundane albeit beautiful sounds that i have never even experienced before. have you ever heard the sound of a fly falling in love? or the excited, almost celebratory sound of a tungsten filament inside a light bulb waking up from a night of boring electric dreams, ready to lighten up the day the moment you flip a switch? these sounds are sublime. even the horrifying sound of an itch getting scratched, where you can hear the screams from the microscopic nerve endings on the skin being shredded by the strength of a clumsy fingernail, somehow sounds beautiful, if only because i have never before heard such a noise. but the most important change though, is the headaches. i mean, it's only been a couple of days, 53 hours and 44 minutes to be exact, but ironically, i feel a huge weight has teleported out of my head. and it feels great. i haven't had a chance to clean up. i've been writing nonstop. my apartment is still drenched in pigeon-shit, blood, feathers, drywall, thick pink box-discharge (ummm…yuck), and general disarray. funny to think that up until a couple'a days ago, the furniture in this place hadn't even been rearranged for over 6 years. most of my journals are torn up. the tv is smashed. it still turns on, which is amazing to me, but every channel that i switch it to looks like a collection of sebastian kruger caricatures with holes in their faces. i keep it off now. after all, i have plenty of new responsibilities. it's hard to put myself back in that place, 2 days ago, down on all fours like a starving runaway, clueless, trying to fight off the tremendous hammering in my head that the box cursed me with, as it lay, facing away from me, exposing itself to the hallway. i mean, its not that hard to remember the events that occurred, but it's hard to go back into that state. a state of complete naivety and mystery. a state of knowledge depravity. knowing what i know now, it's difficult describe the events that followed once the box was opened in a manner that is not biased toward what i learned on the rooftop soon after that. but i'll try..

part 31: the first reveal the pain was drowning my head in a river of sorrows. i couldn't focus on anything. i could see that the box was laying a few feet in front of me, and i could see that it somehow threw its top flaps open, exposing its insides. but it was facing away from me. the headache made me physically ill and i threw up a small amount of bile and water on the already haggard carpet. the lurching of my esophagus muscles made me more disoriented. as i began to gain my focusing ability, i rolled my eyes upward and i almost didn't recognize where i was. the shape of the hallway was the same as it had been every time i had walked down it, day after day. the smells were the same, too, even if a little vomit was added to the palette. it wouldn't be the first time i smelled puke in this hallway. but it was different. everything about it. it was…alive! still kneeling down, my attention was kidnapped by subtle movements in my peripheral. i looked left, at the wall, which had always been an infectious yellow hue, full of scratches and stains, and the occasional baby cockroach exploring its surface. not now, though. no, it was divine. the walls were bathed in a glistening turquoise, so powerful that the dark corner shadows that called these walls home were overtaken by an aqua radiance that i could only imagine was the perfect color of hope. the crown molding, while still fabricated the same, now resembled a thick, clear transportation system, almost like a set of twisted, clear arteries, that i could easily see cells and plasma racing through. and there definitely was something racing through the crown molding. the surface of the wall looked stagnant at first, but when i looked closer, the wall was breathing, much like the box did when i first discovered it. there was even a faint impression of a pattern on the wall. it was the same hand that was printed on the box. but the most beautiful thing about the walls was not the glowing turquoise, or the mysterious circulatory system. there were things creeping out of the electrical outlets. not things, i guess. more like…vines. pitch black, inky vines cascaded out of the outlets, and were spreading all over the turquoise surface, each branch and arm having a mind of its own, crossing each others paths and having no real destination. the wall looked like someone had a huge straw and was blowing these vines in every direction, similar to what you do with india ink in art class to create controlled splatters, but i felt no wind in here. the walls were simply alive. i was mystified by the sudden allure of the walls, which is why i was so shocked when i turned my gaze from the wall to the center of the hallway. much like the hallway to the right of my apartment, this hallway was also populated, but not with people. well, not really with people, but with a gang of…things. "these are fucking for sure not… not human," i remember thinking. "fuck." out of sheer terror, i stayed frozen on the ground, on all fours, like a medieval beggar. the hallway was crowded with human-like beings, but…their features were exaggerated. like cartoons almost. like…something that you could easily put in the "out of the nightmares of an imaginative japanese kid" category on jeopardy. that's probably the best description. was it horrifying? at the time, yes, as i have never before seen anything like what i was staring at, and what was staring back at me. the out of proportioned heads looked like they would have been too heavy to move gracefully. their skins were all different colors, mostly bright and textured. bugged out eyes and huge inflated teeth. some had extra limbs jutting out of the side of their geometrically challenged heads, some had fur-lining from some type of wild stuffed animal from an imaginary island where plush toys roamed the jungles and hunters spent years poaching them for bragging rights at the toy conventions. in fact, giant toys is what they all looked like. giant, terrifying toys. i needed to get to that staircase, but the maintenance stairs will have to do. there was no way i was going to make it through those fucking things. they began to advance toward me. i couldn't really tell if their eyes were looking at me or the box, since they all had strange, muppetty eyeballs that looked rather ridiculous. regardless, i was scared shitless. i jumped up, turned around and began to run back toward the humans, which i figured i would at least have a chance against, even if it is a slim one. immediately, the pain in my head and a second heave of bile reminded me to quickly reach back and grab the box, closing it up and cradling it back in my left arm…

part 32: the second reveal i doubled back and rounded the same corner, heading back in the direction of the maintenance stairwell. 2 more stray zombirds whizzed by my head and i waved my right arm retardedly, attempting to blindly bash them out of the air like tiny zombie piñatas. i stopped myself short of hitting them, though, because i had a weird feeling that they may have been helping me. lucky for me, they were going the same direction as i was, maybe even leading me somewhere (i hoped), so i put my head down like a 'roided fullback and stormed down toward the maybe-angry mob of tenants, determined to get myself into the stairwell, regardless of the fact that i really had no fucking clue as to where i was ultimately going. the birds must have been on my side because they darted directly into the crowd of tenants, creating sort of a "parting of the tenant-sea". even old blind mel jumped backward to avoid the undead aviators. who knows how he saw them. old bastard must have sonar. makes sense. everyone around here calls him an ol' bat. i passed my apartment door. weird. i really wanted to take a peek in there and see what kind of war was going on between the faceless men and the pigeon army, but hearing a brief couple of seconds of the chaos ensuing inside of there as i hobbled past the door deterred my curiosity. i continued on into the crowd. i think some of the tenants were talking. whether the word were directed towards me, or if they were just about me i'll never know. there was a lull of blended up sentences spoken, none of which i could make out, probably because my selective hearing was focused more on the beating of my heart and the sound the box was making as it was heating up in my arm again. i was just relieved that this group of people still looked human (well, at least remotely human, though some of them, like tommy the leper who dealt crack on his crutches, had been far from human for years). the box was sweltering against my skin to the point of actually starting to melt! not fully melt, in a wicked witch of the east kind of way. it was more like an unsupervised film reel getting dizzy and deciding to stop its rotation, leading to a suicidal burning. cause of death: projector. small pinholes slowly opened up on the sides of the box's surface and intense beams of light launched outward as i was running, frantically shooting out the projected light in different directions. some light splashed against the walls, some against the tenants themselves. i tried my hardest not to look anyone in the eyes as i bullied past them. i just looked down, trying to guard the box from any stray hands, glancing side to side, almost on beat with my footsteps. if i was crazy, and if none of these people were really after me or this god damned light-leaking box, eye contact would reveal my disheveled state of mind, and there's no doubt that someone would call the cops, and i would end up in the napa state hospital. "maybe that's where i need to go," i thought, "maybe that's where these pigeons are leading me. at least i will be monitored, and probably remotely safe." the thought of controlled medication for a sickness that can't be labeled scared me, though, and i really wanted to avoid being categorized as loony tunes. the door to the maintenance stairwell was in my sights. good. only a few more people to barge through before i can take the next step towards escape. at this point, i felt deaf and my balance was off because of the blood that must have filled up my eardrums during that last headache. i knew i felt something pop when i threw up. i was confused as to why i was running. i was confused as to why everyone else wanted the box, if they even did. i was confused as to how my tv knew to warn me, and how the pigeons may be helping me. i was confused as to why there were giant three-dimensional cartoons running rampant around the corner. and during my confusion, my left hand was getting barbequed by a melting, breathing box made of skin and bad memories. i was a few steps away from the door to the stairs when a man in a wife-beater put his hand out in front of me, like a fucking second rate traffic cop, as if to halt me from going further. but his eyes were looking toward my waistline. i figured he was going to grab for the box, so, as much as it burned, i gripped the box tighter, curled it inward against my chest, and twisted my right shoulder to defend it from the outstretched hand. "calm down! i can help you," said the man in the wife-beater. that was the first sentence i was able to make out as i ran through the crowd. "i know what you're going through," he continued. i didn't know what to believe at this point. i looked him in the eyes. they were tired. puffy. but confidence bled from his tear ducts as he stood his ground with his arm firmly stretched out toward me, his palm sideways now as if he was asking for my hand to escort.

damnit. more and more ingredients were being thrown into my pot of confusion. i stopped moving for a moment as the man held his hand out. i started to respond to him, i think. i don't remember what i was going to say. but it doesn't matter. i didn't get a chance to say it. i opened my mouth, but before the words could climb up my esophagus and base jump out of my mouth, the man's hand raised up and balled into a fist. i didn't see a new hole melt open on the box, but it's only because i was staring at the man's raised fist. but there is absolutely no doubt that a hole did open, because a beam of light tore through the air, under my right arm that was shielding me, and shone directly on the man's arm, which, now that it had been blanketed by the box's insides, was no arm at all. the raised, waving fist is now a flesh-colored, enlarged appendage that bends in the wrong spots and houses thick, sharp hair follicles like that of a tarantula. there was still a hand connected to the arm, but the hand was more like a collection of bloated spaghetti noodles, compacted together in the shape of a hand. the fingers varied in size, and each phalange had additional multi-knuckled noodles hanging limply off of it. "it's the box!" i thought. "holy fucking shit, the box can transform things!? how is that helpful!? how is that possible". "i'm sorry, man," i desperately said to the man as i started to duck into the maintenance stairwell, "i didn't mean to. i didn't know!" "what are you talking about, chadam?" the man said to me. i managed to get the door to the maintenance stairs open a lot better than i managed to get my door open earlier. i guess practice with panic makes perfect. the box's light beams followed my every move, and the beam that was hitting the man's arm rotated with me and was now pointed at the knob of the stairwell door. before i slid into the stairwell, i glanced back at the man, and looked at his arm, which was back to normal, and still balled in a fist, exactly as it was a few moments ago. i looked him in his eyes and quietly but suspiciously asked "how did you know my name?" he stared blankly into both of my eyes. i don't know how he did it, because my eyes are so far apart its gotta be downright impossible to look me in both eyes. but he did do it. and he smiled. at that moment i heard a shout from the opposite end of the hall, in front of my apartment door, which was now opened again and an entire flock of birds was leaking out in a steady flow, circumventing the man who opened the door and came out of my apartment. even through the static of a handful of tenants cluttering my view, i saw that it wasn't mr. drips, but the crippled bum who i had seen getting arrested a few days ago. the same crippled bum that made me run out and get those extra locks for my door. the same crippled bum who, aside from ripley, was the only person i believed…even if i didn't understand why i believed him, and even if his warnings were delivered in more mysterious ways than your average warning. well, his tendency to warn was still in full effect, because right when i asked the man in the wife beater how he knew my name, the bum shouted, "chadam!!! ruuuuuuun!!!"… part 33: ready to die getting into the maintenance stairway was the easy part. actually seeing anything should have been the hard part. and it would have been too, if i didn't have the box, which was now shooting beams of dark gold light out of almost all sides of its blistering surface, as the box itself continued to heat up to an almost unbearable temperature. the door to the maintenance shaft is heavy. i was able to close it and, out of sheer adrenaline, bend the handle so that the lock mechanism connected to it moved about a half an inch, jamming the door temporarily. at this point, even a few seconds is worth its weight in gold. i had a split second to catch my breath before i ran downstairs. i was hunched over, heaving air in and out of my lungs. there was too much air getting into my blood, and i was feeling tingly from the oxygen poisoning my blood cells. what lies below me, at the bottom of the stairs crossed my mind. "i'm on the 3rd floor", i thought, "the ground level is going to suck…i know it." the brief few seconds that i was attempting to control my breathing to avoid passing out, i made the connection between the light that emitted from the box and the lsd-inspired shit i have been seeing. everything looks different under this fantastical light. that had to be why everyone on the

opposite end of the hallway was so fucked up looking. the box had opened and flooded the entire hall with its radiant blood, that's why even the walls were alive. or were they? fuck, if i only had that genie again, i'd wish for a little more time to think and put things together. instead, i have darkness. and stairs. and no time. why would anyone want this fucking box if its just going to make you think that eveyone's a monster?! "shit", i thought. then i spoke out loud, which i never do if i'm alone, unless i'm speaking to patrick or the tv, "you want this precious…thing?!" i was speaking basically to no one and everyone at the same time. i was looking downward, over the railing, into the darkness that overtook the light beams a few stories down. "the you can fucking have it!" with complete disregard to the pain that it was no doubt going to cause, i raised my arm above my head to throw it down the stairwell into the darkness. "i know it's just going to come back", i thought. "i know the pain in my head will probably even kill me at this point. but i can't…do this. this is just some type of fucking responsibility that i can't possibly fulfill because i simply don't know what the hell i'm supposed to do!" for the first time in my entire life, i screamed. it was the combination of frustration, fear, physical pain, and mental exhaustion that seemed to erupt the volcano in my throat. i always wondered how i would scream if i ever had to. would i scream like a girl? would it be a heroic, victory scream, or would it just be a generic war-cry like the canned wilhelm scream used in so many movies? well, it was none of those. it was just…the sound of pain, i guess. toward the end of my scream i swept my arm downward harder and faster than ever, even faster than when i used to want to be a pitcher in little league and i would literally rip my adolescent arm out of its socket because i would try so hard. with the pain escalating at the rate it had been every time i'm away from the box, i came to terms with the fact that my head will just probably explode like that sweaty mustachioed man from scanners the moment the box passes the second floor on its way through the air. i'm fine with that. if i'm gonna die, an exploding head would be a fucking awesome way to go. it's amazing, the things that go through your head the second before you are sure of your death. a few little things popped into my head, like the time my parents hid my christmas presents in out neighbors house to keep me from finding them before christmas day, and the time i got chased for over 2 miles on my bike by a stray great dane who hunted me down during my paper route when i was 12, only to just tackle me and lick me profusely like fucking marmaduke. god damn, i hate marmaduke. i never understood the humor in that comic. a few other random memories that i have never thought about blended together in a quick, hazy montage, but i mostly thought about the girlfriend i never had…she was short, half-japanese, i think, but she looked mostly white. she rode the same bus as me for years. she was quiet, like me, and read a lot. she was a fast reader, too, because she had a different book in her hand each time she rode. over time, you can really tell a person's personality by their habits. she never littered. her purse was full of garbage, but she would never leave it on the bus, and she would pick up trash on the way off of the bus and throw it in the garbage can after she exited. i liked that. the times i got enough confidence to sit behind her, the scent of her hair would blow downwind into my deviated septum and linger there the rest of my day, making those days the easiest to get through, despite the headaches and the sadness. her eyes were beautiful. there's nothing more fitting than that word. there is no reason to attempt to compare them to some random thing in nature or some other bullshit, because beautiful is a commonly understood word. and that's what her eyes were. it's funny that the moment before i'm about to die, the only thing that i am thinking about is the fact that i will never be able to tell a girl that i have never met that her eyes are perfect and that i love that she loves the earth. and that my name is chadam, and i would love to find out her name, and maybe go to the movies sometime. "well," i thought, "there's always the next life, isn't there, buddha?" i closed my eyes and finished my pitching motion, opening my hand to let the box fly down and face whatever painful doom is in store for me. i let go of the box and kept my eyes closed for a few seconds. but nothing happened. my head didn't even pulse with pain. not even a little. i opened my eyes and peered down the shaft, which was just black. not even the light from the box had lit it up on its way down. but my waist was glowing, like a small light was hitting the lower half of my body. i pulled my arms up and looked to my left. there was no pain because the box had never left. instead, the box was now grafted to the skin of my left arm like a pile of plastic army men that you

put in a microwave to see what happens…. part 34: the stairwell the fusion didn't hurt. in fact, the burning sensation was completely gone. it felt…comfortable, despite my total lack of fingers. the box's cardboard looking surface had pretty much morphed into genuine looking skin and blended in perfectly with my own. except it was very noticeable. and it was still breathing and glowing. if we were going to actually become conjoined twins, i would have maybe preferred that my body absorbed it fully, instead of it just kinda looking like a box is fused with my arm. or at least i would have liked to know ahead of time so i could have maybe told it where to latch on to me. i wouldn't mind having a fleshy box-lump jutting out of my shoulder, for example. i could have drawn a face on it, and wrapped a little shirt around it so it looked like i was giving a little friend a ride all the time. patrick would have probably been jealous, though. shit, speaking of, patrick can't be jealous of anything…he's destroyed. his mouth is gone. he's…dead. in his place was a twisted mound of who-knows-what. the area where the box fused with my hand resembles the surface of a far-away planet forged entirely from mucus. it looks almost like someone sloppily decorated my arm with skin-frosting. flaps of the arm skin are overlapping small pieces of the misshapen box, and vice versa. "well", i thought, "if i ever wanted to be a newt, this is one step closer. my fingers aren't webbed, but my whole hand is. i'll work on it." so despite my failed attempt at suicide, i still needed to get the fuck out of here, so i descended the stairwell in complete darkness, with the exception of the beams of light that were still wildly leaking out of my arm. i guessed that i could possibly use my arm as a flashlight now and at least not trip on the way down. after all, i wouldn't want to kill myself unwillingly. my new arm did a good job illuminating my way down the flight of stairs, as long as i didn't get distracted by the walls, which looked absolutely stunning when the light shined on them. the colors in here were different than the hallway upstairs. the walls were glowing with a pearlescent, dark purple, flaked with gold blisters that were heaving in and out. and the vines were back, too, coming from every direction, hugging themselves around the railings and independently exploring the surface of the walls. they looked like a collection of tubifex worms hunting blindly for some bacteria to snack on. with the box acting like a spotlight, rather than lighting up the whole room like earlier, i could only see parts of the walls and the staircase at a time as i passed them. the rest of the shaft was still enveloped in darkness. i made it safely down a flight and a half of stairs before i saw them waiting for me. shitshitshitshit. i stopped midway through the last set of stairs and aimed my arm downward just to make sure. yup. there was a mob of those things down at the bottom, staring up at me and basically using their animated eyes and their extra appendages to dare me to come down there. i lost myself in the moment, briefly, as i looked into the huge vacant eyes of a giant triangular grinning pumpkinhead with two additional stumpy little arms poking out of the sides of it, attached to a little girls body that was gripping veiny, flesh-colored balloons. though her face was frightening, the body was recognizable. "ripley?" i said, quietly to no one in particular. i almost felt calmed because of our trust, but regardless if it was ripley or not, my calmness was shattered as i shifted my weight toward her direction and one of her balloons screeched like an epileptic vulture and exploded, letting loose thousands of…liquid bees is the only way i can describe them. the buzzing was the noise of a thousand bees. but the wet yellow mercury that swarmed toward me was definitely not…. part 35: cardboard city i turned a bit and aimed my arm over the railing and up the shaft, illuminating the path up to the roof-access door. i didn't see anyone standing in the way. i doubt it, but maybe there's a way to get to another building from the rooftop. maybe for once, i can go inside of "the sandman". ironic that the first time i step foot into the building right next to mine would be crashing in through the roof. so, reluctantly, i turned away from the…things…at the bottom of the stairs and ran up, now making the roof my destiny. so far so good. i passed the door to the 3rd floor that i cheaply jammed. it was working, but it didn't look like it would work for too much longer. i could see the handle turn more and more as i passed it. my light-arm was doing a great job now that i have it under control, perhaps mentally. i can think

about what direction i want the light to shine and it obeys my thoughts. "straight fucking ahead!" i thought. the clamoring of my own footsteps against the dingy concrete stairs was soon overshadowed by the rumble of stampeding sounds of 80 or so legs and thousands of bees(?) following quickly behind me, but i was far too scared to lose my pacing if i even glanced over my shoulder. and even if i did look, i couldn't see anything unless i aimed my new arm-light back down the shaft. knowing my recent ridiculous luck i would probably turn around and there would be a giant cupcake with wings that knows my name and screams siren noises loud enough to wake the dead. i kept running. jesus, how many floors does this god damn place have? i swear this building only has 5 stories. whatever, i can see the door, and my path is clear. i was breathing heavier than ever, wheezing almost. the extra weight from the box, though it's not much, coupled with my asthma-like breathing, had me swinging my left arm awkwardly and hunching over, panting, as i climbed the stairs. good thing i didn't have to run onto the bus and possibly encounter the girl of my dreams. i must have looked like a methed out quasimoto. i reached the door and was relieved to find out that, for the first time since this whole mess started, i opened the door with ease. the sunlight blinded me. the harsh rays of earth's only natural light source stabbed my sensitive eyes and forced my eyelids to glue themselves together temporarily while the intensity slowly eased its way into my retinas at an accepting speed. the fact that my eyelids are pussies and can never fully stop any light from penetrating came in handy this time, as i needed that little weak filter system right now. when it was bearable to open them, i slammed the door shut behind me and surveyed the land. i thought it was amazing that this much sunlight barrages the building each day, but yet, almost none of it penetrates the building's interior, so every unit in this place looks like an underground bomb shelter. the roof was like any other roof in the city, i guess. loose gravel blanketing a flat, tarred rooftop. a couple of lightbulb-shaped vents calmly spinning and spewing out a thin layer of bone-colored pollution. a few random giant tv antennas that probably haven't been in working order since the 70's, except to provide a resting spot for the occasional gang of birds. i spotted a ladder on the other end of the roof leading to a platform that housed a broken generator or something, but there was no where to go from there. my apartment building is planted in the middle of a hundred other buildings just like it, varying in height and state of decay. this area that i live in was named cardboard city decades ago by the people that lived here, because the moisture from the pollution of the nearby factories seeps in here and gets trapped in the alleyways, rotting the foundations and making the buildings seem soggy. there is also always a smell of wet, rotting cardboard. it's a sour smell that stings your nose when it touches it, but deceivingly enough, you get used to it quickly, like the smell of wet dog, or a crowded night at wal-mart. a smell that, after a while, is part of you and is only apparent to outsiders who wander in here unknowingly. i always pictured this collection of housing projects, laundromats, warehouses and abandoned high-rises as the homeless sector of the building society. i imagine that if one of the new hotel buildings from downtown sprouted legs and walked through cardboard city, that hotel would nonchalantly toss a couple of people (or whatever a society of buildings would use as currency) into the hands of these buildings, out of pity. no one even bothers advertising here anymore either. from where i stand, i can see the largest billboard in cardboard city, on top of the old theater where i saw "earthquake" when i first moved here, and pasted on it is a weathered, barely legible ad for crystal pepsi, which hasn't been around for 10 years. the billboard actually looks like someone hated it so badly that they physically went up there and tried ripping it down with their bare hands. it's shredded to pieces. i feverishly looked around, left to right, and saw what i had feared. there was no other easy access to any buildings that i could see. shit. the sun must have penetrated my eyes more that i thought, because my head began hurting again. it was pulsing, a little different than it had before, though. the pain felt like it was stretching my muscles backward from behind my eye sockets. and a subtle pain ran constantly up the base of my neck, through the back of my mouth, and out of my nasal passage. i couldn't close my mouth without pain. i hoped that zombie-jaw wasn't taking over my immune system. i walked about 10 steps out into the middle of the roof, literally spinning around, holding my head, looking

for my next move, searching the library in my brain for any kind of creative decision that might help me macguyver my way out this. the pulse of the pain inside me was increasing it's tempo, which, when mixed with the sounds of the vents, the birds, the sniffling from my attempt to hold back tears, and the traffic below the building, created a haunting song inside my eardrums, something worthy of the end of the world… part 36: seyeruoynepo the light from the box on my arm didn't shine as brightly out here because it was battling the sun for supremacy, and the sun was winning, but not by a longshot. the box was trying, and i could see it breathing harder than before. i stared at a flock of pigeons that was flying high above the skyline and wondered if they were part of the same clan that had possibly been helping me. their silhouettes, when banded together, almost formed animated words that i attempted to make out among the smog and the sunlight, though i failed to see anything other than some gibberish that looked like "seyeruoynepo" or something else that someone just blindly pounded on the keyboard. my attention was drawn away from the sky when i heard the inevitable: the stairwell door flung open and the mob had reached the top. but they were human again, people i recognized. people from the building. mr. roth, sandy, the minter twins, tommy, tab. they were all there, mixed amongst the nameless faces of other people who have survived some of the years of abuse that cardboard city can pour on its forgiving habitants. and they were advancing toward me. i made my best attempt at forming complete sentences. i was more confused than a scorpion being snatched out of the desert and being thrown in a toilet, and the only person i could really direct my sentences to was one of my only friends, sandy, the prostitute with palsy. "tell…how do.." i sniffed my tears back up through my nose and eyes and forced them down my throat. "what's…happening, sandy? what do you want?" because my question was directed at sandy, she became the unsung leader, stepping forward in front of the minter twins. "we don't want to hurt you, chadam." she said, in an uncanny motherly manner. "wh..what?" i was backing up a few steps at a time, and the mob of people was pouring in out of the doorway, inching closer towards me. "we've been trying to he – " i cut her off, "stay the fuck back!" "chadam…please, listen. we've been trying to help you…" "you can help me from there, stay back." "there's nowhere to go from here, chadam. that's why we brought you up here." "you didn't bring…fuck, i ran…and…" i couldn't even begin to figure it out. these are the words i remember saying, for the sake of getting my point across, but i'm sure they came out garbled when i spoke them. i was choking on the confusion and the pain. "everything that happened led you up here, chadam, so you can breathe. take in the air, it'll help." she was continuing to sound protecting. breathe? i thought. i couldn't even see straight. "like i said, we have all been trying to help you – " i cut her off again. "fucking help me what!? you're killing me! look at me!" "help you…to see." they were all advancing closer, and before i knew it i was almost at the edge. i glanced over my shoulder and sure enough, i was at the edge. i could see the cluttered, traffic filled streets below me, maybe a couple hundred feet down. but i would never jump. i couldn't, even if i wanted to. my fear of heights won't physically even let me 5 feet from the edge of a one-story roof, let alone a 5 or 6 or , fuck, it looks like ten story building. i actually feel safe around high buildings because my fear is so intense there might as well be a wall up around the edges, because i know my body will not let me fall. before i could respond to sandy's latest words, the box lit up, and aimed its spotlight at sandy. in the light, which only shone on her torso and arms, sandy was…horrifying…but…simultaneously beautiful. her torso was bloated, but looked alluring. her fingers were long and orange. they moved like snakes and were full of blisters. she held up her hand and, from the top of her palm to

midway down her forearm, a mouth opened, and the ink-like black tendons shot out from inside the mouth and completely entangled my new left arm…
part 37: fall

i reacted the only way i instinctively could. i wrapped my teeth around the vines, fought off my case of zombie-jaw and bit down, mimicking attack dogs that i have seen on some bbc documentary. she screamed, and loosened her grip. the rest of the mob advanced around her while she spoke, holding her hand in pain, "chadam, we need your help, that's why we are helping you!" "you're insane! you're not fucking helping me! you're hurting me!" i slithered around the grasp of tab, who lunged at me, and i barged through the crowd, which was easier to do than i thought. they were clumsy. i made it to the ladder and at least i could fend them off from there, i hope, while i try to get sandy to really explain what the hell is happening to me. i hurried up the ladder, which was fucking hard to do with one arm, but i practically floated up there on determination alone. it was higher than it looked, about 30 feet above the rooftop. i turned around and looked down. the entire roof was packed solid with people. or not-people, i don't know. it looked like a deleted scene from dawn of the dead. my world is ending. i am more deformed than before, i am more confused than before, and although there are a thousand people all gazing upon me, i am more alone than before. i have nowhere to go. sandy was in the middle of the crowd. "why are you doing this to me!!?" i shouted in her general direction, keeping my eyes on the people at the bottom of the ladder. "you're the only one who cannot see, chadam." she was shouting back from the middle of the mob. "you never sleep! but you're the only one who needs to wake up! we need you." no one was attacking me. no one was attempting to even climb the ladder. they were just staring, anticipating what was going to happen, no doubt. most of them looked like they were begging for something. for the box, maybe? for me to do something? i couldn't tell. "open your eyes, chadam. let go of the box. let it…work." "what!?" i was shouting louder than before, the rumble coming from the amount of people infesting the roof was overtaking my voice. "i can't let it go! it's a part of me!" the wind picked up, and my shirt and my tie were forcefully pressed against me, the extra fabric dancing among the low clouds that were hovering right above the building. nothing was making any more sense. i still didn't know what to do. i began to cry. i looked over the crowd of people. it was surreal. regardless of height, everyone looks the same when they are packed together, staring in one direction. is this what it felt like to be executed? probably. i noticed the crowd begin to part a little at a time, like a small ripple, starting from the door to the stairs. when the part reached the bottom of the ladder, i saw her. it was ripley, staring up at me. i could barely hear her little voice over my tears and the sound of the wind. "don't cry chadam. they told me. the pigeons did. they didn't tell me before so i didn't know. but i know now." "what do you know, hon"? (she liked when i called her hon, because her mom said that her real dad used to say that) "that you need to help us." "how? what do you mean?" i was getting tired of asking the same question over and over, but for some reason, i believe the innocence of a child over a hardened adult any day. even a day like this. "let go, chadam. let go of the box. and just…let go. you can fly." i wanted to believe her. i wanted this to end. i looked her in the eyes and she smiled. i saw that same smile every time i let her take over the storytelling duties on the manda adventures. i believed her smile that she threw at me as i stood alone, stranded on a platform on the top of my crumbling universe. that was the smile of a proud pegacorn owner and reciever of all of the chocolate in the land. i calmed down. i looked at the box that was grafted to my arm. i think it looked back at me. i wiggled my left fingers, or, rather, where my left fingers were supposed to be. i saw a little

movement. the box separated a tad from my skin, but not much, then it fused itself back together. i looked back down at everyone, then at ripley. she nodded. i formed the best possible smile i could muster in return, which wasn't much. i turned my back to the crowd and i looked up in the sky, almost directly into the sun, as if the answer lied in it's lava. it's a natural instinct in most animals to escape to higher ground when they feel threatened. i don't really know why that is because you always have to come back down to face it again. maybe that's what they mean when they say "life's full of ups and downs." we spend our lives running from something that we eventually have to fight…or join. the sun didn't tell me anything. i wasn't expecting it to, really, but hope was one thing i will never let go of. hope is the main ingredient when you're cooking imagination. i hoped for some guidance. and i got it. but not from the sun. the same flock of pigeons flew over my head again, silhouetting themselves against the sun. once again, their bodies moved to form what looked like letters. but this time, they made sense:

i closed my eyes and, in my imagination, i kissed my bus queen on the forehead and thanked her for things i could never tell her. if i ever wrote a book, i would want nothing more than to see it in her arms on the bus, knowing that i filled at least one of her days with memories in return for the months of voyeuristic happiness she had given me. i tilted my head back, outstretched my arms, and i fell into the crowd….
part 38: the final reveal

the fall felt like more than the 30 or so feet it was. and the crowd must have spread because i slammed into the gravel on the rooftop. but when i hit, my world changed. i can't really explain the how's or the why's, but i can tell you what happened. i hit the rooftop with tremendous speed. immediately upon impact, i involuntarily shook the box loose, and it exploded, completely eradicating itself. the sound was delayed. like a sonic backdraft, every noise that wandered the rooftop got sucked into the box the moment i hit the gravel, and, when the explosion happened, there was 2 seconds of complete silence. then the big cardboard bang. i wish i could have stood on the clouds and watched the box explode from the heavens. i would have seen the tidal wave of light originate at my left arm and blanket the entire rooftop, pouring down each side of the building, painting it with the traits that i witnessed in the hallway. the light infected everything it touched, and left beautiful changes in its wake. the light ran amok in the streets, forcing itself into every crack and crevice of cardboard city, drenching all of its inhabitants and structures. the vines were everywhere. the colors were violent, but vibrant. the buildings were breathing. the city was, for the first time in decades, alive. and while the light-storm was coating the city in perfection, my head mimicked the box and practically exploded itself. or at least, it felt like it. i couldn't move. my head was a blur. then suddenly, the pain dissipated, and that's when the transformation started. i felt the skin around my chin tear and the bone crack and split apart, bringing to life a feeling that i have felt inside of me many times before. but surprisingly, it didn't hurt. it felt a little hot, though. i felt my nose get sucked back into my sinuses and disappear. i tilted my head back and my teeth pulled themselves outward, and elongated, revealing years of decay and neglect that were kept hidden inside the pulp of my gums. i couldn't see what it looked like, but i can guarantee you i looked like something out of an rk sloane painting. i felt the back of my head gain so much weight the olsen twins would be jealous had they cared about theid deteriorating figures. my neck swelled and twisted. something felt like it was boring into the left side of my head, and i felt the blood rush out of the wound. at the same time as my teeth were being stretched from the meat of my gums, my upper jaw cracked and migrated upward, taking the place of my nose, and parting my eyes like the red sea. my eyes expanded upward, and for a moment, i was blinded because my sockets filled up with a thick white liquid and hardened immediately. the darkness i was seeing lightened up quickly, and i uncontrollably shook my head. and with each shake, more mass was added to my head. it felt…good. i think i passed out. when i came to, i was on my knees, my back to the mob. i didn't even know if the crowd was still

there, but if it was, my back was to it. i sat there, dumbfounded for a few moments. i was able to move my arms. good. i looked to my right. ok. i looked to my left. the box was gone. it wasn't attached to my hand anymore, but the fingers on my left hand had basically, like, melted together and stretched out. it looked squishy. but it felt right. i moved my hands upward, to comfort my head, which was pretty much out of habit since i felt no pain in my head, just a little pressure. my head was heavy, but not abnormal anymore. i felt the difference, though, when my hands touched my new (?) head. it was huge, and cubical. i stood up straight, and turned around to face the crowd. it was incredible. the light from the box must permanently exist on the planet now, because everything and everyone was transformed. all of the tenants resembled those i saw in the first hallway what seemed like hours and hours ago. they all had large, geometric heads that looked like cartoons wrapped in human epidermis. it was frightening before, because before, i didn't… understand. sandy was there. and so was ripley. she was the pumpkin headed thing i saw at the bottom of the stairs. but she wasn't threatening at all now. sandy smiled at me. her orange, bloated torso that i saw earlier now extended up all the way to her triangular head. her head was shaped similar to her daughter's. her palsied arms still flailed uncontrollably, but they seemed to have more life now. and when i looked closer, they had more life because they were like her siblings. each of her arms had faces, and mouths, and their own, separate appendages. i'm rambling because i can't describe it in the words i would usually use. there's nothing to compare what i was looking at. but everyone had their own unique features. sandy finally spoke out of her deep-set mouth. "thank you, chadam. we have been waiting for you. we almost thought you weren't ever going to do it." "do what?" i asked. "let go." she said. "if you were going to be stubborn about it for much longer, tom was going to have to push you off of the edge." she smiled. "but…" i didn't really know what to ask. "why did you all change?" "we didn't, chadam. you did. but not your face, or your shape. you changed your eyes. the way you see. you didn't seem to want to do it on your own so we eventually had to help you. because you couldn't help us without being able to see correctly." "why…how…i mean, i don't understand what changed. what do you mean, the way i see?" i probably sounded naïve, but i was so overwhelmed i really didn't understand what happened. "you have always viewed the world through fantastical eyes. you have always noticed the beauty in the mundane and the decrepit. your imagination was sparked by the first time you opened your eyes, as a child, and saw how beautiful our world is. but your brain was too beautiful, itself, to handle it, so it shut down, and told your eyes to replace everything you see with items and feelings that were a little more…depressing, and desaturated. you've seen like this for years. your rebellious brain played tricks on you and showed your eyes things the way it wanted to see things, so that it wouldn't overdose on beauty. but your eyes could only lie so much, and they were dying because of it. the pressure your eyes felt from being convinced by your brain to lie to you was causing your headaches. it was causing your sadness. and it was causing your fears. it was hard to convince you. trust me, we tried, but we were never forceful, because you needed to make the decision yourself. and you needed to convince your brain that the only way to avoid death was to accept what exists around you, and accept your reality, and to see the beauty in it, rather than to hide from it. i'm proud of you, chadam. we all are. you have finally confronted your brain, taken off your mask, and left the lies to the liars." i never suspected that the headaches were sprouted from my insides fighting over lies and beauty. nor did i ever think that the physical feelings that i had about my appearance could ever be justified. but they are. and for the first time in my life, i feel…correct. and i love it. i was still getting used to seeing everyone as oversized, living toys, but when i looked at ripley, it was still apparent that she was smiling. and that she was waiting for me to tell her a new story. i think i have just the right one in mind.

i turned back around and faced the skyline. the clouds were thick, and golden. they were slightly transparent and looked like they, too, had entire worlds existing inside of them. i looked across the way and noticed that even that old crystal pepsi billboard had revealed itself. there was no pepsi ad on there anymore. instead, in huge, spray-painted letters, it read "chadam lives.." though i doubt it was apparent by the shape of my real, new mouth, this made me smile. but before i could bask in my new found comfort, i felt sandy put her arm on my shoulder. i turned around. everyone was still facing me, staring at me. "now, chadam," she said, "are you ready to find out why we need your help?" the end (for now…)

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