That I would never fear anything again

Today I woke up as a robot. Part of a mad science-type project to transplant human minds into bodies that, in my case, feel so much more right than what nature provided.

I’ll admit: I panicked, and stared uncomprehending at my hands for several minutes before I uncurled my fingers and started to feel. I was used to the driving thud of blood surging through my belly—when I lay on my stomach my body shuddered to the beat of a marching earthquake. But when I awoke this morning I could feel my engine purring, diodes switching on-off, gears clicking unobtrusively into perfect place.

I sat up and blinked hard with a whir—these cameras are still cameras made by human hands, and they aren’t the best with high contrast—and looked around for the first time. On the ceiling white lights were cutoff peaks, #FFFFFF, and the dark corners all but drowned black. Below people were looking up at me (how queer their color balance looks from these eyes!). Excited, flushed with happiness. I will never again feel that rush of heat.

I stood, not even shaking: my legs were as steady as solid metal, and my head brushed the ceiling. They did it, after all, you see! I asked to be so big that I would never fear anything again, and they made this body for me. In a human body, I might have cried a little. In this one, I crouched and lifted the head neuroscientist and roboticist in my hands. I straightened up, and how tiny they were, oh how little and delicate. It was like holding two baby birds, afraid that at any moment I would twitch and crush them.

The beauty of this body (but there are so many—) is that I no longer make involuntary movements. So I lowered my head and used my voice for the first time. Let me tell you, it’s a joy. My resonant cavity is huge now! My murmur made my chest thrum like a tuning fork. I smiled.

“Thank you,” I said, feet above their soft heads. “It’s everything I dreamed.” I had the urge to plant a kiss on the tops of those soft heads, but look at my face. It’s plate armor. I just put them so gently back on the ground, since they looked a little dazed.

Later—I’ll spare you the details of all the tests they ran to make sure I was in working order—they let me out. I ran alongside the highway, thirty feet of solid metal making the ground shake. And, of course, I came to find you. First thing, after I figured out how to get home from the labs.

You know the rest, don’t you? How I scooped you up and cradled you to my chest—how you insisted on being lifted to my face to kiss the hot metal again and again. I still have tactile sensors, I felt it just fine.

It was like the delicate claws of a spider brushing over your skin. How perfect is that? I’ve got to use my human sensory metaphors now, before I forget what it was like.

No, I won’t buff off your nasty lip-marks later. I’ll keep them there forever, even after you die.

…Hm? What then? Then I’ll find someone else to protect. Maybe I’ll become a teacher. You’re replaceable, like all things I love, but I’ll never forget you.

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Very nearly a sandstone golem

After reading Ursula Vernon’s “Jackalope Wives.”

I was practically raised by the wilderness in southern Utah. My father figured he was making the best of a bad situation (ugh! Mormons!) and while his back was still good we drove down there at every opportunity. I used to be a hater of hikes and all exertion, but after a couple of years the desert became more home than our house was.

I’ll try to paint you a picture:

There, all life is secret. It hides in cool cracks in the blinding sandstone, it burrows beneath the hot ground, pants under wiry sagebrush in the dust. There, dawn is cold and splendid, pouring lemon across the sky until it’s converted into that aching blue, the one that pools at the top of the atmosphere and is so dark at noon that it could almost be night. Just before dawn is the best time to be in a desert: sit under a twisted juniper and listen to the huge silence as the bright sky fills your eyes.

Come with me to my human-empty home; we’ll make a house in a dried-out floodhollow in the sandstone at the bottom of a wash. We’ll chimney up slot canyons to look out over the land, dance on all the Devils’ Dancefloors. Their backbones, too, if we can find them. We’ll let the sun bake us until we’re just done, until we have short ash-blond hair and skin like old leather. We’ll walk on the hot stone until our feet are the only shoes we need. We’ll listen to the echoes of jay calls, or that peculiar falling birdsong I’ve never been able to place, coming from somewhere on the walls of huge deep canyons. We’ll hunt down the old houses of the last people who truly lived here and bury their withered corn cobs under feet of mud when the next storm comes through.

We’ll build cairns in the middle of the desert for the loud ones to puzzle over, wondering who could have made them, and for what purpose, and why the only tracks nearby are those of light-footed lizards.

Meditations on healthy love

I’ve long known that love based on need will only hurt. Worse, it rots like a gangrenous wound, poisoning the body till it reaches the figurative heart. This may be poetic interpretation but I know that it’s true— it hurts to be needed ’cause it’s a chain that any decent person won’t pull too hard. You’re confined like a dog to the yard and unable to distinguish your pain from the pain of needing you and fearing that someday you’ll rise, and turn your face toward the sunset with the dawn in your eyes.

I’ve seen too many cases of need, of greed that makes another person one’s own. I’ve been that person possessed and I’ve felt the unrest that made me test that chain. I’ve seen the crater it leaves when you scoop yourself out of another person to stand on your two feet again, and I’ve seen that when you stand to look down you watch your keeper cry in the dirt, who sees you as a haloed crown over a guillotine. Don’t cut me off, don’t sever the umbilical cord, anything but leave me with my own soul and the knowledge I’m not whole, I might never be whole.

Yes, it hurts, but turn your face to the sun and find someone who loves you as you. Not as a distant star but as a body, not half a binary system that will consume all the planets around you when it implodes like you know it will. Not needed, but wanted. Not vaunted, but known for the twisted hilarious sparking wildfire you are. If need is a cold dusty moon, let your longing be the stellar fire. Let your life be full of burning stars that altogether, not each individually, light it up blue as truth, as blindness, as a mercy kill.

Don’t let yourself be taken for granted, and held for granted for years and years. You don’t fear it yet, but you will. That hold is warmer by far than sitting lonely on a stoop, but don’t stoop to that once you know you’re drowning by owning. Use the song that lives inside you to tell them they’re wrong to hide you under layers and layers of frantic tissue paper love, thinking you won’t be able to sit up.

Sit up. Find your sun, and leave the deep lake where the water whispers, things will be better someday.

A dream; a story rewritten

I dreamed that the moon shone like a CD in the sky, even in the daytime. I glanced at it uneasily many times, unable to understand why nobody else was worried. Then it began to come closer, and I recognized it as unmistakably Earth. I stared as it seemed to fill my vision, heart pounding, and saw that it was surrounded by clouds of what looked like torn-up pieces of the crust. In the distance, millions of light years behind it, was a galaxy I was sure was the Milky Way. I began to hyperventilate, and I believe this was in reality as well as in the dream. When I dream that I am drowning, I don’t breathe.

 

Over what might be a tabletop, flat in the long view but scarred and pitted by years of misuse, a man walks, the collar of his black trench coat pulled up to his chin. Over the bare lichenous rock rolls thick mist the color of parchment, and the only light comes, diffuse, from the sky. Because of this, the man’s shadow should be barely a haze at his feet, but it is as black and as wet as fresh calligraphy ink. It pours over small pebbles, pooling in hollows as it comes slightly behind him, dragging. It leaves small pieces of itself in low places, but never diminishes.

At times the man glances down at it with nervous, birdlike motions of his head, and his shuffling step hesitates as if he is trying to scrape it off his foot. Despite this, if one were to look closer, one might see that he seems almost to be made of shadow himself, absorbing any scant light that lands on his dark trench coat and peculiarly tar-like hair. Judging by his manner, his ginger way of walking as if all his ribs are cracked, he does not much appreciate this. So uncomfortable is he made by nearly everything around him–the mist, the uneven ground, and the shadows, which is really all there is–that the only thing that does not seem to trouble him is his lack of anything that could be called a face. There is no possible way he can see where he is going, because where eyes should be the bone structure only is preserved, shallow depressions marking themselves on his head. The rest is smooth and masklike, looking like the cracked cream-colored glaze of an old vase.

He even seems to worry about the plain itself, or his presence there, though there is no obvious danger. Perhaps it is not this, though, that causes the nervous twitching to plague his twisting neck, but only the shadows. One long string of darkness is stuck under a stone far behind him, coiling limply all the way back to his feet, and he unceasingly looks back at it. Now and then he makes a motion with his foot as if to shake it loose, but it only stretches longer and lays itself in loops in the ground.

The next time he looks ahead he stiffens. Through the mist an enormous tree has loomed suddenly, bare branches tangled like twine and dividing fractally over and over until the smallest twigs are impossibly thin. They quiver slightly in the still, wet air like the antennae of a cockroach.

The man’s steps slow and become jerky, as if he is unable to resist walking forward, and he tucks his pointed chin into the collar of his coat. For the first time his shadow pools ahead of him, running forward like water down a gentle slope, despite the fact that the ground on which the tree stands is no lower than any other place. He makes his way slowly to the base of the trunk, whose roots dig directly into the cracked rock and in whose vicinity no lichen grows. As a marionette with cut strings, he slumps against the tree. At first nothing moves except the rapid, abrupt rise and fall of his chest, but after a moment his shadow begins to creep up the slippery grey bark. Faster, until within a few seconds the entire tree is coated in textureless blackness, and in a moment the tree vanishes into the ground with a grinding of stone that is too quickly muffled by the mist. Now the man falls onto his back, muscles unwilling or unable to support him, hanging half over the deep pit left by the tree’s sudden departure.

He is still, and then his trembling hands rise to hover in front of his face, where he quickly strips the black gloves off of them. His entire body tenses  as he watches their porcelain smooth over with perfect black, the fingers elongating quickly. In another moment they have multiplied and bifurcated  into branches capped with thousands of quivering filaments, tasting the wet air.

Slowly buds swell into being and glossy black leaves unfurl. Mist begins to condense and drip from them onto the man’s lack of a face, the cracks widening moment by moment. Soon the hollows of his not-eyes are little pools of water, and the surface of his skin has peeled away to show only blackness underneath.