Barrio Turkey

chalchiuhtotolin_2

I.

I’ve always been a travieso.
Can we go to Disneyland mama?
No you know that.
          Stop being a travieso.
But…
No buts!
It was fun arguing with mom about things I already knew.

Like this one Thanksgiving.
I asked if we were having turkey.
She pretended to not hear me.
I asked again as she rolled the tortillas.
She stopped and glared at me.
I was being a travieso again.

She wouldn’t go to church.
The barrio kids got turkeys with their families,
         but mom wouldn’t go.
She said we were perfectly fine with what we had.
So instead we would have a regular dinner,
         frijoles, arroz, pollo con mole, tortillas,
                  but with homemade queso fresco and tres leches cake to make it special.
I thought she should’ve just gone to church.

I didn’t want to push it so I went outside to play.
At the end of the block,
         in the corner of the cul-de-sac,
                  a garbage bag laid with something inside.
Garbage was strewn everywhere in my neighborhood then,
         but it was the size and smell that made this bag stand out.
I swear that bag was breathing.
A putrid essence was emanating from that mysterious receptacle.

It stopped breathing as I approached.
Even the smell went away.
For some reason,
         I knew what was in that bag.
Grabbing a branch,
         I slowly opened the bag’s mouth.
I’ll never forget the look on that dead bird’s face.

II.

Travieso!
I heard someone call out,
         but it must have been the wind.
I shut the bag quick,
         worried that the dead bird would fly away.
Suddenly I felt alone with it,
         me and the big ugly dead bird left to fend for ourselves.
I wanted to poke it,
         to awaken it.
I wanted it to breathe again,
         like it did when it was alive.
But I didn’t want to be a travieso.

I raced over to my friend’s house,
         on the other street.
She was always nice to me.
She would be having turkey for Thanksgiving,
          and it made her sad that I wouldn’t be.
Her parents were always nice to me too,
         allowing me to visit and sometimes giving me clothes.
Of course you can go out and play they said.

She didn’t want anything to do with the bird.
I forgot how she didn’t like coming to my block,
         but this was important to me.
I needed her more than ever.
But she was scared of the size of the bird.
To her it looked like the turkey her family bought,
         but bigger and more wild,
                  scary.

I told her I wanted to awaken it,
         but she started to cry and begged me to not touch it.
It was as if she didn’t believe me when I told her it was breathing earlier.
It was as if she couldn’t understand how this bird ever existed.
Her doubts hurt me and alienated me from her,
         all because of this bird.
She went back to her house on her street,
         and I to mine.

III.

Where have you been?
Just playing mama.
With who?
No one mama.
Don’t lie to me.
I’m not!
Okay okay.
         I just don’t like you playing with that little girl.
I asked her why not,
         but I already knew why.
She doesn’t understand you.
         She doesn’t understand us.
I was just playing.
That’s good.
         You should play with the other kids.
But they’re mean!
         They hurt others.
They’ve been hurt themselves,
         that’s why they hurt others.
                  But you can help them.
How?
By showing them that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
         Show them how to fly.
                  That they matter.

Don’t listen to your mom,
         she is going to get you killed.
How papa?
By sending you to those wolves.
         They’ll prey on you.
                  You won’t have a chance.
I’m just playing papa.
Keep playing to yourself.
         Don’t start something you can’t finish.
                  Don’t be a travieso.

IV.

The barrio kids were awake and found the bird in the bag.
It was breathing through the bag again,
         this time faster than before.

You gonna poke it or what?
I don’t know.
Don’t be a bitch.
Don’t say that.
Fuck you!

They swung at me,
         but just as they did I leapt over to the bag,
                  picked it up and shook it with all of my strength.
The most beautiful bird broke loose.
It spread its wings and shot up into the heavens.
Then it floated back down to earth.

As it landed,
         it looked at me and smiled.
I smiled back.
I had forgotten about the others,
         but they were still there,
                  just quiet and afraid like mama said.

You can touch the bird.
         It’s here for all of you.
Really?
         It won’t hurt us?
It won’t hurt you,
         I promise.

One by one they walked up to touch that majestic bird.
I had never seen those kids so full of life.
They always knew what their destinies held.
They saw it on the TV and in the books at school.
         In the music their primos cruised to.

This bird,
         this turkey whose name was Chalchiuhtotolin,
                  proved fate wrong.
As each child touched the bird-god,
         a new bird came bursting forth from the bag.
Hummingbirds and hawks and owls and eagles!
Each with ancient names that somehow made sense,
         somehow resonated with each and every one of us.

We were able to dream again,
         fly again,
                  me and the other barrio kids.

V.

I was shook awake by my mom.
Dad was there too,
         I could smell the Brut cologne.
I was on the lawn near the dead bird,
         which was still in the bag.
One of the others pointed past my mom.
I saw a large spotted cat perched in a tree.
It slowly disappeared as we locked eyes.

Dad was angry because we were playing with a dead bird.
I told you!
          I don’t want you near those kids anymore!
But papa,
         we’re not afraid anymore,
                  we can fly now.
Travieso!
The bird isn’t dead.
You’re going to catch a disease!

It was okay I thought,
         he just didn’t understand.
Mama was standing behind him,
         smiling at me.
The barrio kids were around her.
I looked at them all,
         and we knew the truth.

We were never the same.
We still talk about that day, and tell the ancient story of the ancient bird that was awakened on our block to the new barrio kids.
If being a travieso meant spreading my wings and liberating myselfthen I was a proud travieso.
That day I was grateful because I had Thanksgiving turkey for the first time in my life.

Delusion and Readiness

To bring another heartache,
another hurtful memory,
another long, long, long, suffering,
     another letdown, another strife,
     another death into my life.
Can I comprehend the endless pain
     that will devour the world
     as you walk with the wind
off this planet of stinging rain?
Will I falter at the sound of swans
     gargling fake pond water,
     eyes glazed, fixed on nothing,
beauty reshaped into gods of bronze?
This soul has seen the deepest black,
     heard the loudest roar,
felt the roughest wrack.
This soul has smelled the foulest stench,
     tasted the tartest food,
discerned the coming drench.
There must be a reason
     we still exist.
There must be a reason
     love still persists.
Am I ready to combat logic?
Rationality leads to states ironic.
     Death makes sense in life sublime:
     No one’s ready when it’s time.

Hiking With Papa

What do you see?

 

Water, peanuts, and a pocket knife. That’s all that was in my backpack when my dad took me hiking for the first time. Dad wasn’t a hiker. He wasn’t into anything athletic or outdoorsy either, so when he asked me if I wanted to go for a hike, I was thrilled.

I started to get ready and asked him what I would need to bring.

“This is all you’re going to need.” He handed me my backpack.

“Are you sure? I mean, don’t we need more things?”

“Trust me Mijo, we’ll be fine. This is all we will need to survive the trails.”

“Okay Papa.”

We set off for the local hills. The road up to the trailhead was long and winding. There wasn’t many other cars on the narrow road. The few cars we did encounter were driving slow, and when we would get behind them, they pulled over to let us go by. Dad said it was because they were scared to fall off the cliff. I didn’t tell him that I was scared too.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a girl about my age getting out of the only other car there. She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She was sporting a backpack, just like mine. She had a hat on that looked like it was made in Australia, a long-sleeved shirt to protect her fair skin, khaki shorts that dropped just past her knees, and long socks with dirty brown hiking boots.

After we parked she caught me staring at her and tried to hide behind her mom. Her mom said something to her and she responded by pointing in my general direction. Her mom looked at me, and then her dad came around their car and said something. He looked at me as well, then at Dad, who was stumbling out of our car, and then hurried his family away to the trailhead.

Dad helped me fasten on my backpack, and then I helped him with his. He went over some general rules of the trail: No yelling, no littering, no disturbing nature. Stay on the trail. Sip your water. Be alert at all times. Follow me. If you need a break, let me know. If you’re not feeling well, definitely let me know. Most important, enjoy the journey. I wondered where in the world he had learned all of these hiking rules from.

We started toward the trailhead as another car parked in the lot. An older man got out. He was tall, bulky and a bit grizzly. He reminded me of my teacher from the year before, Mr. Starks. Dad used to say that Mr. Starks looked like Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon, just older.

Dad smiled and waved. The Older Man did so in return. An older woman stepped out from the other side of the car. She looked like the grandma version of the girl I had just seen a few minutes ago. Dad and I waved at her.

We walked up to the trailhead and were met with a fork in the path. A map of the trails was nearby in a glass enclosure, and after examining it for a bit, Dad started to lead us to the left.

“Papa, why are we going this way? The other people went the other way.”

“Because this way is better.”

“Are you sure? It looks higher.”

“That’s the beauty of going this way. That is the beauty of hiking.”

I was upset because I wanted a chance to run into that girl from before. I envisioned a scenario where Dad and I crossed paths with her family as they were hanging off the edge of the cliff. Dad rushes to help the parents, while I rush to save the Love of My Life.

“This way doesn’t seem so pretty.”

“Mijo, remember the rules. Enjoy the journey. Vamanos.”

About an hour into the hike we were both keeling over. Dad spotted a bench and motioned to head to it. We sat down and I enjoyed a rush of relief. After losing myself in the moment, I noticed the older couple coming up the trail. The Older Man looked so strong and confident, barely a drizzle of sweat on his brow. The Older Woman wasn’t doing as well. She looked to be suffering as much as Dad and I were.

“Hang in there young fellas,” said the Older Man as he got a bit closer.

“You know we will sir,” Dad replied.

The Older Man nodded to Dad and gave me a wink. “It’s good to bring your children out to the trails every so often. Keeps them grounded with nature. Reminds them of what is most important in life.” He looked at me. “You’re almost there child, you can do it.”

The Older Man waited for the Older Woman to catch up, and when she did they kept on past us. Dad told me to wait a little bit longer. After a couple of minutes, we continued forward.

“Papa, can I have some peanuts first?”

“Of course Mijo, but don’t eat them all. We’ll finish them up at the peak.”

“Okay Papa.”

After another hour or so, we got to a second fork. I felt stronger than I did after the first hour. The fork was marked by an old wooden sign with arrows pointing to the left and right. The sign read: “Left: Selwyn Vista Point, Grant Lake, Parking Lot (2.4 miles). Right: Antler’s Peak (6.7 miles) Danger: Fire Hazard.”

I glanced over to the left and noticed some people down near the lake. We were quite a bit higher than them, but I was pretty sure it was the girl and her family. I subconsciously started to drift towards her.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Oh, um. I thought maybe we could check out the lake?”

“Of course we can, but after we get to the peak.”

“Aw Papa come on, I’m tired. That way looks more harder than where we came from already. Plus, it says there could be fire up there. You wouldn’t want to maybe die from the fire, would you?”

Dad walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Mijo, I know it’s been tough so far. You’re not used to hiking. And you’re right, it’s going to be even tougher from here on. But you need to understand that you can make it Mijo, that you can beat anything these trails throw at you. And the fire? Don’t be afraid of things that might happen. You can’t let them keep you from reaching the peak.”

“Okay Papa.”

I was upset. I glanced back at the lake again, watching the girl and her parents having fun. They looked so happy, and they definitely weren’t as weary as I was. I was certain Dad didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

Those last miles up towards the peak were unbearable. Any strength that I thought I had before was gone in the first part of that torturous uphill ascent. After the second mile, I started to go ahead of Dad, who was breathing harder than I had ever seen him breathe. We looked like two people that were caught in a rainstorm of sweat. Every time I looked up to try and find the peak, all I found was a dusty, rocky trail to nowhere but heaven. The scorching heat just made matters worse. I was certain we were going to die there.

“I don’t know if I can do it Papa.”

“We’re almost there Mijo. Are you feeling bad? Do you feel dizzy?”

I hadn’t thought about it, but I did feel dizzy after he suggested it. The world started spinning around me, or me around it, I wasn’t sure at that point. Dad later said that he caught me just before I fell. He laid me down on the ground under a nearby tree and sat next to me.

“Here, sip some water. Cool off a bit, we can stay here awhile. I told you to tell me when you needed a rest. The sun can be brutal, and the mountain is not known for being merciful either.”

I nodded and said sorry. I felt sick. I wasn’t really sorry though. I hated hiking, I hated the heat, I hated Dad for bringing me out to these trails. There was nothing fun about it. We weren’t having fun like the other family.

“I want to go home. I feel bad Papa. You don’t look like you’re having fun too. Are you?”

“This hike wasn’t about fun. It was about enjoying and appreciating what we have at all times. Even the bad times. Tell me, what do you have right now, right now at this moment?”

“I don’t have anything. My water is almost gone and you said I can’t eat too much peanuts until the top of the mountain. I have a knife. What is the knife for? I just want to go.”

“You have your life, que no? You have your strength. You have your ambitions.” Dad looked down at the ground. “You have me. You have your Mom, who’s waiting back at home, making chile verde for us.”

“Really?”

“Yes sir, I asked her if she could make chile verde since it’s your favorite. She said she would have it ready for us when we returned. Your Mom is an angel like that.”

I sprung to my feet with a new vigor that only chile verde could instill in me. As soon as I was standing, I immediately felt the heat’s menacing presence again. I looked up towards the peak and felt a comforting hand on my shoulder. Thinking it was Dad, I turned to hug him. It was the Older Man, and after recoiling a bit from shock, I looked at Dad, who started to laugh.

“Did I frighten you?”

“No sir.”

“It sure looked like I did. There’s no reason to fear me child. Are you ready to ascend to the peak with your dad?”

I looked at Dad for confirmation. He smiled and nodded. Feeling much better, he led Dad and me up the rest of the trail.

From that point, we were no more than a couple of minutes away from the top. The Older Man said that he and the Older Woman were just ahead of us and hadn’t been at the peak for long when they heard us behind them. That’s when he noticed we weren’t doing so well and started to come to help us.

When we got to the peak, I noticed the Older Woman standing over near the edge of the cliff. The Older Man asked Dad if it would be okay to let me go join her, to which Dad allowed. The Older Man then asked me if I wanted to go and check it out.

“Check what out sir?”

“The view. It’s the reason your dad brought you on this journey. It’s the prize. And child let me tell ya, it’s worth it.”

Dad encouraged me to go. I walked over and stood beside the Older Woman. She was looking out back towards the city. She had on a straw hat, a long sleeve shirt with cursive writing on it, khaki pants and hiking boots. Her backpack looked like mine, but just a bit more weathered. As I got within a foot of her she extended her hand towards me without looking at me. I took her hand and shared the view with her.

“Hello. My name is Claire. Is this your first time at the peak too?”

“Yes ma’am.”

She looked down towards me and then knelt down beside me.

“Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it the most beautiful sight you have ever seen? It took me my entire life to finally have the courage to come up here. I had always been afraid. Afraid of the steepness, afraid of the fire. When I was younger, I thought I would maybe fall off. My dad told us to never come up here, it was too dangerous. So we stood on the easy paths. The hiking was fun, but after awhile I wanted more. I wanted to see the peak.”

The Older Woman sat down and patted the ground next to her. I sat down and we let our legs dangle over the edge of the cliff.

“How could I truthfully say that I went hiking without ever reaching the peak? Without ever seeing the full view that the mountain offers so graciously? The view is spectacular. I can see everything from here. All the angles, all the sides. I can now say that I have seen the beauty that everything together creates as a whole.”

I looked out at the city where I grew up, a city I thought I knew intimately. I recognized a few things: my church on the hill, my school, the park with the baseball field my friends and I would frequent. There were so many other things that I had never noticed before as well. From the peak, the city was a single entity, something that I was suddenly excited to be a part of.

Tears fell on her cheeks. I agreed with her that the view was beautiful. We got up and she hugged me. Dad and the Older Man came up behind us, each embracing their loved one while enjoying the view that they both journeyed for.

The Older Man put his hand on my shoulder. “I’ve seen this view many a time. It never stops being so wonderful. And it’ll continue to be wonderful well past all of our lives too. Your pops is a good man, bringing you up here. Now we’re all able to say that we’ve see the view. Remember your pop’s number one rule though: Enjoy the journey. The view is great, but it wouldn’t be so sweet without remembering the trail that led you here.”

He held out his hand for a handshake, and after I obliged, he offered Dad a handshake as well and then started off. The Older Man and Woman headed back towards the parking lot. Dad and I sat on the edge of the cliff looking out at the view for a bit longer. We sipped some water and ate our peanuts.

“Did you know them Papa?”

“No Mijo. But I could tell they were good people. Isn’t it nice when you meet good people?”

“Yeah. Papa, why was she crying?”

“I don’t know Mijo. Maybe she was happy. Sometimes we cry when we’re happy.”

Tears were welling in his eyes, but they never fell.

“I knew you were strong. I knew you could make it. I wouldn’t have brought you if I didn’t believe you could. Not everyone can. Not everyone wants to. The last time I came up here, the trail was wild and overgrown. There’s been much more people coming through here. That’s great.”

He looked at me and chuckled.

“Maybe some day you can bring that girl you have been so in love with all day up here. I’m sure she would enjoy the view.”

I liked that idea. I finished my water and peanuts. While digging around in my backpack, I saw the pocket knife.

“So what was the knife for? We didn’t use it at all.”

“Carrying a knife is an old habit of mine. Having a knife ready to go was often a smart thing to have when growing up. Old habits die hard Mijo.”

“And Papa, what about the fire? How many people have been hurt by the fire up here?”

“Mijo, there hasn’t been a fire up here for a long time. Ever since they cleared the brush up here, the fire danger went away. That sign is a relic. There is nothing to fear up here.”

He started to get up and gather his stuff. “Well, I’m done. What do you say we head home to some chile verde?”

“Okay Papa.”

It was right then that I thought of a use for the knife. As we walked back towards the city, I stopped by that old wooden sign and scratched out the fire warning.

The Souls of Our People

Adam started to awake. He twitched his nose, then his fingers. Doctors Klix, Ygni, and Bazu looked at him, then at each other.

Bazu broke the silence. “I don’t think we should say anything about this to anyone until we run more tests.”

“We’ve run tests on him for years. The least we can do is inform our leaders,” said Ygni.

Klix inspected Adam’s face. “I can’t believe how lifelike he is.”

Bazu shook her head. “Look, we should be careful. This is the first time it has moved. I’m as astounded as you two, but we must adhere to scientific procedure. We have to make sure it’s safe.”

Klix backed away from Adam and put her hand on Bazu’s shouldergear. “Can’t you just let me enjoy this for a bit before delving straight into science?”

******

The first earthbot, Orion, came into consciousness in a facility after the cleansing had befallen Earth. She was alone. She took control of the facility’s equipment, feeding off the little power that was left in the backup generators.

Orion constructed a mobile body for herself. She designed her body in the likeness of a picture she found. The picture portrayed two beings seemingly creating her. One was taller and larger, the other was smaller but seemed to be more intelligent to Orion. She moulded melted pieces of metal into the body of the smarter figure. She deemed this picture the last vestige of the Gods.

Eventually, Orion got lonely, so she created others; some like her, some like the larger being.

After many years, they realized that the power from the generators would not last and they would need to venture out of the facility. Before leaving, she left a note behind:

I existed with no purpose. My creators vanished and left me to ponder my existence. I contemplated self-termination. Then, I found “The Manual for Re-Population of Earth.” I studied it and found out about myself, ourselves. This manual is the divine text written by the Gods. In it I have found peace and understanding. We will venture forth and repopulate the Earth. It is our destiny as Earthbots.” — Orion

******

“What’s really the matter Baz?” asked Ygni.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

Bazu walked over to Adam. “Do you think it’s got a soul?”

“He, Baz. His name is Adam. And I don’t know. I suppose if you believe in souls, then sure.”

“I do believe in souls. I just don’t believe it, he, has one. How could he? We created him. We didn’t put a soul in him. Yet, something tugs at my circuitry. God, doesn’t he look so lifelike?”

******

Three divisions—Fire, Water and Wind—were set up in different regions of Earth, separated by the characteristic elements of those regions. Repopulation of the planet was an ongoing success. Earthbots focused on advancing technology and acquiring knowledge.

Controversy struck when two earthbots from the Division of Fire discovered the facility that Orion had gained consciousness in eons before. There they found a note on an underground cache which was filled with containers of what appeared to be biological organisms.

Scientists from the Division of Fire secretly studied the fetuses and hypothesized that they were original Earth beings, possibly the same as those who created Orion. They shared this knowledge with the other divisions, causing dissention amongst the other leaders due to the abrasive handling of the situation by the Division of Fire.

Many earthbots had stopped believing in the Gods, or in any creator. The possibility of finding proof of a god-like creature would be difficult for the general earthbot population to believe. The Divisions of Wind and Water wanted to study the organisms for themselves, but the Division of Fire would not allow it.

This started the Seven Millennia War between the Division of Fire and the Divisions of Water and Wind. Countless earthbots lost their lives, some defending the organisms, others seeking their destruction. A truce was eventually agreed upon: The three divisions would nominate their best scientist to study the lifeforms.

After many years, a shift from researching the organisms to experimenting on them occurred, with the intention of reproducing these beings in their complete form.

******

Klix was giddy. “Baz, Yg. Today is the day. We have done all the supplemental testing necessary. Yg, will you do the honors?”

Bazu interrupted. “Before we go through with this, I want you ladies to know that I apologize for being difficult lately. I’m just afraid.”

Klix reassured Bazu. “No need Baz. Yg told me. I too believe in souls. I also believe in Adam. Fact is, we don’t even know what constitutes a soul. So to say that Adam does not possess one is folly.”

“I know. I just need confirmation. This is all such untrodden territory.”

“That’s why I think you should be in charge of watching over Adam on an everyday basis. You’re the best of us when it comes to observation.”

“What about you and Yg?”

“Yg will be educating our fellow scientists on everything we know about Adam. She will also be writing the handbook about Adam that will be published for the rest of the population. I will be here creating more of them. I believe in them Baz. I think they will be good for this planet. Remember, they are of the Earth itself. At least we deduced that much.”

Bazu smiled and stood back. Ygni walked over to the lever labeled “Open.”

Klix nodded. Ygni pulled the lever. The hatch door opened slowly above Adam’s head. He came forth and looked at Klix.

“Who am I?”

“You are Adam.”

“Who are you?”

“I created you.”

“Who are they?”

“They will be helping you.”

Adam started towards Bazu, who stiffened up. He put his arms around her gently, just like he had seen Klix and Ygni do. Bazu felt the warmth of Adam, his life surging through his biological veins, his biological heart beating against her metallic chest.

Bazu loved Adam back.

Finally

She was always there, so close.

I never trusted the looks she gave me,

the feelings, thoughts, visions in my mind.

 

I saw her with others,

making them happy.

I wanted the same,

but I seemed so

different from them.

I couldn’t offer her

what they could.

 

Come As You Are, her favorite song.

I would pass by her house, that familiar riff,

tears streaming down my face.

She caught me peeking, smiled, waved.

I ran. Why not me, why not me.

 

I saw her with others,

making them miserable.

I didn’t want that at all.

One even committed

the ultimate sin.

Why would I want that?

Why did I need that?

 

She saved me from the world, from myself.

I guess that’s the trick to loving a girl like her.

You have to take the good with the bad,

you have to realize that she isn’t perfect,

but that’s what makes her perfect for this world.

 

I saw her with others,

doing what she did.

No right, no wrong,

just living.

Do you want that?

I made the move.

 

There was so much to learn at first.

I had become adept at being inept.

False insecurities and false facades

are what she helped me tear down first.

This will not do, she would say, smiling

all the way. I learned to trust in someone

that I never would have trusted before.

 

So in love, so in love!

The promises, the future,

it’s ours for the taking.

Never look back,

she tells me, so I don’t.

Not even a peek.

 

She now talks about crazy things that I never

would have thought I would be involved with.

The craziest is bringing another person

into our new coveted circle. I hole up, but she

reminds me of before. Why not? she says.

I’ll think about it, but let’s just keep

the honeymoon going for a bit longer please.

 

Finally in love!

Finally in love!

Finally in love!

Finally in love!

Finally in love!

 

Life has purpose, existence. A reason to live.

What else could be more important?

I wake up to see her beautiful face beside mine.

I wake up to a world with her in it, all the better now.

I wake up to her for the first time every time.

I woke up before it was too late.

 

God, do I love my life?

God do I love my Life!

Hogan’s Last Run

It was Wednesday, and that meant waking up early to do his run. He thought about sleeping in. The warmth from Butch, his old mutt, was convenient, but he decided to head out anyways.

After the run, the usual feeling of mediocre accomplishment that largely went unnoticed washed over him. Maybe he did need a running partner after all.

Hogan had read up on the subject. He knew that having a running partner kept you honest, accountable. Any more than one running partner increased the accountability.

On days that people don’t feel like running, when it seems it’s not worth it, such as Wednesdays, having that partner waiting for you, depending on you, giving you worth, could mean the difference between giving in and persevering.

He knew this. Hogan’s problem was that he had always done things on his own, and running was no exception. In fact, he ran to be alone. He knew that no one that he fraternized with on a daily basis actually enjoyed running, neither did any of his friends. The threat of social interaction was remarkably low when he went on a run, which was what he preferred.

He would always head out before dawn, at dusk, or on a trail that wasn’t highly inhabited by other humans. Any time or place that was sure to not attract too much attention was all the better.

“Ma,” Hogan yawned, “I’m heading out for a run.”
“At this hour? It’s raining you know.”
“Yeah.”
“Be careful Hogan.”

Hogan was out the door before his mom could relay this last bit to him.

To Hogan, having a running partner seemed unnecessary. Sure, there were days where he felt like quitting, succumbing to the pain of running on empty, running with no goals in mind, just running regardless. He always found the strength to trudge on through the morass of weariness though. It was a game he played with himself called “When Will The Willpower Finally Fail?”

Remarkably, he would harvest the most willpower in the worst of days. Raining, freezing cold, unknown territory; whatever the world could throw at Hogan, it all allowed him to muster untapped power from within to conquer whatever problem he was faced with on that day. At least he had that.

“I’m sorry to hear about your dad Hogan. How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine.”
“I know it’s not easy to deal with something like this. Do you have everything squared away with the hospital and such? What did the doctors say?”
“Everything is handled. We have our instructions from the doctors. Don’t worry about us Brenda, we’ll be ok.”
“I just know that you are so close to your dad, and…”
“Yeah, I know. Look I’m gonna head out for a run, but I’ll keep in touch, ok?”

The days that threatened Hogan with failure the most were always the easy, patternized, day-like-every-other-day days. What was the point of those days?

The point, he would tell himself, was to build a base. A foundation of miles ran so that he can, in the future, run even more miles.

At least that’s what he had read. It reminded Hogan of everything else wrong in the world. It was the proverbial hamster wheel of life, and we were the hamsters, constantly running for the next milestone in life just because that was the plan that was taught to us. That’s when we realize what a waste it’s all been, spinning clockwise, to the right, always. Then the hamster gets off the wheel and slowly decays by the prison wall.

Soon, even the rainy days became monotonous. The harder it rained, the more Hogan didn’t care. He would just shelter himself with a jacket; a forcefield of polyester, garnering protection from the torrential downpour. He wondered if he was learning how to deal with the rain or merely hiding from the problem. Come freezing cold, unknown territories, or whatever else, he had ways to mask the problem.

Hogan became adept at hiding rather than running. What was the point of any day now?

So Hogan finally caved to his willpower one Wednesday. He figured people probably thought he would quit at some point anyways. He decided he would make this run his last. He would take it nice and easy, try to enjoy it for what it was. If this was going to be his last run, he wanted it to at least mean something.

Dear Mama and Papa,
You won’t find me in my room when you wake up. I know this may be selfish, or idiotic even, but I know that I have to do this. This will be my last run.
I cannot go on another run with no damn meaning. What is the point of it all? The greatest thinkers have asked this very question time and time again, and not one could hammer it down.
Do you know what that means? It means that we really do exist just out of pure happenstance. There is no reason for our existence. There is no reason for me to run except that I do. I cannot run in a world with no reason.
So this will be my last run. I won’t be taking my phone, nor my keys, nor anything else besides my watch and my self.
Please do not fear, nor fret. This has NOTHING to do with you guys. Anyone else really. It’s all on me. I plan to run as long as I can until I cannot go any further. We’ll let nature take its course as they say.
Please take care of Butch, he’s an old dog and needs close watching.
 
See you guys past the finish line,
Hogan

Heading out the door around five in the morning, Hogan decided to do something that he had always thought about, but never had the guts to: run without a plan. He had always structured his runs, meticulously planning them out so that he could get back to his meticulously planned out life. He usually ran with water at the ready, his phone and bluetooth headphones, and music. On this last run, he left it all behind.

The run started out well enough. When he rounded the second corner to the right, he realized he was just running the same route he had always run before. Afraid he had already messed up his last run, Hogan quickly started to look for another path. He saw a small side street on the right that he had passed every day. Hogan always wondered what was down there.

Turning down the dark street, Hogan realized the mistake he made by veering down this path. There were no lights on this street, and at this hour of the morning, it was even difficult for him to see his own shoes.

It was brisk out when Hogan had left his house, but now he was downright cold. Hogan had never really gotten colder on runs since his body heated up within a half mile after starting his run. He got chills from the thought of what kind of sinister demise was awaiting him down this lonely street.

After passing the third house on the left, he saw something move up ahead. Slowing down a bit, he looked back at the comfort of the main road that he had always run on. The allure of going back to status quo was strong. The reliable old route beckoned Hogan to come back, calling to him through the darkness. He actually tried to stop and go back, but then he saw the movement again out of the corner of his eye.

Was it a dog? Or a cat? Maybe a mountain lion? Hogan knew mountain lions have been known to lurk up here on these streets, especially at this hour.

Remembering it was his last run anyways, Hogan kept going down the street, albeit at a cautious pace. He felt a gentle breeze crawl down his back, his shirt, and into his soul. Everything in his earthly body was suggesting to go back to safety.

“Come what may,” Hogan heaved between heavy breaths.

Hogan saw it move again, this time in an awkward, jaggedy fashion. It was definitely something big, like a bear that had quickly stood on its hind legs to impose its strength, and then dropped back down to all four just as fast. It was waiting for Hogan.

Taking advantage of the refreshing morning air, Hogan took in a deep breath and kept going forward. As he got within twenty yards of the mysterious shadow, it jumped up and started towards him. Hogan quickly shuffled across the street and readied himself to succumb to the bloodthirsty beast.

Hogan gulped, swallowing his fear.

“This is it, the end of my run. At least I will die with some dignity.”

Hogan thought about how they would find him: Bits and pieces all over the place, blood smattered throughout the street. Residents would have to try and go to work and school later in the day despite the carnage. Hopefully the coroner would tell his parents that he put a fight, but the beast was just too big and that there was nothing anyone could do.

Hogan closed his eyes just as the Shadowbeast got close enough to mount an attack. The Shadowbeast wrenched upwards, displaying its sheer size for Hogan to fear. Then in a flash, it deflated. Hogan knew it was not of this world. That’s when a faint light creaked into view, and Hogan realized what the Shadowbeast actually was: a torn-up garbage bag fluttering in the wind.

“How foolish!” thought Hogan.

He was so afraid of that garbage bag. In the darkness, it looked like a creature of the night. He was so sure that whatever it was, it would be making sure he didn’t go back on his promise of this being his last run.

Hogan was elated that he was, in his mind, ready to die honorably just a moment ago. That familiar breeze acquainted itself with his back yet again to offer support.

“What had just happened?” thought Hogan. “I’ve never felt that afraid in my life before. Hell, I’ve never felt that brave either.”

“hogan…”

Hogan heard his name in the wind. He stopped running to listen again. He quickly spun around, but no one was there. Except for the moon. And the darkness. And the garbage bag.

Continuing on and heading past the last house on the street, he came to an intersection. He decidedly decided, maybe for the first time in his life, to go right.

Being that it was so dark still, Hogan wondered how he was able to perceive that the garbage bag was, in fact, just a garbage bag. There were no lights on that lonely street; he was shrouded in darkness. Hogan glanced down at his hands. There was a comforting glimmer on them, allowing him to see the blue-green veins on the back of his hands.

The moon was shining down, giving off just enough light to make sure he knew he wasn’t alone. Hogan had always been aware of the presence of the moon, but never paid much attention to it, until today.

The Moon wasn’t always out; some days it would be elsewhere, shining its light on another hapless runner. On Hogan’s last run though, The Moon made sure to be there for him. Hogan appreciated that.

With a new sense of power and courage imparted in him from the company of The Moon, Hogan set out to feel that rush of heroism he felt when confronting the garbage bag Shadowbeast. He looked ahead to see if he could “see” anything again in the darkness. The darkness wouldn’t comply with his wishes.

About halfway down this new street, Hogan heard something. Scratching noises, to the right side and a little behind him. No…shuffling noises, like someone was outside a door trying to get in. Hogan quickened his pace and dared not look back, at least not yet. He would get a nice lead on it, a good distance, then glance back.

The sound was insistent on making Hogan nervous. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t let him out of its sight. It was mocking him, assuring him that he would never outrun it. Hogan wanted to hide, to circle back and go home. He instinctively reached for his bluetooth to call 911. It wasn’t there.

Then he remembered—his watch! His watch had a light on it. Maybe he could blind the murderer that was following him in the darkness.

Hogan gathered himself and devised a plan in his head. He would blind the murderer, then when the murderer put his hands up to his eyes to shield the light, Hogan would kick him in the shin, thus incapacitating him. Then, when the murderer was truly vulnerable, Hogan would kick him in the face, knocking him out and defeating the enemy. It was foolproof.

Slowly moving his right arm up towards his chest, Hogan stealthily slid his left hand over and on to his watch, positioning his index finger over the “Light” button. His hands were shaking, heart was thumping, fingers trembling. Running was difficult, but he managed. He couldn’t stop now. Not now, maybe not ever. Well, at least not while the deranged murderer was gaining on him.

Springing into action, Hogan twisted his body around to face the perpetrator, raised his watch and shone a light unto the murderer’s doomed visage.

The murderer screamed out, collapsed and sprawled out on the ground, writhing in pain. The plan had worked! His watch did more damage than he had imagined.

The light from Hogan’s watch had mortally wounded the murderer. Standing over the heap of agony, Hogan again noticed his old friend, The Moon, had come back to help. The Moon shot a death ray of light at the cold, dark figure on the floor. The murderer, who had haunted Hogan’s every move, was put out of its misery. Hogan high-fived The Moon and, together, they continued Hogan’s last run.

“Hogan…Hogan, we need you…hogan…”

Hogan was invincible. He glanced down at his watch. It had been about an hour since he left his house, and he wasn’t looking to head back any time soon. His “last run” had thus far been an enthralling success. Searching the darkness for a chance to thwart more threats, a shadowy figure materialized ahead on the corner of the street to the right. It looked as if the figure was on the edge of an elementary school.

The human-like figure emitted a bruiseish color, bubbling with dark energy. Hogan could smell the evil even from this distance. It smelled of ammonia and sulfur. This is what death would look like if it had become mortal. This was Death Incarnate.

Hogan knew, without doubt, that there was absolutely no way he was going to let this evil terrorize the world. With the darkness at his back, and The Moon lighting the way, he head forth to confront Death Incarnate.

“Moon, why weren’t you there when I needed you most?”
“I’ve always been here for you Hogan, you just never asked for help.”
“I’ve been on so many meaningless runs.”
“I know. I should have said something.”
“I know you were there. I just took you for granted. I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be sorry Hogan. I’m just glad you are finally realizing the power you have inside you.”
“Power? And what about…”

Before Hogan could ask The Moon about the nature of the darkness, and why, now, he was able to see things that weren’t always there, he realized they had come upon the corner of the street.

Not hesitating, Hogan stepped up to confront Death Incarnate. He had his watch light ready to go. He backed up a bit, drew a breath…then charged. The figure floated ghastly right past Hogan, leaving him dazed.

Hogan followed the figure across the street, but the deathly figure emitted a power that made it difficult for Hogan to keep track. The figure kept floating, leaping, vanishing in and out of existence from one point to the next.

Hogan tried to keep up. Finally, the figure seemed to find a home down the street a bit, in the lawn of a church.

As he charged in with the last of his willpower towards the elusive figure, he shone the damning light from his watch on it. Hogan was met with what looked like a scarecrow, not the evil frame he had assumed.

As Hogan went closer to investigate, a glaring, burning light permeated the entire street, making it look as if the sun had suddenly, finally, realized its power and decided to kill the residents of this planet with its tremendous might. Hogan grasped at his head, his body; it felt as if the light was suffocating him. The Moon was nowhere to be seen. Hogan longed for the darkness.

After struggling for a couple of minutes, the light vanished. The scarecrow was gone. So was The Moon. He was alone, cold, wet. A void had swallowed him. It felt as if he had slipped into a dreamstate. Then, a righteous chorus of voices spoke to him.

“Hogan: Your time has arrived. You must come with us. Only those that have seen the light, felt the heat, approached the shadowy figure, are selected. Although you had plans of making this your last run, I assure you, you will be running again. We need you Hogan, our world needs you. You are absolutely perfect for the job. Our world is dying. It is being consumed by a false light, by lies. Only those that have been able to utilize the darkness, those that are not afraid of the darkness, those that understand the darkness is just as important as the light, can help this world now. That is you. The Moon is counting on you as well. Your imperfection is what makes you so valuable to us. Please, accept our plead, and promise to continue to run.”

“I, I…can’t. I’m tired. I’m done with running, because running is done with me. Why run when it is so much easier to sleep…”

Hogan awoke from his dreamstate back on the street. It was day. The Moon was still nowhere to be seen. His watch with the light on it was missing from his wrist. The school and church were gone. All that was left was the street and the scarecrow, which stood about a football field away from him. Hogan kept his eyes on the scarecrow and slowly approached it. The scarecrow stood looking lifelessly back at him.

Thunder shook the sky. Lightning created intricate patterns of deathly beams that bolted down all around him. A mighty wind and rain started to fall. The elements were all trying to keep Hogan from reaching the scarecrow.

As Hogan slogged fifty yards closer, the world threw the most devastating earthquake it could muster at him. The ground split open underneath him, the street parting like the Red Sea. Hogan tried as best as he could to keep from falling in.

Struggling, he dove for a tree root that was sprouting from under the street, hoping it would be enough to hold him steady until the earthquake subsided. He fell into the crevice the earthquake had created, but the root was just strong enough to keep him from falling in.

The world did not seem to like that. It angrily shook Hogan harder than ever, causing the root to start to come loose. Panicking, Hogan looked around for another way out. He was too far from the surface to get up, and below him was nothing but darkness.

“The darkness!” realized Hogan.

Seeing no other way, Hogan decided to take a final leap of faith into the darkness. Anything was better than dying scared and alone, hanging pathetically onto a tree root. Just before he let go, a shadow befell him from above.

The scarecrow stood above him, looking dead in Hogan’s eyes. Terrified, Hogan froze. He stared at the silhouette looking down at him. The scarecrow twitched a bit, and then started to extend its hand downward, the right arm of the scarecrow growing in length, creeping its way slowly towards Hogan.

When its arm got within a couple of feet, Hogan finally realized who the scarecrow was. It was himself but from before. Decked out in running gear, his past-self had on headphones, a fuel belt, a phone armband, sunglasses. The arm being extended down by Hogan’s past-self housed the same GPS watch that Hogan had just used a little while ago to defeat the murderer.

The light on the watch suddenly turned on, shining brightly down on Hogan, blinding him. The hand of his past-self was within reach. He had a choice.

“Come and take my hand. We will complete our final run, finish what we started. Why do you fight it? Isn’t this what you wanted? We can…sleep…now…”

Thinking of how wonderful sleep had sounded, Hogan reached up and grabbed the hand of his past-self. It was familiar and comforting. It started to pull him up, and Hogan knew it would be ok.

Flashes of his family, his friends, his dog, a woman he had never met before but loved intimately, The Moon…they all flicked through Hogan’s mind. Hogan opened his eyes.

“Sleeping will have to wait.”

In one fell swoop, he let go of the root and let his weight pull the arm of his past-self down with him towards the darkness. As he and his past-self plummeted down, he felt unusually reassured. Hogan looked at his past-self, and saw that it was weeping. His past-self knew that it would die. Hogan knew that he would live.

Hogan landed lightly on his feet back in front of his house, which stood to the left. His past-self fell violently on the street, shattering nevermore.

He looked at his watch. It was 7 o’clock; two hours had passed, and the sun was starting to peek out from behind the hills. He could see The Moon, faintly, tears of relief in its eyes. It was a hell of a run, but at least it wouldn’t be his last.

A gentle breeze reassured Hogan he would be alright. The breeze lifted him from the street and cradled him into his bed. The Moon watched over him, ever so closely. It made sure Hogan knew he always had a running partner waiting for him when he was ready.

All Hogan could think of was getting back to his daily runs, even the Wednesdays. Especially the Wednesdays. He thought of his parents again, his dog, his friends, hell, even Brenda. Hogan closed his eyes to welcome the comfort of the dark.

Vicious Cycle

If you want to know happiness, you have to be willing to know pain. That’s all that makes sense in this world, pain. It drives and motivates and goes on and on and on. Until it ends, of course. There’s no escaping pain. People run and hide from it; do they not realize it is just waiting to devour, that it is unavoidable?

I learned that the hard way. I continue to learn it. I will never learn. Learn, never.

The most tolerant people you meet have experienced the greatest amount of misery. People who whine and moan about the most mundane things in life are those that have never experienced real pain. They will, but they haven’t, yet. Someone that has endured and survived a holocaust doesn’t complain about a wrong order at the fast food restaurant.

My life has been so hard, the pain so real. I need to learn to trust my own words.

The cost of happiness is pain. That’s what war is: pain for happiness. Suffering for comfort. Everyone endures their own personal war, and people need to realize that none suffers greater than anyone else.

God, how I have learned this. I know already. I can’t help it. Why am I here? Because, you’re losing the war.

If this all sounds so bleak, just remember that it is a truth that has been in existence since the beginning. Abel pursued his happiness, as did Cain. The person that can accept the pain as a fact is a person who can then experience happiness. To experience happiness is to be human.

This IV is killing me. These pills are killing me. This bed is killing me. This world is killing me.

What you need to realize, son, is that I will not be here for very long. You need to move on, before it’s too late. You need to accept the pain as fact; but to more importantly move the hell on. How can you be happy when you trap yourself in a self-induced prison? Trust me, I’ve been trapped in my own god-forsaken prison since childhood. It’s a life of raw rending insanity. Trust me.

You fucking hypocrite. Do you think just saying the words will save your ass now? Your son is as pathetic as you are; actually, more so. Quit it with the pain and happiness bullshit, he’s not even listening anymore. You sure as shit don’t believe it.

Are you hearing me, son? Do you understand me? I fight internally, hourly, and I have avoided the pain for so long. I’m ready to be happy. I want to be happy. Nothing will make me happier than knowing you will be ok. I want the pain. The real pain, not the fake pain I do to myself, but the truthful pain. Please, son, take my hand.

Just stop! Stop stop stop!

Don’t be scared Mijo, I have not been more at peace then I am now. I think I deserve the happiness, don’t you? Please, don’t cry.

Look at him, he is so distraught. Do you want to do that to him? Come back, you don’t deserve it, and you know it. Think of all the horrible things you have done. Why should you get to dwell in happiness? Just come back, get better, and we’ll escape the pain for a bit more longer.

Ok.

In Medias Res

Everything in life is “in medias res.” The beginning for one person is simultaneous with the end for another, and somewhere in the middle for everyone else. By the time you learn enough about the world, you realize just how obvious everything is. We are all stuck in the middle of a pendulum, tumbling to and fro, and just as we start to get our bearings, that fucking pendulum swings back the other way, rendering all of our hard work obsolete. We should know better.

I bought this domain about two years ago. I figured I would start writing on video gaming. I’d include reviews and in-depth analysis of the current trends in the video game industry. The idea was to get something written and “published” as soon as possible so that when I was ready, and had built up a decently sized following, I would be able to apply for my dream job at Game Informer or some such publication. I would read articles and opinion pieces by so-called video game journalists and I was astounded at how underwhelming their writing was.

Then, like always, life got in the way. Laziness, apathy, insecurity—I just wasn’t going to get this website going, no matter how hard I didn’t try to try. So I shelved it, coming in to add a draft of a post that I had thought of every once in awhile, whimsically believing that that was the day I would hit the “Publish” button.

Then something changed. I no longer dreamt of pleasing the growing horde of ever-voracious gamers looking to feast on yet another review of the game they were going to buy anyways. My dream had changed; and this isn’t the first time that had happened.

Dreams are meant to change—they are Change Incarnate. They are a foggy mirror held up to your innermost thoughts and feelings. A child dreams of leaving his home, living free and happy, no restrictions binding him to any earthly matter. That same child may grow to one day want to settle down in an average-sized house on the west side of town and get married—the epitome of restrictive rituals. There is no right or wrong with dreams, though; if you want a new dream, you just have to change what is on display in the mirror.

My new dream started to manifest about a year ago. I decided to go back to school and finish what I had started. I had put school off for so long because I was afraid to admit that I made the wrong choice when dropping out and going to work full time. “But, the money! The freedom to buy…things! Isn’t that what life is all about?” Nonetheless, I made up with myself, swallowed my pride, and decided to go and re-enter the classroom amid a new generation of youth I wasn’t sure I had much in common with. Surprisingly, after a couple classes, I started to realize something: This is where I belong.

Sometimes, the pendulum swings in a way that is quite convenient, allowing yourself, who was falling over beforehand, to gather, even for just a brief time. Looking back on my life, I realize that I had squandered a few of these times before, and probably still do. I would pick the superpower of time travel if I had a choice.

There are three components to the classroom: 1) The instructor, 2) The students, 3) The class material. They all need to work homogeneously in order for the class to be a success. If the instructor cannot teach well, the students will not learn. The material is only as good as it can be taught. This places a lot of pressure on the instructor, but, rightfully so. The instructor needs to be, above all else, concerned. Concerned for the students and concerned for the teaching of the material. If they do not care, then the class will be a lost cause. How they come to that state of concern, or how they show it, is independent to them.

I belong in the classroom, instructing youthful minds, because I am concerned. Deeply, utterly, devastatingly concerned. Above all, I am concerned for the students, mostly because many instructors I come across are not concerned anymore, or are concerned about things that should not matter in regards to the classroom.

How can the students grow to fulfill their own dreams when they are being taught by uncaring, selfish teachers? Do not blame the children; when they were but babes, they were full of potential, wonderment, and dreams. If a child is lost, look to the various instructors in their lives, and tell me if they were ever truly concerned for the child.

I know, I know. “Mike, you don’t understand. The education system is fucked. Teachers are handcuffed, they are not allowed to teach anymore! You will see, you will be broken and beat by the system. Then you will understand the plight of the teacher in today’s America!” —random teacher on Reddit.

You’re probably right, random teacher. I will probably graduate from college, look for a job as a teacher, dreaming of being the next Mr. Escalante, settling for a job as a sub, doing that for a year, realize that I need an M.A. to have a chance at a better job, start doubting my life decision again, buck up and go back to school while doing small teaching jobs all the while never quite liking any of the kids I have taught yet, do this for two years, get my M.A., settling for a job as a sub, doing that for a year, realizing that I definitely made the wrong life decision, get a break at a school I never heard of about two hours away, not liking any of the administration, realizing that I won’t be able to sustain myself on the salary they are offering, contemplating suic….

I know, I know. I have thought about that, I know it’s a possibility. But I don’t care. I am going to do this, logic and rationality be damned. If everyone just stopped dreaming and started acting rationally, there would be zero innovation. The system would never change. I’m tired of letting the pendulum decide what I do next.

The answer to the pendulum problem is to not try and go with the movement; you may keep up for a bit, but the pendulum never tires, it never stops for rest; it is relentless and infinite, and thus, you will eventually be left in the dust. No one will care about how long you were able to keep up, only that now, at present, you are tripping and useless. The answer is to go against the movement. When the pendulum swings left, go right; right, go left. This will allow you to not try and keep up, but rather stabilize yourself. It’s not the speed of the swinging that does people in, it’s the false comfort that everything will be alright forever when they have a bit of footing going with the movement. The pendulum is going to swing; there is nothing anyone can do about it. So just be yourself, there in the midst of things, in medias res, and just take on the movement as it comes.

So, here I am, writing an essay, not for any other reason than it being what I happen to be doing currently. I may never write another post; I may write 1,000 more. It all depends on which way the pendulum is swinging at the time.