Their Days Are Numbered is a new year-long project authored by the collective Entropy community. It is a collaborative online novel written by the Entropy community on a weekly basis. A different author will write the next “chapter” each week, to be posted every Tuesday, following the previous post from the previous week, and following a very limited set of guidelines (that each author has one week to write the next piece after the previous week’s installment goes up, that installments should range between 150-1500 words, and that pieces should somehow incorporate a real-life occurrence, current event, news item, or other happening from that week).
Follow the entire “novel” here: Their Days Are Numbered.
The fifty-second (and last) installment is presented this week (written and collaged from the previous year’s chapters) by Adrienne Walser.
I kneel down and examine where I have thrown seeds into the parched earth, the poisoned earth that I am ingesting, that I am becoming. I see nothing.
There is a road.
It’s the way your feet hit the path, east, along the fork of the river or west along the woodland that determines how deep your melancholy. You stay on this path for days and as the melancholy deepens, over time, the names of days come to mean nothing and so you number them, losing count as storm clouds gather above.
A new bodily memory is assembled.
The trees were audible, but only to some. More cold is coming. A cold that will make you remember and search to find a place where there is nothing but silence and comfort.
This feeling is made of houses.
Mornings are for blue, she thought.
You find her waiting for you. She glances up at you, startled, but not surprised.
On the floor, a notebook full of words, open like a dead bird.
Paragraph after paragraph, she wrote the words she wanted to remember.
“I just don’t know which day is the last or how this ends.”
The wind gusted, the limbs of a maple tree scraped against her roof.
“Here, lay on this,” she says. A blue rug made of feathers and bones and paper.
Then she says: “I used to belong to him. He was my boy. Where is he?”
“Dead probably, like so many.”
“Oh … sad. What day is it?” the mouse asks.
She moved her eyes away from the notebook and remembered the man who had given her the dreams about horses. Then she imagined an invisible tree scratching against a window that wasn’t there. We listened together. The mouse went unanswered.
I tell her: I dreamt I was a tree but the horses couldn’t hear me.
She answers: this is a long story and it will change both of us. It’ll change so many things. She goes to open the window that wasn’t there. The air feels so different.
You search your pockets for clues. Yearn north, where it’s starting to snow.
You allow yourself to breathe. Then stand. Shielding your eyes from the electric light, you walk toward it. Wait. Head north: north not as a direction, but as a delusion.
You must remember the dream that will take you there. You sort through your numbered dreams. You climb through the window. She returns to the notebook.
And listen, friend, to this song. Hear the audible trees. Strains of ragged music.
On the road the song and the words and the memories become confused. The miraculous percussive chanting of rockets igniting the night’s sky, the pages of a notebook flapping in an imaginary breeze, the rosewater draining from your grandmother’s bathtub.
I think of my grandmother’s blue-white bathtub as I crawl into a hole in the ground. I think of my grandmother’s small thin body in the water and my hand on her back, a frail bird. Even the darkness, now, is too bright to sleep through.
I begin again.
I have packaged these memories into a small box and carry it northward. I walk through the ash of the past, which now feels like an illusion whose sounds become more muted every day. I carry the small box that contains all that we will need. Without my hand to water the base, to fill the base with water, without me the land you have imaged cannot exist, the rocket you invented could never exist; the woman in the bathtub would cease to exist. Crumbs of memories that will give birth to a new land.
In the distance is a giant woman with a mouth like mine. As I approached her, our smiles became mirrors. She sings loudly into the air: “every body gulps back its corpse.”
Still, no one and nothing was listening and she went on and on and on like that anyhow, folded her arms across her chest and felt caught up in a net.
She observed a landscape both growing and in decline.
Wreckage they call sky. She’s looking in directions I can’t see.
She replaced the telescope lens afterward and kept the old one as a necklace.
I follow her into the red north, aglow against a moonlit desert, until she began to veer west toward a lone structure, scant trees and someone under one. I hold back. You don’t even know him, but your moment’s hesitation leads to confrontation. He holds a card out for you to take. Nothing more.
You ask for place of rest. He responds with a voice of birds.
“How nice to see you at peace.”
“Everything is just fine,” you say, the water seeping in between your words.
He says: “do you ever feel like there are words left out? Like when you talk you’re only getting half the story, while the rest is forgotten even before it comes out.”
Now your eyes are starting to sting, but you still can’t look away.
Proper identification or no, the numbering must go on. You put the card in your mouth.
As you walk she whispers declarations that only you and the grass can hear. As you swallow her paragraphs whole, they become yours and hers both: “I understood the weather as a thing that could be read but it was a type of reading without letters and barely any shapes. Love is not a survival instinct. I want correspondence, the intricate weave of why and who and what in our threadbare diaspora.”
Regardless of the efflorescent necromancy, the trees seem less sad, less slumped as you pass them on your journey, as though their sap has begun to surge again, as though their branches have taken the tale back up and are soon to sign a new story. But you have heard nothing yet. But who’s here to answer?
North into the night-flowers.
“We seem to have reached an impasse. We’ll have to turn back.”
In the quiet that follows is the sound of a crying child.
Let’s turn back. Maybe we missed something.
What was it we were returning to? Would they really give pause to hear our side?
I fling myself across the landscape.
When I land it’s abrupt and soft.
I lick a crack in the ground.
Trains in the rail yard. The pale dawn. Someone else screams. Last night, during another performance of this eerie cantata, I hear a low moan emerge under the chanting, ringing in a timbre only the trees possess—I tell her as we enter the city, our soles keeping time.
Electricity went out all over the city and it glowed all night, eerie under choking smoke and ash. Purple, dirty orange. Humans packed into the cities. They moved in long lines, cutting through them, through the darkness, thousands of them, in their white suits. Harder and harder to live together. Not enough supplies.
By now the numbers had become so strange and distant they were no longer intelligible, no longer units of anything quantifiable, especially not of time or value.
I held what I could in my mouth and for as long as was tolerable.
“If there isn’t any future why am I feeling so much desire right now?”
“Absolutely no one can know the truth.”
As we continued to walk around aimlessly, to the sound of the fading countdown, we noticed the streets were now empty. We left the city to continue our journey north.
We were lovers only through the words in our heads, so we lost the way.
All the directional choices culled from the signs and symbols along the way were obviously now just wishful thinking. There is more shore than ocean now.
We stop walking. We gasp. And so this dead-beast they found wore upon its bones the barest glimmer of flesh, and upon that flesh it wore the red and blue of feathers, yes, this beast neither bird nor lizard, but some long obsolete conflation.
We sat at a distance from the remains, feeling their presence.
You cannot remember the human touch.
You lost count.
Yours was a life lived beneath the heated sea, that terrible darkness always pregnant with threat, sunless on the brightest days. You grew into this, from this, and made no apologies afterward. Most everyone was happy you were dead. And so this is how you came to the place of this new life in death.
We have lost our map.
We must begin the dreaming and the numbering anew.
Leave the light on.