Stars unfurl above my head in a great twinkling carpet, and if I focus in just the right way as I look up, the sky shifts from a dark sheet stretched tight to a blackness that pushes past the boundaries of 'when' and plunges deeply into forever.

A chill curls around my bones like wet smoke, seeping into the cracks between my cells and contracting my essence together into one frozen, shrinking core buried in the very center of what I call self. My stiff fingers crack as muscle and tendon drawn too tight against the night air flex and stretch, then curl around the wood grip of my cane.

My entire body complains inwardly as I start to move, watching my breath form small clouds ahead of me, and I begin the slow limp back inside for tea and warmth. But for a few beautiful, shivering minutes, I remember a thousand worlds I've seen and a million more I've not, but that I still remember nonetheless: every single one whispers to me with the peace of the infinite. I listen to them in my heart, and I am content.

The heat presses in.

The sun sits in the sky in burning indifference and it does not give two shits about you or your discomfort or your air conditioning bill.

It is a heat that is thick and syrupy and cooks you from the inside like a microwave dinner, a heat that a thousand cold showers can't save you from no matter how long you stand under the water. It claws at your skin and scores it like a river gorge and it smothers your heart like an old saddle blanket full of dust and sweat and blood and loathing.

It is a heat of bones, not a heat of flesh, a heat that scours and bleaches. The concrete itself seems to crack and shrink and dry beneath your feet, and you are standing on a once-muddy savannah ten thousand years ago after all of the water has gone away and the other animals that haven't fled are reduced to moldering carcasses on the ground.

The dry grasses whisper and shush in the trickle of burning wind that skims over the landscape, and the burning blood in your ears fills your skull with the shrill hum of silence.


He raised his hands in front of me, displaying a long line of rough twine with a thin, curved hook gleaming at one end.

“Pain,” he whispered, “is when your body has no more options.”

I realized how true that was as he began to sew.

A single flame guttered quietly in the night.

My body strained as I reached far over my head, stretching my fingers to catch hold of the fruit dangling above me. Branches scratched at my face as I stood on my toes, straining upward, and I nearly lost my balance as I steadied myself against the trunk with one hand. I felt my fingers close around something shapely and round, sun-warm and soft to the touch.

Rose petals lay scattered, strewn wildly across a dark pool of motor oil.

The sound of footsteps echoed down the hall outside as she leaned against the door, her ear pressed tightly against the wood paneling. A cool breeze swirled in from the door's gap along the floor, chilling her bare toes as she listened anxiously, almost frozen in place as she tried to tell what direction the footsteps were heading.

The footsteps stopped, and suddenly she heard a tiny sound, like the ringing of a small bell. She stepped away from the door and a smile blossomed across her face as she dashed for the bed, quickly throwing the covers over herself as she put her head down, pretending to be asleep so that when they arrived she could act surprised.

She peered at the bracelet on her wrist through slitted eyes, and tried her best not to giggle out loud when she saw that a small light on the side had begun to wink on and off.

Today was finally her turn.

A car turns slowly onto a gravel drive, tires crunching in the early spring morning.