Thanksgiving

 

On Thanksgiving—actual Thanksgiving—the building is eerily quiet. The office is dark. The staff are all at home with their families. I go for a walk outside, where the breeze blows cold. The stores are closed, and the sidewalks and park are empty. I sit down on the bench below the American flag whipping in the wind, and watch the pigeons shuffle about, as the faraway silence moves through me in strange, ethereal waves, surrounding my mind in a cool vapor of unreality.

 

I think of the old Twilight Zone episode where a man finds himself alone in an empty town, with no memory of who he is, or how he got there. Evidence in the form of a lit cigar in an ashtray and a jukebox left on, indicate that the town was recently inhabited, but as he wanders around he finds not a soul, and begins to suspect he’s dreaming. By the end of the episode, paranoid that he’s being watched, the man is running through the streets screaming, “Where is everybody?” When he pushes a button at the crosswalk, it’s revealed to be a panic button, and the man is seen in an isolation booth being observed by men in uniform, who then break him out of what was only a sensory deprivation-induced hallucination. This isolation experiment was a test of his fitness as an astronaut in preparation for a long, lonely trip to the moon. 

 

Having aired a couple years before Ham the Astrochimp survived his launch into space, and a decade before human astronauts finally reached the moon, this episode is now a remembered anticipation of future space travel. It has proven oddly prescient about the isolation and loneliness of modern life though. Also, with growing internet conspiracy theories about the moon landing, there’s a sense that the event was a kind of collective hallucination. I wonder if anyone’s ever dreamt about waking up to discover they’re the only person on Facebook.

 

Today, the moon is alone in the big blue sky, plain and striking, full and luminous. I tilt my head back further, and watch the flag above me rippling against the sky. Assuming the lunar landing wasn’t fake, did you know the American flag Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted on the moon is no longer American? Exposure to harsh ultraviolet sun rays has long since bleached the flag white. Instead of a claim staked by a conquering nation, now the flag appears to signal surrender to aliens. I close my eyes and picture in my mind, the white flag on the moon, hanging eerily still against the black sky.

 

The wind picks up, sending a chill through me, and I decide to make my way back home. At the crosswalk, I wait for the light to change, even though there are no cars coming. I press the panic button, but the observers of this experiment, if they exist, do not intervene. Across the street, parts of the red “Don’t not walk” hand have been covered by black tape, so that it appears to be giving the middle finger.

 

November Lullaby

November is a sleepwalker through the hallways of my mind. In my drowsy but lucid way, I observe the days slowly passing with a dull ache, as though a glacier of blackness were cutting through me. Like faces on the street, they disappear, one blurring into the next, becoming one day, one face, and then lost to deep night. The winter clothes have been pulled from the back of the closet, where a moth has been surviving on large patches of wool, leaving the left side of my chest exposed and cold. A smoker across the street tosses his cigarette and I watch him slowly stub it out, as though he were taking morbid pleasure in thoroughly extinguishing the last glow of autumn. The elm trees have been picked clean, and their jagged bones stab the gray November skies. Without the foliage, the people in the building across the street can see inside my window. Do they see the scribble chart plastered on the wall? Do they hear my thoughts?

Each day is more night than day, and each night is more night than the last. In this growing darkness, a moth, perhaps the same one that’s been feeding on my clothes, flutters against the computer screen, breaking my trance. Stranger bats her paw against the screen, but the moth dodges the attack. I’ve seen it all on this screen: a rat carrying a slice of pizza, baboons in a zoo reacting to magic tricks, a headless robot running an obstacle course, and a bonobo chimp in a gorilla mask chasing another chimp around a cage. Tonight I saw the saddest thing I’ve ever seen on this screen: two sexbots thrusting against each other in a deadpan enactment of copulation.

But no matter how strange and exotic the world inside my computer appears, the world outside my window is still the same gray shade of sickness. One day I see two men fighting in the street, another day an ambulance arrives and a chubby woman on her phone runs to the back of the vehicle, pounds on the doors, and tries to get in before it’s even stopped. Some days ago there was another fire drill. There must’ve been a warning about it in the November community newsletter, which I only skimmed before leaving it taped on my door, along with the October newsletter. I’ve been leaving the monthly newsletters on the door to suggest that I’m out of town. That way people are less likely to disturb me. For a while an old woman down the hall would knock on my door to tell me about Jesus and her abusive ex-husband. Another neighbor was going door to door asking for food and soap.

Clarence Pitts didn’t show up to the drill. Apparently he can sleep through a fire alarm but not the Star Trek phasers that no one else can hear. I shouldn’t say that. He’s been pretty quiet the last few days. Knock on wood. Sometimes there will be a few nights with no screaming, but when it rains it pours.

Security barely patrols now. Felix said this would happen with the new budget. My first thought was poor Grayson probably hasn’t taken off his VR helmet since he got laid off, but then I realized he’s probably just swooshing down some other building’s hallways. I considered approaching management and offering to patrol the halls for half price, but have decided to keep working undercover and pro bono. Sometimes as I’m floating down these halls, listening to the occasional TV sounds emanate from the passing apartments, I whisper a little lullaby to my fellow tenants: Take your meds . . . Go to bed . . . Everybody stay in your own head . . .

Ghost Hunting Video

Dear listeners, readers (and soon to be viewers), I have created a NUV YouTube channel with video clips for excerpts from the audiobook. PLEASE SUBSCRIBE! I only have 9 subscribers. It’s sad. In honor of Halloween, I’ve just posted 2 new videos of the ghost hunting bit from the chapter The Invisible Script. They are 3:45 each. I couldn’t decide which suited the spirit of the piece more, so this is a kind of choose your own misadventure. The “haunting version” is spooky, abstract, and immersive, while the “hunting version” is funnier and more accessible. Maybe I will leave them both up and whichever has the most likes/views by Halloween is the one that stays. A little healthy competition.

Hope you’re all well out there in ghostland.