5/31/10

Rozalia Jovanovic: Manual for a Productive Everyday Life, Appendix

For the past week, I've been posting the results of a project that involved 24 artists, writers and musicians. I sent them each a postcard with a simple task, and each in turn did his or her task, wrote about it on the postcard and returned the postcard to me. Some contributors painted on them, others punched holes in them or explained how to do something like give "Important Instructions for Closing the Facility," and still others took the opportunity to just get rid of stuff like a 40-day old banana on a living room floor. Find out who did what below, or by returning to the page where the names are listed along with the postcards.

Following are the names of all the contributors to my weeklong project organized by day, and in the order in which they appeared, along with their noms de guerre, for those who supplied them:

Day 1
Andrea Kleine -- Trophy Hostage
Joanna Neborsky
Luca Dipierro
Jeff Lewis

Day 2
Simen Johan
Kara Lee Corthron -- Lady Eyjafjallajokull
Shane Jones -- Martin B. Lucas
Monica Ferrell -- Fatima Bohr
Andrew Bulger -- Captain

Day 3
Giancarlo Ditrapano
Joel Whitney
Khaela Maricich -- Paige Claiborne
Jason Diamond -- Guy MacKaye
Zibuokle Martinaityte -- Fleur

Day 4
Franziska Lamprecht & Hajoe Moderegger -- eteam
Hajoe Moderegger & Franziska Lamprecht -- eteam
Justin Taylor
Saša Stanišić -- Tizian
Thomas Doyle -- Banks Holiday

Day 5
Tao Lin -- 'hi'
Leni Zumas
Deb Olin Unferth -- John Hinde
David McLendon -- Unanimous Anonymous

---

Briefly, the purposes of the project include:

1) The fulfillment of the postcard's intended purpose, so that each postcard could be taken out of limbo and made useful;
2) Use of the card to engender in the contributor a sense of productiveness;
3) The accumulation of traces;

Unintended consequences: The implication of the process of mailing by the content of the card, such as Jeff Lewis's card. To quote Jeff: "I'd hoped it was just "questionable" enough to not be censored by the post office but in reality highly "questionable" upon closer inspection!" And some contributors fulfilled two tasks at once. Like Giancarlo Ditrapano, whose card could have easily been slipped in among the "questionable content" cards.

Thank you to all who participated for entertaining my whims and for being timely and engaged in the process. And thank you to Adam Robinson for asking me to take part in this special month and for making it happen.

-Rozalia Jovanovic

5/28/10

Rozalia Jovanovic: Manual for a Productive Everyday Life, Day 5

For this assignment, contributors were asked:

Describe in extreme detail one "minor" activity you did today.



For more info on this project, click here.

Credits:
Tao Lin -- 'hi'
Leni Zumas
Deb Olin Unferth -- John Hinde
David McLendon -- Unanimous Anonymous


Rozalia Jovanovic is a co-founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill NYC and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is the New York Editor for The Rumpus.

5/27/10

Rozalia Jovanovic: Manual for a Productive Everyday Life, Day 4

For this assignment, contributors were asked:

Explain how to do something in five to seven steps.



For more info on this project, click here.


Credits:
Franziska Lamprecht & Hajoe Moderegger -- eteam
Hajoe Moderegger & Franziska Lamprecht -- eteam
Justin Taylor
Saša Stanišić -- Tizian
Thomas Doyle -- Banks Holiday

Rozalia Jovanovic is a co-founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill NYC and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is the New York Editor for The Rumpus.

5/26/10

Rozalia Jovanovic: Manual for a Productive Everyday Life, Day 3

For this assignment, contributors were asked:

Draw a roadmap of your last 24 hours.



For more info on this project, click here.

Credits:
Giancarlo Ditrapano
Joel Whitney
Khaela Maricich -- Paige Claiborne
Jason Diamond -- Guy MacKaye
Zibuokle Martinaityte -- Fleur

Rozalia Jovanovic is a co-founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill NYC and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is the New York Editor for The Rumpus.

5/25/10

Rozalia Jovanovic: Manual for a Productive Everyday Life, Day 2

For this assignment, contributors were asked:

Write down three things you do not need anymore. Get rid of them within three days. Write down how you got rid of each of them.



For more info on this project, click here.

Credits:
Simen Johan
Kara Lee Corthron -- Lady Eyjafjallajokull
Shane Jones -- Martin B. Lucas
Monica Ferrell -- Fatima Bohr
Andrew Bulger -- Captain

Rozalia Jovanovic is a co-founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill NYC and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is the New York Editor for The Rumpus.

5/24/10

Rozalia Jovanovic: Manual for a Productive Everyday Life, Day 1

For this assignment, contributors were asked:

Fill this space with questionable content.


For more info on this project, click here.

Credits:
Andrea Kleine -- Trophy Hostage
Joanna Neborsky
Luca Dipierro
Jeff Lewis

Rozalia Jovanovic is a co-founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill NYC and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is the New York Editor for The Rumpus.

5/23/10

Rozalia Jovanovic: Manual for a Productive Everyday Life

24 writers/editors/artists/musicians were asked to do a simple task.

There are five tasks total.

Each contributor reported on the execution of the task on a postcard and signed with a nom de guerre.

The postcards were sent to me through the mails.

Each day, the postcards of 4-5 contributors will be exhibited grouped by one of the five assigned tasks.

The names of the contributors will be matched up with their postcard when the project is complete. The contributors are:

Andrew Bulger
Kara Lee Corthron
Jason Diamond
Luca Dipierro
Giancarlo Ditrapano
Thomas Doyle
Monica Ferrell
Simen Johan
Shane Jones
Andrea Kleine
Franziska Lamprecht
Jeff Lewis
Tao Lin
Andre da Loba
Khaela Maricich
Zibuokle Martinaityte
David McLendon
Hajoe Moderegger
Joanna Neborsky
Saša Stanišić
Justin Taylor
Deb Olin Unferth
Joel Whitney
Leni Zumas
A brief statement of purpose will follow the completion of the project.

Rozalia Jovanovic is a co-founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill NYC and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is the New York Editor for The Rumpus.

5/21/10

Matt Bell Week 7: Fin

This story was developed in one week between May 17-21, from a failed story attempt by Matt Bell. Matt outlines the concept in his introduction, which can be read here. What began on Monday as a paragraph grew to 2,500 words over three writing sessions, which were viewable by the public using software developed for live online meetings. Then, authors Michael Kimball and Lily Hoang each spent an hour trying to refine the story. Later in the week, everyone in the world was invited to contribute. What follows below is the finalized story that Matt put together in one day from all the different edits.


Though perhaps not the best way to compose, the experiment was interesting on a process level. It allowed readers to watch a writer type and delete and make mistakes and solve problems throughout the course of writing a story. The software also accommodated chatter, so people could give feedback and hear what the author or the editor was doing. All of it is available for perusal here. There is also a "Time Slider" function on the page that allows users to see a playback of every word that was typed, even if it was deleted (note: the process took so long -- over 24 hours of writing and editing -- that the Time Slider may take a minute to load).


All told, after a story written in just five hours, in public, then edited in public (and by the public) we are left with a surprisingly successful piece of fiction. There is depth and mystery to:

THE BOOK OF THE DEAD
THE BOOK OF THE LIVING

Our charter does not account for the killing of them, only the driving out. In the forest, we find them now in the shape of the cat, of the hog, of the black bird and the rat and the cock. Too late we yell warnings as one in the shape of the snake coils toward Barton, twists her mantled collar up and around his face. Two days pass before she finishes swallowing him, another four before she can scuttle her swollen body across the crackling leaves. We follow until we are sure Breton is gone, until she passes what is left of him out of her body, and then we set fire to her pit, to the woods around the pit. Her stink thickens the air as we stick deep our lances and spears, leverage their points against her stubborn scales. Eager Bina argues for haste, but backs down against my insistence that we finish our task before moving on, that always we finish our task.


A lifetime of service for a wife: This is what we were promised. This is what we agreed to. It is only the length of that life that we take issue with. How it goes on and on. How the spires of our homes are so far behind us. How these woods expand in directions endless as our enemy. How the sea is never in sight, despite the assurances we were given.


The strictures of my station demand that I hunger and thirst, but no such vows guide my men, whose bodies require rations we no longer possess. They take to hunting to replenish our diminished supplies, or else steal what they require from the folk who live here despite what haunts between the trees. These others have made their peace with them, or else have other ways of ignoring their influx. Before the books came to our city, we did the same, but now it is the will of our leaders that we ignore them no longer. We drive them from their homes, so that one day this forest might be emptied of their shapes, made clean for the advance of the kingdom.


We rely upon our lanterns and torches to light what little path there is. Constantly the men complain of their hunger, their cold. No reminder of what they have been promised will undo the bleakness of their moods. One in the shape of a hare leads Nezach away from the camp and into a bramble where the thorns tear his flesh, make furrows for the shapes of worm and fly to lay their eggs in him. We wait until he is covered, then we set the bramble ablaze. For a day, it lights our progress. For a day, we lose no more men.


How many more men there were in my company when first I brought them forth from our shining city. How my beard has grayed since. How my limbs have grown braided with muscle, starved lean but denser than the cords that once girded my bones. How my heart has grown cold enough that temptation touches it less than it touches even our cut and gelded scouts, sent ahead to prepare our passing.


We discover new holdings, new variations: The shape of the possum. The shape of the badger. The shape of the muskrat. Not all shapes are dangerous but each brings with it surprise, renewed possibility of losing a man despite our long experience. From our flanks come the shapes of the leopard, the tiger, once unknown to these woods. The names of the men I lose to them are Chochma and Kether, are Hod and Jesod, are Tiphereth and Gebura. Their names are legend, and I remember them all into the book of the dead. I write their names so that upon the completion of our duties I might return word of their sacrifice to their widows-in-waiting, promised even after death.


We only rarely catch one still in the blinding shape of a woman. Always the prisoner is young. Always she is comely. Always she tempts me. I retreat to my tent, I ready myself with prayer and fasting until my body is shriven against all possible wants, until my my gauntness presses my shoulderblades against the paper of my flesh. I stopper my ears with wax so her honeyed voice might not steal from me what I have already pledged. I call for the prisoner only then. It is written in the book that we may suffer for our restraint, but also that we will be rewarded. It is written that to do less is to risk too much.


In our twelfth year, Taschen tells the others he recognizes his childhood in the faces we push out. In the shape of the beaver he sees the eyes of his nursemaid, then in the gait of a deer a girl he chased without affection. His fantasies persist until they awaken other imaginations. Soon hands hesitate, hang back from their spear-hafts. The next time I command my men into the brush, they balk, question my orders. The men who are still loyal to me turn on Taschen, hold him down at my urging. If it is his sight that gives him trouble, then it is his sight I will remove.


Roob captures one in the shape of the crow or else just a crow. Rather than push her on, he cages the bird, hangs her from his wagon. For a week, the men busy themselves beneath the cage, listen for the witch within, test her as the book instructs. What is the difference between one in the shape of a raven and a raven? On the eight day after the bird's capture, Keenan wrings her neck, then opens her with his knife. He scries her innads, asks her offal how long until we reach the sea. Despite the sin, I let him Keenan prove there is no prophecy in superstition, no answers anywhere but my answers. Afterward, he spits and cooks her flesh, shares the meal with no one.


There is the book of the dead and the book of the living, but it is only in the first that I write, that I amend with the scripted names of our fallen. The book of the living is already perfected, absolute. It is against its law to question its contents. When the men become bothered with endless questions, the book proves itself true with shapes new to this forest, taken from its oldest stories: First one in the shape of a griffin, then of a three-headed dog, then a chimaera with its lion-head, its goat-legs, snake-tail. Shapes within shapes. We have no right weapons with which to challenge these foes, and so they fill the pages of my book with the names of my men.


We are already diminished when we return to our camp to find our wagons shattered, circled around a wreckage of human bodies. Atop the piles stands the shape of one of our brothers, armed and armored but no longer of his own mind. We test the one inside him with our lances, tatter his uniform, ribbon his flesh. After he is subdued and shackled, we drive him forward into the forest, then burn what fallings our blades left behind.


What more is it to give up sleep? When exhaustion cracks my spirit, I cry out the names I have written, then the prayers and apologies meant to be saved for later, for their unfulfilled brides' ascension to their absented pyres.


Too long I tolerate the grumbling of my men, their blacked glances. The dagger hangs in the minds of all but it is the hand of Elgar that brings it to my tent, that employs it to pierce my shoulder. I sunder his thread with my own blade, but my injured arm is already denied its strength. No more will it hold my lance, nor the staff of my office. It changes nothing. It is not by their authority that I rule. I regird myself in fresh leathers and tunic, loop the symbol of my station around my neck. It is for them that I become this avatar of authority. If I am to lead, then they must not doubt my commission.


Beneath leather and cloth, the wound festers and leaks. First yellow, then green. What morning is it when I awake to the first maggots crawling from the puncture, stinking the space of my tent? I send my manservant Harlan out into the dew and the dark so that he will not watch while I pour holy water across my shoulder, rub in the blessed salts. The wound burns, but what grows inside me is deeper than my fingers can reach. The birthplace of flies, or else those in the shape of flies.


With prayer and sacrament, I fast my body. What lies within hardens even as my shell collapses. Bina urges me daily to take a horse, ride upright so that the men might note my posture. I refuse his request. There is neither luxury nor convenience in the testimony of my example. In the mornings, Harlan fills my tent with incense to cover my decay, but still the men sneak away, first alone, then in pairs.


With the coming of the books came the story of the first woman, how it was from her body that these many shapes rushed forth. Not just the monsters, but also the domesticated animals, the cat and the dog, all the beasts of this forest which were then just beasts. Now we have pushed them back into these shapes, all sprung from the shape of the first. Now for the promise of one we drive all these others away, or else return them to the sea. This is what we have agreed to, and this is what I alone may still intend.


One in the form of a gorgon gores Cheva, then turns his brother Emir to stone while my men uselessly batter their blades against its iron skin. As others fall, I remind them they brought this upon themselves. I say, This is the demonstration of your doubt. The next day there are fewer tents in the camp. It is no longer possible to count the differences between the missing, the deceased and the deserting. I write all their names in the book of the dead.


I am alone when the fever overtakes me, but still I dress. Still I belt my blade to my waist, strap the book of the living and the book of the dead into their harnesses. Everything else I leave behind. I have no need of tent or horse-tack, want not for rations. I do not require a lantern because I myself am becoming light, blaze, beacon. And so I shall know the way.


In the fire, I have seen the sea. Only the faithful will be there when I arrive. I have seen their shadows standing on the shore, shrunken as my own. They are waiting to deliver me my reward, if only I can reach them to receive her.


The forest darkens, presses. The shapes grow closer. I sense them around me, before me and behind me, waiting, watching. I reach my hands out, feel forward. I pray for the thinning of trees, for the coming of cliffs, for the switchbacked descent to the shore, but receive no appeasement, no boon granted for my long service. I beg, plead, cower. Now that I am alone, I am all I care for.


There is only the dark to see, only the shapes around me to hear, only the rot of my right arm to smell. My mind betrays me with old promises: jasmine, silk, the tinkling of bells. The trees thicken, block every path. I stumble and I stumble and I stumble. My flesh tumbles from my shoulder, slips to the forest floor until it exposes bone, and still I am not satisfied to stop.


Breton. Chocma. Kether. Hod. Jesod. Tiphereth. Gebura. Nezach. Taschen. Roob. Keenan. Elgar. Cheva. Emir. Bina. Harlan. On and on. So my book of the dead reads. An alphabet of absence. I long to add my name to the end of the roll, so that whoever finds it might remember me as I have remembered all these others. So that someone might tell the bride I will never know but that I have earned with my death. I go on. I am not dead. I write nothing down.


Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, forthcoming from Keyhole Press in October 2010. He is also the editor of The Collagist and the series editor of Dzanc's Best of the Web anthology series.

5/20/10

Matt Bell Week 6: Group Revisions




After a long day of working by committee on Matt's story, someone deleted the first six sections. Frankly, I'm surprised more craziness didn't happen. Lots of people dug into the story diligently, making big and small, smart and wacky changes (obviously, the largest revision was deleting half the work). Now Matt will work to synthesize all the input into a final piece. Will he see the forest through the unquantifiable trees?

Matt is diligently editing, all day on May 21, here.





VII.

Even in the day we must rely on our torches. The men complain of hunger, of cold, of homes they can't recall. A hare leads one of us away from the camp. We don't follow, and when we finally do, we find only a torso, and inside honey, and inside bees. We wait until he is covered in pollen and buzz and set him ablaze. For a day, the pyre lights our way, gives us warmth. For a day, we lose no more men. 

VIII.

Rarely, we catch one still in the form of woman. We smell her first. In my tent, I ready myself with prayer and fasting, my body cleansed of want, my bones in relief, shoulderblades against papered flesh. I call for her, using my own name. Wrists and ankles bound, she comes to me.

IX.

In our twelfth year, Taschen begins to recognize his childhood in the faces of them we have pushed out. In the form of a hare, he sees the eyes of his nursemaid, then in the gait of a deer a girl he chased without affection. His visions persist until they infect the imaginations of others. Soon their hands hesitate, hang back from their spear-hafts. The next time I command them into the brush, they challenge my authority, dare question the edict of our elders, our charter. I say nothing and the men remain loyal. One night, fever descends, and Taschen rids himself of what he does not need.

IXa. 


X.

The scout Roob captures one in the form of a crow. Rather than push her on, he cages the bird, hangs her from his wagon. For a week, the men busy themselves with superstitions. They sit below the cage, listen for signs of the witch within, test her as the book instructs. On the eighth day, Keenan opens the cage. He cries the loss of her innards, asks the offal how long until we reach the sea and complete our journey.

XI. 

There is the book of the dead and the book of the living, but it is only in the first that I write, that I amend with the scripted names of our fallen. 

XIa.
It is useless to question the contents of the book of the living. When the men pester with endless questions, the book proves itself true, creating shapes new to this forest, borrowed--stolen--from our oldest stories: First one in the form of a griffin, then a three-headed dog, then a scaled woman with hair made of shifting snakes. We have extinguished the weapons with which to challenge these foes. One by one, the pages of my book fill with the names of my men, and yet we remain unprovoked.

XII.

Already diminished when we return to our camp, we find our wagons shattered, circled around a wreckage of human bodies. Atop the piles stands the form of one of our brothers, armed and armored but no longer of his own mind. We cry for the one inside him, his tattered uniform, his tired flesh. He yields and is subdued by something we cannot see. Shackled, he drives himself forward into the forest, then burns away what failings he left behind.

XIII.

After the wholeness of our covenant is broken, I watch the faces of my men for signs their nature has turned. What more is it to give up sleep? When exhaustion cracks my spirit, I cry out the names I have written, then the prayers, then apologies meant for their unfulfilled brides' ascension to their absented pyres.

XIIIa. 
But we are too far away, my moans unreceived, only my men remain to hear me. They are silent.

XIV.

Too long I tolerate their grumbling, their blacked glances. The dagger hangs in all their minds, but it is the hand of Elgar that brings it to my tent, uses it to open my shoulder. I sunder his thread with my own blade, but my injured arm is already denied its strength. No more will it hold my lance, nor the staff of my office. I have been gifted something unforseen. It is not by their authority that I rule, so this changes nothing. I regird myself in fresh leathers and tunic, loop the symbol of my station around my neck. To my men, I can show all weakness, but choose none

XV.

Beneath leather and cloth, the wound festers and leaks. First yellow, then green. What morning is it when I awake to the first maggots crawling from the puncture, stinking the space of my tent? I send my manservant Harlan out into the dew and the dark while I pour holy water across my shoulder, rub in the blessed salts. The wound burns, but what grows inside me is deeper than my fingers can reach. The birthplace of flies, or else those in the form of flies. To be betrayed from within so that later I might be betrayed from without.

XVI.

With prayer and sacrament, I fast my body. What lies within hardens even as my shell collapses. Bina urges me daily to take a horse, ride upright so that the men might note my posture, my authority. I refuse his request. There is neither luxury nor convenience in the testimony of my example. We fill my tent with incense in the mornings to mask the decay, but still, the men sneak away, first alone, then in pairs. 

XVII.

One in the form of a gorgon gores Cheva, then turns his brother Emir to stone, while my men batter their blades against its iron skin. They brought this on themselves, I say to Bina. 

The next day there are fewer tents. It is no longer possible to determine the difference between the missing, the dead, and the deserted.

XVIII.

And then I am alone, even Harlan gone off into the forest or else laid to rest by some beast. A fever overtakes me, but still I dress. Still, I belt my blade to my waist. I strap the book of the living and the book of the dead into their harnesses. Everything else I leave behind. I have no need of tent or horse-tack, no want of rations. I do not require a lantern. I am becoming light, blaze, beacon. I know the way because it knows how I am called.

XIX.

In the fire, I have seen the sea, have seen the adversary tumble into its waters by the hundreds. Only the faithful will be there when I arrive. I have seen their shapes, shrunken as my own, standing on the shore. They are waiting to deliver my reward, if only I can reach them to receive her.

XX.

The forest darkens, or else my eyes shrink to slits. They who haunt the trees grow closer. I sense them around me, before me and behind me, waiting, watching. I reach my hands out, feel forward. I never once wasted prayer upon myself but now that I am alone, I am all I care for. I beg for the thinning of trees, for the coming of cliffs, for the switchbacked descent to shore. I beg for the scent of the same, the strength to go on. I receive no appeasement, no boon granted for my long service. 


XXI.

Barton. Chocma. Kether. Hod. Jesod. Tiphereth. Gebura. Nezach. Taschen. Roob. Keenan. Elgar. Cheva. Emir. Bina. Harlan. On and on. So the book of the dead reads. An alphabet of absence. I long to add myself to the end of the roll, so that whoever finds it might remember my name as I have remembered all these faceless others. No longer myself, I do not mourn Someone will remember how to name. Centered in this forest I lie, wanting.


5/19/10

Matt Bell Week 5: Lily Hoang Revision

Lily Hoang, author of Changing, has taken the reins from Matt Bell and Michael Kimball and, in a rigorous hour of editing, made changes to every section of Matt's story. Read below to see how it stands now (and, for comparison, here is Michael's draft and Matt's). From 9am until 9pm EST, stop by the MeetingWords site for the big crowdsourcing party, to see what happens when revision is done by committee.
 
I
Our charter does not account for the killing of them. We can only drive them out. In the forest, we find them now as cat, as hog, as black bird and rat. They can steal any shape,making them indistinguishable from the other animals we hunt when our supplies run low. 

Ia
We yell warnings, but the snake twists her mantled collar up and up, coiling toward Barton's face. Two days pass before she finishes swallowing Barton, another four before she can scuttle her swollen body across the cracking leaves. We follow her until we are sure he is gone, until she passes his remnants--scattered bones, organs crushed into hardened rocks--out her body, then we set fire to her pit and to the woods all around the pit. Stink thickens the air as we pry her scales free. Hours pass and Birn argues for haste, but we must finish our task. We can't leave any bit of Barton behind.

 
II.
 
We traded a lifetime of service for the promise of a wife. It is only the length of that life that we take issue with. The spires of our homes so far behind us, the ocean is never in sight. These woods expand in every direction. We have pledged to push into the sea.

 
III.
 
We circle our tents tightly around our dwindled supplies. The strictures of my station demand my hunger and thirst. No such vows guide my men. Their bodies require rations we no longer possess. They hunt the forest or steal from those who live in it, ignoring them who haunt these woods. We burn them from their homes.
 
IV.
 
I brought my men forth from the bright city to stand before these swelling trees, multiplying what we cannot quantify. My beard has grayed since, my limbs braided with muscle. Our scouts, the cut and gelded men sent before us, they led us to new holdings set somewhere in these dark woods.
 
V. 
 
The names of the men I lose are legend. I remember each of them into the book of the dead.  I will return word of their sacrifice to their widows-in-waiting.

Va.

Now, they are opossum and badger and muskrat. 
 
VI. 
 
Others have attempted to flush this forest. Some believe those first battalions still exist further into the forest. I do not care if the forest is full of men or empty. I have not come for men who refused the new order of our cities. I care nothing for them. We have resolve only for our duties.

 
VII.
 
Even in the day we must rely on our lanterns and torches. The men complain of their hunger, their cold. A hare leads one of the men away from the camp. I hold the other men back as a worm and a fly lay their eggs in him. We wait until he is covered and set him ablaze. For a day, it lights the way. It gives us warmth. For a day, we lose no more men. 
 
VIII.
 
Rarely, we catch one still in the form of woman. Always, she is young. Always, she is comely. Always, she tempts me with her want to steal from me what I have already pledged. In my tent, I ready myself with prayer and fasting, my body cleansed of want, my gauntness prominent. I watch my shoulderblades press against my papered flesh. Only then do I call for her. To do less is to risk too much.
 
IX.
 
In our twelfth year, Taschen begins to recognize his childhood in the faces of them we have pushed out. In the form of a hare, he sees the eyes of his nursemaid, then in the gait of a deer a girl he chased without affection. His fantasies persist until they awaken the imaginations of others. Soon their hands hesitate, hang back from their spear-hafts. The next time I command them into the brush, they bacquestion my orders. They dare question the orders of our elders, the orders that inform my own. At my command, the men who are still loyal turn on Taschen, hold him down while I clean him of delusions.

IXa. 
If it is his sight that gives him trouble, then it is his sight I must remove.
 
X.
 
The scout Roob captures one in the form of a crow. Rather than push her on, he cages the bird, hangs her from his wagon. For a week, the men busy themselves with superstitions. They sit below the cage, listen for signs of the witch within, test her as the book instructs. On the eighth day, Keenan wrings her neck, then opens it. He scries her innads, asks its offal how long until we reach the sea to complete our journey. He receives no answer.

Despite his sin, I let him continue, let Keenan prove there is no prophecy, no answers, only my words

He spits and cooks its flesh, shares his prize with no one.
 
XI. 
 
There is the book of the dead and the book of the living, but it is only in the first that I write, that I amend with the scripted names of our fallen. The book of the living is already perfect, absolute. Its commands are infallible. 

XIa.
It is against the law of the book of the living to question its contents. When the men pester with endless questions, the book proves itself true, creating shapes new to this forest, borrowed--stolen--from our oldest stories: First one in the form of a griffin, then a three-headed dog, then a scaled woman with hair made of shifting snakes. We have improper weapons with which to challenge these foes. One by one, the pages of my book fill with the names of my men.
 
XII.
 
We are already diminished when we return to our camp, only to find our wagons shattered, circled around a wreckage of human bodies. Atop the piles stands the form of one of our brothers, armed and armored but no longer of his own mind. We test the one inside him with our lances, tatter his uniform, ribbon his flesh. He yields. After he is subdued and shackled, we drive him forward into the forest, then burn what fallings our blades left behind.
 
XIII.
 
After the wholeness of our covenant is broken, I watch the faces of my men for signs their nature has turned. What more is it to give up sleep? When exhaustion cracks my spirit, I cry out the names I have written, then the prayers, then apologies meant for their unfulfilled brides' ascension to their absented pyres.

XIIIa. 
But we are too far away, my moans unreceived, only my men remain to hear me. They are silent.
 
XIV.
 
Too long I tolerate their grumbling, their blacked glances. The dagger hangs in all their minds, but it is the hand of Elgar that brings it to my tent, employs it to open my shoulder. I sunder his thread with my own blade, but my injured arm is already denied its strength. No more will it hold my lance, nor the staff of my office. It is not by their authority that I rule, so this changes nothing. I regird myself in fresh leathers and tunic, loop the symbol of my station around my neck. To my men, I can show no weakness. I must remain the avatar of authority. 

XV.

Beneath leather and cloth, the wound festers and leaks. First yellow, then green. What morning is it when I awake to the first maggots crawling from the puncture, stinking the space of my tent? I send my manservant Harlan out into the dew and the dark while I pour holy water across my shoulder, rub in the blessed salts. The wound burns, but what grows inside me is deeper than my fingers can reach. The birthplace of flies, or else those in the form of flies. To be betrayed from within so that later I might be betrayed from without.

XVI.

With prayer and sacrament, I fast my body. What lies within hardens even as my shell collapses. Bina urges me daily to take a horse, ride upright so that the men might note my posture, my authority. I refuse his request. There is neither luxury nor convenience in the testimony of my example. We fill my tent with incense in the mornings to cover the decay, but still, the men sneak away, first one by one, then in pairs. 

XVII.

One in the form of a gorgon gores Cheva, then turns his brother Emir to stone while my men batter their blades agianst its iron skin. She is uneffected. They brought this on themselves, I say to Bina. I say, This is the demonstration of their doubt. 

The next day there are fewer tents. It is no longer possible to ascertain the difference between the missing, the dead, and the deserted.

XVIII.

And then I am alone, even Harlan gone off into the forest or else laid to rest by some beast. A fever overtakes me, but still I dress. Still, I belt my blade to my waist, strap the book of the living and the book of the dead into their harnesses. Everything else I leave behind. I have no need of tent or horse-tack, no want of rations. I do not require a lantern. I am becoming light, blaze, beacon. I know the way.

XIX.

In the fire, I have seen the sea, have seen the adversary tumble into its waters by the hundreds. Only the faithful will be there when I arrive. I have seen their shapes, shrunken as my own, standing on the shore. They are waiting to deliver my reward, if only I can reach them to receive her, my promised wife.

XX.

The forest darkens, or else my eyes shrink to slits. They who haunt the trees grow closer. I sense them around me, before me and behind me, waiting, watching. I reach my hands out, feel forward. I never once wasted prayer upon myself but now that I am alone, I am all I care for. I beg for the thinning of trees, for the coming of cliffs, for the switchbacked descent to shore. I beg for the scent of the same, the strength to go on. I receive no appeasement, no boon granted for my long service. 

XXa.
There is only dark to see, only the ones around me to hear, only the rot of my right arm to smell. 

XXb.
I stumble and I stumble and I stumble.

XXI.

Breton. Chocma. Kether. Hod. Jesod. Tiphereth. Gebura. Nezach. Taschen. Roob. Keenan. Elgar. Cheva. Emir. Bina. Harlan. On and on. So the book of the dead reads. An alphabet of absence. I long to add my name to the end of the roll, so that whoever finds it might remember me as I have remembered all these others. But I am not dead. I can write nothing, though my hand commands it. My flesh tumbles from my shoulder, slips to the forest floor until it exposes bone. I stand, centered in the forest, unsatisfied. 



Matt Bell Week 5: Michael Kimball Revision

While Matt Bell went to a concert, Michael Kimball, author of Dear Everybody and How Much Of Us There Was (Tyrant Books 2010), took over the reins of the story. Michael was able to get through about the first third of the story (compare Matt's last draft here) before he had to pack up and leave for a film screening in Hollywood. Check back with the story at 1pm EST to see Lily Hoang take over the editorial duty.
I
Our charter does not include the killing of them. We can only drive them out. In the forest, we find them now as cat, as hog, as black bird and rat. They can steal any shape, so are often indistinguishable from the other animals we must hunt when our supplies run low. 

Ia
We yell warnings, but the snake twists her mantled collar up around Barton's face. Two days pass before she finishes swallowing Barton, another four before she can scuttle her swollen body across the cracking leaves. We follow her until we are sure Barton is gone, until she passes what is left of him out her body, then we set fire to her pit and to the woods around the pit. The stink thickens the air as we pry her scales free. Hours pass and Birn argues for haste, but we must finish our task. We can't leave any bit of Barton behind.

II.
We were promised a lifetime of service for a wife. It is only the length of that life that we take issue with. The spires of our homes are so far behind us. The ocean is never in sight. These woods expand in every direction. We have pledged to push into the sea.

III.
We circle our tents tight around our dwindled supplies. The strictures of my station demand that I hunger and thirst. No such vows guide my men. Their bodies require rations we no longer possess. They hunt the forest or steal from those who live in it despite what haunts these woods. We burn them from their homes, so that one day this forest might be emptied of their forms.
IV.
I brought my men forth from the bright city before this swell of trees. My beard has grayed since, my limbs braided with muscle. Our scouts, the cut and gelded men sent before us, theylead us to new holdings set among these dark woods.
V. 
They are now possum and badger and muskrat. The names of the men I lose are legion. I remember each of them into the book of the dead. I drive us on. I will return word of their sacrifice to their widows-in-waiting.
VI. 
Others have attempted to flush this forest. Some believe those first battalions still exist further into the forest. I do not care if the forest is full of men or empty of them. It is not men who refused the new order of our cities who I came for. We are resolved toward our duties.

VII.
Even in the day we rely on our lanterns and torches. The men complain of their hunger, their cold. A hare leads one of the men away from the camp. I holds the other men back as a worm and a fly lay their eggs in him. We wait until he is covered and set him alight. For a day, it lights the way. For a day, we lose no more men. 
VIII.
We only rarely catch one still in the form of a woman. Always the prisoner is young. Always she is comely. Always she tempts me with her want to steal from me what I have already pledge. In my tent, I ready myself with prayer and fasting, until my body is shriven against all possible wants, until my gauntness achieves its furthest prominence, so that my shoulderblades press against the paper of my flesh. I call for the prisoner only then. To do less is to risk too much.
IX.
In our twelfth year, Taschen begins to recognize his childhood in the faces we push out. In the form of a hare he sees the eyes of his nursemaid, then in the gait of a deer a girl he chased when he was young. His fantasies persist until they awakens the imaginations of the other men. Soon their hands hesitate, hang back from their spear-hafts. The next time I urge them into the brush, they balk, question my orders, and so also the older orders that inform my own. At my command, the men who are still loyal to me turn on Taschen, hold him down while I help him with his delusions. If it is his sight that gives him trouble, then it is his sight I will remove.
X.
The scout Roob captures one in the form of a crow. Rather than push her on, he cages the bird, hangs it from his wagon. For a week, the men busy themselves with superstitions. They sit below the cage, listen for signs of the witch within, test it in the ways the book instructs us to test. On the eight day after the bird's capture, Keenan wrings its neck, then opens it with his knife. He scries its innads, asks its offal how long until we reach the sea and complete our journey. Despite the sin, I let this continue, let Keenan prove there is no prophecy, no answers but my answers. Afterward, he spits and cooks its flesh, shares his kill with no one.
XI. 
There is the book of the dead and the book of the living, but it is only the first that I write in, that I amend with the scripted names of our fallen. The book of the living is already perfected, absolute. Its commands are infallible. It is against the law of the book of the living to question its contents. When the men become pestered with endless questions, the book proves itself true with shapes new to this forest, taken from our oldest stories: First one in the form of a griffin, then of a three-headed dog, then a scaled woman with hair made of snakes. We have no right weapons with which to challenge these foes. One by one they fill the pages of my book with the names of my men.
XII.
We are already diminished when we return to our camp to find our wagons shattered, circled around a wreckage of human bodies. Atop the piles stands the form of one of our brothers, armed and armored but no longer of his own mind. We test the one inside him with our lances, tatter his uniform, ribbon his flesh until he yields. After he is subdued and shackled, we drive him forward into the forest, then burn what fallings our blades left behind.
XIII.
After the wholeness of our covenant is broken I watch the faces of my men for signs their nature has turned. What more is it to give up sleep. When exhaustion cracks my spirit, I cry out the names I have written, and also the prayers, the apologies meant for their unfulfilled brides' ascension to their absented pyres.
XIV.
Too long I tolerate their grumbling, their blacked glances. The dagger hangs in the minds of all but it is the hand of Elgar that brings it to my tent, that employs it to open my shoulder. I sunder his thread with my own blade, but my injured arm has already been diminished of its strength. No more will it hold my lance, nor the staff of my office. It is not by their authority that I rule, so this changes nothing. I regird myself in fresh leathers and tunic, hang the symbol of my station around my neck. To my men I must show no weakness, must remain the avatar of authority so that they might not doubt my commission. 

XV.

Beneath leather and cloth the wound festers and leaks. First yellow then green. What morning is it when I awake to the first maggots crawling from the puncture, stinking the space of my tent? I send my manservant Harlan out into the dew and the dark while I pour holy water across my shoulder, rub in the blessed salts taken from a nearly empty vessel. The wound burns, but what grows inside me is deeper than my fingers can reach. The birthplace of flies, or else those in the form of flies. To be betrayed from within so that later I might be betrayed from without.

XVI.
With prayer and sacrament, I fast my body. What lies within hardens even as my shell collapses. Bina urges me daily to take a horse, to ride so that the men might not see my stumblings. I refuse his request. There is neither luxury nor convenience in the testimony of my example. We fill my tent with incense in the mornings to cover my decay, but still the men sneak away, first one by one then in pairs. 

XVII.

One in the form of a gorgon gores Cheva, then turns his brother Emir to stone while my men batter their blades agianst its iron skin without effect. They brought this on themselves, I say to Bina. I say, This is the demonstration of their doubt. The next day there are less tents in the camp, but it is no longer possible to reckon the differences between the missing, the dead and the deserted.

XVIII.

And then I am alone, even Harlan gone off into the forest or else laid to rest by some beast. A fever overtakes me, but still I dress. Still I belt my blade to my waist, strap the book of the living and the book of the dead into their harnesses. Everything else I leave behind. I have no need of tent or horse-tack, no want of rations. I do not require a lantern because I myself am becoming light, blaze, beacon. And so I shall know the way.

XIX.

In the fire, I have seen the sea, have seen the adversary tumble into its waters by the hundreds. Only the faithful will be there when I arrive. I have seen their shapes, shrunken as my own, standing on the shore. They are waiting to deliver me my reward, if only I can reach them to receive her.

XX.

The forest darkens, or else my eyes shrink to slits. The forms that haunt the trees grow closer. I sense them around me, before me and behind me, waiting, watching. I reach my hands out, feel forward. Across the years of my command, I never once wasted prayer upon myself but now that I am alone I am all I care for. I beg for the thinning of trees, for the coming of cliffs, for the switchbacked descent to the shore. I beg for the scent of the same, the strength to go on. I receive no appeasement, no boon granted for my long service. There is only dark to see, only the ones around me to hear, only the rot of my right arm to smell. I stumble and I stumble and I stumble.

XXI.

Breton. Chocma. Kether. Hod. Jesod. Tiphereth. Gebura. Nezach. Taschen. Roob. Keenan. Elgar. Cheva. Emir. Bina. Harlan. On and on. So the book of the dead reads. An alphabet of absence. I long to add my name to the end of the roll, so that whoever finds it might remember me as I have remembered all these others. I am not dead. I write nothing. My flesh tumbles from my shoulder, slips to the forest floor until it exposes bone, and still I am not satisfied.


Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, forthcoming from Keyhole Press in October 2010. He is also the editor of The Collagist and the series editor of Dzanc's Best of the Web anthology series.

5/18/10

Matt Bell Week 4: Draft Completion

After four hours of writing, Matt Bell has composed this 2,451 word story, which Michael Kimball will be editing tonight at 9pm, here at MeetingWords.

Our charter does not include the killing of them except in self-defense, and so we can only drive them out, drive them on. In the forest, we find them in the form of cat, of hog, of black bird and rat and cock. They are not shapeshifters but can steal any shape, and so are often indistinguishable from the other animals we must hunt when our supplies run low, that we must make new clothes of when our own tear loose their threads. Breton drags one in the form of a giant snake from her hole, the task focusing him so he sees only the slip of her tail sliding from his hands and not what comes out the other entrance to her pit. Our voices holler warnings, but Breton does not understand until the one in the form of the snake twists her flared and mantled collar up around his face. She sinks her teeth through his cheek, flays him with her fangs, exposing his own cracked and yellowed molars. Two days pass before she finishes swallowing Breton, another four before she can scuttle her swollen body across the cracking leaves. We follow until we are sure Breton is gone, until she passes what is left of him out her body, and then we set fire to her pit, to the woods around the pit. The Breton-stink thickens the air as we stick deep our hooked poles, our lances and spears, pry her scales to leverage her free. Hours pass as we harry her toward flight, and the whole time my good man Bina argues for haste. He is eager to be moving on, but backs down against my insistence that we finish our task. Like all of us, he knows that if he leave any bit of Breton behind, then one day we will find one in his form, that much harder to drive out, to drive on until it reaches the sea.

II.

A lifetime of service for a wife. This is what we were promised. This is what we agreed to. It is only the length of that life that we take issue with. How it goes on and on. How the spires of our homes are so far behind us, and how the ocean is never in sight, despite the once-promises we were given. Now these woods expand in every direction, endless as our enemy, who we have pledged to push into the sea.

III.

We circle our tents tight round our dwindled supplies, our lack of foodstuffs and whetstones. The strictures of my station demand that I hunger and thirst, but no such vows guide my men, whose bodies still require rations we no longer possess. They take to hunting the forest, or else stealing from the folk who live here in spite of what haunts these woods. These others have made their peace with them, or else have other ways of ignoring their influx. Once we did too, but it was the will of our leaders that we ignore them no longer, and instead pierce their sides and burn them from their homes, so that one day this forest might be emptied of their forms.

IV.

What long ago year was it when I brought my men forth from the shining city of our youths, that last bastion of goodness before this swell of trees? How my beard has grayed since. How my limbs have grown braided with muscle, a lean strength denser than the cords that once girded my bones. How my heart has grown cold enough that temptation touches it less than it touches even our scouts, the cut and gelded men sent before us, to lead us down new paths, new holdings set among these dark woods.

V.

New variations abound: The form of a possum. The form of a badger. The form of a muskrat. Each new form brings with it surprise, renewed possibility of losing a man despite our long experience. The names of the men I lose are Chochma and Kether, are Hod and Jesod, are Tiphereth and Gebura. Their names are legion, and I remember them all into the book of the dead. This is the second of my duties, behind only the driving, which is the first. I write their names so that upon their return I might return word of their sacrifice to their widows-in-waiting.

VI.

We are not the first to attempt to flush these woods, and some among us believe those first battalions still exist, further into the trees or else on the other side of the forest. They believe there is no sea beyond, just more prairies and plains like those that once ringed our city, or else that there is a sea and it is so beautiful that none would return to our own city, that place where a man must earn what what was once given freely. I myself do not care if this great woods is full of men or empty of them, because it is not men I came for, it is not the power of wilded men that I have been tasked to push into the sea. The ones that an age ago entered this forest--the ones who refused the new order of our cities, the reconfigured structures of what lives were meant to inhabit it--these are the beginning and end of my task. All other conjecture on the part of my men is to be ended by the lash, so that it not dilute our purpose, our resolve toward our duties.

VII.

Little sun filters through the thick of the trees, so even in the day we rely on our lanterns and torches to light the path, what path there is. We see no details in the dark, do no great distance either. The men complain of their hunger, their cold, and no reminder of what they have been promised will undo the bleakness of their moods. One in the form of a hare leads Nezach away from the camp and into a bramble where the thorns tear at his flesh. My voice holds the men back as others come for him in the form of worm and fly, the better to lay their eggs in him. We wait until he is covered, and then we set the bramble alight. For a day it lights the way and for a day we lose no more men.

VIII.

We only rarely catch one still in the form of a woman. Always the prisoner is young. Always she is comely. Always she tempts me with her want to steal from me what I have already pledge. In my tent, I ready myself with prayer and fasting, until my body is shriven against all possible wants, until my gauntness achieves its furthest prominence, so that my shoulderblades press against the paper of my flesh. I call for the prisoner only then. To do less is to risk too much.

IX.

In our twelfth year, Taschen begins to recognize his childhood in the faces we push out. In the form of a hare he sees the eyes of his nursemaid, then in the gait of a deer a girl he chased when he was young. His fantasies persist until they awakens the imaginations of the other men. Soon their hands hesitate, hang back from their spear-hafts. The next time I urge them into the brush, they balk, question my orders, and so also the older orders that inform my own. At my command, the men who are still loyal to me turn on Taschen, hold him down while I help him with his delusions. If it is his sight that gives him trouble, then it is his sight I will remove.

X.

The scout Roob captures one in the form of a crow. Rather than push her on, he cages the bird, hangs it from his wagon. For a week, the men busy themselves with superstitions. They sit below the cage, listen for signs of the witch within, test it in the ways the book instructs us to test. On the eight day after the bird's capture, Keenan wrings its neck, then opens it with his knife. He scries its innads, asks its offal how long until we reach the sea and complete our journey. Despite the sin, I let this continue, let Keenan prove there is no prophecy, no answers but my answers. Afterward, he spits and cooks its flesh, shares his kill with no one.

XI.

There is the book of the dead and the book of the living, but it is only the first that I write in, that I amend with the scripted names of our fallen. The book of the living is already perfected, absolute. Its commands are infallible. It is against the law of the book of the living to question its contents. When the men become pestered with endless questions, the book proves itself true with shapes new to this forest, taken from our oldest stories: First one in the form of a griffin, then of a three-headed dog, then a scaled woman with hair made of snakes. We have no right weapons with which to challenge these foes. One by one they fill the pages of my book with the names of my men.

XII.

We are already diminished when we return to our camp to find our wagons shattered, circled around a wreckage of human bodies. Atop the piles stands the form of one of our brothers, armed and armored but no longer of his own mind. We test the one inside him with our lances, tatter his uniform, ribbon his flesh until he yields. After he is subdued and shackled, we drive him forward into the forest, then burn what fallings our blades left behind.

XIII.

After the wholeness of our covenant is broken I watch the faces of my men for signs their nature has turned. What more is it to give up sleep. When exhaustion cracks my spirit, I cry out the names I have written, and also the prayers, the apologies meant for their unfulfilled brides' ascension to their absented pyres.

XIV.

Too long I tolerate their grumbling, their blacked glances. The dagger hangs in the minds of all but it is the hand of Elgar that brings it to my tent, that employs it to open my shoulder. I sunder his thread with my own blade, but my injured arm has already been diminished of its strength. No more will it hold my lance, nor the staff of my office. It is not by their authority that I rule, so this changes nothing. I regird myself in fresh leathers and tunic, hang the symbol of my station around my neck. To my men I must show no weakness, must remain the avatar of authority so that they might not doubt my commission.

XV.

Beneath leather and cloth the wound festers and leaks. First yellow then green. What morning is it when I awake to the first maggots crawling from the puncture, stinking the space of my tent? I send my manservant Harlan out into the dew and the dark while I pour holy water across my shoulder, rub in the blessed salts taken from a nearly empty vessel. The wound burns, but what grows inside me is deeper than my fingers can reach. The birthplace of flies, or else those in the form of flies. To be betrayed from within so that later I might be betrayed from without.

XVI.

With prayer and sacrament, I fast my body. What lies within hardens even as my shell collapses. Bina urges me daily to take a horse, to ride so that the men might not see my stumblings. I refuse his request. There is neither luxury nor convenience in the testimony of my example. We fill my tent with incense in the mornings to cover my decay, but still the men sneak away, first one by one then in pairs.

XVII.

One in the form of a gorgon gores Cheva, then turns his brother Emir to stone while my men batter their blades agianst its iron skin without effect. They brought this on themselves, I say to Bina. I say, This is the demonstration of their doubt. The next day there are less tents in the camp, but it is no longer possible to reckon the differences between the missing, the dead and the deserted.

XVIII.

And then I am alone, even Harlan gone off into the forest or else laid to rest by some beast. A fever overtakes me, but still I dress. Still I belt my blade to my waist, strap the book of the living and the book of the dead into their harnesses. Everything else I leave behind. I have no need of tent or horse-tack, no want of rations. I do not require a lantern because I myself am becoming light, blaze, beacon. And so I shall know the way.

XIX.

In the fire, I have seen the sea, have seen the adversary tumble into its waters by the hundreds. Only the faithful will be there when I arrive. I have seen their shapes, shrunken as my own, standing on the shore. They are waiting to deliver me my reward, if only I can reach them to receive her.

XX.

The forest darkens, or else my eyes shrink to slits. The forms that haunt the trees grow closer. I sense them around me, before me and behind me, waiting, watching. I reach my hands out, feel forward. Across the years of my command, I never once wasted prayer upon myself but now that I am alone I am all I care for. I beg for the thinning of trees, for the coming of cliffs, for the switchbacked descent to the shore. I beg for the scent of the same, the strength to go on. I receive no appeasement, no boon granted for my long service. There is only dark to see, only the ones around me to hear, only the rot of my right arm to smell. I stumble and I stumble and I stumble.

XXI.

Breton. Chocma. Kether. Hod. Jesod. Tiphereth. Gebura. Nezach. Taschen. Roob. Keenan. Elgar. Cheva. Emir. Bina. Harlan. On and on. So the book of the dead reads. An alphabet of absence. I long to add my name to the end of the roll, so that whoever finds it might remember me as I have remembered all these others. I am not dead. I write nothing. My flesh tumbles from my shoulder, slips to the forest floor until it exposes bone, and still I am not satisfied.


Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, forthcoming from Keyhole Press in October 2010. He is also the editor of The Collagist and the series editor of Dzanc's Best of the Web anthology series.